As a small business, you are often at a disadvantage when it comes to wide-scale market insight, understanding your consumers, or providing services and analyses to clients. Without the resources to build an expansive IT department, larger companies can provide services you cannot. More than just being competitive, your small business needs to match these services found in larger companies in order to thrive and grow.
One way to enhance your business intelligence is through a process known as web data extraction.
The process of extracting data from other websites is sometimes called web scraping. This term, however, has negative connotations for some but it shouldn’t. Web-data extraction is the process of collecting data from other sites and repurposing it for your site. The best examples of this are flight-booking websites such as Kayak, Travelocity, and others. These websites scrape data from the airlines’ websites and present it to travelers on their own websites.
Other than travel websites, you may have used other data based upon some form of web scraping. Here are some common examples:
How is data extracted from websites?
The easiest way to understand web-data extraction is through an analogy: the act of throwing a net into the ocean, letting it settle to the bottom, and then reeling it in to collect all the ocean’s organisms, large and small.
Depending upon the site you scrape, this can amount to a lot of data.
As noted earlier, the average small business owner doesn’t have a large IT department so while the data from another website might well mean a huge advantage to the organization, this is a tech task. Who’s doing the scraping?
Web scraping, like any other business function, can be contracted. Companies exist that specialize in helping you collect beneficial information from around the web through scraping services. Other companies, known as data analysis experts can process the data you collect and distill it into meaningful, actionable tasks for the entire organization.
How can I use web data in my company?
Scraping the data from another company’s website is not without responsibilities. You must exercise caution in choosing which data to scrape and then store and retain. You are legally obligated to maintain the privacy of individuals. With that said, there are many data-rich outcomes you can ethically derive from web scraping, including:
Web-data extraction can be enormously effective and useful. When collected ethically, it is an intelligence tool your organization can use to extend data sets, collect new data sets, and analyze data sets. It’s through web scraping that SMEs find a true opportunity to access the same data intelligence available to their larger competitors.
How are different organizations using web scraping?
All business sectors can benefit from web scraping, including those generally SME-orientated. Retail is a prime example of an industry vertical that benefits from having access to intensely detailed amounts of data, but the top five sectors actively looking to hire people with web scraping and analysis skills are:
Online retailers, as an example, are competing against organizations such as Amazon, and Amazon’s success comes entirely from data. Using web-data extraction retailers gain:
Travel organizations as mentioned earlier are using web scraping to the befit of travelers the world over. It is one of the sectors where pricing and consumer sentiment are so dynamic, it would be impossible to monitor all airlines’ websites manually.
Though web scraping provides travel sites the same data on consumer sentiment and pricing as the airlines, like retailers noted above, travel organizations can also derive:
On the other side of the spectrum are hedge funds. While this sector doesn’t sell products to consumers, they need to have a finger on the pulse of data traveling around the internet.
One example of a hedge fund benefiting from web scraping was Goldman Sachs Asset Management. This group extracted web data from Alexa.com (a website that tracks traffic coming into other websites) and observed a rapid increase in visits to HomeDepot.com. This meant the website was experiencing more business than usual, and Goldman Sachs bought shares before the quarterly report where The Home Depot announced an increase in sales (leading to a share-price increase).
Bloomberg, meanwhile, regularly scrapes Twitter for finance-related news and Tweets and uses the information to enhance feeds Bloomberg provides its fund managers. This improves the Bloomberg service and the information fund managers have access to.
All businesses survive on data. Web-data extraction is one of the most inexpensive but efficient ways to access the vast data resources of the internet and gives all businesses the tools they need to succeed in the dynamic, hyper-competitive modern marketplace.