The perfect web scraper doesn’t exist.
However, modern technologies have allowed us to get pretty close.
And with so many options out there, it’s easy to label any web scraper as “the best” or “most powerful”, but what are the must-have features that the best web scraper should have?
Let’s break it all down.
Ease of Use
While ease of use might be a subjective matter, it is still crucial when choosing a web scraper. After all, the most powerful features will mean nothing if you can’t figure out how to use them.
When looking for a web scraper, one with an optimized UI will help you get the most out of the tool.
This can also apply to the way you set up your scraping projects. For example, a great web scraper will be able to render a webpage for you and allow you to easily select the data you’d like to scrape from the page.
In short, you would want a web scraper that is easy to navigate, set up and configure.
Read our guide on the easiest-to-use web scraper and how to scrape any website with it.
The internet is full of websites built with many different technologies. From static sites to dynamic sites. From social media sites to e-commerce sites. Two websites might look alike but be built with two different programming languages.
As a result, the best web scraper will be able to deal with any website you throw its way, regardless of how it is built. For example, some web scrapers are unable to render a website beyond its basic HTML code.
Powerful and Scalable
Picture this, you are running a scraping job going through hundreds of product pages, extracting all relevant product data for each entry.
Not only is the scrape running very slowly but halfway through the job, it just freezes. Time to start over again.
Now you can see how important it is for your web scraper to be both powerful and scalable.
Most popular web scrapers that come as browser extensions will run into the limitations mentioned before. The best scrapers will be able to provide reliable performance and quick scraping, no matter how large your job might be (even when dealing with millions of data points).
The point above might make you think about the resources a web scraper might utilize in your computer.
This is a fair concern, a powerful web scraping will need to heavily utilize CPU and RAM resources. In some scenarios, that might put your computer out of commission for extended periods of time while your scrape job runs.
A cloud-based web scraper circumvents these limitations by running scrape jobs on an off-site server. In most cases, these servers are provided by the developers of the web scraper.
This allows you to keep using your device for other tasks while your scrape job runs in the background. You can then be notified in-app or via email when your job is completed and ready to review/export.
Additionally, this can also be a benefit if you’re dealing with data caps from your ISP and trying to scrape thousands of URLs.
Multiple Output Formats
After your scrape job is complete, how would you like the export data to be formatted?
Most web scrapers will be able to export the scraped data as a CSV or Excel file. However, your projects might require more formats.
The best web scrapers will be able to provide additional formats such as outputting directly into Google Sheets or an API that you can connect to your site or application.
Furthermore, integration with a data visualization platform such as Tableau can be incredibly helpful too.
Looking for more advanced output formats? Check out our guide on how to scrape data from a website on to a JSON file.
Pagination and Navigation Scraping
In many cases, the data you are looking to scrape is laid out across several pages. For example, you might be looking to scrape all results for a specific product search on Amazon. This could easily result in hundreds of pages to scrape.
However, many scrapers are unable to deal with pagination and navigation through all these pages of results. This means that you would have to provide the scraper with each page’s unique URL - one by one.
That would be a pretty tedious task. But a web scraper that supports pagination and navigation will be able to click on specific parts of a page to go to the next URL (such as clicking on the “next” button at the end of a page).
Taking it a step further, some advanced web scrapers are able to perform searches and input text into form fields. That way, you can scrape search results for multiple search terms in one single scrape job.
Check out our guide on how to easily scrape multiple pages from a single website.
Automatic IP Rotation
Most popular websites try to prevent their data from being scraped. They do this in several ways, the most common being IP Blocking. When one of these sites determines that a user or bot coming from one specific IP is trying to scrape their site’s data, they might block the IP from accessing the site.
A web scraper with IP Rotation will periodically change its IP to access the site that is being scraped. This is extremely helpful for jobs that require scraping of several pages from the same website.
Plus, you would not want to get the whole office blocked from a specific site due to your web scraping jobs.
There are many other features that the best web scraper will have. We could go on about these forever but some of them include:
- Ability to schedule projects (Daily, Weekly, etc.)
- Ability to scrape images
- Advanced Conditionals and Expressions
- Scraping complex web formats - Such as tables, maps and infinitely scrolling pages
- Surpass login screens
What’s the Best Web Scraping Software?
Now that you know which features make the web scraping software, you can co-relate these to the needs of your scraping project.
If you are looking for a web scraper that has all the features mentioned in this article, ParseHub is the way to go.
Note: This post was originally published on August 12, 2019 and updated on September 8, 2020.