There are clear benefits to extracting data from websites – businesses can gather essential insights, monitor their competitors, generate leads, identify investment opportunities, and more. Considering these advantages, it’s not surprising that the general-purpose web crawler segment is expected to enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 15.2% by 2030.
However, the web scraping technologies we take for granted today have undergone years of development to yield positive results for businesses – and they are still developing.
Learn more about web scrapers, how they’ve become some of the most powerful business tools, and what the future holds for them.
Web scraping in a nutshell
Let’s start with the basics – what is web scraping? Put plainly, it’s the process of extracting data from the web.
All the websites, forums, social media sites, and more contain an abundance of seemingly inconsequential yet essential information that can help businesses thrive.
Product pricing data, for instance, can help businesses create pricing strategies that don’t steer too far away from their competitors. Stock market data can help inform investors about lucrative opportunities. Data from comments, reviews, and testimonials can provide a better picture of the target audience, their desires, pain points, and interests.
Even from just these few examples, it’s evident just how much data there is to extract from the web, so approaching the task manually is clearly not the way to go.
That’s why businesses are deploying web scrapers – bots designed to crawl through websites, identify the needed information, and extract it for later analysis.
It’s an automated process that eliminates the risk of human error, saves time and effort, and allows you to make the most of the data you have available.
The evolution of web scrapers
Web scrapers started soon after the birth of the World Wide Web in 1989. The WWW was established with three elements that have enabled scraping:
- URLs – used to tell web scrapers where to pull the information from;
- Hyperlinks – used to guide scrapers through a website;
- Dedicated web pages – used to simplify the search for information.
By 1993, the first-ever web crawler known as the Wanderer was created. However, it took another decade for web scraping as we know it to develop.
The arrival of BeautifulSoup, an HTML parser, in 2004 has enabled Python web scraping, which paved the way for businesses to start effortlessly collecting and analyzing information from the world wide web.
Today, thanks to WWW, the Wanderer, BeautifulSoup, and programming languages such as Python, businesses can take advantage of web scraping and develop tools suitable to their unique needs.
Scraping tools can come in the form of:
- Browser extensions – browser-based scrapers that offer speed and agility but can handle only small data quantities;
- Downloadable software – customizable scrapers that can handle larger data quantities but at slower rates;
- Cloud-based software – powerful scrapers that offer speed and handle large data quantities, offering the utmost flexibility.
Additionally, businesses can develop their own scraping tools using any programming language that suits them best. In-house scrapers are fully customizable but require more maintenance as they need to be constantly updated. For further reading, get more info here.
Recent developments in the field of web scraping
As expected, scraper evolution didn’t stop with the Wanderer and BeautifulSoup. Over the past few years, the world of scraping has been changing with the arrival of new technologies.
The biggest recent development in the field of web scraping is the rising of sophisticated anti-scraping technologies.
Though web scraping is entirely legal, as long as it doesn’t harm the targeted websites, many websites still prefer to keep the bots away. After all, bot activity can take up site resources and prevent real users from enjoying a site to its fullest.
Therefore, sites have started implementing anti-scraping technologies such as CAPTCHAs to detect and prevent access to bots.
Mobile app scraping
Though anti-scraping technologies could present challenges, other recent developments present opportunities. Mobile app scraping is becoming one of the biggest trends in the industry.
As apps started slowly taking over websites, offering more personalized experiences, advanced features, and convenience, businesses started deploying mobile API scraping to extract ever more valuable data on their competitors, customers, and the overall market.
AI and machine learning
Finally, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have entirely revolutionized the scraping world. AI and ML-driven scrapers can navigate sites faster, bypass obstacles, restructure relevant data into easy-to-read formats, and streamline data extraction and analysis.
What these new developments mean for users
To keep benefitting from web scraping, users must stay updated on recent developments and keep an eye on scraper trends. That means:
- Using features such as IP rotation or HTTP headers to bypass restrictions;
- Deploying mobile API scrapers to collect valuable insights;
- Relying on AI and ML to make bots more efficient and adaptable to the changing websites.
Though not all recent developments in scraping are necessarily positive, they do inspire positive changes. Even anti-scraping technologies are inspiring businesses to adapt to new trends and find increasingly more effective ways to collect and analyze data.
These new developments make it easier to identify relevant data sources, extract only valuable information, and easily analyze vast quantities of data.
The world of web scraping is continually evolving, and businesses need to stay on their toes and keep up with the new trends if they’re to benefit from data extraction.
As we generate zettabytes of data daily, finding new ways to collect relevant information and put it to good use is becoming more important.