6 Tips for Successful Web Scraping

Businesses of all sizes need big data to improve and expand. They need data on their competitors and suppliers alike. And they need information about consumer trends and purchasing habits.

Some businesses turn to web scraping to get the information they need. They use web scraping to pull data from numerous websites and distill that data into actionable business plans.

Web scraping software reads source code to gather data
Web scraping software gathers important data. Photo by Maik Jonietz.

Web scraping has been around for a long time, and companies with enough money can ban you for violating their terms of service by trying to scrape all of their data.

Popular websites have implemented more sophisticated methods and measures to avoid web scraping operations.

No worries!

We’ll show you six techniques for successful web scraping, such as spoofing the most common user agents, utilizing proxy services, and more.

1. Implementing Request Time-outs and Randomization

Most online scraping bots attempt to retrieve data as rapidly as possible, but this will easily trigger alarms.

An actual human could never browse the web as quickly as a scraping bot, and sophisticated companies use statistics and AI to detect anomalies in traffic patterns.

To mimic the actions of a human, you should implement request time-outs and randomization, which creates random time intervals and “sleep” sessions between requests. This approach will make you look more human to websites, increasing your chances of a successful web scraping operation.

Not every scraping target has the budget of Amazon, Shopify, or Etsy. If you overwhelm your target, you’ll crash their site. That’s not good for anyone and may land you in some legal trouble.

So, don’t send requests too often. If you see that your queries are running slower and slower, that’s a good sign that you’re overloading their server.

2. Simulating the Behavior of Most Common User Agents

User agents are a type of header that tells the site you’re visiting which browser you’re using.

When you have an unrecognized user agent, the website may raise a red flag, and you’d be banned.

One of the rookie mistakes that many web scrapers make is failing to configure a genuine user agent. Major websites can quickly identify your scraping operation by monitoring your user agent, IP address, and other data. Don’t be one of them if you want your web scraping operation to succeed!

Sophisticated scraper bots will simulate one of the most common User-Agents.

Googlebot User-Agent is one of the top user agents to use. Most websites will easily allow it since they want to be visible on Google’s search results pages. Choose from popular User-Agents from Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

3. Regularly Changing User-Agents

Using a genuine User-Agent is not the only thing you need to assure the success of your web scraping activities. You may also need to employ several User-Agents and change them frequently.

Use the latest User-Agents to avoid suspicion and change them regularly.

person using black laptop computer for web scraping
Web scraping using Google Chrome User-Agents. Photo by Nathana Rebouças.

You’ll need to learn to code in Python, so beginners may struggle to master these methods. But, with a bit of work, you will be able to compile a User-Agent list and load it into the Python program.

How many scraping agents should you employ? There’s no specific number because each website has distinct blocking mechanisms with varying degrees of intensity, so you may need to experiment to find the correct number.

In any case, keep in mind that you must send the headers in the correct order.

4. Rotating IP Addresses

IP addresses are one of the most common ways for websites to detect scrapers.

These websites receive hundreds of thousands of requests per day from around the world. If they see that the same IP address is hitting their site disproportionately to their regular traffic patterns, they’ll know something is wrong.

If you want to be a successful web scraper, you must understand how to rotate your IP address.

There are several ways to rotate your IP address, but scraping software and proxy services are the most straightforward methods.

You may need to use residential proxy services for sites that use more sophisticated filters. For each request, a residential proxy service will alter your IP address. Because your IP address is never the same, you should be safe.

5. Deal with the Cookies

A cookie is a small text file that the website stores on your computer to remember settings and preferences. A session cookie, for example, allows customers to keep items in their online shopping cart. Cookies, however, might slow down your scraping process.

Perhaps you’re curious how to scrape a site that uses persistent cookies. One method is to use the session object from the Python requests module. This works by utilizing the same TCP and existing HTTP connection, saving you time during web scraping.

6. Solve CAPTCHAs

Another typical method used by websites to combat scrapers is using CAPTCHA — those image or text-based challenges to prove that you’re a human.

Thankfully, some web scraping services can get around these barriers cost-effectively. It’s worth noting that some of these solutions are sluggish, so you might want to look into premium options.

Final Thoughts

A successful web scraping operation can save you time and money by capturing the data you want and processing it into a usable format that you can turn into valuable insights.

While you may have to use more complex approaches to obtain the data, you’ve hopefully picked up a few valuable tidbits about scraping leading websites.

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