What Is an API, and Why Do Businesses Care?

According to the State of API Integration 2018 Report, over 60% of respondents agree that “API integration is critical to their business strategy”. This sentiment is echoed in the Deloitte 2018 Tech Trends Report which deems APIs as a strategic mandate and a rising tech trend on par with blockchain technology.

To contextualize the growth of APIs, you probably interacted with dozens on a daily basis. As a consumer, you may be using Yelp to locate the closest restaurant, paying for Lyft rides, and comparing flights from multiple airlines on one website are made possible through APIs.

On the business side, APIs can automate adding new leads to and updating touch points of each lead in your CRM, creating reporting dashboards from multiple data sources, and coordinating social media campaigns across all channels in one place.

So what exactly are APIs and what makes them important for businesses no matter their industry?

What is an API?

What Is an API and Why Do Businesses Care? - What is an API

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Fundamentally, an application programming interface (API) is simply an interface. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an interface as the place at which independent systems meet and act on or communicate with each other.

Like user interfaces, such as mobile and desktop applications, APIs enable the interactions between one party and another. Unlike user interfaces, APIs are not visible to end users.

Instead, APIs function as the communication layer between applications and databases allowing them to exchange and manipulate data quickly and securely. For an application’s end users, APIs allow them to complete actions across multiple applications in one solution and receive information when and where they need it.

How do APIs work?

What Is an API and Why Do Businesses Care? - How APIs work

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APIs enable the interaction between applications and databases by establishing standardized syntax and method of communication. This standard defines rules for what interactions are possible between applications and servers as well as how data should be formatted for fast exchange.

We can take the Shutterstock API integration with Facebook Ads to illustrate an API facilitated interaction. An end user is creating an ad and wants to use royalty-free images provided within the Facebook Ad Manager. When she searches for images, Facebook makes a discrete call to Shutterstock API’s image search endpoint by sending the user request in a compact format (JSON).

The Shutterstock server receives the call and immediately returns the data requested to Facebook. When Facebook receives the data sent from Shutterstock, it unpacks it and displays the image search results for the end user. When she finds the right images, licensing and downloading them for immediate use is also conducted in-platform through calls to the Shutterstock API.

Each API call takes a fraction of a second. By establishing a direct channel of communication, the API integration eliminates the need for users to leave the ad creation interface to source licensable images, download, and return to upload.

What are the business benefits of APIs?

What Is an API and Why Do Businesses Care? - Business benefit of APIs

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So far, we know that APIs are useful for helping applications and servers talk to each other which can expand product functionality and enhance data mobility. But how does that translate to business growth?

Create richer user experiences with external data

APIs offer secure and immediate access to external data and functionalities that you don’t have to develop from scratch or maintain. For example, having the capability to take payments online is critical for e-commerce companies. Instead of building an online payment system, they can simply integrate with API solutions such as Stripe or Square.

Likewise, having a robust asset library is important for marketing technology platforms because it delivers high-performing assets for users in different industries and inspires them to get started on their project right away. However, building a large enough library that is consistently updated with fresh content is not viable for most martech businesses.

To address user needs for multimedia assets, leading martech platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Wix have turned to the Shutterstock API to provide users over 225 million high-quality images and more than one million fresh assets added per week.

Boost user retention with workflow improvements

When data is mobile, you have the ability to consolidate data from multiple sources into one integrated solution. Integrated solutions can help increase user engagement and decrease user drop-off rates.

If you operate a retail chain, instead of listing the address of your stores in a static webpage you can use the Google Maps Embed API. This API provides an interactive map or Street panorama on your webpage to catch consumers when they’re most motivated to visit a store.

For martech platforms, instead of ejecting users off of your platform to search, license, download, and then return to upload assets, you can use the Shutterstock API to create a frictionless workflow. An optimized creative workflow that saves users’ time, in turn, gives them more reasons to come back to use your platform.

Flexibility in developing application functionalities

In addition to providing a standardized way of interacting with external data, APIs can also give you the freedom to outsource certain feature developments. That is, instead of developing a new functionality from scratch, your developers can call an API endpoint instead. This helps preserve developer resources so your team can ship with a strong cadence without compromising quality.

For instance, rather than building reverse image search capabilities from scratch, Shutterstock API partners can call our reverse image search endpoint instead. Having an industry-leading reverse image search as a product feature delivers tangible product improvements without imposing on your internal resources.

APIs are also designed to maintain a separation of concerns between applications and servers. This means that applications or servers can be modified without impacting the functionalities of the other. The decoupling provides both the freedom to explore new technologies to scale and respond to market demands in a timely manner.

Unlock new monetization opportunities

Offering external data within your interface via an API integration can provide an opportunity to tap into an additional revenue stream for your business. With flexible business models to adapt to varying partner needs, a number of creative platforms with the Shutterstock API integration leverage royalty-free assets as an up-sell opportunity to generate incremental revenue.


Leveraging APIs can be an efficient and cost-effective way to increase product stickiness, enhance existing features, and build new capabilities without depleting your in-house developer resources.

Leading companies such as Facebook, Google, and Wix have already integrated the Shutterstock API to optimize their user experience and deliver creative workflows fit for their user base.

Ready to drive more revenue from your prospects and customers?

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