"If you build it, they will come." Sounds great in films, but it's never really that easy in reality, is it? Amid a sea of web tools competing for attention, the greatest APIs and SaaS products can easily get overlooked without the right promotion. Designing a functional, self-service API with beautiful documentation and support materials is just one step. Getting the word out is another.
APIs, like other products, need product marketing forethought. In this post, we'll uncover the hottest tips to get your API out in the wild. Thankfully, there are some pretty simple, tried-and-true steps to increase your service's discoverability and appeal to developer users.
Profiling your API in popular directories and marketplaces, for example, can increase your coverage online. Or, making your API consumable within a Unified API can appeal to API aggregation needs. More traditional software evangelism, like running hackathons, participating in events, blogging, utilizing developer advocates, and building partnerships, are also just as relevant. Let's dig a little deeper into these areas below.
Get listed in API directories
API directories list and organize APIs, helping developers find new APIs to integrate into their products. Since these presences aim to profile the latest and greatest connectors, most API databases are open for new submissions. For example, Postman, the popular API testing suite, offers Postman Network, a global directory of APIs. Some API directories are manually-curated, like ProgrammableWeb. Other directories, like APIs.guru, APIs.io, or the Public-APIs Github page, require an API definition to be included.
API directories can help developers sort APIs by software categories, too. Our API Tracker, for example, compiles 14,000 APIs into categories like eCommerce, forms, marketing, notifications, and many others. Other API databases, like API.expert and API Discovery, take a different approach, helping developers evaluate the performance, security, and compliance of potential integrations, respectively. Getting your API listed in these presences could help developer users find your service and compare it against competitors.
Join API marketplaces
API marketplaces take the static API database concept to another level — similar to Unified APIs, they provide a one-stop-registry for integrating with many APIs. By utilizing a marketplace, developers can solve a lot of repetitive time finding APIs, logging in, authenticating, purchasing, and tracking rate limits. RapidAPI, for example, enables API providers to monetize their functions and allows consumers to integrate and A/B test APIs.
Other large technology companies provide their own integration marketplaces. For example, Github Marketplace boasts thousands of APIs, such as the Kloudless Unified API. There are low-code marketplaces too. Adding your integration to platforms like IFTT or Zapier could widen your audience to non-developers as well, enabling them to stitch together workflows within a UI.
Make your SDKs available through package managers
Another option to get your API into more projects is to make your APIs available through package managers. Package managers, such as npm, RubyGems, or yum, make tools easily available to install and configure from a command-line interface. By hosting your API, libraries, or SDKs on package managers, you create an easy way for developers to instantly explore your software.
Partner with unified APIs
Suppose your API is industry-specific (travel, banking, eCommerce, etc.) or conforms to a specific software category (SMS, chat, payments, file storage, scheduling, etc.). In that case, it could be a good idea to try a Unified API Strategy. As we've discussed previously, Unified APIs combine many APIs of the same software type into a single API, creating a more efficient model to build seamless integrations. You can view some examples of Unified APIs.
Including your API within a Unified API brings a slick benefit — your API automatically appeals to developers already consuming the Unified API. This could increase awareness and adoption without much effort.
Launch on product hunt
Product Hunt has been described as "the Internet’s leaderboard for cool products" and a "launchpad for startups & VC deals." Listing your API on the kharma-driven Product Hunt channel can open your service to a wide range of developers and interested parties — the networking effect of a positive engagement here could be tremendous for API promotion. But, merely listing your API and tuning out for the day isn't enough to get attention. A well-oiled Product Hunt campaign requires much planning, like coordinating with your team, sharing the news, getting blog reviews, getting integration partners involved, and responding to user feedback. Video tutorials and graphics that explore sample functionalities can go a long way to frame the service in a positive light.
Run a hackathon
Hackathons are events where tech companies allow engineers to build with their tech and award cash prizes to the top innovators. API hackathons help spread awareness, and who knows, these excited engineers could one day become paying API consumers! You could distribute swag, give prizes to all involved (like free API calls for a year or no rate-limits). As a hackathon organizer, you could also invite sponsors to contribute, thus helping find partners. Sendgrid summarizes some helpful hackathon sponsor techniques here. For smaller teams, participating in established conference hackathons, like API World's yearly hackathon, could alleviate the burdens of organizing your own event. Organizers often hackathons both in-person and conveniently online.
