What if a website that you want to keep track of doesn’t provide the convenience of RSS feeds? Frequently updated websites like blogs and forums typically have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to and stay updated. However, this is not the case with a lot of websites out there. Ecommerce sites, job portals, classified sites, travel and real estate portals etc. are some examples of sites that you might wish had RSS feeds. The data available on these sites is of high value to businesses that are in competition to them since the data could help with competitive intelligence.
Google reader used to provide the ability to get updates from any website irrespective of the site offering RSS or not. There are online services that can help you get feeds from sites that do not offer feeds, but most of them fail often or limit the number of times it can be used per day. In short, these are not suitable solutions when you need data for business requirements. The perfect solution for turning any website into a data feed would be to use a web scraping solution. Read on to know more about using web scraping to get feeds from any website that you want to follow or get data from.
Before we explain how web scraping can be used to get data feeds from any website, it is important to know what use cases it is suitable for. Here are some business use cases where web scraping can be applied to:
1. Competitive intelligence
Competitive intelligence can be derived from the data scraped from your competitors’ sites using web scraping. Keeping track of what your competitors are up to can go a long way in today’s highly competitive market where staying ahead of the curve is crucial.
2. Content aggregation
Job sites, travel portals and real estate sites need large number of listings to populate their websites. This data can be aggregated from other sites by using web scraping. Since most of these sites wouldn’t have a feed that you can subscribe to, web scraping is the only resort. With web scraping, this data can be availed as structured data records with your preferred data points, in a convenient document format.
3. Market research
Market research requires a lot of data to attain the desired results. This requirement can only be fulfilled by a large-scale data extraction solution like scraping. Web scraping helps businesses harvest the publicly available data for market research. Since web is growing in terms of size and the quality of data available, it makes for a great source of data for research. Manufacturers can use this data to understand the demands of the customers and create new products or improve existing ones to cater to the trends.
4. Sentiment analysis
Sentiment analysis is used by companies to stay updated with the conversations on social media that matter to their business. By understanding what the customers are talking about their brand/product on social media, organizations can find and fix issues or opportunities that they might be totally unaware of. This in turn helps them have a firm control over their brand image among customers. Data for sentiment analysis can be extracted from social media sites in the form of a feed using web scraping.
As we discussed earlier in the post, the ideal solution for getting data from a website without RSS feeds is to write a web crawler program that can extract data from these sites according to your specific requirements. The advantages of going the web scraping route includes stability, scalability, speed and convenience. It is the most-suitable solution for enterprise-level data needs. When it comes to web scraping, you will have to make a choice between doing the scraping in-house or depending on a web scraping service provider who can feed you with the required data. It is recommended to go with a vendor in this case, considering the complexity of the web scraping process. Being a technically demanding process, it requires expert knowledge and high-end resources to begin with.
1. Defining sources and data points
This would be the only prerequisite when you are depending on a web scraping service for data. The sources would be the websites that you need data from, data points refer to the type of information that you need to extract from the target pages. For example, if you need product data from Ecommerce sites, the data points would be product title, price, color, size and similar information typically available on the product pages.
2. Crawler setup
Crawler setup is the most complicated part of the web scraping process. A web crawler is programmed to fetch the required data points from the target websites. The source code of the website is first analysed to find the html tags that hold the required pieces of information. These tags are used while setting up the crawler to fetch the data. A DaaS vendor can handle this part once they are provided with the sources and data points.
3. Cleansing and structuring of data
Once the web crawler starts working, the data initially gets collected in a dump file. This data is unstructured and might contain noise. Noise is the unwanted html tags and pieces of text that got scraped during the process. To clean this, the data must be run through a cleaning system. The cleaned data is then structured to make it compatible with analytics tools and databases.
A DaaS vendor can provide the clean, structured data in multiple document formats. Most popular data delivery formats include JSON, CSV and XML. Depending on your specific use case, you can choose from the list of available data delivery formats. You will have the option to choose between regular or incremental crawls. Incremental crawling can be opted for if your requirement demands fresh data on a continuous basis. The data will be provided to you at a frequency that you can specify to your data provider.
Since all the complicated aspects of web scraping are taken care of by the web scraping service provider, your business can concentrate on analysis of the data without being involved in the data acquisition process. This also has the added benefit of having more time to focus on your core business instead of getting into the complication of data extraction from your preferred sources on the web. In short, your business can enjoy a higher ROI and reduce total cost of ownership by going with a DaaS provider.