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Accelerate Business Growth with API Development

Learn how to use API development to your advantage and grow your business. Streamline automation, facilitate data sharing, and more by using APIs.

If you aren’t familiar with APIs, it’s time to start learning. They are an invaluable resource for businesses of all sizes and industries. In fact, you're probably interacting with APIs whenever you use a digital device.

APIs can help a business in many ways. They form part of the backbone of automated workflows, enabling rapid and efficient communication across networks. They're also among the most important marketing acronyms, and the best news is that you don’t need to know about software development to understand how they work or even put them to use.

By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll have a clear idea of what APIs can do for you and be ready to explore the API development process. So, strap in for a few minutes of essential learning.

What is an API?  Illustration of how an API works

What is an API?

The acronym “API” stands for “application programming interface.” The key to understanding what an API is and does is in the last word: interface.

APIs are bits of software that help establish and manage communication between different digital devices, typically across a network (be that a local area network or the internet itself).

APIs can feel complicated because they aren’t just processing signals from one device to another. Instead, they tend to work with communication software. What does that mean? It means that the APIs are really interfacing with software services and products.

In simpler terms, an API allows an app to talk to a web server. When you check the weather on your phone, the weather app connects to a server with all the weather data. Your phone then downloads that data to display updated weather to you. APIs work on both ends of that process, helping to facilitate the communication necessary for the whole process.

This is just one example. Any time digital communication occurs, web APIs can be involved (and usually are).

Types of APIs

That’s the gist of APIs, but you can understand them even better by getting deeper into the different types of APIs that exist. You can generally categorize APIs in 4 ways: public, private, partner, and composite. Each class of API aims at accomplishing different sets of goals:

  • Public. Public APIs are also known as open APIs. They make the code running the API publicly available. Anyone can borrow that code and adjust it as they see fit. This makes it easy for third parties to adapt to your public APIs and facilitate any type of open communication.

  • Private. Private APIs are built to serve unique functions within an organization. They are usually so customized that they can’t be adapted outside those niche applications. Thus, they are ideal for private functions within a business.

  • Partner. Partner APIs are developed specifically to help your organization communicate with another business. Let’s say you run a warehouse. You might want partner APIs that help you communicate with the company that ships items to and from your warehouse.

  • Composite. Composite APIs take a bunch of functioning APIs and organize them in order to make large-scale communication more efficient. They are essential in many automation processes.

Based on that information, it’s easy to understand that most businesses benefit from a mix of all the API types above. If you want to create a web host that integrates well with third-party technology, you’ll need public APIs. If you’re trying to automate communication with a specific business partner, then that’s a job for a partner API.

You get the idea. No business is leveraging just one type of API. Instead, it's a good idea to determine which API is appropriate for your specific task.

How to use API development for business success

How to use API development for business success

Considering the power of modern digital communication, it’s probably not surprising to learn that mastering API development technologies can empower just about any business to achieve greater success.

While that certainly sounds nice, it helps to know some of the specifics, so let’s get into that.

For starters, APIs can help your business manage data. They’re great at aggregating and segmenting information. Any business that works with inventories, warehousing, logistics, or anything else involving data can benefit from APIs.

On a completely different note, open APIs are essential for integrating with third-party applications. If you want to have an online store that integrates with the shipping companies that deliver your products, you’ll need APIs for that.

APIs are also powerful in the world of automation. They’re essential components of just about all automation tools, which can save countless hours of labor on time-sensitive tasks.

You might be surprised to learn that APIs also help with personalization. You can use them to automate emails, and because APIs are so sophisticated, they can help personalize your messaging. A perfect example of this concept is email automation triggers. Say someone visits your site and adds items to the shopping cart but leaves without purchasing anything; your APIs can send an automated email letting them know their cart is waiting.

Lastly, you can use your APIs to improve customer satisfaction. The possibilities are endless, but a good example is in marketing. You can use APIs with other resources to help automate and manage your audience data. This helps to ensure that your audience is receiving information that they find relevant and valuable.

How to build an API

APIs can do it all, but how do you actually build one?

You have a few options. At one end of the spectrum, you can hire a developer. You’ll tell them what you want, and they’ll make the APIs. It’s straightforward, but it can also be expensive.

Instead, you can use API development tools. There are several tools you can use, and most will walk you through the process. If you go this route, you’ll want to follow the steps below:

  1. Set goals. Figure out what you want the API to do.
  2. Design the API. You can use development tools to help in this stage. You’re figuring out how the API will fit into your existing systems.
  3. Develop the API. This is where you actually build the software. Again, development tools help a lot.
  4. API testing. You have functional code. Now you need to make sure it works.
  5. Publish. After the API passes your tests, you can publish it. That releases it into your systems to work as intended.
  6. Update. You want to monitor the API to make sure it works correctly. Update it as needed.

That’s the general API lifecycle. Obviously, developing APIs will be a unique experience, but you can plan your schedule and budget your time according to the 6 steps above.

52% of retailers said APIs accelerate innovation, while 36% see APIs as strategic assets.

Best practices for API development

According to Google Cloud, 52% of retailers said APIs accelerate innovation, and 36% see APIs as strategic assets, making them a valuable tool for many businesses. So if you want to take advantage of APIs, here are some best practices that can help you avoid common mistakes and improve the quality of your APIs from day one:

  • Pick your architecture early. For example, a REST API (or RESTful API) is very different from a SOAP API. Your architecture will provide a map for the development process, and the intended function of the API will dictate which architecture you should use.
  • Use open resources. Even if you’re developing a custom API, there are probably bits and pieces of your API that have already been developed and are available as open code.
  • Document meticulously. If you document everything, it’s a lot easier to go back and find mistakes. API documentation also makes it easier to review your work and uncover opportunities for updates after you publish.
  • Use naming conventions. With REST APIs, the convention is to name collections with plural nouns. That way, you know at a glance that the item is a collection. Stick with all of the conventions to make your life easier.

There are a lot of other best practices, but they depend on your architecture and API goals. So the last best practice is to read up on what you’re trying to develop. There’s a good chance someone else has done something similar. If you do a little reading, you can learn from others and save yourself many headaches.

Leverage API development at your company

Learning the ropes of API development can help grow your business. Find success with automation, personalization, data aggregation, and more simply by using APIs at your organization. Once you’re ready to really dive into the development process, you can follow the steps outlined above to create an API that’s just as unique as your company.

Whether you’re creating pop-up sign-up forms or working on ad retargeting, Mailchimp’s developer tools provide you with the necessary resources to build API integrations that can take your business to the next level.

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