How to Scrape Data From A Website (Is It Legal?)

May 21, 2024
20 Mins Read

Are you looking to harness the power of web data for your projects or analyses? Data is a vital component of many businesses but often isn’t readily accessible in an easily downloadable format. Web scraping is an impressive solution to this issue; it enables the extraction of data from websites for a variety of uses. With this technique, you can access and utilize data that is visible on the web but not typically available in an easily usable format. Learning how to scrape data from a website can revolutionize your data-gathering process.

Let’s explore the specifics of web scraping, its use cases in businesses, the approaches, and the legality.

Web Scraping: A Brief Overview

Web scraping, also known as data scraping or content scraping, is the process of automatically extracting data from websites. This technique is useful for gathering data typically in unstructured formats, such as HTML, and converting it into a structured format in a database or spreadsheet.

Web scraping generally involves two components: the crawler and the scraper. The crawler is like a bot that navigates the Internet by following links to get to specific websites. On the other hand, the scraper is specifically designed to retrieve information from the website into a usable format.

Use Cases for Web Scraping in Business

Web scraping is a handy tool across various sectors, helping enhance business operations and competitive strategies. Here are some use cases of web scraping:

  • Lead Generation: Web scraping can take the lead generation process to a whole new level by automating potential customer data collection from online directories like Yelp, Google Maps, or industry-specific listings. Depending on whether your business is B2B or B2C, you can define your target audience precisely and extract relevant details for an improved outreach.
  • Monitoring Product and Price: Businesses frequently utilize web scraping to track competitors’ offerings and pricing strategies. With regular monitoring, you can stay competitive by adjusting your pricing and marketing strategies for current market trends.
  • e-Commerce Data Monitoring: Extracting data from e-commerce platforms like eBay or Amazon can be challenging due to anti-scraping measures and constant platform changes. However, with the right tools and approaches, you can effectively monitor product availability, customer reviews, and pricing for a competitive edge.
  • Analysis of Clinic/Hospital Data: In healthcare, web scraping can be used to accumulate data from multiple sources, including treatment statistics, health insurance records, and regulatory documents. Such data can provide detailed insights to help healthcare providers offer better services.
  • Financial Data Monitoring: By employing web scraping as a strategic advantage, financial institutions can gather vast amounts of data from different financial markets or regulatory bodies. This can help make informed investment choices, understand market dynamics, and assess risks effectively.

Is It Legal to Scrape Data from Websites?

Web scraping is generally legal if the data is readily accessible by the public and the scraping doesn’t breach any applicable laws or terms of service of the website. Contrary to common assumptions that web scraping is inherently illicit, legality depends on how and why you scrape. This does not imply that site scraping of any type is acceptable.

Scraping private, proprietary, or confidential information, especially if the data is protected by IP laws or covered by GDPR, is considered illegal. Regulations pertaining to intellectual property and personal data are the most significant restrictions in web scraping. However, other factors, including the terms of service of the website, can also be relevant.

Here’s a list of the best practices for ethical web scraping:

  • Only collect pertinent, helpful data for your project while staying within the agreed boundaries.
  • Avoid scraping data hidden by authentication mechanisms or any form of access control.
  • Ensure you only copy non-proprietary data or data that doesn’t infringe on copyright laws.
  • Modify scraped data for purposes like analysis or comparison; avoid using scraped data to compete directly with the source.
  • Always cite the original source if you publish any scraped data.
  • Restrict the amount of scraping done on a certain website to prevent traffic from being slowed down and web servers from being overloaded.

Approaches for Web Scraping

Web scraping approaches are of varied complexity, mainly based on the coding expertise required. Let’s look into the different techniques:

1. No-Code Scraping Methods

  • Manual Copy and Paste: The simplest method for extracting data from a website is to manually select and copy the data.
  • Tools for Browser Developer: Many built-in tools are available in modern browsers, allowing you to inspect webpage elements and copy the data.
  • Browser Extensions: A browser extension like Web Scraper or Data Scraper can automate data extraction directly from your browser in a targeted, pattern-based manner.
  • RSS Feeds: Certain websites provide RSS feeds containing lists of structured data. Examples of no-code scraping platforms include Diffbot, Octoparse, import.io, and ParseHub.
  • Data Mining Software: Tools like KNIME and RapidMiner offer graphical interfaces to help extract data easily.

