Web crawling vs. web scraping - What’s the difference?

Written by: Lisa Whelan

Web crawling and web scraping are related concepts, but they serve different purposes in the context of retrieving information from the internet. Web crawling is the term for scanning and indexing web resources (usually web pages, but also videos, images, PDFs and other files), while web scraping is the targeted extraction of specific information from those resources.

Web Crawling vs Web Scraping 2

What is web crawling?

Web crawling is the process of browsing and indexing data from the internet using a program or an automated script. These automated scripts or programs are called web crawlers, web spiders, robots, or spider bots.

Web crawlers systematically browse the internet and index the content they find. This is how search engines like Google collect all the data they need to return results based on your queries.

Web crawling process

Web crawlers begin by fetching the robots.txt file from a website. This file provides directives to web crawlers, indicating which areas of the site are off-limits or restricted. It helps the crawler understand the site's rules and limitations.

The web crawler starts visiting the allowed pages and downloading their content. It begins by fetching the HTML of a page, and then it identifies and extracts hyperlinks on that page. As the crawler finds hyperlinks on the pages it visits, it adds these new URLs to its queue for future exploration. Following hyperlinks allows the crawler to discover additional pages on the website.

The web crawler fetches pages, extracts links, and discovers new URLs until it has covered the desired portion of the website or the entire site.

Once a web crawler has crawled a website, the information is stored and organized in an index for quick and easy retrieval. The process of storing and organizing this information is called indexing. For example, search engines like Google index pages from websites they have crawled. If a page is not indexed, a search engine will not be able to return results from that page.

What is web scraping?

Web scraping is the process of using bots to extract specific data from a target website. Web scraping uses web crawlers to scan and store all the content from a webpage (or a set of webpages) and then uses a web scraping tool or script to extract specific data from that content. Web scraping is sometimes called data harvesting or data extraction.

For example, web scraping can be used to extract weather data from multiple sources, allowing you to create a customized dataset for detailed climate analysis and predictions. In e-commerce, web scraping can be used to collect product information from multiple sources to ensure your prices are competitive.

Sometimes, websites use anti-scraping technology such as CAPTCHAs, which can slow down or even block your scraping attempts. To avoid these blocks, you can route your requests through a proxy server, which will change your IP address.

What is web scraping?

Web scraping process

Web crawlers visit the target URL(s) to scan and store all the HTML code. The scraping tool or script then uses locators to identify the necessary data in the HTML code, and parses the data string that contains the information to be scraped. The web scraper tool then converts the scraped data into the desired format and transfers it to the appointed storage location.

The difference between crawling and scraping

Crawling and scraping are two different processes that can be used together. Web crawling plays a crucial role in the initial stages of web scraping by fetching web pages that the dedicated web scraping tools use to parse and extract the desired data. This combination of web crawling and web scraping enables the collection of targeted data from websites.

  Web crawling Web scraping
Used bot Crawler or spider Scraper
Main task Storing all data Extracts required data
Main output List of URLs Types of data (determined by the user - e.g. prices or descriptions)
Manual alternatives Clicking through each link and storing the URL in a list Copying and pasting required data into a database
Coverage Reaches all pages Can be selective
Scale of operations Usually large Small to large
Main applications Search engines Diverse (from academia to business)
Data deduplication Filters out duplicates Not always necessary

Use cases for web crawling and web scraping

Web crawling and web scraping are used for different purposes. Web crawling has fewer uses than web scraping, but is used on a wider scale. Web scraping is used for more niche purposes than web crawling, and the applications are wider.

Use cases for web crawling

The primary use case for web crawling is to facilitate search engine indexing. Crawlers like Googlebot systematically explore the web by following links and indexing the content they find. Google can then retrieve this information from its archive quickly when you make a query in its search engine.

Website administrators sometimes use web crawlers on a smaller scale to check the links on their website are functional and up-to-date, or to monitor the overall health and performance of their websites (e.g. to identify pages that are slow to load).

Use cases for web scraping

Web scraping tools are versatile and have a much wider range of applications. Here are just a few examples of how people use web scrapers.


Retailers use web scraping tools to monitor competitors’ prices, track pricing trends, and adjust their own pricing strategies to remain competitive.

Market research

Businesses leverage web scraping tools to extract data from websites and social media platforms on market trends, consumer opinions, and competitor activities.

Content aggregation 

Content aggregators use web scraping tools to gather and consolidate information from multiple sources, creating comprehensive databases or feeds.

Lead generation

Sales and marketing professionals use web scraping tools to extract contact information and relevant details from websites, creating targeted lists for lead generation.

News monitoring

Media outlets and PR professionals use web scraping tools to monitor news articles and social media for mentions, sentiment analysis, and media coverage tracking.

Academic research 

Researchers and academics use web scraping to collect data for studies, analyze patterns, and gain insights into various fields.

Sports statistics gathering

Sports analysts and enthusiasts use web scraping tools to extract sports statistics, player information, and game results from various sports websites.

Product reviews and ratings

Companies use web scraping tools to extract customer reviews and ratings from e-commerce sites, helping them understand customer sentiment and improve products.

Social media analytics

Social media marketers use web scraping tools to extract data from platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for sentiment analysis, follower engagement, and trending topics.

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Frequently asked questions

What is a web crawler?

A web crawler, also known as a spider or bot, is a computer program designed to systematically browse the internet, visiting web pages and collecting the information on them. The primary function of a web crawler is to navigate through websites by following links from one page to another, and then index the content it encounters. 

Search engines use web crawlers to create searchable indexes of the vast amount of information available on the web. The process of web crawling is essential for maintaining up-to-date search engine databases and providing users with relevant and timely search results.

What is a web crawler and how does it work?

What is indexing?

Indexing is the process of organizing and storing information in a structured manner to facilitate quick and efficient retrieval. In the context of web crawling, indexing involves creating a catalog or database that maps keywords, terms, or phrases to the corresponding web pages or content. This organized structure enables search engines and other systems to quickly locate and present relevant information when users perform searches. 

Indexing plays a crucial role in enhancing the speed and efficiency of information retrieval, allowing users to access specific content quickly without the need to scan through every page on the web.

When should I use web scraping vs. web crawling?

The choice between web scraping and web crawling depends on your specific goals and requirements. If you need a list of URLs from a website, a web crawler will be all you need. The web crawler will follow links from one page to another until it has found all the linked pages. You can set a web crawler to follow internal links only, or to follow external links to other websites as well.

If you need specific information from a webpage, a web scraper tool will allow you to set specific parameters for data which it will then return in the format of your choice. A web scraper will use locators to find the data you need and will parse the data string for you.

Lisa Whelan

Lisa is a content professional, specializing in tech and cybersecurity. She's here to share valuable insights and break down complex technical concepts for the SOAX audience.

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