Web Scraping vs API: Most Common Utilization Methods
Having access to online data is one defining business success characteristic. It can help you spot innovations and lucrative investment opportunities and monitor competitor performance and price changes. The two main methods to collect online data are web scraping and APIs, which differ significantly.
Many business professionals utilize both methods. However, it's essential to understand web scraping VS API differences to know when to use each. SEO specialists, marketing managers, data analysts, and scientists use data scraping to get statistical data. Simultaneously, APIs can help automate this process, often with strict data availability limitations.
This article overviews the main web scraping VS API differences and elaborates on their use cases in the second half.
What Is Web Scraping?
Automatically gathering online data via specially designed software is called web scraping. Each day billions of new data units appear on the Internet that could affect your business performance. For example, a new competitor joins your industry and offers lower prices to lure some of your customers. Instead of manually monitoring their prices, you can use web scrapers to automatically collect such data in an organized format for further analysis.
Is Web Scraping Legal?
Due to several cases of misuse, web scraping has been given a bad name. One of the biggest data-privacy scandals of the last decade – Cambridge Analytica – involved an illegal scraping of 87 million Facebook user profiles. Companies that collect data without user or website consent break the law and have to face legal consequences. Five years after Cambridge Analytica was exposed, Meta has agreed to settle the case by paying a $725 million fine for its part in the scandal.
However, web scraping is by no means illegal. You are scraping their data manually when you go through different airway companies' websites and collect their flight prices to find the most affordable option. Web scrapers only automate the process. Moreover, Google, Amazon, and other BigTech companies continuously scrape user data to improve their services.
Lastly, web scraping was proven legal during the HiQ vs LinkedIn (Microsoft) lawsuit. HiQ targeted public LinkedIn user profiles to gather their data, aggregate it, and then provide it to their customers. For example, HR agencies could generate leads using HiQ services. LinkedIn argued they did not consent to share such data. However, the court ruled that HiQ did not break any laws by using publicly available web data in this particular way.
How Is Web Scraping Done?
Web Scraping is a relatively simple idea that is harder to execute in practice. It works like a standard client-server communication, where the client requests specific data, and the server provides it. One web scraping VS API difference is that the client, via web scraper, can request information from multiple servers simultaneously.
On most occasions, the data comes in HTML format. HTML holds the website's basic structure, including displayed data (headers, prices, pictures, etc.) Without adequate software, it's just a long chunk of text.
However, web scrapers extract valuable data from HTML and organize it, called data parsing. You can customize your data scraper to target specific HTML elements – such as prices and discounts – to get exactly what you need without wasting time reviewing the whole document. Additionally, web scrapers can extract CSS styles, PDFs, images, JSON, and XML information that also holds analytic value.
What Is an API?
API stands for "application programming interface." Regular Internet users may not know what it is, but nearly every tech person has heard of it. APIs are an essential part of the Internet structure that allows us to use the Internet as we do now.
In the abstract, API is a set of rules governing how two machines communicate with each other. For example, when you want to share a Spotify song on Facebook, Spotify's API sends a request to Facebook's API that allows you to use both platforms to share a song. It's essential to notice that APIs are there to make things easier. Spotify doesn't have to know how to post songs on Facebook. Spotify's API only knows how to communicate with Facebook's API, which handles the posting part upon receiving the request.
Let's put it in other words. For example, you are the client when you come to a restaurant. The waiter that takes your order is an API. They take your request and forward it to the kitchen. In this example, the kitchen is the server that answers the request – prepares your order, which the API – waiter – returns. Please notice that neither you (the client) nor the waiter (the API) doesn't need to know how the kitchen (the server) operates. That's how APIs significantly simplify online communication.
It's hard to understate the importance of APIs. Previously, online businesses that wanted to include email or payment services had to write code for these features, which took time and effort. They can now integrate third-party API software into their website to provide such services without writing any code. It shortens the process to a mere a few hours from a few work days.
API and Data Sharing
APIs often function as a gateway for data sharing. Some online websites make their living by sharing specific data. For example, weather forecast agencies want their information exposed as much as possible. Users can visit weather forecast websites to get the information, but how many people actually go there? Most go to their preferred news sites. That's where API jumps in.
Weather forecast websites can develop their API to share their data. Simultaneously, news sites integrate this API into their systems, and they both start communicating in real-time. When the weather changes, the forecast API sends the new information to the news site API to update it automatically. Instead of visiting numerous other sites, the user can read news, keep an eye on the weather or currency fluctuations, or even watch a TV show on the same page.
As comfortable as they are, APIs also have strict limits. For example, the website can develop specific API rules to prevent sharing some information. They only expose the data they choose to, which is not always in your interest.
Remember the HiQ vs. LinkedIn example. Microsoft provides LinkedIn API, but they also regulate what information it shares with its users. Using their API is not an option if your business relies on more-elaborate LinkedIn data. Another essential difference between web scraping VS API is that the former allows more freedom in targeting specific data.
Knowing the limits and capabilities of both data-gathering practices allows you to choose the correct one for specific situations. Below are the essential web scraping VS API differences and the exact use cases afterward.
Web Scraping VS API: Differences
Web scrapers and APIs share a similar function of providing access to online data. However, there are significant differences that limit each use case. Businesses that require a lot of various online user data often use both methods to achieve their goals. Web scraping VS API comparison is not a ranking of which is better but an analysis of their effectiveness in different situations.
APIs work with a single website. If you need specific data from Facebook or Amazon, you can use their API to get it (if they allow it.) On the other hand, web scrapers can target hundreds of websites simultaneously. For example, you will have to use web scrapers for an in-depth commodity price comparison because you have to get information from various retail sites.
