Explain APIs at your next meeting

If you manage, maintain, or otherwise dabble with websites, chances are high that you've heard of APIs. But could you explain to someone else what an API is and how developers utilize them? Keep reading if you're an agency leader, website manager, or supervisor for a new website build. You'll be able to talk the nerd talk at your next dinner party or client meeting.

After reading this article, we hope you'll be able to answer these questions:

  1. What is an API?
  2. How are APIs integrated with a website?

What is an API?

API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface. An API can be a lot of different things. The simplest definition we've seen is "a way for two or more computer programs to communicate with each other" (thank you, Wikipedia). In our world, an API is a way for a website to send or receive data from another service. APIs allow your website to talk to payment processors, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms, email marketing platforms, job boards, and Multiple Listing Services (MLS)—among other things.

Let’s say you have a list of open positions with your organization in your HR platform, and you want these to post automatically to your website. The platform’s API is your ticket! Or, suppose you want your website’s contact form to create a new lead in your CRM. The bridge between your website and the CRM is, you guessed it—an API.

How are APIs integrated with a website?

API integration is one of the primary services we provide for clients. Generally, we integrate APIs with a website in three different ways.

Third-party provided iFrame or JavaScript embed code. For most situations, embedded code will generate a front-end user interface (UI). Iframe or JavaScript embeds are usually quick to add to a site, depending on how much customization is needed. This method is simple, but often comes with limited customization and styling options.

Third-party WordPress plugin: Some plugins (e.g., HubSpot CRM add-on for Gravity Forms) provide connectivity to third-party systems by entering an API key in the WordPress admin. These are relatively easy to configure.

Custom-built REST API integration: REST APIs allow custom code to interact with third-party systems. In our context, almost all APIs are REST APIs, meaning they use standardized rules for sending and receiving information. If you have super-specific needs, this option offers the most opportunities for customization, both in terms of style and functionality. This method can also be the most time-consuming and requires planning upfront to determine requirements. See an option above that feels right for your website? Integrating third-party services is our specialty – we're here to help you make it happen.

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