Successful and fast web scraping relies on web crawling. At the same time, information that web crawlers find upon scouring the web is harvested through web scraping. In that regard, these two processes go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. But what does each of these processes entail?
Web scraping, also known as web data extraction, refers to retrieving data from a website. It exists in many forms. Simply copy-pasting a text or some numbers from a website to a document on your computer qualifies as web scraping. And so does using software or Python code to extract a large volume of data from a website. The software packages that scrape data from websites are known as web scrapers.
Nonetheless, a similarity exists among these examples – that web scraping focuses on one website at a time.
In contrast, web crawling is the process of looking through websites on the internet to identify newly uploaded content and subsequently store it. The content in question could be webpages, videos, PDF documents, or even images.
Web crawling is the reserve of web crawlers – bots that scour the internet upon receiving specific instructions. Once these crawlers find web pages containing new information, they add their URLs and content to a database for future retrieval (archiving) or indexing (for search engines). In this regard, web crawling precedes web scraping because of the need to identify web pages before retrieving any information.
Crawlers, also known as spiders, look for specific information or only search for the information they’ve been designed to look for. However, this fact is paradoxical because not only does it promote efficiency but also inefficiency. The former emanates from the crawlers’ ability to look through the internet and find the information’s location.
Unfortunately, this comes at a cost, given that web crawling is a resource-heavy task. It can strain your company’s web server. It also requires a lot of internet bandwidth.
If you’re interested in web crawlers, Oxylabs has a comprehensive article about this topic.
Web scraping vs. web crawling
While both web scraping and web crawling retrieve data from the internet, they differ in how they do it. Web crawlers go through every webpage of every website. They indiscriminately look for and store every type of data provided it qualifies as new.
In contrast, web scrapers focus on finding and storing specific data from one webpage at a time. For instance, if the web scraping aims to retrieve data on stock prices, that’s precisely what the web scrapers will look for.
Simply put, web crawling finds and stores all kinds of data while web scraping only focuses on a single dataset.
It is worth noting that how crawlers work makes them less desirable for data extraction than web scrapers (web scrapers) from a business’s operations perspective. Companies are not in the business of heuristics. Instead, they already have predefined goals and objectives. In that regard, if they’re looking to harvest information from the internet, they already know what they want.
Suppose your new company manufactures and sells shoes, and you’ve come up with a new design that you haven’t yet figured how to price. So, you resort to finding out how your competitors have priced their shoes in order to guide your decision-making. Would you opt for web crawling or web scraping, given the information above?
Of course, you’d choose web scraping because you’d be guaranteed to receive data on the prices of shoes from your competitors’ websites. In that regard, web scraping is somewhat superior to web crawling for extracting specific data.
Benefits of Web Scraping for Business
Web scraping can be particularly beneficial for your company, regardless of the industry you operate in. Here are 4 ways that web scraping can benefit your business.
- Market Research
One way of staying ahead of the competition is by knowing their moves or strategies, e.g., their prices. This is crucial as it will enable you to set competitive prices and undercut unsuspecting competitors in some cases.
- Lead Generation
Company websites, social media platforms, e.g., LinkedIn, and Yellow Pages, contain contact information such as emails and phone numbers. With web scraping, you can retrieve such data for marketing purposes – email marketing.
- Search Engine Optimization
Well, search engines may have ranked your competitors’ websites higher than yours. Given that ranking on these platforms is anchored on SEO, knowing the keywords and strategies your competitors used to rank highly will equally benefit your website. You can implement these strategies and even improve on them for better results.
With web scraping, you can easily retrieve this information.
- Brand monitoring and sentiment analysis
Web scraping can give you access to data about what your customers are writing or have written about your company, its products, and customer care services. With such information, you can improve your business’s operations.
In closing, is web scraping better than web crawling? Yes, for business applications.