According to the latest data from the US BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) around 1 in 5 businesses fail in their first year. Given that there are over 33 Million SMBs across the USA alone, this means millions of small businesses are falling down never to recover.
There are many reasons why a business doesn't survive but common causes include low sales and market share, failing to predict market trends and a general lack of research combined with business intelligence.
Collecting relevant information to aid and inform your business isn't just for mega corporations : it's an essential activity for SMBs, to make sure they stay out of the danger zone.
Web scraping can offer a low-cost and time efficient way to do this. In this guide, you'll explore five ways that your SMB can use web scraping to stay ahead of the competition.
1. Intelligent Pricing
One of the most popular ways that web scraping can give your business the edge is by gathering information on pricing as well as competitor gap analysis. This is particularly vital for SMBs who often have to operate on razor-thin profit margins.
It stands to reason that a sound pricing strategy underscores your product or service' value, bringing maximum profit per sale without damaging your bottom line.
This means you need to be one of the first to know about shifts in prices and buying trends. Automated web scraping tools can be used to scrape major retailers like Amazon and Google Shopping, as well as your competitors' websites to make sure this is the case.
You can also use this data to set up a dynamic pricing strategy. In other words, you can change prices according to the data you've scraped, such as competitors' prices, general supply and demand and any other factors relevant to your business.
There are two main types of dynamic pricing:
Price Match Dynamic Pricing
This type of dynamic pricing is very common in the retail industry, especially for products like electronics, clothing and other consumer items.
You can use scraping to extract product and pricing data from target websites and then maximize sales using specialist algorithms to alter the pricing of your SMB's products to match or beat those of your competitors.
Supply-limited Dynamic pricing
This type of dynamic pricing is useful for businesses which sell a limited number of products like hotel rooms. It's also handy for SMBs offering time limited services or products like concert tickets.
SMBs can use data scraped from target websites to determine pricing as well as supply and demand of their competitors products/services, then use specialist algorithms to price their own according to demand. Naturally the purpose here is to set the highest possible price, whilst still remaining competitive.
2. Monitoring the Markets
As an SMB your company may not be on the New York Stock Exchange but you still need to listen carefully to the tom toms of the financial markets.
Even the smallest tidbit of data could have huge implications : for example, if you're running a travel business, a rise in petroleum prices can lead to higher fuel costs and so more expensive plane tickets in the near future.
If your business is considering an acquisition or merger, it also helps to know as much as possible about your target company. You should also keep a weather eye out for any financial news on your competitors.
Using web scraping, you can build alternative data pipelines to aggregate publicly available financial information such as stock prices, product data and other economic news.
Other benefits to scraping financial data in this way include:
Major corporations and governments already use web scraping to monitor data about publicly traded companies to decide if they're worth investing. Naturally both the policies of governments and corporations change over time, which can impact on your bottom line particularly if you work with them in any capacity.
By monitoring both government and financial news websites you can keep up with any changes in policy and if necessary change your SMBs investment strategy accordingly. This also makes it more likely your SMB will be compliant with any financial regulations in the jurisdiction where you operate.
Better Trading Insights
While technically you can just head over to your nearest stock exchange to check a price, web scraping can provide you with much more useful information than just raw figures.
By scraping information from popular websites like Yahoo Finance, you can only keep an eye on prices but also gather data on the size of your target market as well as trading volumes.
This is particularly vital if you're considering investing in one company over another e.g. as a wholesale supplier for your small business as a scraper can compare data like market share, geographical presence and overall profits to help you decide which is more suitable.
Predict Market Moods
While none of us can see the future, web scraping can aggregate data from social media websites from Twitter e.g. through monitoring hashtags for the purpose of sentiment analysis. This can be particularly helpful if your scraping bot also monitors financial news websites for the same key words or hashtags.
3. Monitoring the Competition
As we've already seen, web scraping can be an excellent way to gather competitors' pricing data, then set your SMBs prices accordingly. Still, scraping tools are capable of gathering much more intelligence on the competition.
Other data you may want to extract for analysis includes:
If a particular product is hot right now on a competitor's website, they may know something you don't. This may inform whether or not you want to market your own products more aggressively, or perhaps exploit a gap in the market your competition hasn't seen as they're so focused on their own bestseller.
One very subtle and effective use of web scraping is to monitor a competitor's website to examine how products/services are laid out and categorized.
