October 10, 2018
If you’ve been paying any attention to the tech landscape recently, you’ve probably heard a lot about APIs. APIs, an acronym for application programming interfaces, enable different applications to communicate with each other. They allow different programs to exchange information. For example, when Yelp displays a Google Map marked with restaurants, Yelp is using an API to access Google Maps’ data.
You can imagine an API as a mailman. It carries information between two applications, just as a mailman transfers letters between the post office and your home.
Although the general concept of APIs is several decades old, web APIs emerged in 2000. Since then, they have had a gigantic impact on websites and businesses, and they promise to become even more influential in the coming years. For many businesses, APIs have ceased to be an option and have become a necessity. For example, APIs were so important to Amazon that Jeff Bezos said he would fire all his employees who didn’t use APIs effectively. So why should your company use APIs in your site?
APIs Prepare You for the Future
This may be the most important reason to use APIs in your site. We live in a world of unprecedented innovation and change, a world we cannot hope to predict. As the tech landscape becomes populated with diverse types of internet-capable devices, people are accessing information in a multitude of new ways. Already, Cisco estimates that by 2021, there will be 11.6 billion mobile-connected devices, more than the number of people in the world. We cannot accurately say what types of devices people will be using to engage with businesses 10 or even 5 years into the future. Websites and their functionality may be obsolete for all we know.
APIs offer a way to counter all this uncertainty. Already, businesses use APIs to power their mobile apps, adjusting for customers’ preferred methods of engagement. If you focus first on your website, rather than your API, you are in danger of building functionality that will soon be obsolete. If you build your core customer services around your API instead, you are prepared to serve whatever internet-capable devices arise in the future. Investing in APIs can help prepare you to weather the storms of the future.
APIs Save Time and Resources
APIs are also necessary for your site because of all the time and resources they save. Once implemented, APIs can save a lot of time on administrative tasks. By moving information between two platforms automatically, they can cut down on time spent manually searching for and editing information. For example, APIs can automatically combine databases, accelerate development processes, and manage SQL.
Additionally, there are numerous external APIs that websites can use to improve efficiency and save resources. For example, you could use PayPal’s API to access a checkout process for your site. Rather than building from scratch, you can use APIs instead to access a tested and trusted functionality. This can often save time and resources, saving your business the time and headache of solving every problem internally.
Shipping APIs are another example of this streamlining. Implementing a shipping API can also save your business time and money. For example, the ShipEngine API can quickly compare rates for a specific package across different carriers and display the best options for your business. This cuts down significantly on the time it would normally take to compare shipping rates.
APIs Build Trust
One of the most famous uses of API in websites is Facebook’s login API. This API allows users to log in to a third-party website or app with their Facebook credentials. This promotes trust. The Facebook brand is universal and widely relied upon. Because of this credibility, users may feel more confident logging in with Facebook rather than giving their information to an unknown site or app. This API also simplifies the process for the user, giving them both a user-friendly and trusted experience. APIs like this can help users feel more confident when engaging with your site.
APIs Promote Engagement
Another common use of APIs in websites is through social sharing buttons. These API buttons allow a user to engage with a piece of content like a blog post or an article on their social media accounts. For example, they can click to like a page or tweet an article. These APIs get rid of steps that a user would normally have to take to engage with your content. Usually, the user would have to first navigate to their social media and then copy and paste a link to your content. This is rather work-intensive. Social media APIs, in contrast, make this process much more smooth. An easy process leads to more user engagement, which in turn promotes your content and brand.
How to Get Started
If you’re sold on the idea of APIs but aren’t sure where to begin, you have plenty of resources available to you. You can search through databases like ProgrammableWeb, RapidAPI.com, and API For That to locate existing APIs that you can implement on your site. You can also hire an engineer to build a custom API for your business needs. Consider using a tool like this Build vs. Buy Calculator to decide if it’s better for you to create or purchase an API for your site. Whatever you do, don’t get stranded. APIs are the future, and those who don’t innovate may find themselves left far, far behind.
Mikayla Middleton is an Account Executive at ShipEngine who works with platforms and large merchants to make their shipping workflows more efficient. Mikayla helps users focus on other parts of their businesses, without having to stress about shipping. Mikayla has worked with many great companies including Volusion, Tobi.com, Sellbrite, and RTIC.