Web Scraping vs API: What's the Best Way to Extract Data?

Web Scraping vs API: What's the Best Way to Extract Data?
Posted on
May 23, 2022

Extracting data is an essential part of working on new and innovative ideas. But how to get big data from all over the Internet that transforms many business processes?

Manual data collection is out of the question here, as it takes too much time and effort and does not produce accurate and comprehensive results. But then, what will provide the best quality data without compromising integrity and morality?

Common methods of retrieving data from the Internet are APIs and web scraping. In this article, we explain how these two solutions work and if there is still a better solution to the data collection problem.

What is Web Scraping?

Web scraping is a technique for automatically extracting target data from the Internet. Scraping helps to take raw data in the form of HTML code from sites and convert it into a usable structured format. When you try to extract any content from the Internet, it's called web scraping, even if you do it manually.

Web scrapers are used mainly by companies that want to gather information to understand their customers better, follow competitors, or do research. For example, online retailers periodically look at the publicly available pages of their competitors, scraping product titles and prices so they can adjust their pricing policies.

Read more about Web Scraping: Web Scraping: What It Is and How to Use It

Pros and cons of web scraping
Pros and cons of web scraping

Benefits of Web Scraping

  1. Web scrapers can automatically pull data from a few websites simultaneously, saving time and collecting more relevant information than one person can manually do.
  2. Web scraping enables downloading and managing data on your local computer in spreadsheets or databases.
  3. Web scrapers can be run on a schedule to get up-to-date data regularly and exported in the desired format.
  4. Data accuracy is essential to any data-driven business. If you are looking for a data extraction tool that is human-free, hassle-free, and accurate, then web scraping is the answer.

The Disadvantages of Web Scraping

  1. Because websites are constantly changing their HTML structure, sometimes scrapers can break. Whether you use web scraping software or write your own code, you should perform regular maintenance to keep your scrapers clean and working correctly.
  2. The data collected needs to be properly read and understood to be processed, which can take a lot of time and effort.
  3. Scraping large sites requires a vast number of requests. Some websites might block IP addresses from which many requests come in.
  4. Many sites restrict access when requests come from certain countries, so that you will need proxy servers. And free or cheap proxies usually don't help in these cases because many people use them, and those IPs are already blocked.
  5. Many modern websites render content when the page loads in the browser. When you try to view the page's source code or get it with a simple GET request, you will receive the message "You need to enable JavaScript to run this application". You will need headless browsers to scrape such sites with dynamic content. And with many pages, the rendering process requires more time and hardware resources.

What is API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface, which acts as an intermediary, allowing websites and software to communicate and exchange data and information.

To contact the API, you need to send it a request. The client must provide the URL and HTTP method to process the request correctly. You can add headers, body, and request parameters depending on the method.

  • Headers provide metadata about the request.
  • The body contains data such as fields for a new row in a database.

The API will process the request and send the response received from the web server.

Endpoints work in conjunction with API methods. Endpoints are specific URLs that the application uses to communicate with third-party services and its users.

What is API Scraping?

API scraping is data collection by making requests to endpoints we found when analyzing the traffic between the web server and the site or application.

Pros and cons of API scraping
Pros and cons of API scraping

Benefits of API Scraping

  1. You don't put an extra load on your hardware using this method to collect content.
  2. API scraping can be implemented into a developer application with just a set of credentials.
  3. The results are often provided in XML or JSON format, where the data is already structured and convenient for further processing.
  4. API use helps to overcome problems like Javascript rendering and CAPTCHA  avoidance.
  5. If you need to collect hundreds, thousands, or millions of data, API solves this problem faster than web scraping.

The Disadvantages of API Scraping

  1. Not all data can be available by accessing a single endpoint due to the dataset available when accessing the endpoint predefined by the developer. So we may need to refer to several endpoints to collect the complete data set.
  2. Not all sites have the ability to access the API because the server immediately returns only HTML with the page content.
  3. The same API may limit the number of requests from one IP address and frequency.
  4. APIs are generally limited to extracting data from a single website (unless they're aggregators), but with web scraping, you can get data from multiple websites. In addition, API lets you get only a specific set of data provided by the developers.

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What is Web Scraping API?

Web scraping API is a powerful tool for data extraction from websites with the ability to rotate proxies, render JavaScript, bypass CAPTCHAs, and avoid blocking with a simple API call. You don't need to create a scraping application from scratch and take care of proxies, infrastructure maintenance, scaling, and so on. It is enough to make a request using the provided API and get the content of the needed web page. If necessary, you can optionally send in a request the proxy country and type, custom headers, cookies, and waiting time, and even execute JavaScript in the request.

