5 Secrets We Discovered While Web Scraping
Web scraping is still a niche domain with only the technically rich companies venturing into doing it in-house. The scope of collecting huge amounts of insightful data from the big data repository called world wide web is broad. Since we are into acquiring data from the internet using advanced crawling technologies, we handle terabytes of data every day. With great data comes great insights and secrets. With scraping, we have seen the good, bad and the ugly side of the internet. We would be happy to share some of the deep insights that we could uncover with all the data that we’ve been playing with. Data-backed insights can come out as an eye-opener even if the ideas always existed as assumptions. These are some of the deep insights that we dug out from the zettabytes of data we’ve dealt with.
1. Most websites undergo changes everyday
You might not even notice it, but just about every site undergoes some sort of changes every day. Patches to security issues, code management, new offers and design improvisations are some of the most common reasons for changes in a website. This is not a huge concern to humans as the changes are mostly internal and doesn’t completely change the way you interact with the site. But for web crawlers, even the change of a class name could lead to a loop of errors. This stresses on the importance of regularly monitoring the source websites while crawling.
2. Every website is collecting data about you
This might not come out as a surprise to you, but the extent and depth of data collection would surely raise eyebrows if you know about it. Ecommerce sites, social media platforms, search engines and literally any site where you can create a profile and be a member collects and treats your data as a precious asset. For example, Facebook is reportedly saving everything you type in the status box, even if you do not publish the status and delete the text instead. No wonder, with data becoming more and more crucial in this competitive market, everyone wants more of it. However, it’s not always a bad thing, here is why it’s okay to let technology know you better.
3. About 60 % of the sites have major security vulnerabilities
They say people who are well aware of the security issues on the internet are the same ones who use the weakest security measures. Not sure if this is the case, but we found serious security vulnerabilities on almost 60% of the webpages out there. This could mean these sites are vulnerable to many different kinds of attacks which could compromise user data like passwords and credit card details. It’s not logical to expect all of these sites to fix these issues at once and provide you with a safer web experience. If you are still using a common password for all the sites you use, now is the time to get enlightened and change them all.
4. Blocking bots lead to decreased exposure and traffic
Many websites out there block web crawlers and automated scraping using the robots.txt or their TOS page. Some even go to the extent of using bot-detection tools to aggressively block the bots which is clearly a fruitless and rather degrading measure. Being a good bot, we respect their choices and leave them alone. But what we have observed is, these sites end up getting less popular compared to their competitors. The reason is that crawling and scraping does contribute to a good share of the exposure that a website gets in the long run. Many content aggregators use web crawling to fetch snippets or summaries of your web pages to display it with a backlink to the source. Over time, these links can help your website garner the traffic and search engine presence it deserves. The takeaway is that you should only use bot blocking mechanisms if you want a ride downhill. While blocking bots, you are going against the fundamental idea of the world wide web.
5. Most sites don’t have all their content in the source 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 the 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. Writing scripts to extract data would have been easier with the older convention, but we do appreciate and embrace positive changes happening to the web.
Data certainly doesn’t lie. So, it’s time for you to make use of these insights we have come across while extracting huge chunks of data for the betterment of your websites. Some of these might help you detect the overlooked flaws in your site and fix them to make the web a better place for everyone. The internet as a collective of websites owned by different entities has its share of imperfections and we might as well have to deal with it.
Stay tuned for our next article on 5 movies that depict the power of big data.
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