When was the last time you used an interactive map or graph on a website or made an online purchase with your credit card? In these cases, you may have been using a third-party integration solution without even realizing it! The goal of these technical plugins is to provide the end user with helpful data or resources that make their experience on your website easier. In this article, our development experts dive into specific details of API integration and show examples of what third-party integration looks like in action.
What is API Integration and Why Does My Site Need It?
API is a widely used acronym that is short for “Application Programming Interface.” Without delving too much into technical minutiae, APIs allow your website to get data from and interact with third-party organizations. They are the perfect solution for an optimal user experience that minimizes development and maintenance costs. While API integration services are not the only way to incorporate a third-party service into your website, it is an increasingly common one.
There is a wealth of third-party integration options for making your website deliver useful data or services to your clients without having to re-invent the (digital) wheel every time. APIs go beyond data: for instance, you can have your users make purchases and reservations from other related businesses, without leaving your website. Keeping your users on your website enables you to control and optimize the user interface and experience.
Perhaps you want to display your company’s stock price and a map of all your locations on your homepage, for example. One option would be to look up the stock price and a map image and copy and paste them into your homepage. This might meet some users’ needs, but the price you display will need to be updated frequently and will be fundamentally out of date as time goes on. Similarly, the map would have limited to no functionality as an image. It would be much nicer to have that stock price update in real time and to have a fully interactive map that your users could adjust as they needed. In this case, you might use a Google Maps plugin to show your locations, and a financial data API to update your stock price.
There are countless options available to add to your site. For instance, if you know your customers almost always want some accessory that you do not sell, you could use APIs so that your customers could buy that item from a trusted vendor while still browsing your page. From the point of view of the customer on your website, you now sell that needed accessory. Do you lose business if a person leaves your website to buy that accessory on Amazon? Not necessarily - but enabling your website to be a one-stop shop is ideal for you and easiest for your customer.
Common Types of API & Third-Party Integrations
If your business only serves customers in one town, you probably would not need a full-featured map. However, if you have multiple locations, or customers are coming from different directions, the users of your site might benefit from a map they can adjust as needed. Google Maps, while not the only option, is the most used maps tool and allows your website visitors to plan a route to your closest location among many other features. You can customize your user’s experience based on where the user is when accessing your website through maps integrations, directing them to the closest location or sales representative or even changing languages and images to better suit the user.
Whether you make sales or accept donations, making it easy for people to give you money is probably the most important purpose your website serves. The right payment gateway will make it easy for your customers to pay and for you to receive the funds disbursed by their bank. One of the major benefits of using third-party integration to process payments, is ensuring you do not need to store credit card data; making you less of a target for hacking. The many choices for payment gateways include Stripe, PayPal, and Authorize.Net. They have different pricing structures, development requirements, and user interfaces, so it is important to consider the various alternatives closely. Stripe is particularly easy for developers to add, which can lead to quicker (and thus cheaper) web development services. Factors to consider when choosing which type of API integration service you need include:
- how many transactions you receive in a particular timeframe
- the price of a typical transaction on your website
- how quickly you will get your money
- how often you log in to your account with the payment solution
- is the account easy to use
Processing Personal Information
Payments are a particularly common secure transaction, but credit card numbers are not the only personal information subject to theft and abuse. Anyone who collects PII (personally identifiable information) knows that this data needs to be handled with care due to risk of hacking and identity theft in addition to government regulations and industry standards mandating proper protection of this data.
