Web Scraping Google URLs

November 7, 2011
By

(This article was first published on Consistently Infrequent » R, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Google slightly changed the html code it uses for hyperlinks on search pages last Thursday, thus causing one of my scripts to stop working. Thankfully, this is easily solved in R thanks to the XML package and the power and simplicity of XPath expressions:

# load packages
library(RCurl)
library(XML)

get_google_page_urls <- function(u) {
  # read in page contents
  html <- getURL(u)

  # parse HTML into tree structure
  doc <- htmlParse(html)

  # extract url nodes using XPath. Originally I had used "//a[@href][@class='l']" until the google code change.
  attrs <- xpathApply(doc, "//h3//a[@href]", xmlAttrs)

  # extract urls
  links <- sapply(attrs, function(x) x[[1]])

  # free doc from memory
  free(doc)

  # ensure urls start with "http" to avoid google references to the search page
  links <- grep("http://", links, fixed = TRUE, value=TRUE)
  return(links)
}

u <- "http://www.google.co.uk/search?aq=f&gcx=w&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=r+project"
get_google_page_urls(u)

# [1] "http://www.r-project.org/"
# [2] "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_(programming_language)"
# [3] "http://www.rseek.org/"
# [4] "http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/r"
# [5] "http://sciviews.org/_rgui/"
# [6] "http://www.itc.nl/~rossiter/teach/R/RIntro_ITC.pdf"
# [7] "http://stat.ethz.ch/CRAN/"
# [8] "http://hughesbennett.co.uk/RProject"
# [9] "http://www.warwick.ac.uk/statsdept/user-2011/"

Lovely jubbly! :)
P.S. I know that there is an API of some sort for google search but I don’t think anyone has made an R package for it. Yet. (I feel my skill set is insufficient to do it myself!)

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