Like many people entering 2015, you may feel like your business has tried just about everything to turn a profit. Of course, even if you’ve been successful, that doesn’t mean you aren’t on the lookout for even more options. One very potent opportunity comes by way of web scraping. The Internet is full of all kinds of information, much of which could be extremely valuable to your company. With scraping software, you have a very real chance of harvesting this data and using it to add to your bottom line.
Web scraping goes by many names. Popular alternatives include web data extraction, screen scraping and web harvesting. It refers to methods of extracting large amounts of specific information from websites.
If you want third party information from a website, you have to use a web browser. This is obvious, of course, but it can present a bit of a problem for those who may want all the listings from a real estate site, all the addresses from a directory, all the email addresses off of a social network, the entire inventory of a shopping site, etc. Manual scraping would be a tedious task, to say the least. Also, such a redundant chore would most likely be rife with human error. However, as most websites don’t have the functionality necessary to save a copy of this information, many businesses may be left thinking they have no other option but to do this the “old fashioned” way.
Fortunately, there is scraping software. This technique automates the entire process. You essentially point it to the website and tell it the information you want. Click a button and it will handle the rest. The reality is that scraping software doesn’t work that much differently than your browser. However, instead of displaying a site’s data on your screen, the program saves the information you asked for on a local file or database.
There are all kinds of reasons companies like yours may want to use scraping software. One very common reason, though, is it just makes it extremely easy to build a contact list. These platforms are incredibly helpful for lead generation, especially if you take a little extra time to optimize the lists of data you target.
Obviously, the major goal of this kind of software is to efficiently collect data found online. That’s really its main and most important goal. Any scraping software that fails at doing this well should never be considered.
That being said, there are some secondary goals worth considering. For example, you want a platform that will organize the information in a way that can be easily interpreted. Crude code could pull a ton of valuable information for you, but you could spend all day—or have to hire someone—trying to make sense of it. At that point, it may be easier to just scrape manually.
True scraping software won’t waste your time. You point, click and get the information you were after in a very readable format.
Although this probably all seems straightforward enough, you need to take your time finding the right scraping software for your business’ needs. There are actually three different types of scraping, so it’s worth considering what your company’s goals are.
First, there is web content. This, we’ve touched on. It’s scraping that takes information from websites, pages and documents. Then, there’s web usage. This refers to scraping data found on server logs or the kind to do with browser activity tracking. Finally, there is web structure scraping, which is taking info from links sent between pages, people and various platforms.
Before you pay for a platform, then, you need to think about what your goals are as a company. Maybe you don’t want to build an inventory for an email campaign or cold calling list. Perhaps you’re doing research on a niche topic and want every possible record and document regarding the subject. You might be performing price analysis to get an accurate idea of where your products stand compared to others.
Some platforms will cover all three of these needs. Others will specialize in just one, but do it extremely well. Begin by understanding what information you want from scraping and what you’ll be using it for. You’ll have a much shorter list to contend with from there.
Lastly, there’s no reason for scraping software to be anything but extremely user friendly. As we’ve covered, the actual task it’s carrying out is fairly simple. You shouldn’t have to do much more than point, click and review the information (which is well-organized and easy to read).
Most companies either thrive on massive amounts of information or would be doing a lot better if they had access to it. In either case, the right scraping software could take your business to another level.
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