When it comes to building your SEO toolbox, web scraping is an important strategy to consider. This tactic involves collecting and parsing data from websites, and the information gleaned can be a great source of research and analytics for your company.
Web scraping can be a useful way to give your website an SEO boost – if done properly. However, this strategy can also be used by spammers and thieves to steal content from other sites instead of generating their own or harvesting personal data. Let’s dig into the practice of web scraping and explore some of the benefits and detriments of this SEO strategy.
What is web scraping?
There are several fundamental pillars of SEO, such as backlinking and performing keyword research, but web scraping is perhaps a lesser-known tactic. At its most basic, web scraping simply means harvesting information from online resources. Even if you only copy and paste a piece of information from a website, you are technically scraping that site.
This can be done manually, but for efficiency, data scrapers usually employ an automated tool. There are browser extensions that perform web scraping, as well as specialty software that does it for you. There are even independent programmers out there who build their web scraping tools.
Scraping becomes an SEO tactic when it is used to transform raw data for a company’s use, such as building their content or putting it into a database for analysis. Many companies scrape for information like price comparisons or any other data that might help them monitor the competition. We’ll first explore how this can be used to the benefit of online businesses and how to do it properly to avoid legal or ethical concerns.
Benefits for SEO
Market research and lead generation are legitimate uses of web scraping that can help you tailor your SEO strategies. For example, you can optimize your keyword results by using web scraping software like SERP API to monitor your competitor’s keyword results, as well as your own. This is a good way to learn what words get hits for businesses comparable to yours.
Similarly, monitoring the traffic your competitors get can help you develop customer personas from your target demographics to better tailor your messaging. If you have a blog on your website, you can also use scraping software to find potential industry partners. This will help you filter your guest blogging opportunities to see what prospective partners have content similar to yours and who might be interested in working with you.
And web scraping isn’t just for the competition. You can install web scraping plugins on your site to see what content is getting the most views and shares. You can use data scraping to monitor how your pages rank in search engine results, improve your link-building strategies, and use your high-performing content as a model for future content.
As you are honing your SEO strategies, instead of hiring in-house specialists, consider saving yourself some money and hiring an experienced freelancer. These days, many freelance editors specialize in SEO and other optimization strategies for creating online content. If you are web scraping, a good content writer and editor can help you make the most of the information you gather to keep your content fresh and increase traffic to your website.
Problems with web scraping
Some companies explicitly prohibit automated scraping of their sites. Websites, particularly those with proprietary content or clients’ personal information, have good reason to want to prevent the practice.
For one thing, web scraping can be used by bots to populate spam sites by impersonating real sites that get a lot of traffic. Much thought goes into creating content generation strategies, and no one wants their content to be knocked off on other sites.
Search engines like Google are getting better at detecting fake, low-value web pages. And while more content does not equate to better rankings – outdated, short, auto-generated content likely won’t do much for your SEO – it can still be a fast way for spammers to trick their way into getting traffic. This practice can be harmful to legitimate brands because it can decrease their sales and lower their SEO rankings.
Besides the obvious frustration (and potential legal ramifications) of knock-off content, there are also additional risks with web scraping. Security is an aspect of SEO that people often forget. Search engines are strict when it comes to assessing how secure sites are, and an insecure website can hurt your rankings on SERPs.
What’s more, automated scrapers making repeated requests to servers can use up bandwidth and slow download times for legitimate users. In extreme cases, this can lead to sites going down comparable to a Denial of Service (DoS) attack.
Data scraping is also a great way for bad actors to learn information about company leadership, portfolios, and industry partners, all of which could be used to orchestrate a convincing phishing scam. Would-be hackers can also scrape social media platforms or employee bios on your site to learn about your staff and try to guess their login credentials.
Recently, data scraping has even become a privacy issue related to COVID-19, for example, when web scraping is used to monitor vaccination progress, putting personal data at risk. How web scraping can impact privacy are numerous, and your company should be taking precautions to prevent such threats.
How to decrease the risks of web scraping
Weak passwords are one of the biggest and most preventable threats to your company data, so you should require your employees to change passwords regularly and use passwords of sufficient length and complexity to prevent automated password attacks. Also, consider implementing multi-factor authentication and block multiple failed login attempts on your site.
This won’t prevent web scraping but it will decrease the chance of harmful information being gathered and used to attack your site. To decrease the scraping itself, your security team should consider blacklisting and whitelisting certain IP addresses in the event of suspicious activity to prevent repeat automated requests to your servers.
The web builder you use to create your site should also have some additional protections in place. According to industry expert Nathan Finch of Best Web Hosting Australia, when you choose a website builder, you need to make sure the platform has features to secure your website against harmful data scraping:
“You should make sure that any website builder you consider using is duly secure, both to protect your personal information and the information of any visitors or customers you might get,” Finch says. “Be sure to check for features like password protectors and other plug-ins or widgets that can help to secure your website against hackers and data scoopers.”
Companies should be prepared to take legal action against detected cases of harmful data scraping. Finally, be sure you consult with optimization experts and security personnel to avoid the risks of web scraping for your online business.
There are numerous success stories of online businesses optimizing content to increase web traffic, and when used ethically, web scraping is a good tool for market research and SEO. But be wary of bad actors attempting to employ the same tactics to knock off your site’s content or steal your data. Like anything, data scraping has its pros and cons, and these tips will help you use the strategy to your advantage while protecting yourself from bots and spammers.