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  • Shivani Pai

Web Scraping vs API: What’s the best way to extract data

Web Scraping vs API: What’s the best way to extract data

Thanks to the evolution of technology and digitization of businesses, data extraction plays a huge role in crafting a winning business strategy. In this internet era, web scraping can give companies the advantage they need to outperform their competitors. Through web scraping, a business can conduct market research and study its competitors more effectively. Furthermore, the data acquired through these methods will keep the company up to speed on shifting industry trends.

The importance of data is that many businesses would not even know how to hit the ground running without it. Fortunately, the web can overwhelm one with the data it has. However, it is too difficult to gather and organize such volume data on the downside.

To meet this requirement, companies go for two popular data extraction techniques: Web scraping and APIs.

Web scraping Vs. API: What's the difference?

Web scraping is extracting data from a specific website or even a webpage via manual or software tools. Web scraping with the help of software tools is usually preferred as it is more efficient and less time-consuming than the manual method.

Web scraping focuses on retrieving specific information from multiple websites. Then, the application and tools convert the voluminous data into a structured format for the users.

Meanwhile, through an API (Application Programming Interface), one can gain access to the data of an application or operating system. Therefore, APIs depend on the owner of the said dataset. The data can be either offered for free or be available at a cost. The owner can also limit the number of requests that a single user can make or the amount of data they can access.

While web scraping gives you the option to extract data from any website through web scraping tools, APIs provide direct access to the type of data you would want.

In web scraping, the user can access the data till it is available on a website. However, access to the data might be either too limited or expensive when it comes to API.

With API, data extraction is usually from only one website (unless it is some aggregator), and through web scraping, data is accessible from multiple websites. Further, API lets you obtain only a specific set of data.

When it comes to web scraping, there is reliance on proxy servers which is not the case with API. The web scraping tool conveniently organizes the extracted data into a structured format. But, on the other hand, a developer will have to organize the data obtained with the help of API programmatically.

The automatic storing of data through the web scraping technique enables the user to download the same later. This function is not possible in an API. Plus, as compared to API, web scraping is much more customizable, complex, and has a set of rules.

Also Read: Is Web Scraping Legal? A Guide to Understanding legality of Web Scraping

Web scraping vs. API: similarities

Both web scraping and API scraping are the techniques most sought after by data engineers. In the end, even though both the methods work differently, they provide the same service of providing the user with data.

With these new modes of procuring information, a user can collect customer information and insight that was previously unseen. Using either one of the processes (web scraping and API), a user can harness emails for email marketing and lead generation.

Why Web Scraping is better than extracting data through APIs

If you are a business that requires up-to-date information, then web scraping is the choice to lock-in. There will be minimal limitations, and a user can achieve better results through web scraping software. Further, it is customizable to extract the specific type of information a business demands.

To understand the advantage of choosing web scraping, let us take a look below:

1. Absence of rate-limiting:

While in API there are limitations, web scraping does not have any, at least in the technical sense. APIs can cost a fortune and may come down heavy for small businesses looking to obtain market intelligence. Since a user will spend a lot of time obtaining data, APIs will likely burn a hole in your pocket.

However, if the business chooses web scraping, there will be no price tag to extract data on any website on the internet. But, it is advisable not to crawl websites whose robot.txt explicitly warns you against it. A piece of common knowledge is that the websites that show up on Google are scrapable. Still, to be on the ethical side of it, if robot.txt of a website forbids the user from scraping, it should be respected.

2. Limited data available through an API:

All the publicly available data might not be available through the API. So in some cases, even if the API is available - we will have to use web scraping.

3. No customization with API:

Web scraping allows scope for customization that ranges from data extraction process to frequency, format, structure by changing your crawler's user agent. Now, this flexibility is not possible with a website's API. There will be either limited or no customization since the consumer does not have any control over it.

4. Not all websites allow the scraping of data:

Some websites do allow the scraping of data, but many others do not. A few websites allow access. In this case, using API might be your only option. A good example is Facebook.

5. Near real-time and relevant data:

Databases from websites obtained using API cannot be updated in near real-time, making the data obsolete. Near real-time data will enable you to have accurate data so that the results are better. A good example is using scraped data to feed into the predictive models of hedge funds where every second counts.

6. Anonymity in web scraping:

In extracting data through web-scraping, a user can stay anonymous. But it is not possible when using API as the user needs to register to receive a key and pass it along every time you request data.

7. Better structure in web-scraping:

Cruising through an unstructured API is time-consuming. You might have to deal with queries before getting to the actual data. However, websites nowadays want to be XHTML validated for rankings on search engines, and the structure is easy to scrape.

Web scraping + API: The preferred approach in the 21st century

Websites contain an abundance of data that can be useful to businesses, and it could be any data. The extracted data is used based on how the business wants contact information to stock prices.

Some companies use the website data to compare their pricing strategy to that of their competitors. Meanwhile, businesses also use data to expand their mailing list and study the dynamic market trends to tackle them. If you are thinking about the legality of web scraping, don't worry. It is legal. A healthy practice to avoid any problems would be to respect a site's terms of service, avoid scraping classified information, and not overburden a site's servers.

If web scraping is not possible, APIs possible APIs are the way to go. However, in the modern era, companies prefer web scraping + APIs to extract data from websites. If you want to obtain a considerable amount of data, contact Datahut, and we'll provide you with a specialized web scraper program to handle your scraping needs.

Related Reading

  1. 13 Web Scraping Best Practices and Tips

  2. 10 Web Scraping Challenges You Need to Know

  3. 15 Web Scraping Questions To Ask Before Writing Your Own Scraper

  4. Web Data Integration: The Answer To Your Data Consistency and Quality Concerns

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