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RPA 101: What Is a Web Scraper?

/ ~ 11 minutes read

RPA 101: What Is a Web Scraper?

A web scraper is a tool that allows users to extract data from different websites. The web scraper takes the collected information, and exports the data into a spreadsheet for deeper analysis. Web data scraping is entirely legal in the US and a helpful tool for any business.

People often spend hours surfing the net and collecting necessary information manually, which is not the most exciting task, leading to errors because of the “human factor”: tiredness or boredom. By implementing web scraping automation, companies can extract data more efficiently and redistribute employees to more ROI-driven and crucial business tasks.

Web scraping with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) utilizes bots to automate the process of web data extraction from selected websites and store it for use. RPA delivers faster results by eliminating the need for manual data entry and reducing human errors.

How web scraping is used

There are numerous ways to use web scrapers in business processes across almost every department. From web scraping for sales and marketing teams, to accounting and finance teams, we’ve put together a list of the most common web scraper use cases. RPA web scraping examples include:

  • Extracting product details for competitor analysis.
  • Extracting product data for comparison shopping on Amazon, eBay, or other similar sites.
  • Pulling stock prices for a more data-informed investment decision.
  • Extracting information for brand and company monitoring.
  • Utilizing an RPA scraping tool for website data before a site migration.
  • Leveraging an RPA scraping to fetch financial information for in-depth market research.
  • Programmed bots can gather some social media data to understand customers’ views and mindsets easily and faster.

Once data is pulled, it gets stored in databases or transferred to another system or application. Automation not only allows to acquire data quickly but can pull actionable information and automatically store it where required, whether a database or another system.

The opportunities to successfully implement a website scraper in your daily work are almost endless. Web scraping tools help you and your team dig deeper into particular topics to gain insightful information for strategic planning and short-term assignments.

Web scraping process and solutions

Web scraping data from numerous sources involves a simple algorithm tailored to each company’s goals and business requirements. The web scraping steps involve:

  1. Identifying relevant URLs.
  2. Locating necessary data for extraction.
  3. Writing and running the code. 
  4. Storing data in required format.

There are many types of web scraping solutions: from manual copy-paste operations to  browser extensions and robotic process automation. However, RPA remains the most popular and effective solution when it comes to scraping large amounts of web data. 

Comparison of web scraping solutions 

ParameterManual Copy & PasteBrowser Extension RPA
Scraping CapacityCan scrape any quantity that is humanly possible. Browser extensions such as ChromeScraper can scrape only one page at a time.RPA tools such as ElectroNeek’s web scraping bot can scrape any quantity of data. 
CostInexpensive in comparison to the other two options.Inexpensive with a few paid options. 
Popular extensions: ChromeScraper, Outwit hub Firefox
Involves more expenditure than the other two options. However, with ElectroNeek’s subscription model, the initial cost is reduced drastically.
TimeThe higher the quantity of the data to scrape, the longer the process. It is faster than the manual process but longer than automation as it can scrape only one page at a time.Much faster than manual and browser extension solutions. It can scrape a large quantity of data in just a few minutes.
EfficiencyProne to more human errors than the other two optionsA slight chance for errors as it involves more manual intervention than compared to RPA solutions.Error-free as it involves almost no manual intervention.
Flexibility Easy to do but is limited to human capacity as everything is manual.Less flexible than RPA in terms of customization and dealing with UI elements like the ”Load more” button.Easy to install and highly customizable in comparison to the other two options.It also allows you to deal with complex UI elements easily.

Benefits of using RPA for web scraping

Leveraging an automated data scraping tool for websites provides the following benefits: 

  • The data collected by an RPA bot is more accurate in comparison to manual data entry.
  • Automation makes the web scraping process faster. Tasks that take weeks to complete by hands get done within hours.
  • Automation solutions are easy to implement and integrate within a company’s IT ecosystem. 
  • Low maintenance is needed as automated web scrapers require almost no upkeep in the long run. 

RPA bots integrated with other technologies and tools such as machine learning makes the bot an even more powerful tool. For instance, machine learning combined with bots can locate companies’ websites from their logos.

Challenges of using RPA for web scraping

An RPA site scraper depends heavily on GUI elements to locate relevant data, making it challenging to automate when web pages don’t display content consistently. Some of the main web scraping limitations include:

  • User Interface (UI) features: Some UI features such as infinite scrolling, popup messages and changing dynamic web content make it difficult for scrapers to handle data extraction. The solution would be additional bot programming for specific complex features.
  • ”Load more” button: Many pages load data in small parts using the ”Lload more” button. In such cases, the bot will stop at the end of a visible part end and miss further information without exploring more data. Creating an if-loop within the program of a bot to click the “lLoad more” button until no more buttons remain on a site.
  • Pop-up advertisements: These advertisements often hide GUI elements from the RPA Bots view and impair data extraction. An effective solution would be to add the ADBlocker extension for your browser.
  • Protected systems: Some web pages utilize advanced security technology to prevent their site from automated scraping, which becomes another roadblock. There are two possible solutions:; first,ly to either working with a company that offers web data as a service, or combining RPA with proxy servers to build bots that cannot be distinguished from humans.

