So you’ve just finished building the perfect API: it’s well-designed and solves particular problems that everyone is having — what now?
You could just tell a few colleagues about it and let word-of-mouth do the rest for you, but if you want to grow your user base fast, you’ll have to get your hands dirty with some marketing.
Thankfully, there are a lot of options for marketing APIs; what’s more none of them are particularly complicated, and they definitely don’t feel “sleazy” like the widespread marketing and sales stigma might have you believe.
Here are six of our favorite ideas for how you can market a niche API, complete with actionable pointers and a few case studies…
1. List your API on directories
One of the most effective, yet straightforward ways you can promote an API is by listing it on online API directories. The majority of directories have some kind of search function, which allows users to find your API by name (if you chose a descriptive one), as well as incredibly useful categorization and keyword features.
Listing your API on these directories is as easy as pie, and since every directory is a little bit different, we won’t go through process here. If you’re looking for some suggestions on which directory to start with, definitely take a look at ProgrammableWeb, RapidAPI, and APIs.io.
Here are some pointers on how to make the most of these directories…
- Make use of all the major directories
- Look for smaller, more specific directories in your niche
- Provide as much information about your API as possible
- Choose irrelevant keywords and categories
- Forget to update listings and let information grow stale
2. Create valuable content
Content marketing is a fantastic way to market any product — and the humble API is no exception. Creating helpful (or even entertaining) content that appeals to prospective users is a surefire way to have the right people stumble upon your API.
Truth be told, you can create whatever type of content you think is appropriate, but text (e.g. blog posts or free ebooks) and video (e.g. walkthroughs or challenges) are popular for good reason. On that same note, you probably want to focus on creating informative content, unless you think the entertaining stuff will really hit a note with potential users.
There’s also the tangential approach of creating a mashup: use your API to build an awesome service that demonstrates the functionality of your API. This always gets people talking – and will help programmers both run into and fall in love with your API. As an example, nViso used their facial analysis API to build a web app that offers financial advice based on your facial reaction to certain questions.
Time for some hints on creating great content…
- Explore different mediums of content creation
- Market your content (take SEO into account at all times)
- Enjoy the process so consumers will too
Make content that isn’t relevant to your product or brand
Create subpar content just for the sake of it
CASE STUDY: ipinfo.io
ipinfo.io provides an API for looking up IP addresses. Their content strategy involves long, well-developed bimonthly blog posts which cater to existing users, potential users, and the programming ecosphere as a whole. These articles ultimately market themselves, giving ipinfo a constant influx of curious visitors who want to learn more.
3. Make the most of social media
Social media is all the craze right now, or at least it was five years ago. However, it’s still a powerful tool for creating relationships with prospective users — and is just as effective for maintaining them. Ultimately, what you share on social media is “content”, so you can decide whether you’ll inform (especially by sharing pertinent news) or entertain along your journey of customer acquisition.
In terms of traditional social media, Facebook and Twitter are the most universal options, but you should definitely explore the possibility of contributing to Q&A sites (although it’s a stretch to call that social media) — like Quora or Stack Overflow — where you can create organic product interest just by helping out.
For social media, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do…
- Keep your followers updated on a regular basis
- Share anything you find fun, exciting, or helpful
- Answer any relevant questions you can
- Blatantly shill your own API
- Spam your followers
CASE STUDY: Twilio
Twilio’s API products are all about cloud communication. They take a communicative approach to marketing, too, with full time developer evangelist Phil Nash answering Stack Overflow questions on a weekly basis. Most of the answers help out existing Twilio users, creating a powerful and trusted social presence for the company.
4. Host and attend events
One of the more expensive, but definitely more conversant ways to market a niche API is by hosting, as well as attending, relevant events. In-person events are quite frankly unmatched when it comes to building meaningful relationships with your user base; the trade-off is not being able to attend them from behind the computer screen.
Attending events in your niche is a much more affordable approach, but if none of them seem to riff with your product then you might have to host one. Examples of such events include conventions, conferences, and hackathons.
This is how to make the most of these events…
- Contribute to the space in a natural way
- Make as many connections as possible
- If hosting, offer incentives (e.g. prizes or just fun) for attending
- Blow your marketing budget out of the water by mistake
- Assume that every attendee will become a user
CASE STUDY: Shopify
Shopify has to be the world’s fastest growing eCommerce company, with numerous APIs that developers can use to work with their platform. Since 2016, Shopify has hosted “Unite”, their annual conference for both partners and developers, where they announce new releases and give talks. Not only does this improve brand awareness, but it also skyrockets credibility.
5. Use launch announcements
It’s the most obvious way to tell people about your new API: use launch announcements to countdown to release day! While you could keep this internal and announce your release only to an existing user base, it’s a good idea to let the public know too.
You can use ProductHunt for public launch announcements, but don’t be scared to hunt around and find thought leaders in your space who might give your upcoming API a shoutout. If you have a blog or email newsletter, you should include a notice there too.
Here are some suggestions…
- Publish more than one launch announcements (just in case anyone misses the first)
- Tell users what to expect
Spam your launch on every page you can find
6. Reach out directly
The final, and perhaps the least creative way to market your API is with direct marketing. If you already have an email list or a social media following, this might mean announcing the release of your API (just as above) or reminding people of it, but otherwise you could still consider targeted advertising as an option.
This method could cost as little as nothing, but is capable of killing your budget if you go too heavy on the advertising suite. That’s why it’s essential you consider what audience you’ll be reaching out to directly.
Reaching out is easier with these pointers…
- Show genuine enthusiasm for your product (hopefully you’ve created an awesome API)
- Offer incentives for those who take action
- Devalue your brand with “spaminess” or “pushiness”
Don’t forget to make devs happy!
While that’s it for our “proper” marketing methods, it goes without saying that your API should work great, and just as importantly: your developers should love using it.
Creating a fantastic developer experience will augment these marketing methods by encouraging programmers to use and talk about your API.
On the other hand, a poor developer experience will hurt user acquisition — all those marketing efforts will be in vain if users click away as soon as they see your developer portal.
To wrap things up, here are some of the essentials for a solid developer experience:
- A clean and intuitive developer portal
- Plenty of code samples and a sandbox area (for easy testing)
- SDKs and reference docs