Web scraping has been a practice almost as old as the internet itself. Thousands scrape specific websites or search engine results pages every day. It allows you to gather loads of valuable data within the space of mere minutes.
In this article, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into scraping some of the most popular search engines in the world. Now, although there are dozens of search engines about, including niche ones like DuckDuckGo or Ecosia, there are only a few that really dominate the market and are worth your time scraping them.
Below, we will show you how to scrape some of these popular search engines to get your hands on the best data. So let’s dig in!
What Is Search Engine Scraping?
The process of web scraping involves the use of a web crawler (robot) to visit web pages for you and to extract information from those pages.
This automated process allows you to gather information from thousands of different web pages in the space of only a few hours, making it much more efficient than manually visiting all these web pages to find the data you need.
Some web scrapers are programmed to simply harvest all the data on a page, while others take a more targeted approach to only extract a certain piece of information (like a product price).
Web scrapers can be used in many different places across the web. For example, you can use a scraper to gather data from your competitors’ websites, or you can use a scraper to extract data from Google News to function as a Google News API.
Search engine scraping is the specific process of using such web scraping techniques to harvest information from search engines, like Google or Bing.
The Most Popular Search Engines
At the time of writing this article, Google holds a global market share of search engines of 85.86%, according to data gathered by Statista.
Second in line is Bing, with only 6.84%. In other words, Google has more than 12 (!) times the market share compared to the runner-up. Not to mention the minor share held by the other search engines in the global top 5, which are Yahoo! (2.76%), Baidu (0.55%), and Yandex RU (0.59%).
Note that these statistics only take “traditional” search engines into account. Some, like Search Engine Journal here, argue that large sites like YouTube, Amazon, and Facebook can be considered search engines as well because users technically use them in similar ways as traditional search engines.
But for the purpose of this article, we will only focus on traditional search engines. That’s because YouTube, Amazon, and Facebook scraping require different tools that work slightly differently than search engine scrapers.
Scraping the Most Popular Search Engines
If you want to scrape search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! you need to be prepared. You need to either invest a lot of your time to build a scraper, settle for a simple free scraper, or invest in a monthly fee to use a more sophisticated scraper tool.
Building a search engine scraper yourself will take time and effort. That’s because these search engines don’t want you scraping their data (which is ironic, given that they scrape data themselves!). They’ve put a lot of roadblocks in place to stop your robot from gathering its data.
Some of the most commonly used techniques include:
- Limiting a User’s Behavior – for example, by putting speed limitations in place or identifying structured, automated behavior as robotic.
- Testing a User-Agent – to identify robots as opposed to actual users browsing the search engine using browsers.
- Blocking an IP Address – as soon as they identify a user as a robot, blacklisting its IP address to prevent it from accessing the search engine in the future
And these are just three examples. What it comes down to is that you have to build a web scraper that can mimic human behavior as accurately as possible. And that takes a lot of technical know-how, as well as time and effort.
For starters, your bot needs to use different Proxies for IP rotation to ensure that all your bot’s traffic doesn’t come from the same IP address.
Another important step is to manage your bot’s time and speed. As mentioned, search engines often put user limitations and restrictions in place to avoid high-speed scraping by bots.
After all, a robot can technically crawl an entire website in mere seconds when it would take humans several minutes at least. So to mimic that, you need to give your bot time and speed limitations.
Other common methods to prevent your bot from being detected are to use the correct way of handling URL parameters, programming them to solve Captchas, or including HTML DOM parsing.
And that’s why building your own search engine scraper is time-consuming. Instead, you might be better off using a web scraping tool.
You can either find free, open-source versions (like GoogleScraper) or use a more elaborate paid-for program (like Octoparse). The benefit of paid tools is, as often, that they provide more build-in functionalities and features that help make your life easier.
For example, they often come with a separate dashboard from which you can easily operate and analyze the scraped data. Tools like this will also handle all the IP rotation for you, which means you often don’t have to invest in VPNs yourself.
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