What Is Screen Scraping and How It Works

Discover how your business can implement data-driven user/competitor feedback loops using automated screen scraping techniques
5 min read
What is screen scraping and who needs it?

In this article we will discuss:

Screen scraping definition 

Screen scraping can be accomplished manually (for example using Python screen scraping techniques) or by using automated web data collection solutions

But what is ‘screen scraping?

All web data is displayed in its front-end using some form of visual or text. In computer terminology, this is known as the GUI or Graphical User Interface. Some companies may be looking to capture images of successful competitor ad campaigns while others are interested in User Interface (UI) Quality Assurance (QA) – I will go into depth on these use cases in the coming sections.

The difference between screen and web scraping

Screen scraping is primarily concerned with collecting information as it is displayed to a web user – be it an advertisement, screen display, or investment chart. Web scraping is concerned with collecting any publicly available web data whether or not it is in the user interface front end. This may include publicly available code, backend site architecture, conversion data, image alt text, and the like.

Uses of screen scraping

All companies aim to use the best web scraping tool available. 
But what are some of the most common business use cases for screen scraping?

User Experience (UX) / (User Interface (UI) Quality Assurance (QA)

Screen scraping is very often used by companies to get a live view of how their global users are currently viewing their apps and websites. One major example of this is UI/UX QA meaning companies that roll out new interfaces and designs want to ensure that those are displaying and ‘looking as intended’.

Ad placement verification

The same goes for marketing teams and advertising agencies. Many of these large offices are running campaigns in different languages and countries. They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on copywriters, designers, and ad placement. 

  • But are the ads displaying in the correct language with the right images to the audience intended? 
  • Are target sites displaying banners in a favorable position or are our ads appearing i the bottom-right hand corner where it will never generate any clicks?

These are all crucial questions that screen scraping is helping businesses answer, saving both themselves and their clients millions of dollars in wasted advertising dollars.

Financial data trend analysis

Hedge funds, Venture Capitalists, and securities portfolio managers are all using screen scraping to get ahead of the financial trends, gain an informational advantage, and generate profits for themselves, and their clientele. 

They are doing this by screen scraping:

  • News articles that display pertinent news to companies and industries they have exposure to
  • Stock trend/volume charts that  help them understand current interest and historic trends
  • Collecting and analyzing publicly available information about companies such as SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission), and tax earning filings

Social media sentiment analysis

Social media sentiment is being leveraged by businesses to better understand their customers’ wants, needs, and pain points. Candid discussions are taking place, investment advice is being shared, and products are being reviewed by the free market peer-to-peer economy. People are sharing their ideas, and thoughts via words, GIFs, images, emojis, and videos. 

Recognizing the value in understanding the zeitgeist of the people with whom you wish to serve or compete with is increasing. And the best way to tap into this is by leveraging targeted screen scraping campaigns.

eCommerce competitive market analysis

Shopping is a very visual endeavor. 

  • How are competitor listings displaying?
  • What images are they displaying (with or without people? Long or medium shots?)
  • How are customers reviewing products? And what star rating are items getting?
  • Where are items being displayed in marketplace-native search results?

Screen scraping is helping digital vendors improve their sales cycles by using this information to make better decisions regarding:

  • Which new products to add to catalogs
  • What price points convert with which audiences
  • Where to invest in larger warehousing and distribution networks

Competitor site analysis

Companies are crawling, grabbing, and analyzing competitor site architectures in order to improve, learn, iterate, and improve their own digital experience. They are answering questions through screen scraping, such as:

  • What sections is my site missing?
  • Is their content that can bring value to customers that my competitors have yet we lack?
  • Does my competition have a simpler/cleaner navigation experience?

GEO-specific search engine results 

See how search engines are displaying results for key search queries in your target geographies. For example, what ads, snippets, and results appear first in results. This changes based on the question and location of the individual and knowing what target audiences are seeing on their buying journey can be key in ‘engineering’ a more effective buying journey.

Screen scraping automation 

When looking to automate your screen scraping operations, you want to be using the #1 web data platform, Bright Data. 
Bright offers tools such as the Web Scraper API that enable businesses to scrape target site screens with the click of a button. What is nice about it is that it is a zero-code tool, and can retrieve data in a variety of formats (JSON, CSV, HTML, or Microsoft Excel).

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