Building a Web Scraper vs. Using Data Extraction Tools
Sergiu Inizian on Apr 06 2021
Web scraping is a complex and intriguing subject, and until all its secrets are revealed, it will remain a considerable uncertainty for most people.
When starting this journey as a developer, you need to make some decisions based on the facts that you know about the particular project you are working on: how much data you have to scrape, what kind of information is needed, how is it going to be analyzed, and so on.
One of the most significant challenges when it comes to web scraping is choosing how you will do it. And in this article, we will address this issue: the constant battle between creating your own web scraper or using a pre-built one. In addition, we will also share with you some pros and cons for a better overview.
How web scraping works
Web scraping is the process of extracting data from all over the Internet and making it available for users in an organized manner and in different formats.
All these happen with the help of a web scraper that sends multiple requests to the target public website and obtains a complete and accurate copy of its HTML code. It imitates human behavior to copy and paste the web so the websites will not detect and block it.
The extracted data is useful for decision-making processes in multiple industries like market research and analysis, lead generation, machine learning, and many more. After all, this is why web scraping became so widespread in the past years.
Now that we are on the same page, let’s move on to the exciting part.
Building your own web scraper
In this section, we will introduce you briefly to the process of building a web scraper. If you have enough time and patience, you can safely start your journey in completing this complex task.
Returning to ours, below you will find out what are the perks of building your own web scraper, which can be quite a challenge from our point of view (but who knows, maybe you will enjoy it), as well as the promised advantages and disadvantages.
How it works
Before going straight to the conclusion, we should understand how building your web scraper works and the steps.
We will go through this process, considering Python for the web scraper’s implementation (although the steps are pretty much the same for most programming languages).
- Prepare your coding environment and install a handful of necessary libraries (ex: Selenium, Beautifulsoup).
- Navigate to the website you want to scrape and inspect the data that interests you from the browser.
- Write the code - only after you notice the HTML patterns through inspecting.
- Use the help of a tutorial that will show you all you need to know for sending a request to the website (using a headless browser), parsing the HTML result (with Beautifulsoup), and storing the data in a file in the desired format.
If you need a more considerable amount of data to be extracted via web scraping, this requires implementing multiple techniques that imitate human behavior so you will not be detected and blocked by the website.
One of the most valuable advantages of creating your own web scraper is how familiar you will get with the API you built yourself. This means you will know everything about it, and this can be helpful if anything breaks or needs to be updated. Fixes are extremely manageable because you know the tool by heart.
And knowing everything about it means you can customize it whenever and however you want and need it. If you don’t plan to sell it, your web scraper can be built to solve your problems only and be adjustable to your particular needs.
Like everything in life, all these advantages come with a price, which usually is more expensive. And the costs you need to pay are your time and patience. You need to invest in learning about coding skills for web scraping and then use them to implement and create the actual web scraper. If you have the coding knowledge already, you may cut your time in half, but you still have to sit down and write the code.
It may seem completely free or price since you’re not buying it or paying someone else to build it. Still, you’ll most likely have to pay for third-party services like servers or proxies. And yes, proxies are a must because they protect your scraper against IP blocking, so using free ones is not a good option for the long run.
And we haven’t mentioned yet the constant maintenance you’ll have to do because websites are constantly improving their protection. To keep up with the opposition, your web scraper needs to be updated to them.
Using a pre-built web scraper: try an API
Luckily, there is at least one other option. Use an already built API for web scraping. Of course, there are multiple types of web scraping products and services available on the market, but pre-built APIs work best for developers and coding enthusiasts.
How It Works
If you know nothing about web scraping providers, then the first step is to do some research.
There are plenty of options over the Internet, each with a different list of pros and cons. Checking and testing all of them can take a long long time. That’s why our suggestion is to read guides that can reveal the best fit for your needs and comparisons between options.
If you want to skip this step, we definitely recommend WebScrapingAPI. Unexpected, right? Join our fabulous community by making the first step: creating an account.
With it, you will receive an API key, a unique identifier for every user of our service. And let’s not forget about the free 1000 API calls per month you will get after signing up.
For the following steps, the API documentation page will be your guide. Here you will find detailed explanations on how the API works and code samples in multiple programming languages that show you how to use the API correctly. The only thing you need to change in a code sample is your API key and the website’s URL you want to scrape.
Most significant advantage: you can begin scraping right away. No need to spend time implementing code and testing it. Most of the available APIs provide a playground that allows you to experiment with the types of requests and their parameters: JS rendering, datacenter or residential proxies, device, custom headers, request timeout, etc.WebScrapingAPI included.
Also, you can count on a qualitative proxy pool. A pre-built API includes solutions for all the anti-bot mechanisms encountered in scraping, so you don’t need to worry about being blocked.
When facing challenges, most web scraping APIs provide customer support to help you overcome them, so you don’t have to spend more time on tasks that test your patience.
Usually, the free trials for web scrapers around the Internet will give you the option to explore and decide if the chosen product fits your needs. For more significant amounts of data, you will need to upgrade your account to a monthly paid plan based on your desires. The prices can vary, but if you see it as an investment that will help you scale projects and businesses, then it’s a small price to pay.
Even if it’s a right away process and you don’t have to wait until you can test it, using a pre-built web scraper is a lot easier with some basic coding knowledge.
Which one to choose?
Ultimately, there is no one better than you to make this critical decision. So you will have to deal with it and make the best of it. We hope you don't feel very pressured already. Relax, we’ll help you out.
To put things in perspective, on the one hand, you have a tool that you have to build, which will cost you time, effort, and a bit of money. It needs advanced coding skills, but it will allow you to customize it and know it by heart.
On the other hand, you have a pre-built product that you can start using right away without the fear of being blocked, with a team that supports you but has a monthly cost and implies few coding skills.
Luckily, you can change your mind anytime, but if you are thinking about starting your web scraping journey for you and your projects, be convinced that we will recommend WebScrapingAPI. You will see, the advantages are considerable in comparison with the tedious process of building a web scraper itself.
Why not start right now with a FREE account?