Monday, 5 November 2018

Webscraper and pagination with case studies

If you're searching for help using WebScraper for MacOS then the chances are that the job involves pagination, because this situation provides some challenges.

Right off, I'll say that there is another approach to extracting data in cases like this from certain sites. It uses a different tool which we haven't made publicly available, but contact me if you're interested.

Here's the problem:  the search results are paginated (page 1, 2, 3 etc). In this case, all of the information we want is right there on the search results pages, but it may be that you want Webscraper to follow the pagination, and then follow the links through to the actual product pages (let's call them 'detail pages') and extract the data from those.

1. We obviously want to start WebScraper at the first page of search results. It's easy to grab that url and give it to WebScraper:

2. We aren't interested in Webscraper following any links other than those pagination links. (we'll come to detail pages later). In this case it's easy to 'whitelist' those pagination pages.

3. The pagination may stop after a certain number of pages. But in this case it seems to go on for ever. One way to limit our crawl is to use these options:

A more precise way to stop the crawl at a certain point in the pagination is to set up more rules:

4. At this point, running the scan proves that WebScraper will follow the search results pages we're interested in, and stop when we want.

5. In this particular case, all of the information we want is right there in the search results lists. So we can use WebScraper's class and regex helpers to set up the output columns.

Detail pages

In the example above, all of the information we want is there on the search result pages, so the job is done. But what if we have to follow the 'read more' link and then scrape the information from the detail page?

There are a few approaches to this, and a different approach that I alluded to at the start. The best way will depend on the site.

1. Two-step process

This method involves using the technique above to crawl the pagination, and collect *only* the urls of the detail pages  in a single column of the output file.  Then as a separate project, use that list as your starting point (File > Open list of links)  so that WebScraper scrapes data from the pages whose those urls, ie your detail pages. This is a good clean method, but it does involve a little more work to run it all. With the two projects set up properly and saved as project files,  you can open the first project, run it, export the results, open the second project, run it and then export your final results.

2. Set up the rules necessary to crawl through to the detail pages and scrape the information from only those.

Here are the rules for a recent successful project

"?cat=259&sort=price_asc&set_page_size=12&page=" is the rule which allows us to crawl the paginated pages.
"?productid="  is the one which identifies our product page.

Notice here that the two rules appear to contradict each other. But when using 'Only follow', the two rules are 'OR'd. The 'ignore' rules that we used in the first case study are 'AND'ed, which results in no results if you have more than one 'ignore urls that don't contain'.

So here we're following pages which are search results pages, or product detail pages.  

The third rule is necessary because the product page (in this case) contains links to 'related products' which aren't part of our search but do fit our other rules. We need to ignore those, otherwise we'll end up crawling all products on the entire site.

That would probably work fine, but we'd get irrelevant lines in our output because WebScraper will try to scrape data from the search results pages as well as the detail pages. This is where the Output filter comes into play.

The important one is "scrape data from pages where... URL does contain ?productid".  The other rule probably isn't needed (because we're ignoring those pages during the crawl) but I added it to be doubly sure that we don't get any data from 'related product' pages.

Whichever of those methods you try, the next thing is to set up the columns in the output file (ie what data you want to scrape.)  That's beyond the scope of this article, and the 'helpers' are much improved in recent WebScraper versions. There's a separate article about using regex to extract the information you want here.

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