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What is a Web Crawler and how does it work?

Nowadays, when having some questions, it almost comes naturally for us to just type it in a search bar and get helpful answers. But we rarely wonder how all that information is available and how it appears as soon as we start typing. Search engines provide easy access to information, but web crawling/scraping tools who are not so much known players have a crucial role in wrapping up online content. Over the years, these tools have become a true game-changer in many businesses including e-commerce. So, if you are still unfamiliar with it, keep reading to learn more.

What are web crawling / scraping tools? 

Web crawling / scraping services have many other names such as spiders, bots, robots, etc. which all pretty much sum up what they do – extract content and data from a website. This process allows companies to obtain all publicly available information from any website. This is an automated process in which a query is sent to a requested page, then combing through the HTML for specific items. If the process wasn’t automated it would be so time-consuming to perform this task, and the results would be questionable. This way, you are able to gather all the data in a bulk and display it in a table format.

Web crawling / scraping in the early days

This process has been present even before the time that search engines were developed as a way to make web pages searchable. It all started as a process of finding out how websites are connected with each other and to calculate the page rank index. These tools were also used for checking if the website works properly and are there any issues spotted. Back in the time, web sites mainly consisted of HTML code, so scraping was a project that could be done by almost every developer. Nowadays, web pages have a significantly more complexed structure which means that these tasks must be done by the whole team or companies that have developed scraping tools (like Price2Spy) that are more able to respond to the demand of complicated business environment. Finishing all those daunting tasks nowadays wouldn’t be possible without using the right tools.  By using web scraping tools companies can be more agile and versatile when thinking about making further steps in their business strategy. Therefore, having the right data is one of the biggest aspects of a company’s success.

Changing the needed Data types

With the rise of new online platforms and the development of eCommerce, the types of data that companies need have also changed. That is when new web crawling / scraping software come into the scene. The new forms of data, such as the one coming from social media, are presented in graphs, video, picture, or audio. This data needs to be collected and sorted in a format that is suitable for further analysis. This complexity means that you need to gather the data coming from different sources which brings us to another problem – duplicating data. In case you are using crawling / scraping services for more than one site, it is vital that there are no inconsistencies.

The change in the web scraping environment

As we have already mentioned, the web scraping environment has come a long way from what it was a few years ago. Today, the nature of web scraping services consists of so much more than just gathering the text from web pages. So, if you manage to successfully overcome all the above-mentioned obstacles (such as the data type variety and the data duplication) you may come across a new one which is where all that scraped data is being stored. The most common solution is DaaS (Data as a Service) which represents a form in which the Data is offered and where you can have it delivered in a form and method that is most suitable for your company’s needs. In that way, you don’t need to worry about aspects like maintenance or changes required if the website you need to crawl or scrape undergoes some changes. All those aspects are already taken into consideration when defining the service price, so you are paying only for the data that you use, and nothing more. There are many services that you can use for this purpose but we will come to that in a few lines below.

Crawling vs Scraping?

Now that you are more familiar with this process, it is important to dig a little bit more into details. Even though they might seem like similar terms, there are some important differences between web scraping and web crawling that need to be addressed. Web crawlers collect information such the URL of the website, the website content, the links in that webpage, and other relevant information. By doing so, you’ll move from page to page and repeat the same process. However, web scraping works differently, or to say, more precisely. While crawler visits all the found links, scraper goes to the web page by a definite link, and collect only the needed data (which will again differ depending on what your main aim is). For example, companies can get any data that they need from a competitor’s website. Some of the things that they would be able to get from a scrape are:

  • product name and URL
  • product description,
  • product category,
  • product price,
  • product image,
  • brand information,
  • stock levels, etc.

The list doesn’t end here. ∆ scraping, it is possible to get contact information, reviews, any data that is publicly available.

Conclusion

One of the hardest tasks for companies is to collect and analyse data they’d need for their business. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Web crawling/scraping tools have become so widely popular. Web scraping provides valuable data to companies, no matter if they are big or small ones, an online retailer, brand or distributor.  It’s becoming an essential part of e-commerce businesses for gaining insight that will help companies develop good strategies. With it, they’ll be able to create better offers, be more competitive, understand the market and most importantly make better business decisions.

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