Web crawling vs web scraping: fundamental differences for executives


Almost everyone knows the importance of big data, especially the creation, collection and analysis of information on the web. What’s not so obvious is that every existing organization can leverage the power of data. My work at Oxylabs has given me a unique perspective where I have seen many types of businesses benefit in almost every industry.

The statistics make this point clear: A McKinsey study determined that organizations using data-driven market research techniques outperform the competition by 85% in sales growth and 25% in gross margin.

The increase in income is certainly impressive, but long-term growth is also a critical factor in determining the success of a business. A recent report from Forrester Research confirms that companies that harness data technology are growing at over 30% per year and are on track to earn $ 1.8 trillion by 2021.

Big data mining and analysis is a process that involves a team of developers and analysts, but senior executives need to understand some basic terminology to get started. This article will outline some key concepts needed to improve understanding and start the process of making big data a fundamental part of your business strategy.

Browsing the web vs. scratching the web

The internet is full of articles using these terms interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different in context and intent:

Web crawling: a map of the territory

For the purposes of this article, let’s imagine a treasure map with several slots containing pots of gold.

For a treasure map to be valuable, it must be accurate. Someone needs to go to the land to assess and record aspects of the land.

Web crawling can be thought of as analogous to creating such a map where “bots”, “spiders” or “crawlers” scan, index and log all websites, pages and sub-pages. pages. This information is then stored and accessed each time a user performs a search.

Examples of crawlers may be those used by Google (“Googlebot”), Bing (“Bingbot”) or Yahoo (“Slurp Bot”).

While not exclusive to search engines, other sites sometimes use web crawling or search software to update their own web content or index content from other websites. Since these bots visit sites without permission, website owners who prefer not to be indexed will personalize the robots.txt file with no crawl requests.

As mentioned earlier, web crawling creates the map. The treasure (the data) remains to be found. This is where web scraping comes in.

Web scraping: in search of a treasure

Web scrapers also crawl the Internet like bots, but they have a specific purpose, which is to find specific information.

The simplest definition of a web scraper could be an ordinary person who wants to buy a car, manually searching for information and recording the details of various ads in a spreadsheet.

This person knows exactly where to find price, color, make, model, and year information on a website. Maybe their eyes are browsing other content (advertisements, company information, terms and conditions, etc.), but this information is not recorded. They know exactly what information they want and where to look for it.

Web scraping tools work the same way by using code or “scripts” to extract specific information from websites, like this one.

Going back to our example of a treasure map, the more detailed the map, the easier it will be to find the treasure. However, the aptitude of the person looking for the treasure (such as the application of scratching) plays an important role in the amount of treasure that will be found.

The more “intelligent” the tool, the more quality information it can obtain. Better information = better strategy. And in today’s economic climate, it can make all the difference.

Web Scratching Can Benefit Almost Any Business

Whatever your business, web scraping can give your business an edge over your competition by providing the most relevant data for your industry. The list of uses for web scraping continues to grow and evolve, and may include:

  • Whatever your business, web scraping can give your business an edge over your competition by providing the most relevant data for your industry. The list of uses for web scraping continues to grow and evolve, and may include:
  • Obtain pricing information for e-commerce businesses to adjust prices to beat the competition
  • Ecommerce stores analyze competitor’s product catalogs, inventory inventory, and shipping information to further optimize existing business practices
  • Price comparison websites that publish data about products and services from different vendors
  • Travel websites obtaining data on flight and accommodation prices, in addition to live flight tracking information
  • Job recruiters scan candidates’ public profiles
  • Online business directories obtaining addresses, emails and phone numbers from public websites
  • Acquisition of hashtag topics and information by social media companies looking to take advantage of new trends in social media posts
  • Businesses follow mentions on social media to mitigate negative publicity and garner positive reviews
  • Brand name companies investigating counterfeit products
  • Cybersecurity companies analyze and gain insight into security threats

The future of web scraping

Big data is changing the business landscape and this development seems to be just beginning.

Some brands may evolve and specialize in larger niche markets due to increased customer information. Marketing companies can compose their strategies more precisely, and SEO companies can increase the effectiveness of their techniques by getting more information about keywords and backlinks.

Profit margins on many products and services can fall further due to increased price transparency, giving an advantage to companies that are able to “ramp up” production in the most efficient manner. Conversely, new, more specialized and better products can be created in response to gain sales to sophisticated consumers who want unique “niche” products.

Next Steps in the Big Data Journey

I hope so far this article has shown you how the map is created and the ways to access data treasure on the internet.

Now is the time to explore the land, and web scraping is the tool of choice for those looking to harness the power of data and unlock their potential.

Now that you know where the map is and how it was created, the journey can begin.

Julius Cerniauskas, CEO, Oxylabs


Rosemary S. Bishop