What Makes One Web Scraper Better Than the Other?
Web scrapers have become indispensable for handling big data, predicting trends, and outperforming the competition. Many of them vie for your attention, but which should you choose? What criteria set excellent web scraping tools apart from mediocre ones? Check out our deep dive on the topic and get all the answers!
Different Web Scraper Types
Before delving deeper into the features a competent one must offer, it’s worth discussing the various types of scraping tools. It’s the first step in narrowing your search since even the most feature-rich scraper doesn’t necessarily fit your needs.
Visual vs. Code-Based
Visual scrapers have intuitive user interfaces and require no coding skills to master. They’re perfect for beginners yet can support advanced features too. Code-based scrapers are more flexible and customizable but require coding knowledge for effective use.
Prebuilt vs. DIY
Most users will want a ready-made solution that caters to their needs so they can focus on other aspects of their work. However, some people enjoy the challenge of creating specialized scrapers based on the tools and knowledge readily available online.
Cloud-Based vs. Local
Most scrapers are cloud-based, meaning they use a server’s computing power. That’s great for users who need to use their PCs for other things since scraping takes up much CPU & RAM power.
Running a scraper locally is a good idea if you occasionally need low data volumes or want to store all the results on your machine. It also works through your static IP, reducing the chances of sites blocking the scraper.
Browser-Based vs. Software
Most commercially available scrapers offer browser extensions. These let you seamlessly run scraping operations from your browser and can’t exceed its restrictions. Standalone scraping programs don’t have such limitations, but their advanced functions are harder to learn.
Free vs. Paid
Sometimes the free version of a renowned web scraper is all you need to complete smaller projects. You’ll have to pay for greater page volume, scheduling, parallel tasks, and other advanced features.
What to Look For in a Good Web Scraper?
You might have a general idea of what kind of scraper you want based on the above criteria. Even so, the quality of similar scrapes can differ widely. Here’s what to consider before pulling the trigger.
Data scraping lives and dies depending on how accurate and usable the information you’re getting is. This means the data needs to be up-to-date and as complete as possible.
The tool should only acquire the types of data you’re interested in and disregard the rest. Its output needs to be formatted consistently and in a way that performing data analysis on it is straightforward.
Different websites may use diverse formats and data structures. The scraper has to be able to recognize the differences while providing consistent output.
Finance, medicine, commerce, and a host of other fields greatly benefit from data scraping. A lack of technical knowledge shouldn’t be a barrier to entry, so user-friendliness at every step is a must.
The scraper should be straightforward enough so anyone can use it. That’s both in your and the provider’s best interest since quick onboarding makes adoption by more users more likely. Extensive documentation and a friendly community will get users up to speed faster and are signs of a dedicated, vibrant service you can rely on for a long time.
Accurate information can be of little use if you don’t get it in time. Speedier scrapers dedicate more computing power to your inquiries, cutting the time it takes to generate results. Automation is at every scraper’s core, so merely using one will be much faster and less error-prone than copy-pasting information manually. You’ll likely have to pay into a higher tier to get the best speeds, though.
It’s hard to go back once you’ve experienced how web scraping can help streamline your work and make better-informed decisions. The question is, can the scraper you chose keep up with increased demand once business starts to ramp up?
The scraper should make it easy to handle an increase in data volume, whether it’s from the same source or multiple new ones. Your business might be volatile or seasonal, so the tool has to account for an ebb & flow of inquiries and charge accordingly. These processes should all be automated so you don’t have to pay too much attention to variable scaling. Some web scrapers have web unblockers that can help reach even the most difficult websites’ data.
Despite scraping’s exceptional speed potential, extracting data from hundreds of thousands of web pages still takes a while. The longer the operation, the more likely something might go wrong. Robust scrapers will minimize or eliminate the damage altogether.
For example, if a website’s servers go down, a good scraper will automatically re-establish the connection. It saves frequently so that abrupt stops don’t cause significant losses. When such stops do happen, it won’t re-download already collected data and generate error reports that let you know what happened.
Support for Different Data Sources and Formats
Extracting data from a single website is rarely enough to get the complete picture. Having access to multiple sources generates more data for comprehensive analysis and greater predictability potential.
Going with web-based scrapers means the data they generate gets stored on servers before you can download it. What safeguards is the service using to protect it from theft? Data breaches have serious consequences, so this aspect is crucial.
Ethical concerns are similarly important. When choosing a web scraping provider, consider whether they comply with a website’s terms of service and transparently obtain the data.
Choosing the right web scraper may turn out to be one of the best career decisions you ever made. Now that you know what to look for, doing so should be a snap.