Daniel - June 8, 2021
You've likely heard of web crawling and web scraping as processes before. After all, they have a huge impact on modern business operations.
There's also a chance you've heard someone use these two terms interchangeably. While they do share similarities, there are some key differences.
On one end, you have web crawlers that are specifically designed to traverse the web. And on the other, you have the extraction of data through the use of specialized data scraping tools.
At first glance, this may sound like the same thing - but they aren't. Let's break it down for you with an explanation of what web crawling and web scraping are and their key differences.
Web crawling - also referred to as indexing - is essentially the use of internet bots known as crawlers or spiders to "crawl" the internet and collect data for indexes and collections.
Think of web crawling as someone organizing a vast book collection alphabetically and organizing it in a way that makes it easy for users to find the books they want.
Web crawlers take the jumbled mix of information and data available and structure it in an organized manner.
Web crawlers play a vital role in discovering new information within a site, informing you about the available content and its respective location. But web crawlers do not gather data, instead, their primary function is to navigate and map the digital landscape.
This mechanism mirrors how search engines like Google and Bing operate. These search engines employ web crawling bots to follow links and sift through information.
So how does this all work? Well, it's certainly not as simple as just letting a bunch of crawlers run wild on the web.
At its core, web crawling works by employing HTTP/HTTPS protocols to send requests for specific URLs, analyzing the returned HTML files for relevant links to other URLs.
Let's take a look at a step-by-step web crawling process to better understand:
The web crawler begins by navigating to the specified URL, often referred to as the seed URL.
Once on the page, the crawler diligently crawls all the available data. It then follows links found across the web pages, leading it to further exploration.
During the web crawling process, the crawler visits and reviews all the web pages associated with the seed URL(s).
It then indexes and archives all the information and data from every page into a database for analysis. As it goes through the URL(s), the crawler may come across additional links embedded within the pages, which it queues for future crawling.
The most common users of web crawlers are search engines. For example, just like when you searched "web crawling vs web scraping", you likely received results within seconds.
This process is thanks to the use of web crawlers.
But while web crawling remains the primary purpose of search engine web crawlers, their uses go beyond this. Other common uses for web crawling include:
Search engine optimization (SEO): Web crawling is an invaluable part of SEO. By paying attention to how web crawlers interact with your website, you can evaluate its ranking and make necessary optimizations. This helps you appear in the search engine results pages and provide a better user experience.
Automated website maintenance: Website administrators can set up a crawler bot to regularly scan a website. By analyzing the website's HTML elements, the crawler can detect errors such as site blocks or navigation issues.
Also known as data scraping, web scraping refers to extracting data from a specific website. This can either be done manually through copying and pasting or with the use of automated software like a web scraper.
Unlike crawlers that crawl websites for this data, web scrapers extract data that has already been crawled.
Web scrapers have the capability to extract data from websites either in their entirety or specific information that a user wants. Ideally, you want to specify what type of data you want the web scraper to extract.
For example, say you want to scrape an Amazon page for different types of laptops but are only interested in extracting the details of the laptop models and not the customer reviews.
When a web scraper is set to work on a site, it begins by providing the necessary URLs. It then loads the HTML code of those sites, retrieves data, and presents it to the user often in the form of a CSV file or Excel spreadsheet.
Let's take a look at a step-by-step web scraping process:
Identify the target website and the specific URL(s) you wish to scrape.
Employ a proxy server to ensure protection and avoid being potentially blocked. The scraper then gains access to the target website using the IP address provided by the proxy server.
The scraper initiates a connection request to the website and receives the corresponding HTML code.
Input the target URL(s) into the scraper's input field and execute the scraping process.
The scraper extracts the target web data and downloads it into a preferred format, such as JSON, CSV, or others.
Web scraping is widely used in businesses for various purposes, some of which include:
Lead generation: Web scraping enables companies to collect valuable information about potential customers to aid in efficient lead generation.
Market research: Businesses can identify market trends, opportunities, and customer preferences by scraping data from multiple sources.
Brand monitoring: Web data extraction is incredibly useful for monitoring a brand. Web scraping allows businesses to analyze data related to a specific brand or product, such as online mentions, reviews, and social media engagement. They can then use this data to adjust their marketing strategies.
At this point, you might already be able to tell the difference between web crawling and web scraping. While both are related concepts in web data extraction, they still have distinct differences.
Web crawling involves bots navigating through every page on a website, covering the entire site rather than a subset of pages. In contrast, web scraping involves targeting specific data on a site and extracting it for analysis.
In summary, web crawling aims to find and index data, web scraping aims to extract the data.
To help summarize these key differences better, here's an overview of each:
Accesses target links to download and store them
Used for indexing information
Utilizes crawlers or spiders
Mostly used on a large scale
Requires only a crawler
Extracts specific information from target websites
Used for downloading information
Utilizes scraping software
Performed on both small and large scales
Requires both a crawler and a parser
Many websites frown upon the use of bots, as they can disrupt the user experience and lead to unwanted consequences like being blacklisted. Thankfully, proxies are your first port of call for this.
Proxies are the secret weapon that allows you to crawl and scrape the web without raising any red flags. They provide an extra layer of protection by acting as intermediaries between your bot and the target website. They cleverly rotate IPs, mimicking the behavior of real users and preventing suspicious activity detection.
Finding the best proxies for your web scraping and crawling activities is easy - just use Proxyrack!
With Proxyrack, you have access to proxies that suit every need and budget. Unlike other providers, Proxyrack accepts all protocols - HTTP, HTTPS, SOCKS4, SOCKS5, and UDP - ensuring compatibility and flexibility for your projects.
Worried about the risk of IP blocking and blacklisting? Our residential proxies have you covered.
Web scraping is well-known for being time-consuming. But luckily, you can speed up the process and ensure you're doing it safely with our datacenter proxies.
Get to crawling and scraping those web pages with the power of a reliable proxy today!
Despite their differences, web crawling and web scraping do share some similarities. Both web scraping and crawling involve accessing data by making HTTP requests to web servers. They rely on retrieving information from websites using similar underlying mechanisms. And, they're both automated processes that enhance the retrieval of data.
There is no entirely straightforward answer, but web scraping and web crawling aren't illegal by themselves. For instance, you could crawl and scrape your own website without a hitch.
Although, it's important to be cautious when scraping certain types of data. Personal data, intellectual property, and confidential information are protected by international regulations. Scraping such data may cross legal boundaries.