You may be thinking: can’t someone else do it? And the answer, of course, is yes. For nearly every type of data processing and storage, there exists a third-party willing to help you for a fee. It can be tricky to evaluate the worth of these third-parties, so it is very useful to have digital experts on your side when considering API integration services. In some cases you may be limited based on your corporate or professional obligations. For example, if your website users apply for a credit card with a particular financial institution through a form on your site, you will be required to incorporate their APIs to display an approval or rejection notification. Similarly, if you are an insurance agent who sells insurance from particular firms, you will be limited to their APIs for your own web development. However, this is the golden age of web development and more companies are making more web services available to other websites than ever before.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
If you work in sales, customer support or for a medium or large business, you may already be inured to the acronym “CRM,” which typically refers to enterprise solutions for managing contacts, leads, prospects, sales, and interactions with clients. Two of the heavyweights in the CRM space are Salesforce Pardot and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Both have their own pricing, benefits and trade-offs. Microsoft facilitates integration between products in its Dynamics line and Office and Azure (the Microsoft cloud solution), which would be an advantage if you are already using those on an enterprise level. Both Salesforce and Microsoft have huge communities of users and developers along with well-documented APIs for quick development and are both excellent choices for certain websites. However, they are not the only CRM option, and this can be a key function of your website, so you should consider all your options to get the best fit in terms of pricing and scale. Some solutions are aimed specifically at nonprofits and fundraising groups (such as Raiser’s Edge NXT) and may be the right option for such an organization. Experienced web developers, like the kind at Blue Compass, are your best resource in helping you consider all options and guiding you through the tough decision-making process.
Network and Authentication
One buzzword you may have heard is “single sign-on,” referring to only logging in once for multiple services. Single sign-on, as its name indicates, aims to connect separate services so that logging in once is sufficient. A familiar experience you’ve probably had is when you install a new app on your phone and it prompts you to sign in with your Apple ID, or through your Google or Facebook account. Rather than create a new account, create a new password, store that password somehow, and wait for the confirmation email, it is much easier to just click that button and have your phone authenticate you.
For businesses, your employees may log in through their browser to multiple services every day or even every hour. A simple but representative example would be an employee who logs in through a browser window to a web email client, their corporate intranet, their CRM account, and a cloud storage service multiple times a day. It is in the interest of both the employer and employee to reduce the number of times logging in and the number of passwords to remember, change or update. The time lost when creating a new account to play a mobile game is possibly a trivial loss, but when your organization has dozens or hundreds of employees, and they each spend a half hour a day waiting to log in, the benefits of single sign-on are undeniable.
While there are some shared standards and protocols for authentication and security, many logins are different, and so single sign-on tends to be an intricate third-party integration requiring experienced developers. While individual cases can vary, setting up your website for single sign-on will probably require more developer hours than something comparatively simpler like connecting your website to a payment gateway. Domain and network management systems like Microsoft’s Active Directory would be similarly technically involved integrations.
Examples of Incorporating Different Types of API Integration Services Into Web Development
The advanced web development team at Blue Compass has consolidated many different types of API into our clients’ websites to keep the end experience smooth for web visitors. Using web development to include third-party integration helps these sites provide or collect important data.
American Equity Investment Life Insurance Company
As a financial and investment company, American Equity likes to keep their customers up-to-date with their AEL stock performance in the market. This interactive graph on their site lets users look back at the stock value and history by pulling through data from NASDAQ.
Greater Des Moines Partnership
One of the objectives of the Greater Des Moines Partnership is to bring talented employees or promising businesses to the Des Moines metro. Their Career Center assists with this goal by using API integrated services to store and display open positions and career opportunities to job seekers. Users can filter their search by industry or which area of the Des Moines metro they’re looking to work in. Additionally, there’s an option for employers to log in and sort through relevant resumes.
Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel
In order to provide a seamless booking experience, Prairie Meadows utilizes a third-party integration and data system when guests reserve a room at their hotel. This website also utilizes an interactive Google map since they know many visitors looking for directions are coming from other destinations.
The location tool Blue Compass developers built for UCS Healthcare helps patients find available services by filtering based on their needs and location. Once users find what they’re looking for, they can get directions through a Google Maps API. Additionally, this site allows patients to pay their bill online with trusted third-party integration offerings.
Learn More About Your Third-Party Integration Options With Blue Compass
Blue Compass has years of experience turning concepts into digital reality for numerous satisfied customers from individuals to organizations large and small. We can advise on what to do in-house, what is easier to do third-party, and which third-party integration option is best for your business’ unique goals. To get started building your digital dream and showcasing your organization, contact us today to learn more!