Web crawling is the collection of digital data from a website and indexing it for a specified purpose. The data can be stored in Excel or any other format as you may desire. Indexing is an essential part of crawling since it helps you find the relevant data easily, like a catalog would help you find a book in a library.
You can then analyze the categorized data and use the conclusions to improve specific aspects of the business.
It is possible to do web crawling manually by copying the information from the site and pasting it on a spreadsheet or other formats. This, however, is not only tedious and cost-inefficient but is also prone to errors.
Automated web crawling uses computer programs known by various names such as crawler agents, web crawler, or spider bots. The programs access specified websites, download data, and then classify the information for you into relevant categories or indexes for easier retrieval in the future. The process is automated and continuous thus ensuring the data is always up to date.
Search engines' use of web crawlers
Search engines are some of the most frequent and most efficient users of web crawlers. So how do they operate with such efficiency that they can answer your online queries in fractions of seconds?
When you enter a search item on a search engine, the search engine does not search the World Wide Web for your answer at that moment. The search engines have automated web spiders that are constantly scouring websites for data.
The spiders begin crawling on the most popular sites or sites that were already in the index and identify specific and relevant words and data.
Web pages are interconnected through hyperlinks, and the spiders use these links to move from one site to a related one. The crawling is completed when the links don’t lead to any new sites. The information from these sites is indexed to ensure that when you search, you get the most relevant results.
The web crawlers are continuously scouring the web pages to identify if any changes have been made that could alter the index. This keeps the index fresh, taking into consideration content on new sites and the older sites that have been revised.
Is web crawling similar to web scraping?
While some people use web crawling and scraping interchangeably, the two terms are technically different.
Web scraping refers to the use of bots to access the HTML of a specific website and download from the page usually without authorization. Many web scrapers intend to use the downloaded information for nefarious purposes. While some think of the practice as unethical, it is not illegal in the United States.
Web crawling is different in that it is less specific but rather just crawls from one site to another by following the hyperlink. Web scrapers, on the other hand, can be programmed to target specific websites only. Web crawling is also a continuous process unlike web scraping which ends once the desired information has been attained.
Using proxy crawler for your business
You can gain a lot of data about the market, your customers, and competitors through web crawling. An analysis of this data can help you adjust your business operations for improved profits, better customer care, etc. Web crawling is, therefore, an invaluable tool for your digital business.
Unfortunately, some websites have systems to identify and block your web crawlers from accessing this data. Such sites usually block a range of IP addresses or specific IP addresses that have been flagged because they exhibit crawling activities.
By using a proxy, you can easily beat such systems. And your chances will be even better when using specialized solutions such as a proxy crawler.
A proxy is a program that links your browser to the site you want to access while concealing your IP address. Since the site can only identify the proxy crawler's IP and not yours, it cannot block your access. This allows you to crawl and get the data you get from the website.
Types of proxies
Proxies can be classified into two main groups:
1. Residential proxies
Internet service providers (ISPs) assign you an IP address known as a residential IP when they start providing you with access to the internet. As such, when you connect to the internet using their service, the IP can be tracked to your residence.
This means that if a certain website has blocked IP addresses of the geo-location you reside in, you will be blocked. Consequently, you cannot web crawl using your IP.
If you use a different residential IP address of another location in order to access a certain site, it is referred to as a residential proxy.
Residential proxy crawlers are especially efficient and stable if you want to access large sites that have blocked certain geo-locations.
2. Data center proxies
Data centers servers contain and provide IP addresses that you can use to access any site with minimum restrictions. Sensitive sites can identify IP addresses from data centers and might block it if they note you are using one such IP to access the site.
To prevent such an occurrence, you should use different data center proxies at different times so that the site will register them as access by different users.
How web crawling can help you grow your business
Every business does better when decisions are made based on the assessment of adequate and correct information. Web crawling gives you additional data about your competitors, markets, and even customers.
This includes information such as:
The topics that are being discussed on media and social media regarding your company
Information about your competitors including pricing, and how their products are faring
Contacts for potential customers, or partners
A professional analysis of this data will give you an indication of the direction your business is taking either generally or about a specific business dynamic. Based on these indications, you can then make decisions on what you need to change, adopt, or maintain in your business practice.
In business, and possibly every other sphere of life, it is always better to make decisions based on information.
Since a lot of businesses are conducted online, the data you get through web crawling is enough to inform you about the internal and external environment that could affect your business.
With such knowledge, you are more than equipped to make short term and long term decisions for your business.