Web scraping and big data has turned into an essential catalyst in the success of businesses belonging to every industry these days. The competitive intelligence and business Insights to be derived from web data is too good to ignore. Considering the massive amounts of insightful information available on the web, there is no question of aggregating this data without the help of automated web scraping technologies. Web scraping is still a hard nut to crack for many companies out there. Most don’t have the resources and skills required to do it on their own since web scraping is a highly demanding niche process. It is however not acceptable, if you still believe in these web scraping myths. These are some of the common myths surrounding web scraping that need to go away.
1. Web scraping is illegal
Many people have this notion about web scraping being an illegal activity that you have to do while looking over your shoulder. It is completely wrong. To give you some perspective, Google is nothing but a huge web crawler that crawls every website that doesn’t block crawlers using their robots.txt. There are however some ethics and best practices that should be followed while scraping websites. Websites that have blocked crawlers via robots.txt or have a TOS page that states their disapproval to web scraping shouldn’t be crawled. This is something that should be followed to stay in the legal zone of web scraping. Apart from this, crawling a website is as legal as visiting one using your web browser. You can refer to our previous post on the legal aspects of web scraping to learn more.
2. Web scraping generates usable data
A web scraping set up can crawl and crawl a set of source websites, get the predefined data points from them and save it to a dump file. This doesn’t guarantee the quality and usability of the generated data file. In fact, the initially scraped data often contains noise and duplicate entries. Noise here refers to unwanted elements that got scraped along with the required data. A web scraping service has to further process this data to turn it into a usable format. Deduplication, cleansing and formatting are the steps involved in making the data ready for analytics applications. If you expect a web scraping set up to deliver clean, structured data out of the box, sorry to break the bubble.
3. Web scraping setups are resilient and versatile
A web scraping set up is actually very fragile, but this is not because they are badly coded. The web is constantly changing with websites making changes quite frequently to their design and structure. These changes will break the web crawlers that were programmed for the previous version of the site. Believing in the resilience of web scraping will only end up in loss of data. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a steady supply of data – you can, with a reliable web scraping service. A good web scraping service provider will regularly monitor the target websites for structural changes and modify the crawling setup accordingly. Going with a web scraping service is the easier route if you don’t want to live in a constant agony of maintenance.
There is no such thing as a versatile web scraper unless the data you need is really generic in nature. Every website out there is different in its structure, making web scraping setups incapable of being versatile.
4.Web crawlers can crawl the entire web
Many people believe web crawlers to have the superpower of crawling and scraping the entire world wide web. This is totally incorrect and not feasible in practice. If you need data from the web, you will have to know where the data you need is available. These websites where the data you need can be found are called sources. The first step in the web scraping process is the defining of sources. Web crawling scripts are written exclusively for the target websites and hence, there is no question of crawling and scraping the entire web. Since websites don’t follow a universal structure, it is impossible to write a web scraping script that can interact with multiple websites.
5.Web scraping can be used to gather email contacts
Web scraping is an extremely powerful tool for extracting data of any kind from the web. This includes email addresses and contact information too. There is a common misunderstanding that using web scraping to gather email contacts can help in generating leads. This, however is only true in theory. Although you can crawl publicly visible emails from the web, the contacts you acquire via web scraping is less likely to be useful for your business. The emails acquired from web will be less targeted and often are redundant ones that people have abandoned. Being publicly available for scraping also means these emails are getting enough promotional mails already which again makes your email marketing ineffective.
Since the business world is gearing up with big data and web scraping technologies, it’s high time that you understand the underlying technology better. Clearing these misconceptions will help you move one step forward in utilizing web scraping to generate insightful data for your business and eventually succeed.
Stay tuned for our next article on the big data industry report.
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