If they use a hierarchical structure, like parent categories and subcategories, this can reveal the depth of their product range and how they group related items. If they've arranged these in such a way that makes it easier for users to navigate and buy, this is definitely something to consider introducing to your own site.
Web scraping can also analyze the key words used for product categories and descriptions, to help you better understand their SEO strategy.
Comments and Reviews
As an SMB owner, you already know that customer reviews are a great way to gain real, unvarnished opinions on products and services. Web scraping can help aggregate comments and reviews, as well as filter them by key word. If your competitor's clients are repeatedly unhappy about an aspect of a particular product/service, this can help inform your own marketing strategy.
4. Lead Generation
Large corporations can afford their own marketing department and can even hire third-party companies to generate sales leads. SMBs are at a disadvantage here, as traditionally they've had to purchase low-cost lists of leads, which may not generate huge amounts of sales.
Web scraping offers a way to level the playing field, as even an SMB can gather huge amounts of useful lead data from various sources.
Different tools can aggregate different types of data but the most common for lead generation are names, e-mail addresses, contact numbers, physical addresses and job titles. These can then be imported into your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.
Naturally web scraping isn't the only way to do this. As we've seen, contact lists can be purchased for a price. SMBs sometimes partner with other organizations to share lead data.
Still, using web scraping to do this offers a number of advantages, including:
Using web scraping to gather lead data is extremely efficient, as it automates the process of aggregating the data from a number of sources. This allows your SMB to focus its time and money elsewhere.
Web scraping can be used to scrape data in real time from active websites. This makes it much more likely the contact information will be up to date when compared to purchasing a static list of leads.
Scraped web data is typically exported in CSV, JSON or XLSX format, so is compatible with a wide number of applications. Most tools can also format data if it needs to be imported in a certain way into your CRM or Social Media management tool of choice.
Naturally gathering contact information for people has very different implications to collecting pricing or financial data. Check the terms and conditions of your target websites to ensure that gathering information in this way is allowed. You should also be mindful of your SMBs obligations under the Data Protection Act in your jurisdiction.
5. Increase your Visibility
As an SMB you may not be able to pay search engines a fortune to continually boost your rankings relative to competitors.
Web scraping won't in itself make your website more SEO friendly but it can help you gather intelligence to help you make the changes yourself. This includes:
This is probably one of the simplest and best ways that web scraping can help your SMB, as you can use tools to scrape competitors' websites and see the keywords they're using. This in turn can inform the key words you use for your own SEO optimization.
The more entertaining and/or informative content your website has, the more likely it is to appear higher in search rankings. You can drive more traffic to your website by gathering data on content linked to your keywords. Naturally you shouldn't directly copy from other websites, but there's nothing stopping you from creating original content of your own with a similar theme.
Backlinks (also known as 'inbound links') are a key factor for SEO, as search engines are much more likely to boost those websites which are linked to by a number of other reputable websites.
You can't force other websites to link to yours but web scraping can be used to analyze your competitors' backlinks. This in turn can help you create opportunities to create backlinks for your own website.
Web scraping is a great way to determine a site's structure. Indeed some automated scraping tools will break down if a site's structure changes, so it's hard to miss even small alterations.
If your competitors have made such changes, this may have been done to improve SEO. You can analyze the new site structure to see if there are any lessons learned which you can use to improve your SMB's website.
If you've been using web scraping to make sure your SMB always comes first place, there are a few popular ways to check your strategies have been effective. These include:
Track your Website Traffic
Your hosting provider usually offers free tools to check traffic to your website over time. This is an excellent acid test to check if you've used the data gathered from web scraping effectively.
If you're targeting a particular market, you may want to use a more advanced tool which can break down traffic e.g. by country such as Google SEO Tools.
Rate your Rankings
Another great litmus test of how effectively you've used scraped data is to check where your SMB's website appears in search rankings. This is particularly helpful if you've used web scraping to target new key words. Google's Search Console is an excellent place to start.
It's very easy to check user engagement with your own website once you start using web scraping tools. This includes data like how long users spend on your website, the number of conversions, comments on post and so on. This will help you decide if any improvements you made to your search rankings and the site itself have been effective.
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Nate Drake is a tech journalist specializing in cybersecurity and retro tech. He broke out from his cubicle at Apple 6 years ago and now spends his days sipping Earl Grey tea & writing elegant copy.