The availability and accessibility of data online have made decision-making a data-driven process for companies; it is no longer a gamble. This is thanks to the fact that web scraping tools and technologies are now more mainstream than before. So much so that businesses have options, they can choose between ready-to-use applications or develop the scrapers themselves. But before discussing which is better between the two and why companies should build an in-house scraper, it is essential to understand what web scraping is.
What is Web Scraping?
Web scraping is the automated process of extracting data from websites. The tools work by sending HTTP requests to which servers respond by sending HTML documents. The tool subsequently parses the data contained therein, extracts the requisite intelligence, per the instructions, and converts it into a structured format or copies it into a database.
Benefits of Web Scraping
Notably, the fact that web scraping and the automated tools that make it possible are increasingly going mainstream underscores their benefits, which include:
- It facilitates price monitoring
- It enables market research
- It is used during reputation and review monitoring
- It provides access to job search data stored in job aggregate sites’ servers
- It is used to collect data for training machine learning algorithms
- It provides contact data for lead generation
Types of Web Scraping Tools
As detailed earlier, businesses (and individuals too) can choose between in-house tools or ready-to-use applications.
In-house Web Scraping Tools
The former type is created by a local team of developers using their preferred programming language. Ordinarily, Python is considered the best language for web scraping as it has numerous requests libraries, frameworks, and in-built tools which ease the process of coding. Selenium web scraping tool, for example, makes a browser send automated HTTP requests.
In-house web scraping tools are beneficial because:
- It gives companies more control as they can be customized as per the users’ requirements
- Issues are easily and quickly solved as the users do not have to communicate with third-party customer service representatives
- Having a dedicated team of developers speeds up the process of creating web crawling and scraping tools, whereas the company would have had to wait for correspondence from a service provider if they opted for the ready-to-use tools
At the same time, in-house tools have a few cons, namely:
- Their development could be costly, depending on the chosen language
- Besides development, the company has to factor in maintenance
- It could shift the company’s focus from its core business
- Changes in the structure of a few target websites could render the scraper useless
As the name suggests, these ready-to-use tools are outsourced from companies whose core business is developing and supplying web scraping applications, meaning that a client does not need to have a team of developers to create the web scrapers.
These tools are advantageous in the following ways:
- They provide access to a robust and reliable infrastructure that has already been tested and, as a result, deemed effective
- They promote scalability, meaning that if a company wants to increase the number of sites from which to extract the data, the ready-to-use applications are up to the task
- They offer a consistent flow of data because web scraping is the provider’s core business
- They do not take the clients’ focus away from their core business
- The tools are flexible
However, they are also disadvantageous in the following ways:
- Their services are marred by uncertainties as the development team could be located in another country and time zone and may not be readily available to offer support during a crisis
- The available services may not be as reliable and effective as advertised
So, why should companies build in-house web scrapers? The simple answer is they shouldn’t because the benefits of ready-to-use tools clearly outnumber those of in-house tools, but there are a few exceptions. For instance, a company needing complete control over the data extraction process and has the resources to hire a skilled team of developers to create in-house tools should go ahead and build them. Importantly, and for starters, the company could choose the selenium web scraping tool.
Frameworks, Request Libraries, and Tools
For companies that opt for in-house web scrapers, developing them is made easy by the presence of frameworks, request libraries, and in-built tools, some of which can be used collaboratively. For example, using the Selenium web scraping tool with Python also entails utilizing Beautiful Soup, a Python requests library.
All in all, choosing between in-house tools and ready-to-use applications depends on a company’s needs. If the conditions are favorable, in-house scrapers are better because of the Selenium web scraping tool and requests libraries.