To say that COVID-19 negatively affected the world is a serious understatement. Not only have the lives of vulnerable people been lost, but supply-chain breakdowns, rising unemployment and trillions of dollars in increased government debt have devastated the economic landscape, meaning that things like data mining are becoming more valuable.
Some businesses, however, are surviving and perhaps even thriving. Web scraping, data mining, and analysis are proving to be the tools of choice needed to make it through this crisis. My leadership role at Oxylabs has given me the privilege of seeing this unfold with a birds-eye view, and in this article I’m going to share the top ways you can use this indispensable tool to power your business forward.
Understanding Big Data
First, let’s talk about the growing importance of big data. The internet is always growing and changing, and the data it produces is just as dynamic.
This ever-changing landscape gives unprecedented opportunities to leverage data collection techniques for strategic decision making. This is more important today than ever before.
The latest research figures amplify this point: research by McKinsey shows that businesses employing advanced market research techniques beat out the competition by 85% in sales growth, and more than 25% in gross margin. Data by Forrester Research, Inc. confirms that businesses directly mining data grow more than 30% annually and have a higher earning potential for 2021.
Web Scraping, Explained
For those unaware of the technicalities, web scraping is a technique that uses scripts (or “robots”) to crawl websites and extract data into a manageable format.
The number of requests used by the script can create issues for the process, warranting the use of proxies to circumvent IP issues imposed by certain websites.
The uses for web scraping are seemingly endless. If a business activity involves data, then web scraping is the premier method to obtain it. Businesses dependent on SEO, e-commerce, travel fare aggregation, accommodation aggregation, lead generation, event listings, investing, and any type of price comparison benefit from web scraping.
The historical alternative was to make a spreadsheet and manually collect data. If manual collection is a horse and buggy, then data scraping is a rocket ship.
The difference is massive. Web scraping is the 21-century answer to paper surveys, cold-calls and any other manual research techniques, allowing businesses to collect massive amounts of data quickly, easily, and more cost-efficiently than ever before.
8 Ways Web Scraping Powers Businesses
There is no doubt web scraping is on the rise, and our research department reported massive increases over the last year. We expect this trend to continue despite the economic challenges we are facing.
To that end, here are some ways businesses are using web scraping to stay competitive and thrive in today’s market:
Price optimization techniques are essential to gaining customers in this highly-competitive environment. Web scraping can be used to crawl a competitor’s store and gather pricing, images, and product description information for use in creating a competitive pricing strategy.
Besides being used for consumer goods, similar web crawling techniques are employed to create price aggregator websites similar to those that sell airline tickets or rental accommodation.
A famous and very real quote from the movie The Social Network revealed to us that “the Internet’s not written in pencil, it’s written in ink.”
What gets published never really seems to go away. Having said that, online reputation management is critical for companies looking to uphold the positive opinion of their brand.
To that end, web scraping can be used to reveal publicly available information published by social media “influencers” or opinion leaders mentioning the brand, in addition to any hashtags or trending topics where the brand is being discussed on public forums or review sites. Accordingly, detecting fraudulent negative reviews published by competitors is another important use for web scraping that enables businesses to monitor what is being said about the brand and verify its authenticity.
Ad Verification (Fraud Prevention)
Advertisement opportunities have evolved with the times. As a consequence, advertisement fraud has evolved with it and these days it’s on an entirely new level.
Imagine the advertising budget of a business literally going down the drain due to ads being placed on fraudulent websites, ads from different companies being stacked on top of each other, invisible ads being placed in a single pixel, ad clicks being manufactured by bots, and more.
The use of these fraudulent techniques manufactures false statistics showing clicks while the ads never reach their target audience.
Web scraping can be used by advertisers or ad verification companies to verify the ad, its location, and if it is reaching the intended audience.
By using verification tags inside the ad markup, advertisers can collect data about the content published on the host site that determines if the page is suitable for the ad and the intended audience is reached.
A diverse proxy pool that uses connections from a diverse range of locations can give insight into how geographically-targeted audiences are seeing the ad.
The collected data is then analysed by the advertiser or ad verification company to track any relevant metrics related to ad performance.
Websites containing public information can be scraped to obtain details about professionals for the creation of a custom directory. A useful resource could be an online catalog of doctors in a specific specialty or professionals in trades at a specific location.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Advanced SEO specialists can use web scraping to rank pages by researching particular search terms and the relevant competition. Information obtained can include the specific title tags and targeted keywords, giving them an idea of which keywords drive traffic and what type of content drives user engagement and backlinking.
Besides pricing strategies, e-commerce businesses can benefit from monitoring the competitor’s entire operation, including their catalog, specific product attributes, special promotions, shipping details and product availability.
Leads can be found by scraping data from public websites like Yelp or Yellow Pages that can include the business profile, email address, phone number, industry, location and working hours.
With demand for jobs increasing continuously, the need for specialized job boards is expected to increase as well. Web scraping can be used by HR managers to find ideal candidates in addition to being used by educational institutions to discover what skills are in demand.
A Final Word
This article barely scratches the surface of how web scraping can be used. Analysts across many industries are now stating that data is more valuable than oil. Similar to oil, however, the techniques used to extract the data can make all the difference in the quality of the results obtained.
Difficult economic times often reveal who the best players are in any industry, and often the best players are those that embrace innovation.
The importance of big data cannot be underestimated. Data is the fuel of the internet, and its increasing amount and importance requires increasingly sophisticated tools for collection and analysis. Web scraping is one of those essential tools.