Today's internet is expanding at an unimagined rate, and the data roaming about the servers worldwide are extensively diverse and can be used to gather valuable insights, but how? The answer is Web Scraping! But what exactly is web scraping, and how to achieve your goals with data extraction?
Web scraping is the process of analyzing a webpage or its HTML code more often to obtain information that can be of strategic worth. This seems quite simple, you just open up a website and look at it, and you will know what is available on that page, right? In theory, yes, but in practice, no way and here is why.
The internet is a place devoid of any limits, and while it has already grown to gigantic scales, it is not stopping any time soon. Obtaining data from even a tiny subset of this ‘humungous’ thing involves visiting hundreds of thousands of web pages. Thus, manually visiting web pages is not an option.
This is why we have artificially intelligent tools called web scrapers that visit sites and read through the HTML behind the page to obtain information hidden within the fine print or the front-end graphics in our case.
Data is the new oil of the 21st century, and in case someone happens to be living under a rock, entire companies are running solely on user data and making billions of dollars in revenues every month. The same data that organizations like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have gathered during the last couple of decades has enabled them to do what they are doing today.
Okay, I understand that data is essential, but how will web scraping help? Can we collect data as extensive as Google’s and Facebook’s?
No, you probably might never be able to collect data that is anything close to what these organizations possess, but who needs that much data when even a few GBs can do wonders.
And web scrapers can get you those few GBs of data. Web scraping tools generally work in a combination of a ‘web crawler’ whose job is to open every link on a webpage and guide the web scraper to the webpage and a web scraper that digs into the data available on the website to extract valuable snippets of information.
Web scraping is particularly useful when you need to stay as informed as possible to stay on top of things and respond appropriately to changing circumstances. Some of the benefits that web scraping bears are:
- Market research that allows companies to identify trends in the industry and the public sentiment about certain products
- Content monitoring enables organizations to look out for information regarding certain topics that can disturb the current situation. This is especially relevant in the finance sector.
- Lead generation that provides opportunities to a target audience that converts better
There is cutthroat competition out in the market in every industry where companies are fighting their wars of survival and trying to gather as many loyal customers as possible for their long-term survival. This is also called "growth" in sophisticated business terms. Web scrapers are extensively used by intelligent organizations today to get data. Valuable insights are extracted from this data to score a better strategic position in both the short and long term.
Web scraping is particularly popular among specific niches like the travel industry or the digital services, not to forget the trillion-dollar eCommerce industry. These industries rely greatly on consumer behaviors and the market responses to those behaviors. Thus, it becomes vital that players in these niches stay well-informed about their environment so they can prudently plan for the future and make wise decisions while they have the time to think and the option to choose.
Almost the entire digital world and the infrastructure that it runs on is part of the digital services. An extraordinary component of this industry is the Software as a Service (SaaS) organizations that offer applications and tools majorly on subscription-based models.
SaaS organizations need to be well-informed about the customer sentiment and services provided by other organizations to devise appealing price plans and provide features that the customers are looking for. Web scraping can help these organizations peek into an online discussion about certain software services such as graphic designing applications or hosting providers and collect people’s ideas from these discussions.
For example, while searching through a software rating website, your web scraper identified comments about a hosting service that their servers are glitchy and end up crashing the hosted website every now and then. Being a hosting service yourself, you immediately grasped the idea and sat down with your marketing team to devise a new promotional campaign to target users interested in the faulty hosting service. The marketing campaign would explain how your servers are one of the best in the industry and that you offer free migration to your hosting service via an especially developed migration tool.
Online sales have seen a significant boom in the last three or so years, leading the eCommerce industry to grow from a helpful alternative to a standard way of buying things. The industry and businesses in this industry have witnessed tough competition and are eager more than ever to get ahead of the competition to maintain their place in the market.
Web scrapers are quite normal in the eCommerce industry, where businesses try to assess their competitor’s sales and strategies while formulating one of their own. There are entire tools built upon web scrapers that show derived information about the demand and supply of a product, the keywords that the product is ranked against, and the search volume, all neatly displayed in a fancy dashboard.
A widespread example of web scraping on online websites is monitoring the changes in the stock of different products. On an eCommerce platform, you upload the details of the products you are trying to sell as well as the quantity of stock that you have available for sale. While the information about your inventory is shared between you and your eCommerce platform only, there is a limit to the maximum number of pieces that a customer can order, equal to the amount you registered as the quantity of stock available with you for sale. Now I can send a web scraper every day to your online store to record the maximum number that can be ordered every day, and if I maintain the streak for long enough, I can evaluate your stock movements to ascertain the average sales for a product, how often do you order it, which variants of the product are more in demand and which days of the week are hot days for a sale.
All of this information crucial to your selling strategy was just lying out there, and even the simplest web scraper could have extracted it had it visited your website with sufficient frequency.
Web scrapers can perform such iterations at regular intervals and, when expanded to a sufficient monitoring sample, can provide insights about almost anything from stock management to pricing and promotions.
The travel industry witnesses rather drastic changes with airline fares and seat availabilities changing by the hour. While trains and airline companies have sufficient data to identify trends in demand and manage their operations accordingly, a traveler can know as much as a word of mouth unless he too goes for a web scraper.
For example, a travel agent can use a web scraper to track the availability of hotels near a tourist destination to identify what days are the busiest and how the hotels adjust their prices depending upon the inflow of guests and volume of requests from booking applications. As a result, the travel agent can book rooms for those days in advance when the fares are lower than usual to offer economical prices to his clients. Similarly, a hotel near the airport can track the schedule of flights over a period to develop a trend for international flights to make appropriate arrangements for guests and have the best-trained staff to cater to foreign travelers expected around international flight hours.
A web scraper is your mine worker who goes down the dark hole of the wilderness that the internet is and digs out key information that is indicative of strategic advantage. Decision-makers can then use this information to formulate plans to use the available information to the business's advantage. The quote "knowledge is power" has never had a more substantial impact than this moment.