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Web Scraping vs. Screen Scraping: Techniques & Applications in '24

Web scraping and screen scraping are the main techniques used in data extraction. They differ in terms of the type of data collected and the practices used to collect this public data.

However, web scraping and screen scraping terms frequently overlap. You will require a different data collection tool depending on the data type. Understanding the distinctions between these terms is critical for selecting the right data scraping tool for your business’s needs and use case.

This article explains the differences between web scraping and screen scraping in terms of use cases and methods used to extract data.

What is screen scraping?

Screen scraping is the process of crawling and extracting visual data from a screen, such as an application, web page, documents, pdf files, or other web sources. Screen display data can be collected automatically or manually from digital screens.

The extracted visual data is displayed or used in another application or system for various business purposes. There are three screen scraping techniques to collect screen display data from applications, documents, and information systems.

Screen scraping methods

  1. FullText: FullText screen scraping method enables users to extract hidden text data from a specified user interface (UI) element or document.
  2. Native: Unlike FullText and OCR, with native screen scraping techniques, users can only extract data from apps. The native screen scraping method allows users to extract the screen coordinates of each word on a screen. It can not retrieve hidden text.
  3. OCR (Optical Character Recognition): OCR screen scraping extracts data from visual sources, desktop applications, and Citrix applications. OCR uses different OCR engines, such as Google OCR and Microsoft OCR, to retrieve the screen coordinates of each word from an image.

What is web scraping?

Web scraping is the extraction of publicly available web data from various web sources using scraping bots. The extracted data is then converted into a readable and unique data format (called data parsing) to facilitate working with it and extracting value from it.

How does screen scraping work?

Screen scraping can be applied once or at certain intervals with a scheduled scraping. A typical screen scraping process consists of the following steps:

  1. Crawl and identify specific user interface (UI) elements.
  2. Extract screen displayed data from a user interface.
  3. Extracted data from a legacy system is transformed into a more modern system or application in order to be properly displayed on the screens of users.
  4. Screen scraping is used to extract unstructured data. In order to make visual input easier for machines to understand, screen scraping leverage Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert unstructured data into a machine-readable format.

How does web scraping work?

  1. Identification of target website URL.
  2. Web scraping bot makes a connection request to the target website.
  3. If the website uses anti-scraping tools, you need to integrate a proxy server into your web scraping bot in order to hide your real IP address and prevent the bot from being detected by the target site.
  4. The website responds to the request and provides access to the website content.
  5. The web scraping bot crawls web pages and gets the HTML of the web pages.
  6. Parsing unparsed HTML data in a structured format.
  7. Scraped data is stored in the desired format, such as JSON or CSV.

Figure 1: The general process of web scraping

Web scraping processes consist of seven step, including target url identification, selecting the right proxy server, making request to the target server, parsing extracted data, and transferred the data to a data location.
Source: AIMultiple

What is screen scraping used for?

1. Finance

Screen scraping is used for collecting customers’ financial data and financial data transactions between banks and third-party providers (TPPs). Screen scraping enables TTPs to access customers’ financial data, such as transaction history and app login credentials, with their permission.

For example, when a customer makes an online purchase on an eCommerce website, the website’s third-party payment processor will request the customer’s banking app login credentials. The TPP will then have secure access to the customers’ bank accounts and initiate a payment on behalf of the customer.

2. Marketing

Screen scraping allows businesses to monitor product reviews and prices and check whether the ad is displayed on the desired platforms.

  • Review monitoring: Customers express their thoughts and opinions about a product or service using emojis, GIFs, images, and videos. Assume you want to purchase a leather jacket. Customers usually share their product reviews with the product’s images to show how much they liked or disliked the product. Rather than just inspecting the jacket in the website’s product page, you will want to go through the customers’ reviews under the product to gain a more realistic understanding of the product. The product images will be useful to understanding and deciding whether the jacket fits you well before purchasing it. Screen scraping enables businesses to collect product review data from various web sources in order to understand their customers’ needs and pain points.
  • Ad verification: Marketing teams and advertising agencies use screen scraping for ad verification to make sure that campaigns appear in the intended location and language for the right audience. It also allows marketing teams to:
    • Ensure that ads are viewable across multiple platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
    • Check ads are displayed on a secure platform to ensure brand safety and reputation.
  • Price monitoring: Screen scraping tools automate the extraction of publicly available financial data, including stock market data, inventory data, and news data from various web sources such as Google Finance, Yahoo Finance, Investopedia, and Bloomberg.
    It extracts historical financial data and monitors the price changes in volume charts to conduct data-driven market predictions (see figure 2).

Figure 2: An example of financial data visualization.

Source: TradingView
  • eCommerce: Companies conduct competitor analysis in multiple ways, including monitoring competitors’ social media accounts, analyzing their price strategy, and monitoring their customers’ reviews. Another method for conducting competitor market analysis is to display products in an appropriate manner for website visitors.
    Screen scraping allows businesses to scrape competitor product pages to understand how competitors promote their products on category sites. It also enables companies to:
    • Personalize and optimize their category pages based on customers’ preferences. For instance, if your visitors are most interested and engaged with your products’ payment or shipping options, you can prioritize these product details on your product pages.
    • Display the product overview, title, price, and features in the right hierarchy.

3. Quality assurance

Companies use screen scraping technology to perform user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) QA on their websites. Screen scraping allows developers and test automation engineers to ensure that the looks and functions of websites perform properly.

Screen scraping tools extract graphical user interface (GUI) elements from a website, such as menus, buttons, icons, etc., to determine whether the website’s functionalities and design structure or application work as required.

What is web scraping used for?

Web scraping is used in various industries, such as travel, finance, and real estate, for different purposes, including review monitoring, scraping product data from eCommerce websites such as Amazon, social media monitoring, lead generation, etc.

Web scraping vs. screen scraping: which one is better for your needs?

The primary distinction between web scraping and screen scraping is the type of data extracted. A screen scraping tool captures and extracts screen display and screen text data from websites and documents. In contrast, a web scraping tool extracts web data from websites, including text, images, videos, and URLs.

The other differences between screen scraping and data scraping are explained below table (see Figure 3):

Figure 3: Table comparing web scraping and screen scraping.

More on web scraping

For guidance to choose the right tool, check out data-driven list of web scrapers, and reach out to us:

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Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Gulbahar Karatas
Gülbahar is an AIMultiple industry analyst focused on web data collections and applications of web data.

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