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You do not need to own a large company to benefit immensely from the power of data scraping.
While large organizations are already collecting and analyzing insanely large amounts of data, data scraping / mining is not only reserved for those with large budgets, powerful computers, and large research teams.
In fact, with the right frame of mind, data scraping has enormous benefits for small businesses as well.
The difference between good marketers and great marketers is how they effectively utilize data to make marketing decisions. While this certainly starts with the data we collect from our own website, our visitors, and our customers, it does not have to stop there.
With the vast amount of data available online, it’s possible to make use of data that’s available publicly on other people’s websites as well. Both collecting and utilizing it are a lot easier than most entrepreneurs think.
In this article, I intend to show you how small business owners like yourself can utilize data scraping to help you make more money from your business. Showing you the benefits that data mining can offer even for very small companies, and how to begin scraping and organizing data straight away.
Scraping Data Legally And Ethically
At this point, you may be wondering – is data scraping even legal?
Unfortunately, it depends, and the law on this area isn’t exactly clear. I am not a lawyer, but I have studied the legality of data scraping heavily.
People have been taken to court and successfully sued for data scraping before, but this has only been the case in extreme circumstances and is incredibly rare. The vast majority of the time, websites automatically block your scraper from running (even if you are scraping legally) and take no further action. We’ll talk more about handling blocks like this later.
In any case, in terms with legality, data scraping may be illegal if one or more of the following conditions are met:
- You are using the scraped data to directly harm the company that you’re scraping data from.
- You have agreed to a terms document that explicitly prohibits web scraping. Note that some courts have argued that simply stating this on any terms and conditions page on the site may constitute agreement – even if there was no way for you to have ever viewed the page. The law on this is unclear.
- You are scraping pages at such a high speed, that it causes harm to the web server hosting the website, makes the site unavailable, or slows down page loading time for other users.
- You are utilizing the data in a way that constitutes copyright infringement, such as publishing the data online.
Although it may seem like there are a lot of ways you can get in trouble for data scraping, this is typically not the case. Later in this article, we will discuss ways to ensure you are not breaking any laws, and only scrape data from sources where you are permitted to do so.
Just Because You’re Scraping Legally, Doesn’t Mean That You’re Scraping Ethically
When scraping data – especially large amounts of data, it’s important you do so in a way that is moral and ethical.
Typically, this means that…
- You check and obey the website’s robots.txt file.
- You run your scraper at a slow enough speed to avoid slowing down the server.
- You only download data that is necessary.
- You make your crawler identifiable, and include contact information when able to do so.
- If the website makes data available through something like an API, utilize this rather than scraping.
- Don’t scrape information that wasn’t intended to be made public or downloadable in the first place.
If you’re not sure what any of this means, don’t worry. If you plan to hire a data scraping service or have a scraper built for you, they will be able to work with you to create a scraper that fits all of your requirements, while scraping as ethically as possible.
Now that we’ve covered the legality of data scraping, let’s get into the exciting bit – how data scraping can benefit you as a small business owner, marketer, and entrepreneur!
1. Replace Manual Data Extraction Work
First things first, if you’re already extracting data from websites manually, stop!
The beauty of data scraping lies in its speed, and its accuracy. Considering that scrapers can perfectly extract data from tens of thousands of pages per hour, humans will never be able to compete with it.
Just about anything that you could see on a website in your internet browser, a web scraper will be able to extract, and store in any format that will make later analysis simple.
Scrapers can be set up to run 24/7 without breaks, start and stop at set times of the day, or only check certain pages for updates.
Regardless of what data extraction work you’re doing now, it’s likely that a well-built scraper can do it better, cheaper, and faster.
This means that the time investment required to either build a scraper yourself, or the cost of having another company build one for you, is almost always worth it.
Given how easy it is to get up and going with web scraping, I beg you to stop doing data extraction work manually unless you absolutely have to.
2. Develop Content Ideas
If you develop content for your business – be it in the form of blog articles, podcast episodes, or YouTube videos, you may agree with me on this:
Sometimes, it’s not the writing of the content that’s difficult. Sometimes, the hard part is coming up with ideas for the content in the first place.
This is where data scrapers can come in handy.
Utilizing data scraping for content creation is simple, and I use this for myself constantly. After all, you do not always need to come up with original content ideas. Sometimes, you just need to find a way to build a better resource on a given topic.
With a data scraper, it is trivial to:
- Scrape lists of articles from different websites.
- Scrape any public information about the article, such as the date it was published, number of views, the author, etc.
- Scrape engagement metrics, such as the number of comments or social shares.
- Include a link to that article alongside all this information, to reference later.
You may find articles from other people’s websites that performed really well at the time, but have since become outdated.
Therefore, you know straight away that by creating an article on this topic, you stand a good chance of receiving a good level of engagement.
3. Monitoring Competitors
Perhaps one of the most common uses for data scraping is simply monitoring competitors.
This is especially true in real estate and eCommerce markets, where there is no shortage of data to monitor.
For example, you may wish to monitor competitor prices and price changes, or new products that your competitors have added to their stores.
Additionally, scraping reviews from competitor’s products can help you identify weaknesses and strengths in your competitor’s offerings, which can help you build both a better product, and a better marketing strategy.
All of this information will make it easier to identify opportunities to increase your overall profit, based on a wide variety of larger marketplace factors.
4. Validate Your Predictions
Have you ever made a prediction about how your audience would respond to something, only to see that you were completely wrong about it?
Been there, done that.
The truth is, you don’t know anything for sure until you actually test it out.
While I certainly believe that you should always be testing things out on your own site, this can pose a problem for those of us who are just starting out. We may want to run tests on our own audience, but do not have enough traffic to establish conclusive results quickly.
