7 Mistakes to Avoid When Marketing your API

api-marketing-mistakesBefore we get into API marketing – Have you ever wondered how many developers exist around the globe? According to one study, it’s about 18.5 MILLION! That’s enough to fill Sweden’s capital, the destination of our 2014 annual conference, 20 times over!

This workforce is transforming our landscape into one where everyday household items are connected to the internet. Simultaneously, a growing number of smart developers recognize the value in gluing together these kinds of technologies. With an influx of talent to the space, API innovation has been accelerating. Even though it’s early days, it has become more common to find businesses whose core product is their API. Twilio and SendGrid are great examples among many.

Just like most products, APIs need to be consumed in order to create value. As the space becomes more crowded, API publishers are struggling to get through the noise. It can be a depressing state! Don’t be down though. Marketers have been working since the dawn of time to get the word out to the masses. In this post, I’ll share with you 7 mistakes that you should avoid as you seek to increase your API’s adoption.

1. Not Having a Partner Page

APIs are digital products, and their packaging should reflect that. The job of the partner page is to convert visitors into API consumers. To do this effectively, the page should instantly catch the attention of your desired crowd through the use of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This must be a short statement that answers the questions:

  • How is your API different?
  • What is the primary reason for its existence?
  • Why should someone start using it right now?

It also has to connect emotionally with your target audience. Twilio’s USP, for example, is “Build powerful Voice & SMS applications.” Who doesn’t want to have a powerful voice? After holding a visitors attention long enough for them to continue reading, you need to warm this lead more by communicating the benefits of consuming your API. Don’t forget: there is a difference between listing features and conveying benefits. Do the latter without neglecting the former! This is your chance to help them understand what you can deliver, so use words, images, and video to ensure that the message is clear.

Finally, close the deal by having a powerful Call to Action (CTA). This is where you give those who are actively listening a chance to take action. Ask yourself: what is it you would like the target customers to do, and what benefit do they receive from doing so? Here are a few examples:

  • Try [API name] for free
  • Start using [API name] now
  • Sign up today for unlimited API access!

Recognize that you will not connect with everyone, but always make sure that everyone understands clearly what you have said. Also, ensure that this page is sharable by making it useful; link to reference documentation, interactive documentation, tutorials and support.

2. Not Leveraging Referral Marketing

You know what they say about word of mouth being the best form of marketing? This is a sort of referral marketing. “Referral marketing is a method of promoting products or services to new customers through referrals… Such referrals often happen spontaneously, but businesses can influence this through appropriate strategies,” says Wikipedia. Your job is to figure out how best to do this at the least cost.

Developers tend to hang around with other developers, and that’s a precious opportunity for your API to spread from a partner page conversion to a word of mouth referral. This type of API marketing is powerful! So powerful that it is one of the only forms of marketing that can get customers to skip the research in a typical sales journey, and take action directly. A well-executed referral program can be a lot of work! Thankfully, Get Ambassador makes it easier. Their referral management software comes with a free 14 day trial, and I’ve used it in the past with much success.

A good referral program is all about getting the incentive structure just right, and making things easy for participants. An example of a digital referral program that really wowed me was one conducted by the brand Harry’s. They created a game out of referral marketing that added an element of competition; this resulted in them capturing 100,000 emails in under a week. Imagine how many more customers you could acquire with those leads! You can quickly set up such a game using Harry’s code which is publicly available on GitHub.

3. Not using your Blog

rss-orange-radar-bar-chicklet-iconWriting well is hard work. Make no mistake though, blogging demonstrates your commitment to the community! Think about it: nobody wants to build on top of an API that will dwindle. Your API consumers have spent sweat, money, and tears to build something that relies on your API sticking around. I’ve seen the closure of third-party APIs wreak havoc on companies whose core value proposition comes from those APIs — not a pretty picture, I’ll tell you.

The longer format of a blog post provides an opportunity to instill confidence in your developer community, establish thought leadership, and bump up traffic. All good elements in an effective digital brand building effort.

