Guess what’s common between a journalist, digital marketer, investment analyst, entrepreneur, and a fortune 500 CEO?
Well, they derive their insights and strategies from data.
In today’s digital age, the most valuable resource is no longer oil but data. This new “valuable” commodity is being used to make game-changing business decisions and is key to helping organizations better understand their customers and competitors.
Without data, how do we understand what our customers want and what drives their buying behavior? Without data, how do we tell whether our marketing efforts are yielding results? Without data, how do we even determine our financial position?
The bottom line; data is the core of market research and business growth. The key challenge, however, that analysts and marketers face isn’t how to analyze or present data, but how to extract it. And this is where web scraping comes in.
In this article, we’ll discuss the do’s and don’ts of web scraping, But first, let’s touch on the basics of web scraping.
What Is Web Scraping?
Some websites contain a large amount of invaluable data.
Product details, stock prices, company contacts, sports statistics, market insights, name it. This data can be very useful to different parties. For example, a marketer may need to extract product data, like pricing data, from sites like Amazon for competitor analysis.
To access this data, you can either copy and paste it to a new document or extract it using an automated tool. The latter is the easier, more viable option and it’s what web scraping is all about.
Web scraping is the process of retrieving or extracting data from a website. Unlike the conventional, mind numbering process of copy-pasting, web scraping employs intelligent automation to extract large volumes of data from the internet.
To achieve this, web scraping requires the use of a web scraping tool. Many tools for scraping website data exist, both commercial and open-source. Each tool differs in functionality so it’s good to look for one that fits your needs.
The Do’s of Web Scraping
While web scraping may seem like a simple task, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Some websites have anti-scraping mechanisms that automatically block crawler bots. Plus, data scraping has to be done responsibly otherwise you may end up harming the website you’re scraping data from. That said, here are the ‘do’s’ to observe when scraping website data.
1. Inspect the robots.txt
When planning a web scraping project, your first step should be to inspect the robots.txt. So what’s a robots.txt file and why is inspecting it important?
The role of robots.txt is to tell search engine crawlers which pages or files the crawlers can or can’t request from your site. Almost every site has this file and it’s available at the root of a website (www. xxxx.com/robots.txt)
Any rules regarding web scraping will be found on this file. This includes things like the pages you cannot visit with your bot and the number of requests you should make per second. Following these rules isn’t just ethical; it can also help to protect the website’s servers.
2. Identify Yourself
Identifying yourself is one of the web scraping best practices and failure to follow this rule may cause the target website to block your crawler.
This entails putting your contact info in the crawler’s header. It ensures the webmasters can easily get the crawler info or abuse report without having to dig too deep into the log files. By doing so, you’re providing an easy way for sysadmins to notify you of any issues they may be having with your crawler.
3. Do IP Rotation
Websites that employ anti-scraping mechanisms can easily block you if you don’t know your way around web scraping.
That said, if you keep using the same IP for every request, you’re likely to get blocked.
You should use a new IP for every new request. It’s advisable to have a pool of at least 5 IPs before making an HTTP request. Many IP proxy rotating services, like Scrapingdog, exist that you can use to avoid getting blocked.
The Don’ts of Web Scraping
Here are things to avoid when web scraping.
1. Don’t be a Burden
The first rule of web scraping is ‘Do not harm the website.’
What does that mean?
The frequency and volume of the requests you make should not overburden the website’s servers. You can accomplish this by following the crawling rules laid down in the robot.txt file. Also, limit the number of concurrent requests made to the target website from a single IP.
2. Don’t Use Fishy Techniques to Get What You Want
The internet is full of tools and tricks that can help you bypass protocols with just a few clicks. While there are tools that can help you bypass the crawling rules laid down by system administrators, try to avoid that kind of temptation.
Instead, stick to tools and services that uphold their reputation. You’re more likely to benefit from them as they treat web scraping for what it is; a valuable practice, not a malicious one. Besides, you don’t want to make money out of stolen data.
3. Don’t Breach GDPR
The introduction of GDPR completely changed how you can scrape personal data of EU citizens. The GDPR guidelines describe personal data as any information that can identify a person, including name, address, phone, email, medical data, IP address, etc.
Anyone found extracting personal data of EU citizens is in breach of GDPR unless they have a ‘lawful’ reason to do so.
The Bottom Line
If done right, web scraping can give you the data and insights you need to scale your business to new heights. Plus you’ll also be making the internet a better and safer place for everyone when you use the right tools and follow all the laid down scraping rules.