Learn the Power of API’s for Digital Marketing | $10k Tech Skills 3/4

This is part 3 of 4 of the $10k Technical Skills for Digital Marketing.

You could be so much faster! Right now, you are using your browser to view HTML pages. You go to a page, get some information and move on. Imagine how much more information you could gather if you could tell your browser to look at 10 pages per second, compile it all and give you the executive summary. This is the power that API’s and a little bit of code provide.

Powerful Data Meme

API’s are your key to the Web at scale. An API (Application Programing Interface) allows you to interact with services like social networks, and marketing, advertising, or analytics platforms. With a bit of code or the right tools, API’s can be used to do almost anything that a digital marketer does manually. The real power of marketers who can program comes from using API’s to programmatically execute marketing tactics that would be otherwise impossible for humans to do at the same speed.

Painless Reporting

“I love creating the same report every month”  No one ever.

Reporting is part of being-data driven but unfortunately, it sucks. It is time consuming and takes your valuable time away time away from creating or optimizing marketing strategies. API’s are a very elegant answer to recurring reports. If you have to get data from several places just to format it into a spreadsheet or charts, let APIs help. Google Spreadsheets and Google App Script offer a friendly API to allow you to populate spreadsheets and charts with data programmatically. Just make a call to your analytics platform or email marketing platform or your advertising service’s APIs to create up-to-date dashboards.

Automation: The Key to Growth Hacking

There are also many other tasks from response emails when users sign up to keyword research using Google’s auto-suggest to PPC bidding with Google Adwords that can be automated using API’s.

Keyword Research? Ain't nobody got time for that!Even social media management can be automated using API’s (think of that annoying “growth hack” that people try when you tweet to hashtag and they favorite it or add you to a list 3 seconds later.) I am not saying it should be done, just that it can be done.

All of these digital marketing tasks have one thing in common: they have an input and depending on what that input is, they have a slightly different output. These tasks are perfect candidates to be handled by algorithms. Write the instructions in code to decide when/how these things are done and your work time becomes a lot more efficient and your work will scale infinitely. Think of this like IFTTT (which is all about interconnecting API’s with some logic) for digital marketing.

Web Scraping: Research at Scale

Web scraping is very similar to interacting with API’s but in this case, the API is a collection of HTML pages or files with consistent formatting. Take for example, the indeed.com trend graph images that I have been using; depending on the URL input, their server will respond with a different image. Try it yourself (change {keyword} to a job or skill):

http://www.indeed.com/trendgraph/jobgraph.png?q={keyword}+{keyword}

If you were looking for the newest trending skills, instead of searching their website over and over, you could make a hundreds of requests to their /jobgraph URL extension and you could quickly scan the images to see what skills you need to learn. That might be a trivial example but you get the idea!

As you can see from the last example, APIs can be used to speed up processes at any scale but are absolutely essential to large processes.

Hacking Social for Fun and Profit

Exploring API’s can offer new and creative ways to market your product or service. One especially remarkable tactic that employs the Instagram API was just started by Marais Shoes last year. Marais uses the Instagram API to check, in real-time, for comments on their images that contain the hashtag “sold.” If the comment author has signed up on their site using Instagram. The member is emailed a link to their shopping cart with the featured product conveniently in their cart. This brilliant tactic would not have been possible without the combination of marketing savvy and an understanding of API technology.

REST, JSON, XML, WTF?

Finally, In order to know what an API is capable of, a marketer must know what data can be interacted with and how it is transmitted. This is where transfer protocols and data structures get involved. But don’t let the language scare you, at an operational level these are not that complicated! The large majority of API’s these days are very user friendly thanks to REST (REpresentational State Transfer) and JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) formatted data. JSON is very easy to understand once you try. It has a very simple set of rules about how data is organized and formatted. These rules are much like MLA formatting for research papers (except much simpler). The consistency allows us (computers and humans) to easily understand information because we know what formatting to expect.

Here is an example of JSON formatted data. It comes from the Facebook API and is simplest representation of me in the eyes of Facebook. See, not so bad!

https://graph.facebook.com/trevor.fox.921

Learning How to Use REST API’s

A great way to build an understanding of REST is using a cool tool called PostMan. PostMan is a Chrome App that acts as a “client” to inspect what data is available in what way from different API’s. You enter in the URL of the service you want to work with and PostMan will bring back the data and format it in a way that is easy to understand. From there you can write a little big of Google Apps script or server side code and automate the whole process.

Another cool tool is cURL. This is the nerdy grandfather of PostMan that lives in the Bash Shell. It works in the same way as PostMan except you enter the URL in the command line and then the data is printed to the screen. cURL is definitely as user-friendly as PostMan but it is good to be familiar with because many API’s and services refer to cURL in their documentation. Spend one hour learning cURL. It will save you loads of time banging your head into API error responses.

For more on learning how to you API’s, the next post explains how to make sense of API documentation, how to find the data and make the data work for you.

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