Lessons Learned from 6 Years of Crawling the Web
When the digital age started flourishing and companies turned towards the web for their big data needs, there were countless obstacles ahead of them. Extracting data from the web came with complicated issues, and it was simply not easy for enterprises to tackle them all without losing focus on their core businesses. PromptCloud was founded with the aim of helping enterprises acquire data from the web, the way they need it, without having to face any of these bottlenecks. We have been acquiring solid expertise in this domain ever since we started. Now that web crawling has become one of the invaluable tools in the big data acquisition front, we’re happy to share what we learned from the last 6 years of crawling the web.
1. The web is highly dynamic in nature
Whether you notice it or not, the web is an ever-changing world. Every site is undergoing some sort of changes on a daily-basis. This could be code management, fixes to security holes, addition of new offers or just design changes. While most of such changes might seem insignificant to human visitors, these changes have the potential to break web crawling bots. Modification to class names, addition of new elements or even the slightest design changes can cause disruption while crawling. This highly dynamic nature of the web has taught us the importance of having a robust monitoring system to detect site changes. This constant need for a monitoring not only adds up to the overall cost of data extraction, but also makes it technically complicated.
2. With evolving web technologies, websites are becoming complex and more non-uniform
Gone are the days when websites were made using simple HTML and PHP. Web developers now use modern coding practices to provide a butter smooth user experience to the visitors. This has added to the complexity of websites to a large extent. While the user experience is getting simpler, the backend is becoming complex. Most modern websites use AJAX calls to dynamically sync data from the database to the live page, making the website more dynamic and powerful. Fetching data becomes all the more challenging with AJAX calls in picture as it would often require emulating a real human visitor. Hence, we have been constantly upgrading our tech stack to handle cases like these and take up any web crawling requirement.
3. Fetching data from web pages makes only 10% of the data acquisition game
Data acquisition is not all about scraping the data from a live web page on the internet. In fact, fetching data is only a tiny step with which the data acquisition game begins. Scraped data is often huge in size and would require a proper storage system to begin with. Distributed servers are used for storing the fetched data which helps enhance the processing speed and reduce latency. Maintaining the data is another challenge which demands frequent automated backups. Cleaning and structuring the data to make it compatible with applications is also an essential part of data acquisition. As the quantity of data that’s being dealt with increases, a reliable data pipeline must be set up to retrieve these datasets regularly. There are a host of processes running behind a web crawling solution than what meets the eye.
4. Most companies haven’t allocated a budget for data crawling
Most companies tend to allocate a common budget for their data project without taking into account the important and standalone stages that are part of it. Data acquisition in itself is a challenging and attention-deserving process that should have an exclusive budget. With a narrow budget to take care of the data project, you would find yourself exhausting about 50% of it just by acquiring web data. It is hence crucial to have a better understanding of the cost points associated with data acquisition.
5. Disallowing bots can negatively impact exposure and website traffic
Web crawling spiders, aka bots contribute to about 61% of the internet traffic. Many companies make the mistake of assuming that the traffic from bots are irrelevant or even harmful. This is the reason why some go to the extent of disallowing bots altogether via the robots.txt. Little do they know about the positive benefits provided by bots. Many bots which are run by feed aggregation sites, search engines, blog or business directories serve as a means of exposure to the sites. Simply put, when you are blocking the bots, you are making it difficult for your website to gain backlinks, exposure and traffic.
6. Websites don’t store all the content in code anymore
A decade back, most websites had all their content in the source code of the page. This usually meant loading all the content of a page every time the user reloads it since caching is not possible here. It was also a nightmare for the developers who had to deal with this mess of a code. Coding practices have evolved drastically since then and most websites now follow best practices like asynchronous loading of scripts, avoiding inline CSS etc. Coding practices on the web have evolved a lot in the last decade.
7. 26 % of all websites run on WordPress
Wordpress is a highly popular content management system and a large share of websites on the internet run on this platform. Out of the millions of websites we’ve crawled so far, about 26% of them were made using WordPress. This indicates the versatility of WordPress as a CMS and we believe the popularity is well deserved.
8. Businesses believe they can crawl data without any tech know-how
Many businesses that aren’t well informed about how complicated a process data extraction really is, make the mistake of going with a DIY tool or in-house crawling setup. DIY tools might seem like an attractive solution considering how they are advertised as easy to use data extraction tools. However, their simplicity comes with a price. These tools are incapable of handling a serious, large scale data extraction requirement and is meant for entry level extraction where the target site is simple and quality of data is not a concern.
Although outsourcing web data extraction to a vendor can free up resources and technical staff will be more focused on the application of data, note that you will still need tech personnel at your end to access and store the data.
Web crawling is a niche process
From our years of experience with crawling and fetching data from millions of websites for hundreds of clients, one thing is clear – you need a dedicated team and high end resources to run a web data extraction process. The techniques that we now use to make the extraction faster, efficient, and error-free are the product of years of experience and tinkering. You could easily evade this technical barrier by outsourcing your web data extraction project to us and spend more time on the core business.