In other words, web scraping API connects the data extraction software built by the service provider with the websites you need to scrape.

Benefits of Web Scraping API
Benefits of Web Scraping API

There are two main types of web scraping APIs:

  • For general purposes, where services work with any data;
  • Niche-specific focuses on specific types or types of data or sources and is better suited for particular sites, webpages, applications, and other services, for example, Google SERP API or Google Maps API.

What is Web Scraping API Used For?

Web scraping API is used for various purposes like analytics, data mining, content aggregation, market research, and content marketing for better ranking in search engines. It can also extract specific data from any website or blog.

Companies use this tool when there is usually no time, specialists, or budget to develop their own solution, which needs to be supported and maintained.

Benefits of Web Scraping API

  1. Solves problems with JavaScript rendering, proxies, blocking and CAPTCHAs.
  2. The extracted data is already structured and presented as a rule in JSON format.
  3. Web scraping API allows you to use your own custom headers (user agents, cookies, etc.) when making requests to a website in a simple way.
  4. It can be used by anyone who wants to autonomously automate the tasks associated with scraping content from the web.
  5. Most web scraping API services are built with scalability, meaning they can scrape URLs at tremendous speed, often scanning thousands of pages per second and retrieving data daily.
  6. Web scraping APIs are entirely legal. However, it is better to respect the site owners and not scrape sites very quickly, as sites may not be designed for a large number of requests.

Data Extraction Process with Web Scraping API

  1. To gather data, simply use the base API endpoint and add the URL you want to scrape as the body parameter and your API key as the header.

    There are also some optional parameters that you can choose. These include custom titles, the usage of rotating proxies, their type and country, blocking images and CSS, timeouts, browser window sizes, and JS scenarios, such as filling out a form or clicking a button.

  2. Send the extracted data to your own tools for further HTML processing, for example, for parsing using regular expressions and obtaining specific data in a structured form.

    Our service allows you to use extraction rules to get only the data you need in JSON format without the need to save the raw data.

  3. Stream data to your database. You can use your own software tools or integration platforms such as Zapier or Make. In the article about Google Maps' no-code scraping, we wrote about this in more detail.

How to Choose the Best Web Scraping API?

Choosing the right web scraping API for your specific needs can be a confusing process, so when selecting a service, here are some things to think about first:

  • The pricing structure for an optimized instrument should be transparent, and any hidden costs should not surface at a later stage. Every detail should be clearly stated in the pricing structure. So pay attention to the pricing plan and the cost per request through the data scraping API, and estimate how many pages you need to get data from.
  • When choosing a service, pay attention to the speed of data collection. After all, if you need to collect thousands or hundreds of thousands of data, you can lose much time by going to the wrong provider.
  • Some sites have anti-scraping measures in place. If you are worried about not being able to collect data when choosing a tool, pay attention to what features the service provides and how it solves problems by bypassing blocking.
  • You may encounter issues while running the web scraping API tool, and you may need help solving the problem. Here, it's worth paying attention to whether the service provides customer support because, with it, you won't have to worry about something going wrong, and you'll get a solution to your problem.
  • It is worth paying attention to whether the service provides detailed documentation. Such documentation should describe all service features and the steps that must be taken to use these features. Provided documentation should be up-to-date, have a clear structure, and be understandable to everyone.
  • Scraping different sites may require different types of proxies. Therefore, when choosing a service, pay attention to the ability to select proxy types (datacenter and residential) and geolocation settings.
    • Residential proxies use real IP addresses tied to real physical devices. Using residential proxies enables replicating actual human behaviour.
    • Datacenter proxies typically come from data centers and cloud hosting services and are used by many simultaneously. ISPs don't list such proxies, and certain security precautions may apply regarding IP addresses.

Closing Thoughts

Applying one method or another varies depending on the context of your situation. Each method has advantages in accessing and extracting large amounts of data from various resources.

Treat data as a valuable resource, use the right web scraping tools to optimize your data collection process, and then you can use its value to steer your processes in the direction you want.

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Alexandra Datsenko
Alexandra Datsenko
Alexandra Datsenko’s profile

I’m a content creator who loves to write about web scraping and techniques for extracting information from websites. Here I will share with you some of my favorite tools, tips, and tricks for data extraction and how to use them in your business.

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