Hey guys, in my experience as a web scraping developer, I have come across so many misconceptions about web scraping. Because the reputation of web scraping has continued to get worse over the years, let’s shed light on some of the biggest misunderstandings about web scraping. Read the article or watch the video then let me know what else you would add to the list!
As web scraping is becoming more and more popular I think we need to get things straight. After a little research on the internet and considering the questions I often get asked, I’ve found that these six misconceptions are the most common about web scraping. If you are totally new to web scraping or you consider leveraging it the followings should be helpful for you.
Web scraping is illegal
Starting with the biggest BS around web scraping. Is web scraping legal? Yes, unless you use it unethically. Web scraping is just like any tool in the world. You can use it for good stuff and you can use it for bad stuff. Web scraping itself is not illegal. As a matter of fact, web scraping – or web crawling, were historically associated with well-known search engines like Google or Bing. These search engines crawl sites and index the web. Because these search engines built trust and brought back traffic and visibility to the sites they crawled, their bots created a favorable view towards web scraping. It is all about how you web scrape and what you do with the data you acquire.
A great example when web scraping can be illegal is when you try to scrape nonpublic data. Nonpublic data can be something that is not reachable for everyone on the web. Maybe you have to login to see the data. In this case web scraping is probably unethical, depending on the context. Also it does matter how nice you are technically when scraping a website. To learn more, I urge you to check out the most frequent legal issues associated with web scraping!
You need to code
Some people think that you need to be an expert programmer to scrape web data. However, there are software solutions out there like Import.io that make it so you don’t have to write any code. Also keep in mind that though scraping a website without coding is great but it’s not applicable in many cases. If you have to further process data (cleaning, deduplication, etc..) a web scraping software can’t really help you.
Web scraping projects traditionally are known to be labor intensive, leaving you with data that’s incomplete, inaccurate, unreliable, and out of date—while introducing high costs and business risk. Import.io’s Web Data Integration removes this complexity and unifies fragmented data from across the internet into something you can trust.
Web scraping is cheap
Most people and businesses don’t want to deal with web scraping themselves. It is quite frequent that they hire a company that provides web scraping solutions or a freelancer. Now, just to get this straight, web scraping is cheap regarding the ROI it provides in most cases. At the same time, you should know that hiring a full-fledged web scraping service is gonna cost you money. If you do a quick research how much different vendors and freelancers charge for web scraping services you will find a huge difference. It’s because some companies and freelancers with higher rates do provide better services.
Also, you should figure out how complex your project is. For large, long-term projects I suggest hiring a vendor because they usually guarantee you’ll get your data every time on time. Also some web scraping companies provides additional useful services like further processing data to fit into your system. Once you figure out what your web data needs are, see how Import.io’s Managed Data Service can help you solve your most complex, high-scale, high quality needs for web data.
The web scraper works forever
When building a scraper, we want it to work seamlessly forever and just deliver the data we need. Unfortunately it’s not that easy. The biggest challenge in web scraping is that websites are constantly changing. This is the nature of the current state of the internet. To keep up, we should always adjust our scraper so we can trust it delivers reliable and up-to-date data. Now, if you just setup your scraper with a freelancer dude then it’s gonna be a headache when the scraper wrecks(and it will sooner or later unfortunately) because you need to find another freelancer to make it work again or if you’re lucky the one who built the scraper is available at the moment.
You’re in a good position if you’re using a web scraping service because the vendor will take care of all the problems you will not even realize anything. The data is flowing as usual. So just keep in mind that if you need continuous data flowing into your system, you’ll need to watch your scraper and adjust if it wrecks.
Web scraping is all about selecting data from the HTML
This one is a myth often told by programmers who have never built a real world web scraper. I’ve heard this one soo many times. Like “It’s no big deal bro just write a regex and fetch the data from the html and you’re done.” Sure web scraping is associated with fetching data from a website but the thing is what really matters is how you can use that data to drive your business. Web scraping is much more than getting raw data out of a website.
Web scraping – when done correctly – involves cleaning messy data(because 99% of the time raw data from the web is plain unusable), deduplication, all sort of filtering, integration with your current system, maybe analytics and visualization. It’s complex. Now you might say that hey at the end of the day you just want to see the raw data you don’t need any of the stuff just mentioned. That’s cool. But there’s a chance you’re leaving behind a massive amount of value on the table by not processing the data further.
Any website can be scraped
Website owners can make it really hard for bots to scrape data. There’s a bunch of ways to make a website scraping-proof. Although in reality, there’s no technical shield that could stop a full-fledged scraper from fetching data.
That being said, if the website has lots of scraper traps, captchas and other layers of defense against bots then surely web scraping is not welcomed there. In that case, you should think twice about it before scraping the website. Technically it’s possible to fight all types of bot defenses but do you really want? If the website proactively steps up against scrapers then it’s not a good idea to scrape it anyway.
Web data scraping and crawling aren’t illegal by themselves, but it is important to be ethical while doing it. Don’t tread onto other people’s sites without being considerate. Respect the rules of their site. Consider reading over their Terms of Service, read the robots.txt file. If you suspect a site is preventing you from crawling, consider contacting the webmaster and asking permission to crawl their site. Don’t burn out their bandwidth–try using a slower crawl rate (like 1 request per 10-15 seconds). Don’t publish any content you find that was not intended to be published.
Web scraping has helped us make the best use of the web with services like Google and Bing search engines. It is a powerful tool that helps businesses leverage the data of the internet, but should be done respectfully.
Of course there are more things I could mention today I just wanted to tell you about the ones that I got the most and feel like these are the most crucial when it comes to leveraging web scraping. Comment below I would be glad to hear your thoughts!