As web pages become increasingly more significant in bite-size and loaded information, scraping them can become a real challenge.
While building WebScrapingAPI, our team has learned a lot about what efficient web scraping means and how to save as much time as possible while doing it. The following paragraphs will contain some of the tips we found to be most helpful during this process.
Why is web scraping essential?
We all heard about it before: “Knowledge is power”. Francis Bacon definitely did not hear about web scraping at the time but that doesn’t mean the quote is less valuable in our case. These days, people are using web scraping tools for gathering information of all types, but the most used cases are the following:
- Price comparison
- Lead generation
- Market analysis
- Academic research
- Collecting training datasets for machine learning
Check out the following article if you want to find more about what are the top 7 use cases for data extraction.
We live in a fast-paced world where processing large amounts of data has become a superpower. But how can you get your hands on that data without wasting a couple of days or even a couple of months? Copying and pasting are some of the approaches you can take but it will definitely waste a lot of your time and energy. So why not give web scraping a try?
In the following section, we are going to lay out a couple of web scraping tips we found out to be the most helpful during the process of building Web Scraping API.
Top 8 Web Scraping Tips
1. Respect the website and its users
Always keep in mind that the information you are gathering was previously written by another human being. Someone spent a couple of hours, maybe days, trying to collect all that data and present it to the Internet in the best possible way. Respect that! Respect people’s work, their time, and their website’s users.
If you are looking to create a business with the collected data, you should always ask for the administrator’s permission when scraping a website that was not built by you or someone you know. Who knows? Maybe they’ve always thought about that idea, and you are looking at your next business partner.
2. Simulate human behavior
Using a script to scrape a web page should feel natural. The process should emulate you visiting the web page and reading it, just as you would typically do it. As we will see in the following tips, being as authentic as possible is the key to successfully scraping any web page.
Try making the process of scraping a web page a little bit more slowly. Add some randomized clicks here and there, wait for a couple of seconds before clicking on a new page, scroll up and down. You can even make the crawler click some wrong link then go back to the previous page and continue with the right one. Simulating human behavior can be a lot of fun!
3. Use rotating residential proxies
Residential proxies represent IP addresses associated with different ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that help make the user’s location more believable by pointing to a physical location.
Rotating proxies are represented by a large pool of IP addresses that the web scraping tool chooses from when making a request.
Web pages count the number of HTTP requests coming from a specific IP address. Using rotating residential proxies is the best practice when scraping as they are the most efficient way for not getting your bot recognized.
You can check out this list of free proxies and where to find them if you are looking to build your own web scraper. If you don’t want to bother with the process, you should know that Web Scraping API offers a couple of options when it comes to proxies and you have 1000 free API calls when registering as a new user.
4. Use different user-agents
The User-Agent informs the web page what browser and operating system you are using. A specific User-Agent looks something like this:
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; Win64; x64; rv:47.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/47.0
Just like in the case of residential proxies, if a web page confirms you are using a bot, it will ban your access. As we have suggested before, using different User-Agents for every web scraping request you make it’s an excellent idea that will make your requests more credible. Therefore, the web page will always grant you free access.
5. Cache pages you’ll scrape more than once
Even if you are looking for scraping a huge website or just a bite-sized one, you will want to cache the data you have already downloaded. Loading the web pages every time you need their data will take a lot of time, and this is why using some technologies like Redis, SQL, or any filesystem cache can help you big time.
6. Keep a list of fetched URLs
Another good idea to keep in mind when scraping a web page is to keep a list of the URLs you have already fetched data from. We suggest using Redis, storing a key-value pair for every web page you visit.
You do not want to start from the beginning every time your web scraper crashes after fetching more than 50% of the data you need. This tactic, combined with the previously presented one, can save you a lot of time and energy in that situation.
7. Scrape pages systematically
When scraping a web page, we usually have to deal with a lot of data. This is why splitting the process into different steps will help deliver the best results.
Let’s say we need to scrape a real estate website. We will need the URL of that specific property, the number of rooms, the number of square feet, etc. We suggest you fetch the URLs first, the images of the place second, and then the rest of the information for each property. This way, it will be less likely that you will get an error and in case it actually happens, you will lose a lot fewer data.
8. Use scripts to solve Captchas
Captchas represent one of the most common anti-bots tactics implemented by now. If by any chance, your behavior seems a little suspicious to the web page you are trying to scrape, you will get a captcha-solving problem.
This is how one of the most recent captcha tactics looks like:
To overcome this impediment, we suggest you use a captcha solver. They are relatively cheap and can do the job pretty quickly. Be sure to test a couple before settling in for any of them.
Web scraping allows businesses to improve their product by analyzing competitors, the market, and their customers. However, the process of building your own web scraping tool can be a little tedious and not at all times successful. Anyone with a little programming knowledge can do it; but to make it fully usable, you really have to consider the little details.
By following the previous tips, vigorously studying the market, and focusing our attention on building the most useful product we could think of, our team came up with a web scraping API that will save you a lot of time.
Why don’t you convince yourself? Start your web scraping journey now with WebScrapingAPI.