Data scraping can make certain types of tests easier, and help you establish a definitive conclusion to any hypothesis you may have.
For example, let’s say you wanted to test between two emotional trigger words for a blog article headline. Your goal is to get the maximum amount of social shares possible.
By scraping data from other similar websites and analyzing their headlines and social share counts, you could very easily look for patterns that correlate with engagement, clicks, and shares.
This is only one of a million potential examples, but hopefully it helps to paint a picture. Businesses operate in reality, and reality is painted for you within the data you collect.
5. Link Building / Influencer Outreach
Believe it or not, data scraping can be incredibly powerful for SEO purposes, helping you to build links to your site and make further connections in your niche.
This is best illustrated with an example.
My baby product company recently published an article discussing water birthing in detail – giving birth in a pool full of warm water. Keywords related to this topic are fairly difficult to rank for, and we will need to put some serious work into developing links to our resource on this topic if we want it to rank.
Utilizing a scraper, it is possible to…
- Import a list of keywords.
- Scrape a list of articles containing these keywords in Google.
- Scrape engagement metrics about those articles, and their performance.
- Grab domain and page authority for that URL.
- Grab the contact information, if it is available.
Needless to say, this can instantly give you hundreds of opportunities for a manual outreach campaign, and can really help you speed things up. You ensure that all of the information you need is already right there in front of you, and you only invest time in the most promising link building opportunities.
This is a well kept secret that top marketers are using to build rankings incredibly quickly, and I highly recommend trying this one out if link building is important to your company.
6. Lead Generation
Because web scrapers are able to collect and sort through large amounts of data so quickly, it makes it a very powerful tool for identifying potential leads.
Not only that, but because it’s possible to get so specific with what data you collect and how you organize it, you can also be sure that you’re identifying leads that have a larger chance of actually turning into customers at some point.
Put all of your information together and you can predict very easily how to best approach an initial contact.
I must warn you however, that any outreach should be done legally and manually. Scraping email addresses and adding them to a marketing newsletter is illegal in the United States.
Generate more leads with web scraping, but don’t become a spammer!
7. Monitoring Public Opinions
Data scraping can paint a very clear picture on what the public at large is feeling, and how these opinions have changed over time.
It’s also very simple to look for new emerging trends, and make predictions about where things are going next.
My print-on-demand company uses information like this to help develop new product ideas – namely shirts and mugs that are designed to resonate with a specific audience.
We’ve utilized this information to come out with tens of thousands of unique products, and consider it to be one of our key competitive advantages.
Through the scraping of online forums, communities, and discussion boards – as well as through the reviews of your competition, it’s possible to understand exactly how groups of people feel about a given subject.
It is also valuable to utilize web scraping to monitor the opinions of both your brand and your competitor’s brands, which can help you develop or adjust your current business strategy.
Lastly, even if you do not have any specific use for data right now, you may want to collect it anyway.
Data may not be accessible forever, and your only chance to get it may be right now. Because data scraping laws are so unclear, and privacy concerns are growing around the world, it’s likely that data scraping may not be as easy in the future as it is today.
Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal back in early 2018, I have begun collecting large amounts of data from all sources that I’ve legally been able to, that relates to the industries that I work in. At some point in the future, this data could become invaluable to my companies, and I know at that point I’ll be glad that I decided to collect it.
It’s also important to understand that data analysis is likely to become easier in the future then it is today. Not very long from now, we could have free tools that anybody could use to perform tasks that would require a data science degree right now.
Considering how cheap it is to collect so much data, wouldn’t you agree that it’s worth it?
How To Get Started With Web Scraping
Data scraping is simple to get started, even if you have no technical or programming knowledge.
For simple tasks like grabbing article headlines, it is possible to use scraping software such as WebHarvy to grab the information that you need quickly. WebHarvy uses a graphical interface that can be learned in only a few minutes, and a license for the software is relatively cheap.
You’ll want to make sure that you’re only scraping websites that do not explicitly state that it is not allowed. Check robots.txt by visiting www.exampledomain.com/robots.txt and read the website’s terms of service page. To make it quicker, you can also use your internet browser’s search or find function and look for keywords such as ‘scraping’, ‘automated’, ‘extraction’, and ‘data’. Clauses mentioning web scraping will often contain one of these words.
To prevent IP blocks, you may also need to utilize a service that rotates your scraper through a pool of different proxies automatically. Services like this start at around $10 a month.
For more complex data scraping tasks, you have a few options.
- Build a web scraper yourself (requires programming knowledge.)
- Utilize a web-based data scraping service (very expensive, but certainly worth it in the right circumstances.)
- Have a scraper built for you, and run it either on your computer, or a rented sever.
If you’re interested in having a scraper built for you, I’d be happy to work with you on this. Having extensive experience doing all sorts of data scraping myself, I’d love to work with you to build a scraper that fits all of the requirements you have in mind for your company.
If you’re not sure about any of the technical details, don’t worry – just let me know what you need, and I will offer my suggestions and get back to you with a quote.
For all data scraping inquiries, please reach out to me by sending an email to james[at]jamesmcallisteronline.com.
Although data scraping may seem daunting, it certainly doesn’t have to be.
The benefits are enormous, and there is a good reason that all large companies utilize data scraping to help them form their business strategy. This data is cheap to obtain, but incredibly valuable when you have it to work with.
I understand that this is a complex topic, and not all questions could be answered in a single article.
I’d love to talk with you more about your data scraping ideas, and how you intend to utilize data scraping to help your business grow this year. Please do not hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to me with anything you’d like to share.
I’m excited for you to begin harnessing the power of data scraping within your company!
To your success,
– James McAllister
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