You don’t necessarily need to use an API for web scraping.
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a great way to retrieve information from a specific website because it provides direct access to its data, usually in a structured way. However, web scraping allows you to collect data from multiple websites that don’t provide APIs and without the limitations set by the API developer.
To better understand these limitations, let’s take a deeper look at web scrapers and APIs:
Web Scraping vs. APIs for Data Collection
In data collection, an API is a door for a system to request and retrieve data from another system, like a website or web application.
These APIs are built and maintained by the website’s development team, allowing users (free or paid) to collect and repurpose the site’s data programmatically.
There are two main advantages of using APIs:
- It’s effortless and straightforward to retrieve data from them
- They, in most cases, provide structured data (e.g., JSON)
However, the developers can and do set certain limitations. For example, developers can determine the request frequency limit (how many requests you can send per minute, hour, or day) and what data (and how much) you can collect from the API.
Note: Amazon offers a free Product Advertising API to collect product data, but you need to register as an Amazon Associate – and sometimes even have a business in Amazon – to use it. To add, you’re limited to 10 products per search query.
On the other hand, web scraping is a more custom solution to collect publicly available data from multiple sites and URLs. It doesn’t have the same limitations, allowing you to scale your project better.
Of course, web scrapers need to deal with anti-scraping techniques that APIs don’t. To bypass these techniques, you can use tools like ScraperAPI that automatically manage these challenges, simplifying the web scraping process and ensuring accurate and constant data pipelines.
When You Should Use an API for Collecting Web Data
- Your target site offers a well-maintained API with access to the data you need – this one factor is crucial, as APIs will need to be updated frequently, or you could be scraping outdated, faulty data. Also, If the API doesn’t offer the data you need (or just provides it partially), then you won’t be able to achieve your goal.
- The API gives you access to private data – web scraping should only be used to collect public data, so if the website provides an API to retrieve private data (e.g., analytics data), it would be the only option for it.
When You Should Use Web Scraping
- You want to collect data from websites that don’t offer APIs – building and maintaining an API requires time and money, so most websites don’t bother creating an API. In those cases, web scraping is the only way to collect this data programmatically.
- The available APIs are too limited or don’t provide the data you need – even when a site offers an API; it doesn’t mean it’ll fit your needs.
- You need to scale your project to hundreds of thousands or millions of requests – it’s hard for most APIs to scale at the pace your data needs do, so creating a custom solution is the best solution to ensure a constant flow of data.
Turn In-Demand Domains into Scalable APIs with ScraperAPI
Imagine you could have the flexibility and scalability of web scraping but with the ease of use of an API. That’s exactly what we’ve done with our structured data endpoints!
We’ve built specific endpoints to collect structured JSON data from Amazon and Google’s domains (more domains to come) with a simple get() request.
With our structured data endpoints, you’ll be able to:
- Collect predictable and clean JSON data
- Avoid any anti-scraping techniques
- Reduce development time and costs
- Forget about maintaining your own parsers