web scraping problems

Web scraping is almost like a super-power, yet it has its own set of problems. 

If there are challenges affecting your data extraction process… Well, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, and I know you too.

In this guide, we will explore the most frequent web scraping problems and how to solve them effectively. From HTML structure issues to anti-scraping measures, you will find out how to address these issues and improve your web scraping skills. 

What about you? Have you faced some challenges that we will explore in this article?

Feel free to share it in the comments!

Solving Web Scraping Challenges: Yes, There’s Hope, Boys.

Web scraping is a process of extracting data from websites and it is a very useful technique (although you may already know this). However, it has several technical issues that may affect the quality of the data collected. 

Just like a miner looking for gold, you need some strategies that enable you to find your treasure. 

Continue reading to learn how to tackle challenges to improve your scraping technique.

Problem #1: HTML Structure Flaws and Lack of Data

Different HTML structures of the website pages can lead to failure of the scraper or the provision of incomplete data. It hinders the identification and retrieval of information in the right manner.

And with so many AI no-code tools about to turn every web designer into a big-brain-mega-chad out there, my guess would be that we are about to see more and more HTML incoherencies.

Solutions:

– Add error checking for the case where some elements are not present in the list.

– Employ loose selectors like XPath or regex.

– Create functions that you can use to work with different website structures.

Problem #2: Dynamic Content Loading

Most of the modern websites are built with the help of JavaScript, AJAX and Single Page Application (SPA) technologies to load the content without reloading the entire page. Did you know this is a problem for conventional scrapers?

Solutions:

– Employ headless browsers such as Puppeteer or Selenium to mimic user interactions with the website.

– Use waits to give time for the dynamic content to load.

– Poll or use WebSocket for real-time updates.

Problem #3: Anti-Scraping Measures

Websites try to control automated access through several ways, including IP blocking, rate limiting, user agent detection, and CAPTCHAs. These can greatly affect web scrapers, as I’m sure you have encountered some of them.

Solutions:

– Add some time intervals between the requests to make it look like a human is making the requests

– Use different IP addresses or proxies to prevent being blocked.

– Use user agent rotation to make the browser look like different ones

– Use CAPTCHA solving services or come up with ways of avoiding CAPTCHA.

Problem #4: Website Structure Changes

Website updates and redesigns change the HTML structure of the website and this affects the scrapers that depend on certain selectors to get data. 

Why don’t they do it like me and update their sites once in a blue moon? Note to myself: improve this site more often, users will appreciate it, gotta keep the UX solid (come back later to check!).

Solutions:

– Select elements using data attributes or semantic tags as they are more reliable

– Conduct periodic checks to identify and respond to environmental shifts.

– Develop a system of tests that would help to identify the scraping failures.

– Propose to use machine learning to automatically adjust the selectors.

Problem #5: Scalability and Performance

Collecting a large amount of data from several websites is a slow and resource-consuming process that may cause performance issues. Not to mention things can get very tricky too. We know this too well, am I right?

Solutions:

– Use parallel scraping to divide workloads.

– Use rate limiting to prevent overloading of websites

– Refactor the code and use better data structures to enhance the speed of the code.

– Utilize caching and asynchronous programming

Problem #6: CAPTCHAs and Authentication

CAPTCHAs are a pain in the ass security measure that blocks bots and requires the user to complete a task that only a human can do. There are some tools to beat captchas, the auditory ones are especially easy nowadays, thanks to AI – yup, the AI listens to it and then writes the letters/words, piece of cake!

Here’s a fun fact that’s also a bit sad (very sad, actually): once I asked my developer what he did for the captchas, and he said there was an Indian guy solving them, I thought he was joking, but nope. Some services are using flesh to solve captchas. If that was my job, I’d go insane.

Solutions:

– Employ the services of CAPTCHA solving services or come up with own solving algorithms.

– Incorporate session management and cookie management for authentication

– Use headless browsers to handle authentication

Problem #7: Data Inconsistencies and Bias

Data collected from the web is often noisy and contains errors. This is because of the differences in the format, units, and granularity of the data across the websites. As a result, you get problems with data integration and analysis.

Solutions:

– Apply data validation and cleaning to standardize the data.

– Apply data type conversion and standardization.

– Recognize possible prejudice and use data from different sources.

Problem #8: Incomplete Data

Web scraped datasets are usually incomplete or contain some missing values. This is due to the changes that occur on the websites and the constraints of the scraping methods. So, having incomplete or missing data can affect your analysis.

That’s super annoying… I personally test something a dozen times, at least, to make sure I don’t have this type of error, that’s how much I hate it. You think everything is fine, until you open Excel or Gsheets, and realize you have to go back to the battle.

Solutions:

– Apply techniques of data imputation to predict missing values in the dataset.

– Use information from different sources to complete the missing information

– Reflect on the effects of missing data on the analysis

Problem #9: Data Preparation and Cleaning

Websites provide data in the form of text which is not organized and requires processing. It is necessary to format and clean the extracted data to use it for analysis. I know it’s the least fun part, but it needs to be done. 

If some of you guys know how to automate this part with machine learning or whatevs, please let me know! I waste so much time doing it manually like a dumbass on Excel.

Solutions:

– Develop data processing functions for formatting the data

– Use libraries such as Beautiful Soup for parsing

– Use regular expressions for pattern matching and text manipulation

– Apply data cleaning and transformation using pandas

Problem #10: Dealing with Different Types of Data

Websites display information in different formats such as HTML, JSON, XML, or even in some other specific formats. Scrapers have to manage these formats and extract the information properly.

Solutions:

– Add error control and data validation

– Utilize the right parsing libraries for each format.

– Create functions that you can use to parse the data in different formats.

Wrapping Up the Challenges in Web Scraping

Web scraping is a godsend and beautiful thing. But it can struggle with messy HTML structure, dynamic content, anti-scraping measures, and website changes, to name a few.

To improve the quality and efficiency of the scraped data, do the following:

  • Use error checking
  • Employ headless browsers
  • Use different IP addresses
  • Validate, check and clean your data
  • Learn how to manage different formats
  • Adopt the current and most recent tools, libraries, and practices in the field

Now it is your turn. Start following the advice we gave you and overcome the web scraping problems to be successful in your little deviant endeavors.

Alexander Schmidt

Alexander Schmidt is a software engineer who believes in working smarter, not harder. With 12 years of experience dealing with automation and web data extraction for analysis and research, he empowers businesses with practical tips and valuable insights delivered in a fun and easy-to-read manner to help others maximize the value and performance of their proxy solutions. When he's not tweaking his setup or consulting for SMBs, you can find Alexander geeking out on the latest tech news and AI advancements.

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