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Web Scraping vs API: Best Way to Get Data in 2024

March 13, 2024 · 7 min read

Web scraping and API calls are both popular methods of extracting data from the Internet. But which one is better for your project?

The bad news is that there's no easy answer. The choice depends on the scale of your efforts, your coding knowledge, the type of targeted websites, and other factors.

The good news is this article will help you solve the web scraping vs. API dilemma. You'll learn about the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques, their common applications, and alternative solutions.

Let's dive in!

What Is Web Scraping?

Web scraping is a method of extracting data from the web. It involves retrieving information from target web pages with automated software and using it for analysis or business research.

Web scraping has a variety of commercial applications, such as:

  • Extracting product information from e-commerce stores to perform a price comparison competitor analysis.
  • Collecting data from social media platforms to monitor engagement metrics or analyze sentiment.
  • Gathering publicly available contact information from websites to aggregate a list of sales and marketing leads.

How does web scraping work?

The automated script or tool that performs web scraping needs to:

  1. Connect to the target site.
  2. Identify the target pages.
  3. Visit a target page and locate relevant data.
  4. Extract it from the DOM.
  5. Transform it into a more useful format, such as CSV or JSON.

What Is An API and API Scraping?

An API (Application Programming Interface) allows software components to communicate with each other. It defines how different applications should exchange data and lets web services interact in a standardized way.

Data extraction with this method depends on API calls that interact with a website's backend. Unlike web scraping, the data is retrieved from the service’s API, not the HTML pages.

For example, an aggregator site might depend on APIs from airlines and hotels. This solution helps the platform collect data on flight availability, prices, and hotel reservations. Similarly, finance platforms rely on the stock exchange and bank APIs.

How does API scraping work?

To use an API, a developer needs to:

  1. Specify the API endpoint, method, headers, and query parameters in an HTTP client.
  2. Instruct the client to make the API call.
  3. Get the desired data in a semi-structured format, like JSON or XML.
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Web Scraping vs. API: Comparison

Web Scraping and APIs are two standard methods of retrieving website data.

There is no definitive answer on which method is better. You must always analyze your priorities and decide which approach is the best for your project.

The table below shows the main similarities and differences between web scraping and API.

Web scraping API
Coverage Able to get data from any site Limited to sites that expose data via API endpoints
Access Significant risk of blocks by websites’ anti-bot systems May have restrictions based on usage policies and your paid plan limitations
Data formats Unstructured data (require cleaning and formatting before use) Semi-structured data
Speed Might get slow if there are a lot of pages to scrape Fast thanks to direct data access
Stability Depends on external factors (website changes, anti-scraping measures) Usually very stable
Technical Knowledge Requires developing scripts with custom logic API integration is usually easy and supported by the vendor's documentation
Cost Development and server hosting costs Price per call fixed cost (depending on the tool’s plan)
Legality Some websites don't allow scraping Safe as long as terms and conditions are respected

Now, let’s take a look at each aspect to help you make the right call.


With web scraping, you can retrieve data from any web page. Unfortunately, many sites implement anti-bot or anti-scraping measures. These technologies may block your IP or prevent your scraper from accessing the site. To scrape without getting blocked, you can use proxies, headless browsers, or other measures.

APIs don’t put you at risk of getting blocked, so the data retrieval process is more predictable. The downside is that not every site exposes its data through public endpoints. The few online services that offer APIs are strict about which data they expose, to whom, and at what price. APIs also have other restrictions, such as rate limits.

Data formats

Web scraping can only retrieve unstructured data from a website. A scraper starts with HTML or raw text. Then, it processes and analyzes them to extract information, and converts the parsed information into semi-structured data in JSON, CSV or another format.

APIs’ data retrieval process is much more straightforward. They return semi-structured data in a popular format, such as JSON or XML. This approach makes it easier to use the desired information directly, with no extra parsing involved.


Web scraping tends to be time-consuming, especially when the web server is slow or there are many pages to scrape.

APIs are usually faster since API calls return aggregated data from different sources or databases.


