What Exactly is an API? Definition, Examples, and Uses
What exactly is an API? There is a lot of technical information behind what an API is and how it works. But the examples help put them into perspective. You see APIs at work every day. They are essential to the seamless operation of almost each and every website.
APIs allow businesses to organize and access data within their own systems. But they also allow businesses and websites to share data with each other. Service integration, data integration, and data verification improve a business’s ability to scale. They help businesses run more efficiently and improve the customer experience.
In this article, we cover some technical details defining APIs, provide examples of APIs, and suggest possible uses for API integration to your own website. You’ll see that APIs are really quite simple.
What Exactly is an API?
What exactly is an API? API stands for Application Programming Interface. APIs allow software components to communicate with one another. These can be software components within your own server (internal) or with outside servers (external).
For example, with an API you can connect data from outside sources to your own website or app. Or, you can retrieve data from within your own server. An API is like a waiter at a restaurant: it receives requests and delivers orders.
Types of APIs
There are four types of APIs: open, partner, private, and composite.
An open API is available to the public. You might see an open search engine API. The search engine exists on its own; it can be used to find information. But open API integration can occur with other websites and apps to improve their quality.
This allows users to search for information without leaving your site to explore another; it can all be done from your website. But the information comes from a third party, open API.
Partner APIs allow customers of a platform, like Zoho or Zapier, to create unified user experiences. For example, Zapier’s partner API allows you to feature integrations into your own app without changing the design your own customers are used to.
So when you build your application within a platform like Zapier, your users then have access to every integration that exists as well as the ones that are added later. The point of this partner API is to give your customers a seamless workflow that keeps them using your app all the while tapping into every integration you have access to.
Private APIs are used only within your own company, website, or app. You might use a private API to help a return customer who places a new order. The API can populate contact and payment information from your own database to save the customer time and improve the customer experience.
Private APIs allow your systems to communicate with each other. Therefore, your business runs more efficiently.
Last, composite APIs are capable of receiving multiple requests as opposed to the typical single request. The best example of a composite API is a shopping cart on an eCommerce website.
In order to process a shopping cart, the composite API has to receive customer profile data, payment data, shipping data, the addition of items, order status, etc. in order to respond appropriately.
Data APIs vs. Service APIs
Open and partner data APIs receive third party requests and send the appropriate responses based on the information in the host database. Examples are search engines and Zapier’s partner API.
Open and partner external service APIs access third party websites on behalf of your business to improve your processes and user experience. Examples include using PayPal for secure payments or linking a Gmail or social media account to create a profile and login.
Private APIs are internal service APIs. This means that the API accesses information from different databases within your own company to produce a single response.
Composite APIs can be used to improve user experience APIs. You might use a composite API if you need your website or service to be adapted for both desktop and mobile viewing. There is more than one request—the API response code and the display—therefore you need a composite API that is able to process an extra request.
Examples of Everyday APIs
APIs have become quite popular and therefore commonplace because of their ability to streamline data sharing, exchange, and targeting. They can be used independently or in coordination with third party websites and apps.
The most basic example of an everyday API is a search engine like Google or Bing. You can use these websites independently (Google.com, Bing.com, etc.), but some companies allow you to use these search engines directly from their websites. This allows users to complete necessary actions without having to navigate to multiple websites.
You also experience APIs at work when you order from an eCommerce website. Composite APIs are used to maintain your shopping cart, fulfill orders, and provide product and shipping updates. Then, you use the PayPal API to pay for your order securely. This prevents you from having to enter your payment information on multiple different websites.
Account Creation and Login
When creating accounts on new websites, users are often given the option to integrate personal data from websites and applications that already have it. This saves users time by not having to fill out the same form for each service they want to use. Typically you will see Gmail, Facebook, and other popular social media websites listed as options for data integration.
Local Weather and News
Email service providers and other websites you are likely to use daily will often present local weather data and news stories. So they improve their own websites by integrating these service’s APIs.
Travel Booking Sites
Travel sites like Kayak and Expedia use APIs to compare flight and hotel prices in real-time. This saves users time by avoiding research on multiple different websites. Through APIs, travel sites are able to offer users a one-stop shop for the cheapest options by doing the research and presenting the data for them.
Virtual private assistants (VPAs) like Siri, Cortana, and chatbots are examples of APIs too. They take requests in the form of questions and respond with answers. Siri accesses Safari for answers to queries, and chatbots search a website’s internal servers to answer questions related to a business’s services and processes.
You’ve also seen an API at work when you search for a business near you. One of the first search engine results is the business’s hours and location. The Google Maps API integrates location data so that you can find out exactly how to get to the place you are searching for without having to navigate to a separate website.
How You Can Use APIs
The above examples are great ideas for data integration to your own website. You might want to consider integrating data from social media sites if you’d like to make your account creation and customer login processes easier for users.
If you have an eCommerce website, you might want to integrate PayPal’s API to simplify the order process and offer users a secure payment option. Or maybe you want to add a chatbot to your website to help your users and ease your own workload.
APIs improve the customer experience by making users’ time online more convenient. The less they have to navigate to another website, the more time they spend on yours. The less time they have to spend filling in fields, the less abandoned forms and shopping carts you’ll find. And all of that means more business for you.
APIs can also improve your own systems to make your job easier. If you need customer contact information, you can use a data append API to fill that data in for you. And if you want to minimize mistakes and TCPA fines, you can use an API to verify data and keep your database current and compliant.
How To Get APIs
There are APIs that have already been developed and are ready for you to integrate such as Google Maps API, Twitter API, PayPal API, etc. Some are free and some are paid. Just search online for the API you are interested in and follow the instructions the developers provide.
Searchbug offers a number of API solutions you can use on Searchbug.com or integrate into your own website. You can use an API to verify phone numbers, investigate people, append customer contact data, and locate and verify business data.
If there’s a specific API you want to use on your website, you can develop it yourself. This will take a certain knowledge of code, but it can be done.
Or, you can have an API made for you. Searchbug offers custom APIs for your specific needs. Just indicate the data you have, the data you need, the number of records, and get a quote.
Now You Know What Exactly is an API
What exactly is an API? Well it sounds scarier than it really is. And if you order an API that’s already developed or order one to be custom made, you don’t even have to fully understand all of the technical jargon.
Here are the important takeaways:
- APIs improve the customer experience
- APIs increase data automation
- You can develop your own API, use one that already exists, or have a custom one developed for you
- API integration can be internal or external
- More than one API per website or app is totally normal!
Check out Searchbug’s API solutions to locate and verify customer data or integrate one of our APIs into your own website. If you need something specific, we can help with that too.
You know you face APIs online every day. Put some to work for you!Check out Searchbug API Tools