5 Tips for Building the Best Partner API Programs

5 Tips for Building the Best Partner API Programs

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The Postman 2022 State of the API Report published a surprising statistic. According to the 37,000 developers they surveyed, 27% were using APIs shared only with integration partners. That’s nearly double the number of public APIs.

Partner API programs offer the best of all worlds. They let you keep your APIs and data secure by limiting access while still reaping the benefits of having an API for monetization or raising brand awareness. But how do you build a successful API partner program?

We’ve put together some tips for building the best partner API programs imaginable, to help ensure both you and your partners can make the most of your API partnership.

1. Decide On Your Goals

Different companies have different objectives they hope to accomplish by releasing an API. Furthermore, API partner programs can have various goals. Some common goals for building partner API programs include:

  • Encouraging usage
  • Pushing sales
  • Boosting communication
  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Enhanced security
  • Increase SEO
  • Technology alignment
  • Affiliate programs
  • Advertisement
  • Co-creation
  • Network effect of a platform model

Consider the Google Photo APIs partner program. Google offers several incentives for its partners, ranging from access to exclusive features to a promotional badge to display on your product. This acts as two-way advertising for both the developer and Google, an obvious example of one of the many advantages of an API partner program.

Paying attention to these goals can help you deliver world-class API partner programs, as they’ll give you a greater understanding of your partners and their needs. Being clear about your goals for launching an API partner program will inform many aspects of your API, from the API design itself to how you launch and promote your product. Take some time to think about what you’re trying to achieve with your partner program to ensure you’re using your resources wisely.

2. Have Clear Onboarding

After your partners are vetted and approved, you’ll want them to get started with your API as quickly and painlessly as possible. You’ll want to ensure the onboarding process is as easy to use to remove any potential stumbling blocks to your API partners’ success.

Clear onboarding materials signal to your new partner that your API is well-designed and thought out. Seamless onboarding should preemptively address issues users may encounter when getting started with your API partner program and offer the opportunity to see the benefits as quickly as possible. 50% of developers report speeding up the development process as their primary motivation for consuming an API, according to the 2022 State of the API Report, so this is an important detail to keep in mind.

Clear onboarding can also provide concrete examples of abstract principles, offering one more opportunity to demonstrate the usefulness of your partner program. Consider Cisco’s Postman collection. Cisco is well-known for acquiring companies, each of which may already have its own APIs. Cisco’s Postman is a masterclass in presenting complex information in an incredibly understandable way, even when there are many moving parts. Esridevs’, the Postman collection for ArcGIS mapping tools, is another example of excellent onboarding materials, with practical examples of everything from requesting an access token to more advanced topics like geolocation, each of which features clear, understandable documentation and demos so users can try out the features for themselves.

To start, you’ll want to ensure your API documentation follows the best practices for API documentation. Start with a top-down overview of your API, then drill down into the specifics.

It’s highly recommended you include either code snippets for various popular programming languages or a playground where developers can catch a glimpse of your API in action to get a sense of what your API can do. You’ll want to ensure new users can have their questions answered in some capacity, too. Dedicated customer support or an active community of developers are two options you might consider.

3. Have a Dedicated Signup Page

Onboarding API partners is slightly different from basic SaaS onboarding. You’ll want to provide an overview of the partner program and instructions for the API. On that note, it’s a good idea to make your partner program crystal clear and easy to understand.

One best practice for building partner API programs is giving the program its dedicated subdomain on your website. Considering the size and scope of your partner program, you may consider a dedicated site. You’ll want to make sure the materials for signing up are clear and easy to understand. Use a simple, clear-cut form that is easy to find. Depending on how aggressively you’re trying to grow your partner API program, you might even have the form as a pop-up, as you would some other incentive or premium content.

Having a dedicated site or subdomain means you can optimize the site for explicitly for your partners. It also lets you emphasize aspects particular to your partner program while leaving your main API developer center unchanged. With a dedicated partner center, you’ll have much more real estate to work with than relying solely on your API documentation.

Consider Postman’s partner program site, which is an excellent example of several of the traits we’ve discussed. Having an entire subdomain dedicated to its partner programs gives tons of space for Postman to explain the program’s benefits. It displays several of the most prominent partners, too, which acts as a testimonial. The end of the page shows a prominent form where you can quickly sign up for the program.

4. Decide On Levels

Some partner API programs offer multi-tiered access. You’ll want to decide if all of your partners can access all of your data and services. If not, you’ll need to decide who gets access to what. You’ll also want to determine how to set up your access levels.

For example, you might set it up so that early adopters of your API partnership program get early access to new products and services. This could be another advantage of an API partnership program, as your early adopters can act as built-in beta testers to help you improve your APIs and products. Consider allowing higher volumes of API calls for higher-level partners, as well.

Consider the Google Photos API again for a simple illustration of tiered access. Google Photos APIs have a base level quota of 10,000 requests to the Library API daily. Applications that are likely to exceed that quota can sign up to join their API partner program for increased access.

Offering tiered access can influence how you design your API, so it’s best to think about it as early on as possible. For example, it may be prudent only to share sensitive data with more trustworthy partners with whom you share a long history. It’s also recommended to carefully vet partners that interact with customer data. That sort of misstep ended up exposing the data of over 530 million Facebook users in 2019.

5. Provide Testimonials

Your partner API program is a product, whether or not you’re trying to make money with it. You’ll want to keep some basic marketing and business principles in mind if you want it to grow and succeed. The fact of the matter is customers are far more likely to believe their peers than some slickly written ad copy. According to Nielsen, customers are 92% more likely to trust customer testimonials over all other forms of advertisement.

You should find a way to include testimonials from your users and customers wherever you can without feeling forced. For instance, you might follow the classic ad copy formula and include a short quote or two at the top or bottom of a page. Don’t limit yourself to 20th-century marketing strategies, though. APIs aren’t limited by linearity or locality —they’re digital native products, so take full advantage of that fact. A GitHub page or developer community can provide testimonials just as easily as a landing page, if not easier.

Final Thoughts On Partner API Programs

APIs are designed to be used. At their most basic and fundamental level, APIs are meant to expose data and services to a wider audience. The more easily that exposure can safely happen, the better.

APIs can also serve several business goals. Maybe you’re a new company trying to get your name out there and build a user base. Perhaps you’re a more established business leaning into digital transformation and creating new revenue streams. Partner API programs can help you meet your business goals, whatever they may be, if implemented correctly.

Spending a moment to develop a strategy for your partner API program will save you headaches and hardships down the road. It can let you decide on fundamental decisions like API design, user permissions, and even the language you use for documentation and marketing. Thinking things through helps you to combine business sense and technical expertise, which will please both your investors and developers.