To say that web scraping is a powerful tool would be an understatement. It is, more accurately, a primary difference between success and failure. In the context of business, being at the forefront of relevant information means the same thing as being an industry leader.
We cannot stress the importance and value of data for today’s business operations enough.
Successful businesses use web scraping tools and techniques to cut through the competition.
Web scraping helps them automate market research and extract vast data sets from their competitor websites. However, web scraping is not easy. Besides using powerful tools, businesses often need to be resourceful, especially when their web scrapers are blocked.
The optimization of HTTP headers is one way to bypass roadblocks.
Here’s what they are, how they provide help, and how to use them for the winning effect.
What are HTTP headers, and what do they do?
Every time you visit a particular website, a conversation between you and the server is established. Clicking the link opens a new page by sending a request and receiving a response. Many different elements participate in this data exchange, including HTTP headers.
So, HTTP headers are in charge of carrying and transferring data between websites and users. That makes them perfect for web scraping.
There are two main types of HTTP headers – request headers and response headers.
Since they are responsible for carrying out data exchange in both directions, HTTP headers can tighten website security or circumvent obstacles and enable access to protected websites.
Importance of HTTP headers for scraping
Now, let’s get back to web scraping.
Businesses use this technique to learn about and from their competition. With a powerful web scraper, you can gain invaluable insight into your competitors’ successful strategies, hidden mistakes, and customer behavior. It’s a lead gen opportunity like no other.
Of course, no wise business owner will give all this data to you or leave it unprotected.
For this reason, most websites use various techniques to prevent someone from scraping them.
Remember CAPTCHA? That is how businesses distinguish actual users from bots. Being automated, web scraping is usually easy to detect by the server. If you don’t find your way around it, the server will block your IP and deny you access. The same goes for log-in sites.
There are several ways to avoid these obstacles:
- Using a proxy to mask your IP;
- Using IP address rotation;
- Optimizing HTTP headers.
While the other two solutions work around the IP blocks and bans by hiding your address and rerouting traffic through a third-party server, HTTP headers make your new IP address seem less random. Instead of a bot, your target website will detect an actual visitor.
The main difference between a proxy approach and web scraping headers is that the latter ensures a higher data volume, better quality of data, and easy access.
Best headers for scraping operations
The best HTTP headers for web scraping are those that you can manipulate into sending random information about the sources of client requests. These are user-agent, accept-language, accept-encoding, accept, and referrer HTTP headers. Click here to read more.
How to use headers effectively?
Here’s how to optimize the main web scraping headers, one by one.
During the data exchange with the target website, this HTTP header is responsible for disclosing the client’s type of device, operating system, and browser. That helps the server determine the correct type of response and allows you to appear more natural.
While the User-Agent header makes you look like a real person using Chrome for Windows 10 on a PC, the Accept-Language request header changes the language of your request so that it matches your IP address and the target website. Ideally, you should speak the same language.
The Accept-Encoding header compresses response data so that the server can’t detect that you’re extracting a lot of information at once. This HTTP header saves traffic volume by initiating a specific compression algorithm upon client request. You can use it to get a lot of data quickly.
This HTTP header adjusts your request according to the server’s accepted format. This hack makes the exchange between the two parties smoother in web scraping. At the same time, the Accept header facilitates access and makes the request more organic.
The Referrer header might be the most clever trick in web scraping. This HTTP header carries information about the client’s browsing history. Optimizing it for scraping can trick the target website into thinking that you are a real user who is following a link from another website.
Optimizing HTTP headers for web scraping is a clever way to avoid IP detection and bans in your effort to monitor the competition. The more you randomize the information your web scraping headers carry out, the less suspicious your requests seem.
The ultimate goal is to outwit competitors’ anti-scraping protocols without raising red flags.
If you use web scraping headers effectively enough, you will be able to extract vast amounts of valuable data unnoticed simply by looking as innocent as any random person. In other words, HTTP headers offer a unique opportunity to spy on competitors hidden in plain sight.