There is a large amount of data available only through websites. However, as many people have found out, trying to copy data into a usable database or spreadsheet directly out of a website can be a tiring process. Data entry from internet sources can quickly become cost prohibitive as the required hours add up. Clearly, an automated method for collating information from HTML-based sites can offer huge management cost savings.
Web scrapers are programs that are able to aggregate information from the internet. They are capable of navigating the web, assessing the contents of a site, and then pulling data points and placing them into a structured, working database or spreadsheet. Many companies and services will use programs to web scrape, such as comparing prices, performing online research, or tracking changes to online content.
Let's take a look at how web scrapers can aid data collection and management for a variety of purposes.
Improving On Manual Entry Methods
Using a computer's copy and paste function or simply typing text from a site is extremely inefficient and costly. Web scrapers are able to navigate through a series of websites, make decisions on what is important data, and then copy the info into a structured database, spreadsheet, or other program. Software packages include the ability to record macros by having a user perform a routine once and then have the computer remember and automate those actions. Every user can effectively act as their own programmer to expand the capabilities to process websites. These applications can also interface with databases in order to automatically manage information as it is pulled from a website.
There are a number of instances where material stored in websites can be manipulated and stored. For example, a clothing company that is looking to bring their line of apparel to retailers can go online for the contact information of retailers in their area and then present that information to sales personnel to generate leads. Many businesses can perform market research on prices and product availability by analyzing online catalogues.
Managing figures and numbers is best done through spreadsheets and databases; however, information on a website formatted with HTML is not readily accessible for such purposes. While websites are excellent for displaying facts and figures, they fall short when they need to be analyzed, sorted, or otherwise manipulated. Ultimately, web scrapers are able to take the output that is intended for display to a person and change it to numbers that can be used by a computer. Furthermore, by automating this process with software applications and macros, entry costs are severely reduced.
This type of data management is also effective at merging different information sources. If a company were to purchase research or statistical information, it could be scraped in order to format the information into a database. This is also highly effective at taking a legacy system's contents and incorporating them into today's systems.
Overall, a web scraper is a cost effective user tool for data manipulation and management.