So you’ve decided that you want to get in on the action and start crawling the web: Congratulations! A website crawler can benefit your business in a lot of different ways, so it makes sense to take advantage of the technology that’s out there.
However, before you can start gathering data by crawling and scraping your way through the web, you need to make an important decision.
Will you build your own website crawler, or will you buy an existing web scraping tool?
Each of these two options comes with its own pros and cons. Knowing the benefits of each option helps you decide which best fits your specific business needs and resources. So let’s find out what’s best for you. Ready?
How To Build A Web Crawler?
Let’s start by explaining how you actually build a web crawler because this will determine your final decision on whether to simply buy or just DIY.
Building a (basic) web crawler is not as difficult as you might think. At least, that is, if you know a bit about developing and programming.
In essence, creating a web crawler comes down to four essential steps:
- Determine the URLs that need crawling. You can do this by creating a URL pool.
- Send an HTTP GET request to each URL to fetch the content of that page
- Parse the fetched content. This organizes the content by creating a tree structure of the fetched webpages, which helps the bot (your web crawler) navigate its way through all the collected content.
- Use Python library for searching the parse tree.
To do this you need to write a script using a programming language. A common programming language that is often used for building web scrapers is Python. This is because Python is often considered to be a lot easier to use than other languages like PHP or Java.
To make it even easier, the Python library already contains chunks of code and open-source web scraper modules. This web-crawling framework is called Scrapy and is completely free to use. Another relevant Python library you might find helpful is Beautiful Soup.
If you want to know more about the full process and all intricacies of web crawling there is quite a lot of literature available on or offline, like this article or this course.
Now if you are a developer, the above-described process probably won’t seem too difficult. But this is only the basis…
The problem with building your own web crawler isn’t in creating it, it’s in creating a comprehensive web crawler and then further scaling and maintaining it. This can take a lot of time and effort, and resources you or your team might not have.
And that is why many companies decide to have someone create (and manage) a web crawler for them instead.
Web Crawler Tools And Companies
For many companies, this makes it a no-brainer: Why put valuable time, effort, and resources into building it yourself when you can pay a tool to do all the work for you?
And especially if you run a relatively small business, it will simply save you time and money.
Most of these web scraper tools (like SERPMaster and its APIs, e.g. Google news api) allow you to simply add the URLs you want to scrape data from and their bot does the rest. They provide intuitive and easy-to-use dashboards where you can go through the imported and parsed data and export whatever you need in formats like CSV.
Depending on the tool, you can get a dedicated account manager helping you select and analyze the right data for you, making some of these tools a true one-click solution.
These web crawler tools often offer a free version in which you can try out their product, but which only gets you a limited number of web pages to crawl or datasets to export. For full functionality, you have to pay.
Web Crawler: Build Vs. Buy
You can build a web crawler relatively easily yourself. And depending on your business needs, this might be a good solution for you.
But to actually build and maintain a stable and comprehensive web crawler that you can easily keep scaling, you are looking at potentially months of full-time work to get the project done.
If you run a large enterprise you most likely have the resources to allocate a dedicated employee (or more than one) to do this. But if you are a company of five, such an investment is too big; and just not feasible.
That’s why web crawling tools are ideal solutions for smaller companies in particular. It just saves so much time and hassle and the relative costs for a tool are often not even that high. At the end of the day, it’s just more effective resource management.