What is Web Scraping: How to Collect Data from Websites

Imagine if you could collect web data without doing it yourself.

No more wasting hours copying and pasting data to your spreadsheet — your scraping needs are automated for you. 

If you’re thinking, “I wish this were true!” Then you’ll want to learn more about web scraping. With a web scraping tool, you can collect thousands (or even millions) of web pages on autopilot. 

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about web scraping, such as

  1. What is web scraping and how is it used
  2. 5 web scraping examples
  3. How does web scraping work? 
  4. Three ways to collect data with web scraping
  5. What is the difference between web crawling and scraping? 
  6. Is web scraping legal? 
  7. How long does web scraping take? 
  8. How do I practice “Ethical web scraping?” 

Let’s get started. 

What is Web Scraping, and What is it Used For?

Web scraping uses bots to convert and export web pages into usable data. You may have also heard web scraping as data scraping, data extraction, and web data extraction. 

So why should you scrape data, anyway? 

Let’s say you’re a real estate agent. You need to know every house on the market in your area, so you head to Zillow for a list of homes.  

Typically, you’d have to copy and paste every listing to an excel spreadsheet, which can take hours of your time. But if you use a web scraping tool, it will automate the process for you. Once you’ve collected the data, it can be download as a CSV, JSON, or XML file. 

You’ll never have to manually collect large chunks of data ever again! 

So how else can you use web scraping?

5 Web Scraping Examples

There are all types of web scraper use cases. A few examples include: 

  1. Price monitoring 
  2. Marketing and lead generation 
  3. Location intelligence 
  4. News and social media 
  5. Real estate

 Take a look below to see how scraping automates each of these examples.

Price Monitoring

If you’re in the eCommerce space, you might want to uplevel your product strategy with price monitoring. Web scrapers can collect prices, inventory levels, and reviews from retailers like: 

  • Amazon 
  • eBay 
  • Target 
  • eCommerce stores

You could use this data to compare your products with competitors and improve your online shop. 

Marketing and Lead Generation

We all know that qualified leads are key to increasing sales. But nurturing your leads can be a tedious process. 

With a web scraper, you can collect company details, addresses, and social media accounts to improve market research and reach potential customers. Talk about a boost in sales leads.

Location Data

Not sure where to start your new business? Web scrapers can collect location data from publicly available sources for industries like

  • Restaurants
  • Hotels 
  • Franchisees
  • Retailers  
  • Warehouse management 

When you interpret each data set and decide what factors affect each business, you can choose the best location for you. 

Head to the ScrapeHero Data Store, to see publicly available store location data collected, cleaned and ready for immediate download.

News and Social Media

Social media is a valuable tool for marketers. When you extract information from Twitter or LinkedIn, you’ll learn about your follower’s engagement patterns.

You can use this information to: 

  • Optimize social media content 
  • Update SEO 
  • Monitor competitors 
  • Identify your target audience

Real Estate

Real estate is one of the most popular industries for web scraping. And it doesn’t stop at collecting a list of houses. You can also scrape: 

  • Foreclosures 
  • Estate agents 
  • Construction permits 
  • Recorded deeds 

As you can see, there are tons of ways to use web scraping. The best part is you don’t have to worry about pulling data manually. Web scraping tools automate the process in real-time. 

Now let’s talk about how to get started with web scraping.


How Does Web Scraping Work?

As mentioned before, a web scraper extracts data from a website and converts it into readable data. 

This definition is a simple explanation, but there’s much more to it! If you want to know how web scraping works, then keep reading for a step-by-step explanation.

4 Main Parts of Web Scraping

When a scraper collects data, it crawls, extracts, and converts it into a usable format.  

Let’s go over each step in detail, shall we? 

Crawl

You can’t extract data without knowing what’s out there. So the first step is to crawl a website and learn what’s on each web page. 

For example, if you were to crawl our website, it would start at our homepage, www.scrapehero.com. From there, the crawler would crawl the site by following each link from our homepage. 

The goal of a web crawler is to learn what’s on a web page and retrieve the data you want. We’ll talk more about the difference between web crawling and data scraping later in this post.

Parse and Extract

Now that the web scraper has crawled your data, it can extract it.

Web scrapers will parse this crawled data with CSS selectors or Xpaths. Parsing means analyzing the raw data and choosing the essential information you need. 

There are different types of parsing techniques. Some include: 

  • Regular expressions 
  • HTML parsing 
  • DOM parsing (using a headless browser) 
  • Automatic extraction using artificial intelligence

Clean and Format Data

Pulling data from websites is only helpful if you can read the data. So in this step, the web scraper will convert your data into a readable format. 

Most datasets need some form of “cleaning” to become readable, so the scraper will use certain methods to clean up the data, like: 

  • Regular expressions
  • String manipulation 
  • Search methods 

Store the Data

Now that the data has been crawled, scraped, and formatted, you can finally store it.

You’ll have to export your data into a CSV, JSON, XML, or a spreadsheet. You may store it in the cloud using services like Dropbox or Google Drive. You could even put large data in databases.

And that’s how web scraping works! If you’re thinking, “Okay, that sounds complicated,” then don’t worry. You can always sign up for a scraping service to automate this process for you. 