2. Low-Code Scraping Methods

  • Beautiful Soup: This Python package is useful for one-time HTML data extraction with minimal code.
  • APIs: Many websites provide structured APIs, which allow you to scrape data. A basic understanding of HTTP requests and data formats like JSON or XML is necessary.

3. High-Code Scraping Methods

  • Scrapy: This Python library is well-suited for more complex web scraping tasks. Scrapy offers robust features for large-scale projects, but it might be challenging for a novice to use.
  • JavaScript: You can use tools like Axios to make HTTP queries and Cheerio to parse HTML in a Node.js environment.
  • Headless Browsers: Tools like Selenium or Puppeteer help automate web browsers to scrape dynamic JavaScript-generated content.
  • Web Crawling Frameworks: Complex frameworks like Apache Nutch allow for extensive web crawling and data extraction across large datasets.

How to Scrape Data from a Website Using Python

Here’s an example of a basic scraper that uses Beautiful Soup and Python library requests to extract definition articles from links on the WhatIs.com main page.

Step 1: Accessing the Website

Use the open-source requests library to send an HTTP request to WhatIs.com.

Accessing the Website

This code shows how to use the requests library to scrape information into the coding environment. The first 1000 characters of the WhatIs.com source code are imported by the code shown. It demonstrates how Python libraries at the top of the code draw data into the IDE, but it is not a necessary prerequisite for the following step.

The source code from the webpage is returned via the line response.text.

Step 2: Extracting URLs

The format used for HTML links is as follows:

<a href="URL">Clickable Text or Content</a>

The above line of code creates a clickable link on a webpage. When you click on the Clickable Text or Content, you will be taken to the webpage specified by the URL provided in the href attribute.

Extracting URLs

The following code yields a list of all the links on the WhatIs.com site. For each time the letter “a” appears, the code looks for a link, and prints the URL of that link.

Extracting URLs

The scraper extracts every hyperlink on the website, including TectTarget’s privacy and contact pages, as seen in the image. The goal is to extract only definition URLs.

Step 3: Filtering Specific URLs

After obtaining the definition URL, extract it and examine the article URLs for any patterns that the scraper can identify and use to filter and extract data. Every definition has the same URL syntax; they all start with ‘/definition’. With the above code, the scraper will successfully locate and output any URL that begins with “/definition.”

Filtering Specific URLs

Step 4: Refining Results

To refine the output and only display the links to definitions on WhatIs.com, add the following line inside the loop:

if href and "/definition" in href and "/definitions" not in href:

Refining Results

This will ensure the glossary isn’t visible, and all the links will lead to TechTarget definitions,

Step 5: Exporting Data

Once the output has been converted into a data frame using the pandas library, export these linkages from the coding environment by saving the file as a CSV file with the name output.csv.

Here’s the code for the same:

Exporting Data

How Airbyte Helps Streamline Data Collection Similar to Web Scraping

Airbyte

Similar to web scrapping, data collection from different applications is a common practice in many organizations. If you want to streamline the process of moving data between various sources and destinations, consider using Airbyte, an effective data integration platform. With Airbyte, you can easily extract data from web sources or other types of data sources without requiring any custom code. This is simplified by Airbyte’s 350+ connectors or pre-built integrations. However, if you’re unable to find a connector of your choice, you can use the Connector Development Kit (CDK) for a custom connector.

If you’d like to learn more about the best web scraping tools, read this article.

Conclusion

Whether you want to enhance your lead generation process, monitor market trends, or gather critical financial information, web scraping provides a versatile and potent solution. However, it’s essential to approach web scraping with a clear understanding of ethical guidelines and legal restrictions. This will help ensure your data-gathering efforts are effective and compliant.

Learning how to scrape data from a website can provide valuable insights and opportunities for innovation. Consider choosing the right tool and carrying out web scraping ethically to minimize risks and liabilities. To prevent any legal repercussions, ensure you have permission to scrape the data you require and abide by the website’s terms of service.

Limitless data movement with free Alpha and Beta connectors
Introducing: our Free Connector Program
The data movement infrastructure for the modern data teams.
Try a 14-day free trial