Automating web scraping with RPA 

Automated web scraping involves RPA bots performing repetitive tasks. The bot mimics human actions in the graphical user interface (GUI) processes. The workflow is similar to the one described in the previous section; the only difference is that an RPA bot performs all the actions: from finding URLs to extracting and saving relevant data. 

Unlike in the DIY workflow, with RPA, you don’t have to write code every time you collect new data from new sources. The RPA platforms usually provide built-in tools for web scraping, which saves time and is much easier to use.

Let’s say you want to automate the procedure of collecting news on various topics. The first step is creating a simple file (such as an excel file) for the bot to store collected data. Secondly, the bot must be programmed and looped through search queries and load results. Lastly, the RPA bot can parse through relevant data, extract and store it quickly and accurately.

Web RPA bots perform all the web scraping applications in real-time with a close to zero error rate compared to manual processes. 

How to perform scraping with ElectroNeek

Let’s use the ElectroNeek web scraper tool as an example to illustrate how automated web scraping works. We’ll create a bot that scrapes the data from the Amazon online store. You can also download this sample bot from the ElectroNeek’s bot library: amazon-search-result.zip

For example, we want to open Amazon, find historical books, and extract all links and titles of the search result. The web scraping process will follow the steps below.

Steps in creating a web scraping workflow.

Step 1: Create the data structure

We do not need to emulate opening Amazon and navigating to the category. We will replace all these actions with just one link that already contains the search result. Open the Google Chrome browser manually and copy and paste the link: https://www.amazon.com/b/ref=gbpp_itr_m-3_01bf_History?node=9&ie=UTF8

Open ElectroNeek’s Studio Pro and click FileCreate element relations flowchart

Creating an element relations flowchart on ElectroNeek's Studio Pro

A separate canvas opens with a Start block on it and a list of functions on the left panel (it has only one part right now: Data element). Let’s save the file and call it amazon_search_result.rel.

Next, build the data structure by dragging and dropping the Data element function to the canvas and connecting it with the Start block.

Once you did this, select all needed elements (book titles in our case) from which we want to extract data. Click Pick new element to launch the selection mode. By clicking Preview Data , you can view the extracted links.

Amazon historical books search results page.

In the drop-down list of extracted links, you can view the attributes from which we read the data. As the selected titles are essentially links, the default output attribute is <href>. 

Drop down list of extracted links

You can also add more attributes to read data from. Click on the drop-down list and select a new attribute: <innerText>. This attribute is used to extract the titles (the text itself). 

Selecting a new attribute - <innerText>

After you’ve added the attribute, there will be another column to view the range of data so you might need to scroll to the right. You need to consider the range of data to best understand how to test your selection.

View of range of data available.

Follow the exact process to create as many data elements as needed.

Lastly, before creating a “.neek” file ( A “.neek” file is a file in ElectroNeek’s Studio; it can be run  only in Studio by the bot runner), you need to test your data structure. Click Start and paste the link we posted above to it. The Test scraping button will activate.

Testing data structure

Once we click Test scraping, the bot will open a new tab and scrape data from there. The result gets saved to the <data_preview> variable on the Variables tab. Save all changes to the “.rel” file.

Step 2: Bot set-up

Drag and drop the Scrape structured data activity from the Web Automation → Browser section.

Click the Pick button and select the “.rel” file we saved in the earlier section.

Next, click on the Save Table activity following the Scrape structured data activity. It is already set up in a way that the resulting Excel file will be placed in the same folder where the bot is located. But you may modify it if needed. For example, you may save the result to a Google Sheets table. We leave it as it is.

Bot set-up overview on ElectroNeek’s Studio Pro tool.

Step 3: Launch the scraper bot

The last step is to launch the bot that will scrape the data and save it to a table. Navigate to the folder with the bot, open the table, and check the result.

Why choose Electroneek’s web scraping tool

With ElectroNeek’s web scraping tool, you don’t have to be an engineer to automatically collect and process the data you need from the web. There’s no need for complex script writing — all you need to do is to show the system exactly what data you want by picking several desired elements (such as historical book titles in our example above), and the tool will do the rest. Usually, you can expect the tool to extract data from an individual website in less than a second.

If you are interested to know more about us and our web scraping bots, contact our support team to book a demo and learn how you can leverage automated web scraping for your business.

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