The stability of a web scraper depends on external factors outside your control, such as website changes and new anti-scraping technologies.

In contrast, APIs are more stable since they're deployed on a dedicated server. While high traffic can make them slow and reduce their availability, they still win the stability contest.

Technical Knowledge

Both web scraping and APIs need technical knowledge for implementation.

Web scraping involves understanding HTML structure, using parsing libraries, and handling anti-bot measures. On the other hand, APIs require understanding technical documentation, making requests, and handling response data.

The exact level of technical knowledge required depends on the complexity of the data to collect, the chosen technologies, and the website.

Cost of Usage

The costs of web scraping depend primarily on your use case, as well as the complexity and scale of your data retrieval project. You might need to pay for proxies, CAPTCHA-solving services, and maintaining the server infrastructure, especially with parallel scraping.

API providers offer different paid plans. The vendors usually charge per API call if you exceed your plan's limits or need only some requests. Some tools may charge you even if the API responds with an error, so they may be more extensive than building a scraper.


APIs are usually governed by the terms and conditions set by the provider. As long as you follow them, you won't encounter legal problems.

You need to be careful when web scraping. To ensure your actions are legal, follow your country's data privacy regulations, comply with site policies and the robots.txt file, and adhere to the best practices of web scraping.

Web Scraping vs. API: Summary

As you can see from the breakdown above, both web scraping and API calls have their pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide which aspects matter the most for your use case.

Generally, you should use web scraping when:

  • The target website doesn't offer an API, or the API doesn't provide valuable data.
  • The site you want to scrape is small and doesn't have strict anti-bot systems.

Go with API when:

  • The website provides well-documented and affordable API endpoints with access to the data you need.
  • You're not limited by a tight budget.

Still, there's one more solution you can try: a web scraping API.

What About a Web Scraping API?

A web scraping API is a modern approach that combines the benefits of both web scraping and APIs. Developers can use this powerful tool to scrape websites through API calls.

Web scraping APIs remove web scraping access issues by bypassing all anti-bot solutions. Like web scrapers, they can retrieve all types of information. At the same time, they still provide the key benefits of using an API: retaining competitive speed and stability or returning structured data thanks to auto-parsing capabilities.

Here's a list of a few key advantages of a web scraping API:

  • Comprehensiveness: Web scraping APIs ensure full data access from any website without the API calls' access limitations.
  • Scalability: They are built to support large-scale operations. You won’t run into scaling or scraping speed issues.
  • Access: Web scraping APIs bypass challenges such as JavaScript rendering, CAPTCHAs, and blocks.
  • Flexibility: They are highly customizable (you can use custom titles or locations, set up rotating proxies, etc.).
  • Data structuring: Web scraping APIs return already structured data, usually in the JSON format.
  • Ease of use: When using web scraping API, you don’t need to build and maintain the whole scraping infrastructure from scratch


In this API vs. web scraping comparison, you’ve learned:

  • What web scraping and API calls are, and how to use them for data collection.
  • The main differences between the two methods.
  • When to use web scraping over API and vice versa.
  • The benefits of choosing a web scraping API.

The best way to scrape the web at scale is using a web scraping API. But you can easily check it out for yourself. Try out ZenRows, the next-generation web scraping API, with a free trial. Zenrows supports premium proxies, built-in IP rotation, headless browser functionality, and more, and can scrape a site with a single API call!

Frequent Questions

Is Web Scraping Better Than an API?

Web scraping isn't always better than APIs. Both approaches have strengths and limitations, and you must always consider the best choice for your specific use case. Consider factors such as data requirements, website availability, integration needs, or performance.

Does Web Scraping Need an API?

No, web scraping doesn't require an API. With an HTTP client and HTML parsing libraries, you can build a web spider that crawls and scrapes the web. A web scraping API like ZenRows can help you handle anti-scraping and dynamic content sites.

Is Using an API Considered Web Scraping?

No, using an API isn't typically considered web scraping. While both can help you retrieve data from a site, scraping is about parsing HTML content to extract data from web pages, while APIs return data directly in a semi-structured format.

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