Pro Tips for Flawless Web Scraping
By Julius Černiauskas, CEO at Oxylabs
Data fuels successful business strategies for companies spanning across healthcare services, banking, finance, e-commerce, and travel sectors, and web scraping is the method of choice for obtaining those critical insights. As the head of an ethical proxy service provider, I’m fortunate to be able to observe the industry from multiple angles. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a collection of our best web scraping practices that can support your extraction efforts and take your operations to the next level.
I’m going to start with some technical best practices, followed by ethical principles. While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a great place to set the foundation of your next web scraping project.
Technical Web Scraping Best Practices
Choosing the right proxies
Proxies are essential to any web scraping operation of considerable size. There are two main types of proxies to consider when making a choice: datacentre and residential proxies. Neither is superior – the right choice depends on your web scraping project. To help you choose, here’s an infographic summarising the pros and cons, along with the types of projects they are commonly used for:
Avoid getting blocked
Getting blocked by target websites puts the brakes on your web scraping operation and can waste time and resources. Some practices to avoid getting blacklisted include:
- Check for robots.txt for any exclusion protocols
- Rotate your IP addresses using residential proxies
- Avoid obsolete or rare user agents which can tip off servers and get you blocked
- Consider AI and ML-powered proxies that scrape dynamic layouts to retrieving highly structured data and feature an auto-retry function
- Use CAPTCHA solving services
- Change the crawling pattern frequently to avoid server detection
- Distribute requests evenly and reduce their speed
- Crawl during off-peak hours
- Avoid scraping images if possible
These tips scratch the surface of the best practices you can use to avoid getting blocked. For more ideas, you can view our full guide to block-free scraping for more insights.
Customise your own web scraper
Ready-to-use scraping tools are widely available for users that want to do away with scraping complexities so they can focus on data analysis and obtaining insights. On the other hand, some tech-savvy users and web scraping pros may prefer to customise their own code for precision scraping on their terms. Our Python guide is a great place to start, however programming a scraper requires expertise to construct a bullet-proof block-resistant version.
Ethical Scraping Best Practices
Ethical web scraping practices help prevent server overload while respecting the data scraping environment. When used together with ethically sourced proxies, your operation will not only be fair – it can also be executed faster and with greater success. Here are some of our best practices for achieving those goals:
Only use ethically sourced proxies
Some data scraping businesses are unaware that many proxy networks are ethically compromised. Some consist of users that unknowingly downloaded malicious apps to their phones, while others mislead users with confusing or misleading terms of service that made them part of a proxy network.
That’s more than just unfair – it also makes bad sense from a technical perspective. Poor quality proxies are generally unstable, often resulting in multiple timeouts that can drag down your efforts. Not only is this inconvenient for your programmers, but it also wastes time and financial resources that could be best spent elsewhere. Poor data extraction can also compromise your services and affect client relationships.
For all these reasons and more, it’s helpful to understand how proxies are sourced. Our standards for residential proxy acquisition fill you in on all the information you need to know when choosing proxies that are stable, ethically sourced, or simply perform better.
Scrape public targets and respect a website’s terms of service
Not all websites want to be scraped, and some companies even take legal action against scrapers. With that said, keep legal considerations in mind when data scraping to avoid lawsuits and fines. Some common sense goes a long way here – if a website is password protected and has a clause prohibiting data extraction in its terms of service, that probably means it’s not legal to scrape that site.
Web scraping is the weapon of choice for obtaining the data needed to power marketing strategies, make successful investments and enhance business decisions. Using the best technical practices with ethics in mind ensures greater web scraping success and a fairer playing field for everyone in the industry, including network participants, data scraping companies, and end-use clients.