What is data scraping and how is it used?



Rewrite: Gareth Ridout 2022

In the world of business data, every number and statistic pertaining to your company and your business partners offers an opportunity for insight, growth, and success. For example, researching clients and business partners have proven essential to closing profitable, mutually beneficial deals with them. Many companies in many industries use data and web scraping for content and market research. In the real estate industry, notably, scraping real estate listings is commonplace to remain competitive in this business sector (read Feb 3, 2022). For the modern business owner, data scraping is a powerful business automation option, fueling the growth and success of their companies through increased productivity.

Data scraping is a method that empowers professionals with various tools to work with data - be it extracting, analyzing, or integrating. Leveraging its ability to efficiently extract data from multiple websites, or extracting data from a legacy system when no API is available, data scraping is an efficient way to replace cumbersome, and many times ineffective, programs or tasks humans are completing.

What Is Data Scraping? What is Data Extraction?

Data scraping (or data extraction) is a practice that can automatically extract data from websites, databases, enterprise applications, or legacy systems. With data scraping, large amounts of relevant information—such as product reviews, contact information for certain businesses or individuals, social networking posts, and web content—can be collected for your company’s use. Custom software collects and exports web data into a program that then integrates it with your company’s resources and workflow. For example, data scraping software developed by SilverLogic is often used to export pertinent information into spreadsheets, QuickBooks, documents, and websites - all at your fingertips.

Data scraping is a practice that empowers professionals with various tools, to work with information by extracting, analyzing, or integrating it into a company’s systems. Able to efficiently extract data from multiple sources even when no API is available, scraping is an efficient way to replace cumbersome, ineffective programs or manual data entry by a company’s workers. An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a programming tool belt that allows software developers to create applications that work in harmony with any given system, such as a company’s databases.

Web and content scraping tools, employed by nearly every industry from sports to government to corporations, are a competitive advantage that makes businesses millions of dollars each year. There are many off-the-shelf, point-and-click data scrapers businesses can leverage, in addition to fully customized, cloud-based web scrapers. So, how can companies adopt data scraping? What kinds of scrapers are there and what tools are available to business owners?

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What are Cloud-Based Web or Data Scraping Programs?

Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube often provide their APIs publicly for developers to access their data in a structured way. But when APIs are not available or different data needs to be extracted, a web scraping program is built using Python, Ruby, PHP, or many other popular programming languages, in order to access and download web information without an API. Historically, web scraping programs are often called bots, crawlers, spiders, harvesters, etc.

Some examples of online web scraping tools available include:

Some examples of screen scraping software include:

  • UiPath - Comprehensive screen scraper to pull data from any application in minutes
  • Jacada - Jacada Integration and Automation (JIA) is a reliable data integration, desktop automation, and windows/web app screen scraping
  • Macro Scheduler - Powerful screen text capture, OCR functions, and multiple tools

Data scraping has also historically been used illegally and unethically. It is sometimes used to steal and re-share copyrighted content or to automate the matching and beating of competitors’ pricing. Spammers and scammers often use it to harvest email addresses to send malicious mail or scams. It is also used to hack websites or business intranets, and extract (steal) information to commit other types of crime, like blackmail, or fraud. In order to use data scraping responsibly for your business, please consult with a team of experts, such as The SilverLogic, to ensure that your business technology is ethical.


Two Types of Data Scraping

Web Scraping

Web scraping (or content scraping) is the main form of data scraping for business applications. Its software automatically downloads webpages or resources, parses their coded information, and delivers it to companies for usage. Meant for data analysis, acquisition, and research, web scraping has been around since the 2000s. Search engines used web scrapers called “Web Crawlers” to inspect the content and data of millions of websites. The keywords and data extracted were then indexed and used to power the search engines users use to navigate the web. Without web crawlers, we would not have Google, Yahoo!, or Bing.

Web scraping is comprehensive, customizable, and effective at collecting whatever modern web data your company requires for intelligent business decisions.