Speaking of services, let’s go over three ways to collect data with a web scraper. 

3 Ways To Collect Data with Web Scraping

So you know what web scraping is, why it’s useful, and how it works. Now let’s go over 3 ways to collect data. 

1. Custom Web Scraping Services

The first way to extract data is with a custom web scraping service. Outsourcing this task avoids the time and costs associated with working in-house. 

Plus, most services can extract millions of pages without your assistance. So you can focus on your projects without worrying about tedious tasks, like bypassing CAPTCHAs, rotating proxies, and other methods websites use to block web scraping

Overall, you’ll want to use a custom service, like ScrapeHero, if you want to extract thousands of web pages. Our software has the technology to scale to your business needs.

2. Web Scraping Tools and Software

A web scraping tool is different from a custom service because of its visual interface. An interface lets you decide what data you need. Once you decide what type of information you want, the software will use your instructions to build a web scraper. 

Using software is a great choice, as long as you have a small data set. Our cloud software, ScrapeHero Cloud, avoids downloading any software to your computer. 

Using our cloud software, you’re able to access the scraper and data from all IP addresses and deliver findings to DropBox. This means your desktop won’t run out of storage from scraping.

3. Scraping Data Yourself

You can always collect web data yourself using almost any programming language, like: 

As a developer, open-source web scraping tools will also help you with projects. A few examples include BeautifulSoup and Scrapy, but you can check out our web scraping tutorial and guides to get started

Before you start data scraping, consider the size of your company. Writing code from scratch with smaller data scraping needs is one thing. But if you want to extract different web pages and thousands of data fields, you’ll need a web scraping service to scale up. 

If you don't like or want to code, ScrapeHero Cloud is just right for you!

Skip the hassle of installing software, programming and maintaining the code. Download this data using ScrapeHero cloud within seconds.

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Web Scraping FAQs

You might have a few more questions about scraping data, like whether it’s legal or how much it costs. See below for a few of the most commonly asked questions. 

1. What is the difference between web scraping and web crawling?

People often use the terms web scraping and web crawling interchangeably. Although they both collect data from the web, they have different purposes. 

Web Crawling downloads and stores website data by following links in web pages. Crawlers can navigate through pages on their own because they are a standalone bot—they’re the backbone of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. 

On the other hand, a web scraper handles the structure of a specific website. It uses this site-specific structure to pull individual data elements from the website. Unlike a web crawler, a web scraper collects particular information such as pricing data, stock market data, and business leads. 

If you have a hard time differentiating web crawling and web scraping, remember this: Web crawlers scans and indexes web pages, while web scrapers extracts data from web pages. 

2. Is Web Scraping Legal?

Web scraping is controversial and raises legal questions related to copyright and terms of service. With that said, it’s difficult to prove copyright over specific data, as only a selection of data is legally protected. So most scrapers can pull web data without any copyright infringement. 

3. How Much Does Web Scraping Cost?

Hiring a web scraping service to scrape data from a simple website can cost anywhere from $250 to $500 per month. But it varies on the service and whether they charge by the hour or with a fixed price. 

So what if you’re interested in building an in-house team of scrapers? 

Hiring in-house might sound like a good idea, but consider how much more you’d be paying each employee. Most large-scale scraping projects need a team of at least five people, so you’d be paying five full-time salaries for a service you can outsource. 

You might be wondering, “I’m not a company, but an individual. How much would it cost for me to do it myself?” 

If you’re a developer working on a side-project, it makes sense to take on the job yourself. But if you’re running low on time, you might want to outsource the job or use a quick tool like ScrapeHero Cloud.

4. How long does Web Scraping take?

If you run a company, it can take months to gather the tools and employees to start web scraping, especially if it’s an ongoing project. 

As for developers, it depends on your expertise and data size. It can take you anywhere from hours to months. 

Most web scraping services, like ScrapeHero, can set up your website and start sending data in a week or less. We’re a team dedicated to scraping data, so the turnaround time is much quicker.

5. How Do I Practice ‘Ethical Web Scraping’?

If you request data too frequently, then the website you’re collecting from will block you. And because the website owner has a property interest, you may be liable for damages. 

That doesn’t sound too fun, does it? 

Luckily, you can avoid this entirely with “ethical web scraping.” An ethical scraping tool will request data a reasonable amount of times. They avoid getting blocked because they aren’t bugging the website in the first place. 

This is a big reason why most companies outsource web scraping. Most scraping services, like ScrapeHero, know how to “politely” request and extract data. You can learn how to prevent getting blocked here. 

What’s Next?

After reading this post, you now know how web scraping works, five examples of scraping, and how to get started. 

If you want to learn more, then head over to part two of this guide. In part two, we’ll do something hands-on before getting into web page structures and XPaths. You’ll learn how to make a very simple scraper to scrape Reddit’s top pages. 

Check out part 2 and 3 of the Beginners Guide to Web Scraping and Data Extraction in the links here –

Part 2 – Build a web scraper for Reddit using Python and BeautifulSoup

Part 3 – Navigating and Scraping Data from Reddit

You also might be thinking, “I’m ready to automate web scraping!” If that’s the case, you can get started right now.

We can help with your data or automation needs

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