Modern businesses live and die on their ability to gather and analyze the vast ocean of data that’s publicly available on the internet. Forum posts, social media, browser activity trends – these are all invaluable resources that you can use to improve your business and pump up your bottom line. But before you can start analyzing data to derive insights, you need a way to filter and collect the information you’re looking for. This is known as web scraping and it has become the single most important innovation in modern digital business practice.
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What is Web Scraping?
Web scraping is the act of gathering targeted information from publicly available resources for the purpose of gaining insights valuable to your business. Technically, browsing the web and copy-pasting the data you want could also be categorized as web scraping. But such brute force methods are impractical and slow. This is why modern web scraping uses special software that automates the process of data collection using what are known as web scrapers. Web scrapers can grab the very specific data you want from several resources at once, and they can monitor them for changes and update your database for you automatically.
How Businesses Are Using Web Scrapers
Using web scrapers, businesses can amass large volumes of the information they’re looking for. But what kind of information are they scraping and how are they using them? Let’s go into some of the popular ways businesses are using web scrapers to get a leg up on their competition.
If you’ve ever booked a flight or rented accommodations through an online travel aggregator, you’ve already directly interacted with a service that is built upon web scrapers. Aggregator websites scour the internet for the latest information about airfare and hotel prices and serve them up to the user. By using web scrapers to automate the process, they can ensure the prices they show you are always up-to-date and relevant. Once they have the price information – which they get from the websites of travel agents, airlines, and other web sources – aggregators allow the user to filter through their database for the locations and dates they want. They even let you compare prices between airlines and hotel chains so you get the best deals.
This is an example of an industry that would be impossible before the advent of web scrapers. They’ve become so popular that travel aggregators easily outperform travel brands in online searches. Manually collecting hotel and ticket prices is already a difficult task, keeping your database updated is virtually impossible! By using automation and web scrapers to do the heavy lifting, travel aggregators can focus on the user experience.
Sentiment analysis is the work of understanding how customers and users think and feel about a product or brand. But how do you quantify how people feel? Businesses use web scrapers to look at the comments and posts that users make on social media pertaining to their brand or product. It sounds simple but there are a whole lot of social media platforms to look at and literally billions of people use them! Using web scrapers, these businesses can target posts that talk about a brand or product and store them in a database. They then use advanced analysis methodologies to extract insights about user opinions. For example, how are users responding to the message your new promotional campaign is sending? Is your foray into a new market succeeding or does it still need work? Web scrapers help you get real-time information about your market so that you can make adjustments quickly instead of waiting weeks or months for sales figures to come in.
We’ve talked about how businesses use web scrapers to both understand and better serve their customers, but they’re also using them to keep an eye on how their competitors are performing. Many businesses also use them to track how their competitors price similar products. This way they can keep their own prices competitive. Additionally, you can monitor how another brand is marketing themselves and adjust your own campaigns accordingly. Is your competition well-established in Japan? By using web scrapers and sentiment analysis, you can see how they’ve promoted themselves for a specific market that you’re interested in exploring and create your own campaign that works. Now, instead of testing the market for ideas that may or may not work, you can establish a list of dos and don’ts well beforehand. Now you can enter a market with an advantage and hit the ground running instead of wasting time and resources experimenting.
Today, there is no resource more valuable than data. The company that can gather the most relevant data and analyze it in a manner that makes it useful will always have the advantage. It’s for this reason that web scrapers have become so popular. By allowing for the automation of the cumbersome task of data gathering, web scrapers can analyze and gain valuable insights that allow for them to understand (and even predict!) their market. Web scrapers have also been fundamental for groundbreaking innovations like aggregator services. If you own or are part of a business that’s not using web scrapers, there’s no better time than now to start looking into them.