Web scraping is one of the most common practices businesses use to get an edge over the competition. In today’s data-driven world, the companies that hold the most and the best quality data have a monumental advantage. They can use said data to optimize most of their internal and external operations.
That’s where web scrapers come into play. Web scrapers allow companies to collect a lot of data from anywhere on the web, as long as they don’t get denied access or, worse, blocked. Now, mitigating these issues is as easy as using any proxy that helps scramble your bot’s location – but the issues are deeper than just masking your bot’s identity.
In this article, we’ll talk a bit about web scraping, explore what the process is and how it works, as well as define how you can help prevent your web scraping agent from getting blocked on the job.
Scraping as a Process
Web scraping is a critical process that most businesses use regularly. It’s an efficient way to get a lot of information on any given subject and has corporate applications. Extracting data from websites or massive data centers gives businesses a backlog of information. They can then analyze the information to improve their business practices, monitor what their competition is doing, or discover new trends.
Scraping as a process used to be done manually, but that proved to be both laborious and ineffective. The process these days is done by web scraper (spider) bots that make quick work of any website or data center. Web scrapers, also known as data harvesters, are pieces of software tasked with collecting, indexing, and analyzing as much relevant online information as possible. To dig deeper into scraping API, take a glance at the Proxies vs. Scraper API article.
In essence, the performance of any given web scraping bot is going to depend solely on its sophistication and capabilities, both of which are programmed into the web scraping unit.
Main Challenges of Web Scraping
Web scraping, while an essential process for many businesses, isn’t without its issues. There are many challenges when it comes to web scraping, stemming from the protective measures websites put up and the lack of sophistication in the design of the bots themselves.
To start, the primary challenge of web scraping bots is that, at times, they’re completely ineffective. The data yield isn’t the only thing a web scraping bot must focus on, as it’s the data quality that matters. A qualitative approach is always better than a quantitative one when it comes to web scraping. Quality data doesn’t need to go through nearly as much refinement as random specs of data collected ad infinitum.
The second most challenging thing about the web scraping process are the many firewalls and protective measures that websites and servers put in place to protect themselves. Now, mitigating these issues is challenging and costly, but the data hidden behind encryption or firewalls is usually the most valuable.
Furthermore, it’s not only the data that’s locked behind an inaccessible firewall – sometimes, the firewall is provided not by the company behind the website but the country you’re visiting the website from. Geo-restrictions and geo-locked content are a very real issue across the digital world – and they present a prominent problem for web scrapers and data harvesting operations as a whole.
Lastly, there is the blocking that frequently occurs when web scraping. If a server detects that the requests are coming from a bot rather than a human, the bot will likely be blocked from entering the website.
How Proxies Help Overcome Them
With so many challenges that web scraping is prone to, it isn’t easy to mitigate them without turning to proxies. Proxies are the bread and butter of web scraping, as they not only help web scraping bots get in anywhere they’re aimed at, they speed the web scraping process up and provide an anonymity layer making it hard to decipher where the web scraping bot is coming from.
In layman’s terms, adding one or more web proxies to your data harvesting bot is a surefire way to improve its performance, mitigate the risk of getting blocked by websites, and enter previously inaccessible databases.
A proxy will scramble your bot’s IP address, making it seem like it’s coming from a different country, where the website or data you’re trying to access isn’t blocked or blacklisted. That gives you a significant advantage over those who don’t use proxies for web scraping.
Most modern businesses consider web scraping a crucial practice. If you’re running an operation that requires web scraping, you’re best off combining your web scraping strategy with a couple of proxies to get the most out of it.