Web Data Extraction
What happens when you don’t have data? Or not enough data? Or the right data? Or clean data? Or you have great data but weak analytics? Simple. Businesses cannot compete, governments cannot run, militaries cannot win battles, households cannot function, executives cannot make good decisions, employees cannot do a good job, customers cannot make intelligent purchase decisions, teachers cannot teach, students cannot learn . . . need I go on? From a business perspective, Bill Gates described it quite succinctly: “the most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competitors, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” And by ‘use information’, Bill was really talking about analytics. But back to the main ingredient of analytics, data!
Where is the biggest treasure trove of data to be found? The place where every business can perpetually decipher the best opportunities to pursue, the best decisions to make, the most profitable alternatives to follow, the customers with the highest lifetime value to target, the best products and services to offer, and of course, the hidden risks and costs to avoid? Answer: The world wide web. OK, you already knew this. And perhaps you already knew that web scraping is a technique that, although not ubiquitous with SMBs, is gaining a more significant role within Fortune 1000 companies every day. Although we call it “web data extraction,” what is web scraping AKA web harvesting, web data extraction, screen scraping, data scraping, web crawling, data mining all about? Web scraping is a data acquisition technique that involves collecting data from websites and then subsequently organizing the data in order to be analyzed and reported for a specific use case.
However, web scraping has (and still is) evolving into a mutant hydra – every time you conquer the data collection of one web site’s data, ten more possibilities appear, which typically offer your organization: A) New opportunities to collect more data and enhance your organization’s insight, or conversely; B) New roadblocks, threats, and risks. Web Scraping is akin to what Robert Ballard does. As an underwater archaeologist (i.e. ocean explorer), Robert perpetually searches and sifts the ocean for hidden treasures. He discovered the RMS Titanic. But metaphorically speaking, “ocean of data” grossly underestimates the magnitude of data on the world wide web, which can be more contextually described as a perpetual series of exponentially expanding oceans that add trillions of data points a day. And just as using a scuba mask and snorkel to search the ocean floor for treasure is ridiculously primitive when compared to Robert Ballard’s Exploration Vessel Nautilus – which is equipped with the powerful computers, sonars, and sensing equipment as well as the remotely operated vehicles Hercules, Argus, Diana, and Echo that can search the ocean to a depth of 6,000 meters – it is just as ridiculously primitive to have your organization deploy staff to gather data via telephones, manually copying and pasting data from the web into Excel, and/or using generic web scraping apps or services. Is it time your organization deploy your own “exploration vessel” and initiate a value added web scraping initiative?
Although web scraping has been around for 10+ years, it’s more en vogue today than ever. But first, let me blow-up two inaccurate perspectives that appear to be gaining traction. One: There is no data scraping software program available on earth that just magically grabs the data you need and automatically wrangles this data into perfectly clean and usable databases. Two: Businesses and consultants that sell web scraping services will promise you this aforementioned magic, yet will often fail to capture and deliver the data you really need. Why? Because data scraping is both an art and science requiring innovative methodologies, deft programming skills, scientific ingenuity, and keen mathematical expertise. Moreover, “value-added data scraping” involves what we call creative analytics . So, just buying a retail-grade web scraping application, then, dumping your data into Excel, then, generating scatterplots and line charts will seldom deliver your organization much insight in order to base important decisions upon.
An effective web scraping project and/or data extraction initiative requires multiple disciplines in order to dig-out the near-invisible gemstones of useful and meaningful information hidden within the nearly 5 billion web pages  and approximately 5 zettabytes of data on the web . Web scraping, without the proper experience and expertise is like a five year old kindergartner trying to hit a Nolan Ryan fastball or Bert Blyleven curveball . . . blindfolded. In order to hit the metaphorical home run with web scraping, you need to: know what to look for, see what you’re looking for, connect with what you need, then run the right type of advanced analytics. In essence, value added web scraping, done correctly, will empower your organization to transform your data into actionable insight so you can make home run decisions. If done incorrectly, it will inevitably cost you money, cost you time, and yield strikeouts.
Competitive Analytics developed a copious and proven process of delivering Value-Added Web Scraping (“VAWS”), which is in stark contrast to generic web scraping apps and services. Perfecting our craft of VAWS is a perpetual pursuit built upon our 22 foundational disciplines:
01. Understand Strategic Objectives
02. Understand Data Objectives
03. Diagnose URLs and APIs
04. Prescribe Optimized Process
05. Set-Up Scraping Tools and Protocols
06. Run and Monitor Scrapers
07. Load Data into ETL Tool
08. Organize Data into Usable Databases
09. Union and Join Data
10. Aggregate Necessary Data Fields
11. Clean Data
12. Interpolate & Extrapolate Data
13. Develop Analytical Workflows
14. Conduct Analytics
15. Decipher Relationships
16. Develop Data Visualizations
17. Design & Develop Interactive Dashboards
18. Customize Dashboards, Reports, Alerts
19. Program Auto-Updates and Alerts
20. Provide Strategic and Tactical Insight
21. Audit, Review, and Re-Scrape Data
22. Benchmark Decisions
To learn more about our value-added process, download From URL to BI: 22 Steps to Developing Value-Added Web Scraping, the comprehensive guide to Competitive Analytics’ value-added web scraping process.
More about why I need Web Data Extraction (data scraping)
Web Data Extraction is probably the most valuable competitive data process your company can deploy. By acquiring competitive, market, industry, and economic data on an intraday, daily, weekly, or monthly basis, companies can gain more insight into almost anything they wish, including A) All sectors of the economy: Basic Materials, Conglomerates, Consumer Goods, Financial, Healthcare, Industrial Goods, Services, Technology, Utilities, and Government. B) Financial data such as stock prices, bond prices, options, futures, etc. C) Entertainment such as event dates, concert tickets prices, advertisement data; D) Travel data such as airports, airlines, flights, trucking, automobiles, and motorcycles, E) Contact information such as phone numbers, white pages, yellow pages, and emails; F) Real Estate data such as apartment rents, home prices, mortgage data, foreclosures; G) Crime data; H) Education such as data on colleges, universities, admissions, curriculums; I) Employment such job growth, unemployment, job candidates, resumes; J) Environmental data; K) Journalism; L) SEO Data; M) Competitive Industry Data; N) Healthcare, drug and pharmaceutical Data; O) Government data; P) Food, beverage and restaurant data; Q) Social media data from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Xing, Google+, Snapchat, Tumblr, YouTube, and Instagram; R) Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing; S) Retail Sites such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Staples, eBay, Apple, Craigslist, Airbnb, GitHub . . . and much much more!
Why choose Competitive Analytics for Web Data Extraction
First of all, there are some people and companies that deploy web scraping illegally by copying and reselling data without changing the nature and use of the data itself. At Competitive Analytics, we are extraordinarily mindful of all the legal, moral, and ethical guidelines of what data we extract. Secondly, we deploy the most powerful and robust scraping tools available, with plans to invest nearly a million dollars in 2016 to develop new analytics for a variety of industries and organizations. And last but not least, we take the data we extract and transform it into extremely valuable new information and insight for our clients.