Many websites do not like being scraped. API is a transparent public way for two organizations to share data; however, it is limited by their rules. It can provide access to only a fraction of useful data or not provide an API at all. Web scraping is a less-direct way of accessing similar information. The unwritten rule is that if the website is ranked on a search engine – it can be scraped. However, you need to adhere to their robot.txt rules. On it, the website owner defines what kind of data they allow to scrape or if they allow scraping at all.
That's why APIs are the primary official data exchange methods. Via APIs, both companies agree to share specific information. Meanwhile, data scrapers regularly worry about being banned and spend resources to hide their operations. But it provides access to much more online information. Both methods have significant differences that limit their effectiveness.
Lastly, web scraping requires additional technology. Web scrapers connect to dozens of websites, simultaneously sending hundreds of requests. Doing so on a single IP address will get that address banned and unusable. Web scrapers use additional proxy services or reliable API scraping technology to avoid IP bans. This is not the issue with API communication because they agree to share the data.
Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Knowing them will help you pick the correct ones for specific tasks. Lastly, web scraping VS API shares some similarities because both practices regulate online data exchange. Let's dive into the concrete ways you can use these technologies.
Web Scraping Utilization Methods
Web scraping is widely accepted as an efficient way of working with Big Data. For example, the European Commission Web scraping document outlines the importance of scraping for official statistics. Here are the most common web scraping utilization methods.
Analyzing the digital market situation is one of the most popular ways to utilize a web scraper. Web scrapers can collect data on competitors' prices, user reviews, product ratings, brand mentions, and much more. Gathering such information is critical to any thriving business, which is now automated via web scraping technology.
Automating data gathering also eliminates human error. Digital technologies allow the copying and storing of data with 99.99% accuracy, greatly improving marketing operations. You can read our other article on 11 digital marketing benefits for your business to learn more. Combining these benefits with professional web scraping services can give you a competitive advantage.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is a useful discipline born out of Google's success. Google amounts to the enormous 80% of the search engine market share without genuine competition. Every successful business aims to rank on the first page of Google because it generates the most organic traffic. According to statistics, the first spot on Google secures a 36.44% clickthrough rate, dropping to 12.5% for the second and 9.5% for the third. Remember that Google is the biggest data scraping company that scrapes every website to place it accordingly in its search engine.
Google considers several aspects before placing the website on its first page. SEO keywords are a big part of Google's decisions. Your website must adhere to consumers' needs. You can scrape user reviews to extract the most popular keywords to use on your web. Furthermore, you can customize data scrapers to target particular geographical regions to get local keywords and improve your brand positioning.
Regarding SEO, web scraping VS API has different functions. Web scraping allows the gathering of massive amounts of SEO-related data. Meanwhile, APIs can automate SEO tasks and speed them up.
Analytics and Big Data
Web scraping is also used for scientific studies. Instead of focusing on a particular brand or specific commodities, data scientists scrape billions of data units to get insight into human behavior. They can use it to improve their artificial intelligence algorithms that contribute to better healthcare, cleaner energy, more effective public transport, education, and more. You will find more information on this topic in our other business and Big Data article.
Big Data is especially important for marketing professionals. We can see mass behavior from a close perspective for the first time in history. You can analyze how people react to ads and particular keywords and how it changes over time, including dozens of different analysis criteria. Moreover, web scraping combines data gathering and data aggregation so that the information can be immediately used for further scientific analysis and conclusions.
API Utilization Methods
Every person with a smartphone uses an API dozens of times daily. APIs are central to smartphone technologies that allow cross-device communication and expand Internet use cases. As we know them now, online financial transactions would not be possible without the APIs. Here are the most popular API utilization methods.
Additional Features Integration
You need to make your websites as comfortable as possible if you aim to rank on the first Google pages. APIs allow you to integrate numerous additional features without coding them. For example, if you run an online shop, you can use API for user authentication. Internet users enjoy the ability to log in via Google or Facebook accounts, which you can enable using their API.
Simultaneously, you can program your API for better visibility. Online deals and discount sites can use your API to include your services in their list. If you provide Software-as-a-service (SaaS), your API can include your software on other websites. It's essential to note this web scraping VS API difference because web scrapers cannot be used for feature integrations.
When certain conditions are met, API is one of the best ways to gather online data. Remember, APIs often gather data from a single source that agrees to share it with you. However, API will be invaluable if the agreement is made for sharing all required information without limitations.
Regarding web scraping VS API, the latter has a few advantages. Firstly, you do not have to worry about legal issues because the second party agrees to share data with you. Instead of aggregating received information, you can get it in an organized form from another API. Lastly, APIs do not require additional technology, such as proxies or web scrapers.
Before APIs, including payment methods for your website was extremely complicated. You had to write code for the whole function from scratch. Moreover, it would be best to take care of its security, which is mandatory when dealing with consumer finances.
You can currently use fintech companies' APIs to include their payment methods on your website. For example, you can easily integrate PayPal, which is interested in its API to be placed on your website. Such businesses go the extra mile to polish their APIs for easy use. Even though integrating an API takes significant know-how, it doesn't come close to the complexity of writing your own software applications.
Access to information is the definitive criterion for business success. The Internet has opened up new possibilities, but it takes effort and know-how to benefit from them. Knowing the web scraping VS API differences will improve your data-gathering techniques and business-decision making for the foreseeable future.
Even though both methods have an overlapping function of collecting data, their practical limits are different.
Web scraping is best used for collecting vast amounts of data for exhaustive analysis. However, it must adhere to the local laws and the website robot.txt file.
On the other hand, API is an excellent tool for sharing data between two consenting parties. The data scope is limited, but the data transit is frictionless and transparent.
Both web scraping and API can be game changers if you know how to use them right. We hope this article helped you understand their different mechanics and use cases and will assist in picking the correct service for your needs.