By Iwo Kadziela, Product Manager at SiteSpect
From humble beginnings as a means to integrate third-party applications and platforms, application programming interfaces (APIs) have become the integration platform, and the glue, that connects social channels, cloud services, mobile apps and, now, even the wide array of sensor-driven devices that fall under the internet of things (IoT) umbrella.
The popularity of APIs has exploded, tracing their success from being one of the driving forces behind creating a more open Internet and the foundation of innovation for thousands of software applications and platforms (including those for digital marketing, Web analytics, content management systems, customer relationship management and ecommerce to name a few), as well as the cloud. Within the digital marketing category, in particular, APIs are creating unparalleled levels of integration and productivity for the purpose of website and mobile testing and optimization.
Site testing and optimization has come a long way in the last five years. Companies no longer rely on simple A/B tests alone to make important data-driven decisions about their websites. As the practice has become more sophisticated, companies began using their investment on site-testing technologies to find new ways to build a better experience for their customers, while also seeking out methods to increase conversions and average order values (AOVs), not to mention decrease cart abandonment rates.
Automation is Key
The ability for marketing and development teams to leverage APIs to automate testing programmatically is elevating the entire optimization function to a whole new level. Teams can now build tasks, manage the entire testing campaign, create dozens of test variations and preview testing data and do it all through the API.
The ability to automate what was done manually in the past means that more tests can be created, launched and managed in less time. Integrating data from testing platforms is also significant because organizations can get a 360-degree view of data and also analyze it in a more systematic way.
Many companies, for example, are increasing the value of their testing platforms by using an API script to extract report data programmatically and integrating that data with analysis systems to create custom dashboards and visualizations.
Expanding Testing to Every Corner of the Digital Experience
As the successes from continual site testing and optimization continue to stack up, many companies began to experiment with testing every part of the customer-facing digital experience.
Those who have accelerated their testing programs have also increased the number of tests they're conducting on any given week. Many have quickly gone from 10 tests to 100 tests to 1,000s of tests per year. The sheer volume of tests requires a high level of automation, which can only be accomplished with the help of APIs.
It's also extremely important to preview and QA (quality assurance) the testing process before launching any test so nothing "breaks"¬¨¬®‚àöœÄ on the site, which could degrade the customer experience dramatically. An API can be used to QA tests, create campaigns programmatically and launch these same campaigns automatically. As important as the preview and QA process is, one of the most powerful aspects of leveraging APIs for testing and optimization is the ability to tap into other enterprise applications to extend the reach of digital marketing campaigns and increase the potential for campaign success.
A customized script can automate the transfer of data from a CRM system, such as Salesforce, and essentially change the contacts being targeted, adding or removing people to specific tests automatically. When Salesforce is updated, the test is as well.
APIs have brought high levels of customization, flexibility and third-party application integration to site testing and optimization and, as a result, have expanded their role and value in the digital marketing supply chain. The power of the API is in automating processes that in the past had to be accomplished manually, slowing down teams responsible for the success of the testing program, and limiting the number of tests that could be created and launched.
Anything you can do manually, you should be able to do programmatically, and only APIs empower companies to stretch the boundaries of what can be done with speed, agility and accuracy.
How Does an API Work?
By Peter Prestipino, Editor-In-Chief
An API (application programming interface) is a set of programming instructions that help developers write code that interfaces with other software applications. It essentially defines a way in which a computer program communicates with another computer program.
The benefit of APIs is that they enable developers to use other services (often faster and better services) to support their own instead of building one massive core application. With APIs, the calls back and forth between applications are managed through what's called Web services - a collection of technological standards and protocols, including XML (Extensible Markup Language), the programming language by which applications communicate over the Internet.
The API itself is a chunk of software code written as a series of XML messages, where each XML message corresponds to a different function of the remote service. APIs are typically part of a larger software development kit (SDK), which includes the API, programming tools and other instructional documents to simplify the work of the developer.
Along with XML, the following technological standards, protocols and programming languages are what make Web services work:
+ SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): SOAP is responsible for encoding XML messages so they can be received and understood by any operating system over any type of network protocol.
+ UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration): An XML-based directory (sort of like the yellow pages) that allows businesses to list themselves, find each other and collaborate using Web services.
+ WSDL (Web Services Description Language): WSDL is the SOAP of the UDDI and is basically the XML-based language that businesses use to describe their services in the UDDI.