To blog effectively, you need to find out:

  • Where your target group hangs out online
  • What are their social networking habits
  • What related searches do they perform

All of this can be fed into your blogging and SEO strategy, which should be focused on delivering high-quality posts that speak to your API consumers.

4. Forgetting about Twitter

Twitter provides you a unique opportunity to engage in real time! At first, the social network can feel like trying to throw an orange ping pong ball into a raging waterfall hoping to get it seen as it plummets over. That being said, a number of tools make the social network an incredibly powerful API marketing tool. Here’s a few I’ve been playing with recently:

  • Twitter: Get it from the horse’s mouth!
  • SocialBro: Get info about when to tweet; find people to follow based on location, interests, etc.; and determine who you’re following that is inactive
  • one million tweet map: See where in the world your followers are
  • Bluenod: Find related search terms and people using a visually connected graph
  • Tweriod: Tweet when your followers are listening (also possible to learn from SocialBro)

5. Ignoring Email Marketing

Email is one of the marketing channels that will yield the highest ROI and highest Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) relative to other marketing methods. Your email list is also one asset that you own, unlike your social followings. Email marketing enables you to send a highly personal message right into someone’s inbox, on demand! This can be useful to increase the community’s engagement with your brand, update them on need-to-know news, and be a valuable source to learn more about your customers. For example, you can use email to send occasional questionnaires, determine who’s opening emails related to what topic, and see what triggers engagement. It’s also a great way to find the biggest fans of your API.

We use it as an effective way to drive traffic to our newly published blog post, distribute VIP content that does not appear on the blog, and give discounts to our upcoming events. It also helps us understand how fast our community is growing. I would be thrilled if you joined. Sign up here; it won’t take longer than 30 seconds.

6. Not A/B Testing

It’s rare that our first idea is what resonates best with our target audience. Instead, our marketing efforts usually work best when tested and refined through multiple iterations. Ads, messages, landing pages, showcases, and other API marketing devices almost always require some sort of tweaking to get them working optimally. A/B test is the perfect tool for this job. This goes for both optimizing the marketing and the product itself (i.e., the API).

Answer Sheet 2

The basic idea is to perform a randomized experiment with two variants: A and B. The first is the control group and the second is the test group. It’s important to test only one variable at a time to ensure we can attribute the right improvements to the right changes. Look at the seriousness that Pintrest pays to their A/B testing strategy. OMG! While nowhere near that sort of level, I was able to use A/B testing last week to increase our signups from the widget at the top right of this page by 66.1%. The difference a few words can make is amazing. It’s not uncommon to see increases of a few hundred percent, so start testing and get more people using your API!

7. Not Making Friends

Despite the publicity the whole “lean” movement is getting in recent years, I still meet people who have never heard of the term. As highlighted by authors of various lean-related books, these people fall victim to the customer avoidance paradigm. By not getting outside the building and talking to people, it’s easy for them to miss the chance to see if their ideas have legs. To market your API, you have to create a community. To create more meaningful relationships and develop an ecosystem, you have to get out of the office. Don’t be shy and don’t be lazy. Go out and meet people!

If you’re looking to meet relevant people, the kind that want to start using your API, you are going to want to attend developer-oriented events, gatherings, and meetups. Here’s a list of some must-attend-API-related events that are coming up. If you are in the Nordics, I can save you some searching :-) We’re hosting the largest API event up North in just a few weeks.


API marketing will grow in importance as the tech’s usage also grows. If you want your API to be consumed, this subject is not something you can ignore. Here I presented just a few ideas, but there are many others! What about Github, LinkedIn, and StackOverflow? I didn’t even have time to touch on those. What have you had success with? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Before you scoot off, can I also ask a favor? Can you support our mission to help make the world more programmable by taking part in our Thunderclap? It’s like a Kickstarter, but instead of donating cash, you donate a single share. It won’t take more than a few clicks, and me and the team would GREATLY appreciate it.

[Editor’s note: By clicking on the link to Get Ambassador, we will be compensated as an affiliate for any purchase you make of that software.]