Join an accelerator
Accelerators like Y Combinator, Techstars, and Startupbootcamp help scale a burgeoning SaaS to new heights. Even some tech companies, like HubSpot, organize their own accelerators. Accelerators provide mentorship, connections, seed-stage funding, and even co-working spaces designed to help new companies grow. Some very well-known brands, like Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, WebMD, and Under Armour, all emerged from accelerator programs. With APIs rising in business value, more accelerators and VC interest will likely turn to API-driven startups. Of course, entering an accelerator is an extremely competitive process — you really need a strong proof of concept and proven business success. Another downside is shelling off ownership in exchange for funding.
Hire a developer advocate
Self-service is the holy grail for SaaS. However, inevitably, API users will require a bit of hand-holding, especially as your community grows. That's where the developer advocate role comes in. Developer advocates assist developer users and turn them into champions. These engineers-turned-marketing gurus typically wear many hats between tech support and marketer.
Developer advocates can help support the developer journey by building out developer portals, generating documentation, or creating support material, like blog walkthroughs, code snippets, or sample projects. Advocates may also have more outward-facing responsibilities. This could include assisting a single developer with a problem over the phone, responding to common questions on Quora or Stack Overflow, or operating a developer Twitter account. Developer advocates commonly represent the API company in trade shows and speak at conferences.
Publish API specifications
OpenAPI. Open Banking. Open-source… since we're all about sharing data, "openness" is a common theme in the API space. Contributing to open-source projects is a fantastic way to give back to the developer community and spread awareness for your brand. It's also important to support API standard bodies if you want to participate in the industry's evolution. It may sound altruistic, but there's definitely business intent in Free Open-Source Software (FOSS) too.
It's standard practice for API product providers to share their documentation (and API definitions) publicly. Other open-source tools can help with API onboarding, like offering individual code libraries for Python, Go, Java, etc. You could also expose an internal tool you use, such as an API specification linter or code to auto-gen SDKs. By open-sourcing packages on GitHub and allowing others to fork your repositories, you enhance your credibility and help others thrive.
Set up a dedicated Twitter handle
Investing in a Twitter presence to connect with your developer audience can be a great way to create a community and buzz around your API! The Notion API is a great example.
Other marketing ideas
If you're marketing an API-as-a-product, you should treat it as such. Here are some other ways to promote your API:
- 🧪 Get testers early on: Include alpha and beta testers early in the development cycle. These folks can provide helpful feedback and also evangelize the service once it's launched.
- 🤝 Find partners: Find complementary partners and co-promote each other's strengths. For example, you could swap API access or share each other's events.
- 👥 Create consumer profiles: Consider making profiles for your target users. This will help paint a picture of who your marketing efforts are targeting. Also, surveying existing developer users about their programming language preferences could identify which languages to support in API playgrounds and SDKs.
- 🔍 Improve SEO: Search engines are a powerful tool for APIs. If your API locates burger restaurants, you should strive to be #1 on Google's ranking for "burger API." Consider the keywords your developer portal materials utilize, and submit a re-indexing sitemap to search engines as you update your presence.
- 📝 Content marketing: Start a blog, weekly newsletter, share to socials, and rack up your email contacts. You could write in Medium, but blogging on your own website is better for SEO. A blog is a golden opportunity to explain things to non-developer decision-makers, too — an often underserved demographic in API promotion.
- 🤔 Contribute an article to a developer blog. Sharing vendor-neutral thought leadership with other blogs helps get your name out. Dev.to, The New Stack, Nordic APIs, APIs and Friends, and ProgrammableWeb often feature submissions from our community.
- 🎟️ Participate in events: Attending, speaking, or organizing events can be a huge boon to promoting an API. This could take the form of conferences, digital webinars, user workshops, or a monthly meetup.
- 📰 Press the press: Think you're ready for a review on TechCrunch or Forbes? Hire a PR firm to pitch your release to staff writers and independent bloggers. Getting PR representation is probably the only way you're going to get through to editorial staff at large publications.
- 💞 Form a community: Your API promotion efforts should strive to build a community of empowered developers. A loving community, and the word of mouth it affords, are exponential net positives.
Final thoughts: invest in great DX
It's tough to promote a new SaaS if it's hard to use. In the end, quality Developer Experience (DX) is a marketing tool in and of itself. Things like slow performance, inadequate security, or incompatibilities between documentation and production environments could hinder adoption. Sandboxes and freemium tiers also help spur use, as developers truly must test integrations work before committing. Lastly, API design matters — SOAP serving XML feels antiquated these days — go for REST or GraphQL interfaces.
So, consider all the API promotional advice above, but above all else, get out of the way and ensure you have a killer product with awesome, quick developer experience! Hopefully, this will act as a natural mechanism for coddling existing developers and attracting new ones.