Web scraping: What it is and how to leverage it to gain a competitive advantage
In this article we will cover:
- What is web scraping
- Web scraping use cases
- Optimizing department performance using web scraping
- Top-3 advantages of implementing a web scraping-first approach
- Web scraping FAQs
What is web scraping
Web scraping is the process of accessing, collecting, and storing target web data to be used later on by teams, and algorithms. Typically companies will use an automated tool in order to help them deal with common issues such as:
- Target site blocks
- Managing multiple concurrent requests from different geolocations
- Being served misleading information (e.g. Getting the wrong pricing of a product from a competitor).
Web scraping use cases
Some of the most popular use cases for web scraping in the business world include accessing, and collecting:
- Real-time competitor rates in order to inform dynamic pricing strategies.
- Social media data including things like target audience sentiment, as well as trending topics/items/ideas
- Business data such as funding, target markets, employee skillset, and the like in order to perform competitive market analyses, perform smarter Human Resources (HR) recruitment, as well as identifying under the radar investment opportunities
Optimizing department performance using web scraping
Here is how corporate departments are leveraging web scraping in the context of their day-to-day operations:
Practically, they are collecting the copy/visuals of competitor advertisements and analyzing them for ideas that can be implemented in their own campaigns. As far as potential customers are concerned they are monitoring search engine results in order to identify what customers are looking for in specific locations.
Bizdevs are collecting information on LinkedIn regarding companies whom they wish to sell their products to, for example. They are able to quickly identify the relevant stakeholder and then reach out to them with a relevant offer.
HR managers are scraping former employee industry reviews, for example. This helps them identify a pattern of work-life balance issues, and then work towards improving this within their own corporate culture.
A growth specialist may intuitively think that engaging on forums like Reddit is the most effective way to become a thought leader, for example. But by cross-referencing data sets they realize that competitors are generating more interest from audiences using influencers on social media. The growth strategy can then be quickly pivoted away from low-producing channels to ones which produce better results.
Quality Assurance (QA)/ User Experience (UX)
Teams leverage local devices so that they can get an accurate picture of web/application responsiveness. For example, a company that has rolled out a new UX for their international gaming app will be able to view this experience as a real user would in London or Delhi. Once a bug is identified, they can quickly fix, and deploy backend/frontend changes.
Portfolio management / Investment discovery
Portfolio managers are plugging into real-time market shifts by collecting news articles relating to specific companies/industries, and collecting public social sentiment about stocks (e.g. WallStreetBets on Reddit ).
While Venture Capitalists are discovering undervalued companies based on income-debt ratio, for example, in order to create value-add, and resell for a profit.
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) collect data regarding planned zoning changes advertised on government sites. They also scrape sites like Zillow and Redfin to identify price trends in rental/sale prices, and collect posts/engagement data from social media to discover newly ‘trending’ neighborhoods.
Top-3 advantages of implementing a web scraping-first approach
While some do this manually, automated web scraping tools offer the advantage of speed. They enable companies to put tasks such as target site unblocking, dataset cleaning, and data structuring on autopilot. This means that businesses can collect information from more target sites while decreasing their time from collection to insight.
Web scraping software gives companies the ability to scale data collection operations up or down on a need-be basis, shifting the burden of maintaining hardware/software to a third party.
Web scraping tools also make setting up data pipelines unnecessary as they enable companies to automatically collect and customize data format (e.g. JSON, CSV, HTML, or Microsoft Excel).
Using web scraping tools allows companies to cut costs by leveraging a third party’s know-how. For example, when looking to achieve full website discovery, companies will need to first map target sites, and then get around blocks like rate limitations.
Existing solutions have already developed, and perfected these capabilities. Whereas newbies will need to spend a lot of time, and manpower to achieve similar results.
The bottom line
Web scraping can help businesses discover new opportunities, better understand target audiences, and improve end user experiences. But web scraping manually is not that easy on a practical level. That is why companies opt for a data collection tool that fully automates the process, allowing businesses to focus on what they do best.
Web scraping FAQs
Yes, web scraping is legal. That said it is only legal if the information collected is open-source and not password protected. Before working with a third party data collection company, ensure that all of their activities are GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) compliant.
Companies can opt to use premade web scraping templates for sites like Amazon, Kayak, Instagram, and CrunchBase. All you need to do is choose your target site, decide what target data you are looking for (say competitor ‘vacation packages’), and have the information delivered to your inbox.
#2: Independently built
Some companies choose to build web scrapers internally. This typically requires:
Dedicated IT and DevOps teams, and engineers
Appropriate hardware and software including servers to host data request routing
This is the most time-consuming, and resource heavy option.
#3: Data retrieval without web scraping
Many businesses don’t realize that it is possible to directly purchase Datasets without ever having to run a collection job. These are data points that many companies in a given field need access to and therefore split the cost of collecting it and keeping it up-to-date. The benefits here include zero time spent on data collection, no infrastructure and immediate access to data.