Lead generation is a major part of running a business. In fact, it may be the second most important part of generating revenue, coming in right after product development. After all, without business leads, there wouldn’t be anyone to sell to.
As a result, lead generation tools are in high demand, regardless of business model, country, or anything else. Web scraping is one such tool (or, more accurately, method) that can generate sales leads. When implemented properly, it can become a decently automated, resilient, and quick lead generation tool.
What is lead generation?
Lead generation is the process of collecting contact data of individuals and companies that have a potential to become customers of some particular business. Lead generation can range from asking for recommendations to buying information from companies that have enormous databases.
Usually, lead generation will be done within boundaries and filters such as by outlining buyer personas or a target audience. Data will then be collected based on the outlined principles, mostly as a way to optimize outreach processes and reduce the number of failed contacts.
Sales teams will then reach out to the potential customers. Outreach can be done through emails, phone calls, SMS, social media messages, or any combination of these methods.
Finally, there’s also the concept of qualified leads, which is mostly generated by marketing teams. Advertisements, search engine traffic, and many other methods can bring business leads to a company's website. If a customer leaves their contact details or shows willingness to buy products, they will be put into the category of qualified leads.
As a result, marketing teams play an important role in lead generation. They, however, focus on generating inbound leads by bringing traffic to websites through a multitude of methods. Lead generation methods such as web scraping are intended to bring contact information from external websites, meaning the marketing team plays a smaller role in the process.
What is lead scraping?
Lead scraping is the process of generating contact details from external sources through the usage of web scraping. Usually, through the usage of bots, web scraping tools will collect data from thousands of pages and output them into a single file.
Web scraping, in turn, is the process of using bots that visit websites automatically and download the HTML file stored within. Search functions and parsing tools then convert the HTML file into a human-readable format such as CSV.
Dedicated tools are usually called lead scrapers. These can visit specific websites where business or contact data is stored and extract all valuable information. A single lead scrape can often generate hundreds of contacts.
Since the process is largely automated due to the usage of bots and proxies, lead generation through web scraping is extremely time and resource efficient. There are certain requirements such as managing the proxies and data extraction pipelines, if the tool is being built in-house, but, in general, web scraping is highly scalable.
With proper implementation, web scraping can also deliver real-time data, which means you can constantly update contact information of your potential customers. Additionally, since web scraping is flexible, you can also adapt it slightly to track industry trends.
In general, scraping has a multitude of benefits, ranging from saving time and money to providing a constant stream of highly valuable data. Itcan essentially automate one of the most important parts of running a business.
Identifying targets for business leads
All lead generation strategies need sources from which to extract the necessary data. Lead scraping is no different in that regard. Mostly, you’ll be looking for websites that store professional and company data.
Important note: Before engaging in any type of contact data scraping, it is highly recommended to consult with a legal professional. While scraping is legal, it is still subject to numerous laws. Failure to follow these laws can cause numerous issues.
Yelp, while mostly associated with bars and restaurants, is an all-purpose review website. You can find reviews for repairmen, HVAC operators, doctors, etc. As a result, it’s a great website to gather business information from.
Additionally, due to being one of the most popular review websites on the internet, there will be feedback on nearly any business. Scraping them can provide important context or additional information that may make creating qualified leads easier.
Yellow pages is the online version of the old books that stored business information. You can find nearly any digital or brick-and-mortar business on the Yellow pages website. It is, however, mostly tailored to US businesses.
For European businesses, a counterpart has been created. It’s a bit less fancy than the US counterpart, but all the necessary data is still there. Since web scrapers have no use for user experience, there won’t be any issue in extracting data from either version of Yellow pages.
Social media websites
Websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter hold tons of potential customer data. Even if your target audience is other businesses, most of them nowadays have a social media presence. If you can’t find them on Facebook, they’re almost sure to have a LinkedIn profile.
Social media scraping is a bit more complicated than websites such as Yellow pages. Specific proxies and careful bot management practices are required as these websites can quickly ban any suspected automation tool. Additionally, all data behind a login can be considered the company’s property, so scraping anything that requires you to register should be avoided.
Choosing a web scraping tool
While you can always build a web scraping solution yourself, nowadays there are plenty of providers that sell their own tools. There are so many out there that you can find dedicated scrapers for specific tasks, websites, or even data types.
In general, the choice of a web scraping tool should be based on the website(s) from which you want to extract data. Writing a all-purpose scraper is nearly impossible due to technical reasons, so most providers will focus on specific websites (or categories of them).
So, if your source of leads will be social media websites, it’s best to choose a scraper that’s dedicated to those platforms. Additionally, it’s recommended to find a solution that would also provide parsing into suitable file format (e.g. CSV). Analyzing raw HTML files is nearly impossible for humans, so if there’s no parser added, you’d have to buy it as an addon.
Scraping wouldn’t be possible without the usage of proxies. As bots visit the same website over and over again, protections against spam start getting triggered. Most of these involve IP bans or CAPTCHAs. Both of these issues can be circumvented by proxies.
Proxies are essentially transitory machines that allow you to connect to them and which forward any connection request in your name. They, however, have their own IP address, which they use to forward connection requests. Once they receive a response from the intended destination, they send it back to the original machine.
As a result, if you get access to a large pool of proxies, you essentially have infinite IP addresses. With such tools, no IP ban or CAPTCHA poses a real threat. You can simply switch the address each time you get banned.
For most purposes, residential proxies are the better choice. Their counterparts, datacenter proxies, are much faster and more stable, but come from business-owned servers. They can be detected a bit easier by websites, which can cause quicker bans.
Residential proxies, however, are created in household devices such as personal computers or mobile phones. To websites, these proxies seem like completely legitimate and regular internet users. As such, they are much harder to detect.
So, if you want to do scraping, two tools will be required - a suitable web scraping solution and proxies. Both of these are fairly easy to acquire nowadays, so the challenges mostly revolve around managing these solutions rather than getting the necessary data.