Scraping the web and extracting content can assist businesses in implementing the following practices:

  • Price Comparison
  • Market & Competitor Research
  • Contact Scraping (Email and Contact Info)
  • Weather or Currency Data Monitoring
  • Marketing - Content Creation, SEO, Metadata, etc.
  • Decision Making & Planning

Web scraping is utilized by a wide range of industries, including:

  • Search Engines - Extract relevant information from websites to display in relation to search criteria
  • Sports - Tracking sports for stats, fantasy standings, bets, etc.
  • Government - Tracking inflation, currency, or news for a specific country
  • Real Estate - Tracking the prices for housing markets, property or rentals, competitor comparison, and more
  • Marketing - Tracking social media sentiment around consumer confidence, SEO, metadata, content scraping, keywords, ad word copy, potential influencers, and more
  • Pricing - Compare the prices of tickets, airlines, hotels, festivals, products, or any number of items or services to source the best deal or price accordingly

Screen Scraping

Unlike web scraping, screen scraping does not download and parse web sources. Instead, it analyzes visual interfaces—straight from the screen intended for the user—to scrape text, images, and other content, making it ideal for application-based analytics and research. It is also extremely useful for scanning outdated sources. The rapidly-paced evolution of technology means that certain legacy systems, software, and applications become obsolete and costly to maintain. Furthermore, these large investments hold a wealth of sensitive and important information that is painstaking to export without the aid of a screen scraper. In a 2017 study completed by SnapLogic and the independent research firm Vanson Bourne, based on a survey of 500 U.S. IT companies, it was discovered that critical data trapped in legacy systems and disconnected data roadmaps added up to nearly $140 billion in missed opportunities and additional costs.

Screen scraping a system in its entirety is crucial for certain companies, especially when their data needs to be kept intact for long periods of time for regulatory or record-keeping purposes. Screen scraping is ideal for extracting data without accessing the source code, as many older CRM systems do not have their own built-in APIs. This makes scraping technology a powerful tool for migrations, due to its ability to access and export legacy data with a high level of accuracy.

Screen scraping can be harnessed to aid businesses in the following practices, to name a few:

Screen scraping can be harnessed to aid businesses in the following practices, to name a few:

  • Using standard APIs to analyze screen contents
  • System API interception to monitor (catch) how data reaches the screen
  • Custom mirror driver or accessibility driver
  • Using Optical character recognition (OCR)

Web scraping is used by many industries in daily business operations, including:

  • Crucial Legacy Systems - Highly accurate and complete migration of all system data
  • Governments - public and government records
  • Health Care Providers - health records for patients
  • Banks - legal documents, account information, and transaction records
  • Energy & Mining - crucial legacy systems data, records, approvals, etc.
  • Corporations & Multi-Nationals - Enterprise data from ERP, CRM, SCM, and other systems

What Can Data Scraping Do?

Web scraping is used to price, monitor, analyze, and assemble information in support of marketing efforts, content creation, or decision making.

Data scraping can serve as a powerful tool for staying ahead of business competition. For example, imagine a company invests funds into a promotion of their products to generate sales but doesn’t know a competitor is a step ahead of them by using business automation technology and a web scraper. The web scraper can swiftly identify their competitor’s new price soon after it comes online, enabling a quick response from competing business leaders.

Instant information updates and an ability to capitalize on opportunities enable companies to keep abreast of evolving business conditions and stay ahead of their competition. Business leaders and managers can rely on business automation technology to provide them with clear, organized data to consider during critical decision-making. Fully integrated within their company’s documentation systems of choice, data scraping technology ensures that business and market research has never been easier.

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Can Data Scraping Help You?

Whether you are upgrading your legacy system or want to further learn how to leverage the power of web or content scraping for your business, contact us today at The SilverLogic for a meeting on how this technology can help your business thrive.

Our award-winning team of software engineers and experts are customer-focused solution architects, ready to build a custom solution for your e-commerce/online business or enterprise. Together, we can simplify the process of upgrading your system or building a custom scraping tool for web development, data migration, marketing, or any other application - even a Neo4j-powered political data tool. Since 2012, our team has helped clients navigate questions of investing vs spending on tech solutions, providing a number of services and solutions to help collaboratively create their own custom-made competitive advantage.

Looking for a shorter article? Check out our beginners guide to data extraction.

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