When it comes to web crawling and web scraping, people often mix up the two terms. However, similar as the terms appear to be, they are different processes with varying purposes.
Web Crawling vs. Web Scraping
So, what are web crawling and web scraping? How are they used, especially in a business setting? Let’s find out.
What Is Web Crawling Used For?
The most commonly used part of the internet is the World Wide Web, or simply the “web.” The web has billions of pages of information, and more are added each day. As a result, searching for specific information on so many pages would be next to impossible.
This is where a web crawler comes in. A web crawler or a web spider is an automated program called a bot that crawls the web, searching for websites.
Once a web crawler finds a website, it checks each page of the said website. It may even check other pages that a website links to. This information is then indexed to help search engines serve data to you when you need it.
Major search engines like Google and Bing use web crawlers to crawl the web, searching for new or updated pages so that the indexes can be kept up-to-date. That is mainly what a web crawler does. However, web scraping also uses a web crawler to search for the information it wants.
Here are some features of web crawling:
- It does not know the addresses of the websites. It just crawls the web, searching for new websites of those that have been updated.
- It searches every page on a website.
- It extracts keywords from the website and uses them to create an index.
- Search engines mainly use web crawlers to index the web to give you search results when you ask for something.
What Is Web Scraping Used For?
Web scraping, as opposed to web crawling, is used to gather information from a website for further use. This is especially helpful for businesses looking to gather vital information from their competition.
For example, a website comparing prices of, say food processors, may gather information from food processors all over the web with their prices, features, and other details. They can then use this data to adjust their business strategies accordingly.
Another example would be a company using web scraping to gather information on their rivals’ products, features, and pricing.
In addition, the web scraping process may use a web crawler to find the information it wants. Then, it will gather the information and organize it in an Excel spreadsheet, a CSV file, or a database so that the data can be used in decision-making.
In addition, you can also use a scraping API to extract the data you need to improve your business strategies. If you would like to dig deeper into this topic, we suggest you read the article on scraping API.
However, some web scraping is done with malicious purposes in mind. In fact, some scammers use web scraping to disrupt a website, steal information, or commit ad fraud.
Here are some features of web scraping:
- Web scraping is used to get information from a bunch of websites.
- Web scrapers may use a web crawler to search for websites.
- Then the web scraper will extract the information it is configured to find and store the results in an Excel sheet, a database, or a CSV file.
- Web scraping is borderline illegal. There is a thin line dividing what is legal and what is not.
Is Web Scraping Illegal?
There have been questions raised about the legality of web scraping. The answer to this is that it all depends on how you see it. For example, web scraping used for ad fraud is deemed illegal.
However, if a researcher uses web scraping to gather information for comparison purposes or as data for machine learning, then it cannot be considered illegal.
However, it’s best to remember that web scraping is at most a gray area. After all, there is a fine line dividing what is legal and what is not.
The Main Differences Between Web Crawling and Web Scraping
|Web Crawling||Web Scraping|
|Used by search engines to index the web||Used by researchers or rival companies to gather information|
|Crawls the web and searches each page of a website||Uses a web crawler to find what it wants and then only visits pages that have the information it wants|
|Extracts keywords from a website to help create indexes for search engines||Extracts information in a structured format from the pages it visits|
|Is legal and follows specific rules||Is considered mostly legal, as long as used correctly|
|Some people may refuse to let a web crawler enter their website||Some cybercriminals use sophisticated methods to collect information|
Overall, the two processes are similar, which can be confusing to some people, but they serve different purposes for users. In general, search engines mainly use web crawling to index the web. In contrast, web scrapers are mainly used to gather information from websites.
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