Web Scraping Tools
Data has become the driving force in today's information age that leads organizations' focus in all industries. Being able to collect and analyze data from the web plays a vital role in any organization's success.
Today, even the smallest startup companies generate data. Any business that owns a website, has a social media presence, or accepts electronic payments from customers collects different data. They collect personal customer info, customer habits, preferences, and demographics. They may also have, within their reach, the ability to perform web analytics by analyzing website traffic and social media engagements. The ability to collect such data and analyze it properly will help businesses make better and informed decisions.
Data becomes integral in all business processes. For example, we can use it to solve business problems (e.g., analyzing the reason for bad marketing campaigns), understand performance, improve business processes, and understand consumer's habits.
Businesses need to analyze competitor data. For instance, if you want to copy content from your competitor's website, you can copy/paste data out of it and store it in MS Word files. Such a method is feasible for copying content from a few web pages; however, is there an easier means if you need to copy content from hundreds or even thousands of web pages? This is where web scraping comes onto the scene.
Web scraping (also known as web content extraction or screen scraping) is automating data collection of a specific website/URL. We can store the scraped data in different formats (e.g., CSV, JSON) to later analyze it using different analytical tools.
Web scraping tools help to capture data without the need to access the target website database. One can also scrape hard to collect data, such as data on protected websites that do not allow visitors to copy/paste information. Additionally, the process of downloading content from target websites can be automated.
In this article, we will mention five popular web scraping tools to automate web data collection. However, before we begin, it is good to understand some legal implications when using web scraping tools.
Legal implications of web scraping tools
When data scraping against websites, you are increasing the load on the website being scraped. For instance, the web scraping tool will send numerous requests to the webserver within a short amount of time (more than what a human would typically do). If the target website uses shared hosting or a weak web server, and you run an aggressive scraping script against it, this may result in making the website run slowly and may even prevent some visitors from browsing.
Most websites use a file named robots.txt in their main directory to inform web scrapers and crawlers about which web pages they should not access. Besides, some websites have a policy (usually found on their terms of service page (see Figure 1)) that prohibits automatic data collection, so make sure to read this thoroughly before scraping any website content. Remember, Web scraping is a legitimate data extraction method; however, we need to consider some rules that apply in some jurisdictions regarding this issue.
Figure 1 – IMDB terms of service page (https://www.imdb.com/conditions) prohibit running web scraping and other data extraction tools against their website
Web Scraping Tools
Here are five popular web scraping tools to extract data from websites.
Scrapy is an open-source web crawling framework for extracting data from websites. It is written in Python and runs on all major operating systems (Linux, Windows, Mac, and BSD). Originally developed as a web scraping tool, it can be also used as a general-purpose web crawler. Scrapy extracts structured and unstructured data that can be used later in various applications such as data mining, information processing, historical archival, and automated testing.
To use Apify, you need to install Node.js first and then install Apify SDK.
Octoparse is a commercial application for web scraping. It does not require any coding experience, and data extraction can be performed with a simple point and click. Octoparse can extract data from websites with infinite scrolling, login, drop-down, AJAX, and export the extracted data as CSV, Excel, API, or save to databases. Other features include running the scraper from the cloud, setting a schedule to begin the scraping process automatically, and an IP rotation feature that changes the scraper's IP address on a time interval to prevent an IP from being blocked.
ParseHub is a free web scraping tool for extracting data from web pages. It has a simple user interface and can be used by invoice users with no coding skills.
Web scraping tools are useful for anyone who wants to get any sort of data from the internet. Web scraping can be used in different scenarios; for example, Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) gatherers use it to harvest data from public sources, while digital forensics examiners use such tools to collect information about a specific entity online. Enterprises and government agencies use web scrapers to collect statistical information for a variety of purposes.