Man vs. Machine: What’s the Best Way to Scrape Website Content?
October 10, 2018
Competition is fierce within the business world. To gain the upper hand in this digital age, organizations need more data. A source of petabytes of data, the web is the planet’s largest public database. As more and more companies use it to build databases to improve their sales, marketing, and strategic planning, an obvious decision is choosing the best web data extraction method.
Choosing the best way to scrape website content depends on your needs, available skills, and resources. Let’s use an example of a competitive pricing research project and consider several options to gather the required data.
Scenario: Competitive Pricing Research
Let’s say that you work in marketing at a well-known electronics retailer. Your boss Samantha just handed you a competitive pricing research project. She wants you to compile information on the prices of the top five PC laptops that spec out similar to the newest MacBook Pro 13”. In addition to pricing information from your top ten competing retailers, she also wants feature and configuration details from their websites.
Which screen scraping option will get you the data in the least amount of time with the least amount of stress? Here are your top three options:
Manual Scraping: Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V
This is manual “copy and paste” scraping. There are several options; you can do it yourself, outsource it, or give it to an intern or another person on your staff to complete. It’s laborious for everyone, regardless of which route you choose. Consider some other cons to this process:
- prone to human error
- time-consuming to complete
- can be more expensive than expected, unless you go offshore, which will introduce delays, communication challenges, etc.
- the entire process will have to be repeated to update the database
It’s hard to think of any pros. Unless you have a lot of interns with a lot of time on their hands, manual scraping probably isn’t the best use of your company’s talent and resources.
Writing Scripts & Managing Developers
A more technical and semi-automated approach is to write a script to pull data from the desired websites. While this option reduces human error, it can have its own share of challenges:
- in-house or outsourced developers need to be added to payroll and managed
- developers need time to learn each website that needs scraping
- scripts need to be updated constantly and oftentimes rewritten completely
- scripts will break each time a site updates or restrictions are applied
- human error problems are reduced, but still there
Factoring in these issues and constraints, investing in writing your own scripts and developers may be successful for a limited period of time until you need to truly scale your operations.
Website Data Scraping Technology
Site scraping is the process of extracting the data of target sites (what you can see on the page as well as what’s contained in the underlying code) from one application and translating it so another application can display it. This capture is done through web data extraction software. Advanced scraping tools make this data extraction process more accessible and feasible because they don’t require coding proficiency to run successfully.
Within the data extraction market, there are several options with varying levels of user involvement.
Here’s what to look for when selecting a screen scraping vendor and tool:
- Choose a tool that is powerful enough to extract all the data that you need
- Look for a vendor offering training resources and extensive support
- If you lack the internal resources or time to learn a screen scraping tool, consider a vendor that will do the work for you through a managed services offering
Website Data Professional Managed Services
There are website extraction software vendors that also provide the data as a service for companies that are not interested in investing internal resources into learning and utilizing new software.
Here’s what you need to do to get started with a managed services provider for web data:
- begin with the end in mind by writing down the questions you want answered and deciding what you want the end result to be
- research the websites you believe will give you the most reliable information
- make a list of all the URLs of the pages you need to extract information from
- describe what data you need from these URLs
- provide the dates by which you need the data delivered by
Here’s an example of the Mozenda Managed Data Services Department’s requirements for every project:
- Which website(s)?
- Navigation instructions – for example:
- Iterate through categories
- Search terms
- What data fields do you wish to collect? (Provide screenshots if possible)
- One time or recurring?
- If recurring, how often?
- File format:
- CSV, TSV, XML, JSON or XLSX
- Publishing Method:
- FTP, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, Google Drive or Dropbox (email delivery is available if it’s a small enough project)
The Mozenda Solution
Automated data extraction tools like Mozenda offer significant time and cost savings over manual scraping and writing your own scripts.
Mozenda’s technology has been perfected by over a decade of development with thousands of updates and a sizable investment in the millions. Mozenda is not only the better option to managing or outsourcing developers, interns, and scripts, but it is the optimal tool for scaling your web data extraction needs. Thousands of businesses, including 1/3 of the Fortune 500, trust Mozenda for web data scraping.
You’ve Got the Data. Now What?
Returning to our competitive pricing example, after you’ve successfully collected pricing and differentiating features of comparable MacBook and PC laptop products from your top competitors, there are a variety of ways to interpret and analyze the dataset.
You can do any of the following:
- Upload the data to analysis dashboards or business intelligence software
- From there you can generate the charts and graphs you need
- You can then conduct a comparative analysis to identify market opportunities
The Final Bell: A Victory for the Machines
Like many things in our modern society, some tasks are just better handled by technology. Web scraping is one of those. Automated screen scraping software is the better way to gather large amounts of alternative data from the world wide web.
When it’s time to evaluate vendors, we invite you to look closely at Mozenda and kick our tires. Having helped thousands of businesses over the last decade, we’re confident that we can help you gather the data you need.
A quick note about our customer support. We’re so fanatical about delivering exceptional support, we even provide complementary support to anyone trying us out before they buy. If you’d like to consider our software we offer a 30-day free trial or if you would rather have our Services Department extract the data for you, we’ll provide you with a free proof of concept before you begin. If you’d like to learn more about Mozenda, give us a call today at +1-801-995-4550 or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a free, friendly and no-obligation quote.Complementary Services Consultation