Star Wars: The Force Awakens has taken a sterling opening since its worldwide release. As per Forbes, it is expected to cross the magical $2 billion mark in the coming days. With the massive public interest around this particular franchise, how can we at PromptCloud remain unaffected? And why not? The movie showcases so many traits which align precisely to our core values.
Find it hard to believe?
Take, for instance, the legendary Yoda. Be it a Star War aficionado or otherwise, only one character comes close to the massive popularity enjoyed, perhaps only by Darth Vader, and that is Yoda! The small size yet wisest of all characters in The Force is what drives our ambition in our chosen space of business. A second similarity–ever since his debut in 1980, he has emerged as a cultural and entertainment icon, a trait similar to our organizational objective. Lastly, the value provided by our expertise in data scraping and web scraping is similar to the immense knowledge passed on by the 900-year-old Jedi master.
What constitutes web scraping?
Imagine a web development company that needs to grow its business. They might need data from the web to penetrate newer markets or newer segments and grow their business. Or imagine an ecommerce store. They will need to find out the various prices at which a particular product is available, and then optimize the pricing for better conversion. Or imagine a web research company. They will need to update the freshest data in a particular format (usually CSV or XLS) for their end clients to ensure that their marketing campaigns do not hit dead ends. This is where data scraping comes into the picture.
Let’s take another example. As a proven form of marketing, a business chooses to go with sending e-mail blasts to their prospective customers. They will choose to go with the e-mail Ids available in the billions of pages of websites on Internet. However, as much as they like, the data will never be present on a single page or in a single format. This is typically what we call unstructured data–i.e. data that is present in diverse sources in disparate formats. So, while the information is all there, it needs the expert eye of a web scraping service to glean out only the relevant information in a structured output format.
This is precisely what we know as web scraping.
To put it straight, web scraping involves taking ‘safe’ content from a site, transforming them to meet a layout standards and then using it towards a commercial benefit. The technique behind web scraping has evolved a lot over the past few years. What initially started out as a simple copy paste by people has turned into something more value- driven, systematic, accurate, and targeted, thanks to specialist scraping software available in the market today. Nowadays, it is routine for market leaders in this service to use multiple APIs (Google scraping API or Twitter API) that help custom data to be extracted, shared, and integrated into client systems and databases in near real time.
Human beings can easily do the scraping for one or two pages. However, when it comes to scanning billions of pieces of content on millions of webpages, human mind will simply go for a toss. This is where you need the automation intellect of a modern day Yoda–i.e. web scraper bots.
These scraper bots scan millions of targeted webpages with the intent to source information and store it on client systems for future analysis. These automated software are capable of extracting and storing data much more quickly, accurately, and efficiently than humans.
How web scraping impacts business fortunes?
Yoda isn’t simply known for his 800-year-old wisdom and intellect. He has a proven record of Jedi mastery that he passed on to Star Wars legends. Similarly, web scraping has evolved tremendously over the past many years to become a mainstream approach for startups as well as established enterprises in providing immense value from targeted, timely, and relevant data.
Let’s take a look at how profitable web scraping has been for a myriad of different industries over the world –
E-commerce retailers look at monitoring competitor stores product pricing using web scraping. They can also use it to enhance their product placement, profile and content. Increasingly, retailers are also using reviews to carry out sentimental analysis to see how a given product is performing online.
Lawyers can look up similar case references and precedents to help with their existing case.
3. Web Research–
Companies specialize in extracting phone number and email id to sell to client companies. They may go into an advanced level of scraping to dig up meaningful, targeted and high value information such as working hours, communication address, list of products or services offered, or geo codes, etc.
Recruiters may use scraping to get the desired candidate profile that aligns to their job vacancies. It can also help them aggregate job listings under a job board for better targeted visibility.
6. Digital media–
Companies in this space will look at analyzing conversations happening on social media using trackers such as hashtags.
US has a proven record of aggregating dealership information for a particular brand so that searching and looking up a new car to purchase becomes easier.
Best practices in web scraping
Now that we know the kind of immense potential in web scraping, it is also important to know that there are some industry endorsed best practices that a web scraping service has to adhere to in order to stay on the right side of the law.
1. Check robots.txt file–
This file guides a crawler software about which page is ok to crawl and which page (such as ‘/admin’) is off limits. Good scraper bots need to respect the robots.txt file during their web scraping operation.
2. Listen to what the site has to say–
It is good to respect the setup and configuration of the site you are crawling so that the scraping operation doesn’t hamper the site’s business. So if the site is slower, your crawling should be kept to a bare minimum. If a site is throwing errors for long time, phase out your retry times to give it breathing space. If a lot of Error 404s is coming up for a site, it will be prudent to leave the site rather than burdening the server with pointless attempts to crawl each and every page a large number of times.
3. Crawling sensibly–
One needs to avoid crawling the entire website at one go. Also, one needs to spend a reasonable amount of time on a site or page. So a best practice will be to crawl only a specific portion of the site.
4. Utilize the user agent–
This string potentially identifies the crawling source. If you are a competent expert in web crawling, you will understand how important is this string to establish goodwill and maintain your reputation. It needs to have 3 pieces of essential information to build such goodwill.
i- Your direct contact details
ii- Detail on what type of information is being collected and how will it be used
iii- Provide the choice to opt-out in case the targeted site doesn’t want to be crawled.
5. Piecemeal data harvesting–
When you target an excellent find of a website, it makes sense to do a part by part data harvesting for your own future use. This not only helps you save from unreliable bandwidth problems but also respects the website’s bandwidth capability and provides no harm to its smooth running.
6. Apt targeting–
When looking at a new website with 1000s of pages of content and information, it makes moral sense to save these to disk and then utilize it for your analysis. If you try to process in line with the new data that comes from the server, it will lag down on the website, a sure sign of being banned.
In short, we need to establish crawler bots that are sensitive to the condition and fabric of the site it is visiting.
For a data scraping company, keeping these pointers in mind will help them gain the respect Yoda commands at the Star Wars family. Keeping these pointers in mind will help you ease the pain associated with data mining and web scraping at all four crucial stages of the process–Resource Discovery, Data Selection, Data Optimization, and Analysis.
Check out the different ways in which your organization can employ these competent services to add value at multiple levels to your business strategies.