Today’s investigative report takes a look into the million-dollar question: What is an API?
For those unsure what an investigative report is (other than a fantastic song from GZA’s Liquid Swords album), an investigative report can clarify your thinking and even uncover additional questions that provide new insights into a case. I chose to define this because this blog post won’t give you some unheard of/groundbreaking way to use APIs with PPC, but rather, develop a foundational understanding of APIs which will enable you to go down the rabbit hole that is APIs, on your own.
What Is An API?
Greater minds than my own have pondered this question for millennia and left this world without answers. We’re lucky enough to have answers to most of our questions, including what an API is. What a time to be alive.
API stands for Application Programming Interface. It’s a software which acts like a middle man or intermediary, allowing 2 applications to talk to each other. Here’s a useful analogy to help put this into perspective: an API is like a waiter at a restaurant. The waiter is responsible for taking the customer’s order to the chef in the kitchen. Without the waiter, the chef would have no way of knowing what the customer wanted to eat and there would be no one to bring the customer their food!
Although this analogy overly simplifies it, that’s pretty much the main function of an API: making often repeated yet complex processes highly reusable with just a little bit of code. In the real world, APIs allow you to easily talk to other software. APIs specify how software components should interact.
To give a more technical definition, APIs are a set of clearly defined methods of communication between various software components.
How Does an API Work?
Let us revisit the restaurant example again. Remember the major players here: the customer, the waiter and the chef. Let’s give each of them names, just because. We’ll call the customer Casey, the waiter can be Wally, and of course, the chef will be Raekwon.
Let’s set the scene: Casey, the customer, is at the counter attempting to order his lunch from the waiter, Wally. This counter is important, as it separates Casey from the kitchen, making it impossible for him to interact with Raekwon the chef, who will be cooking his desired lunch. If Casey ever wants to eat lunch, he’ll have to interact with Wally.
We’ll also say that this is one of those restaurants where you have to order off the menu, meaning there are no custom orders. If you want to eat lunch, you have to order one of the menu items numbered 1-20.
Outside of our analogy, the counter is an interface. An interface is a place where different software components interact with each other. Now, the fact that you cannot order anything not on the menu is a type of protocol, or a set of rules defining how they (the two software) interact. A format then defines how they talk to each other. An API Endpoint refers to a service provider which provides a different set of functions within the same interface.
The formats and protocols exist to make communication between the two as efficient as possible, while also decreasing the chance of errors as much as possible. For example, if Casey ordered a #4 from the menu, Wally & Raekwon would understand exactly what he meant, as opposed to Casey ordering a BLT with no tomato and no lettuce, which isn’t on the menu. Casey trying to order something that isn’t on the menu would confuse Wally, making it so Raekwon would never receive the order. Let’s pretend that somehow the non-menu item order made it to Raekwon. Rather than cooking something he’s prepared a thousand times, he’s now forced to think and focus more on the bizarre order, likely decreasing his overall productivity and increasing the chance of a mistake being made.
How Does an API Work With PPC?
APIs are meant to lower the programmer’s cognitive load, meaning the programmer has less stuff to remember all at once, ideally improving productivity. APIs are meant to make life easier.
I don’t know about you, but this didn’t mean much to me at first, as I don’t do much work that requires actual programming. However, if you stop thinking about it from the scope of a programmer, but rather, think about it from the perspective of a PPC account manager trying to save yourself a lot of time, then APIs start to seem useful to us PPCers.
Tying it to PPC, the Google Ads API allows apps to interact directly with the Google Ads platform, vastly increasing the efficiency of managing large or complex accounts and campaigns, according to Google’s developers guide. The API can do almost everything the Google Ads Editor and UI can do, but programmatically. Neat!
The AdWords API can help with automatically creating new ads, ad groups, and campaigns when new items or categories are added to a website. Furthermore, it can help with existing ads and campaign structure which needs to be changed to reflect changes in existing items. It can even pause, and un-pause ads based on available inventory. Imagine, instead of manually creating a new campaign for every new product, you run an API at the push of a button, and it does all of that for you. That, in my opinion, is where the real value lies with APIs and PPC.
When it’s all said and done, APIs are terribly complex and require dedicated engineering resources. They’re a serious commitment which require a lot of work on the front end, with the potential to more than pay for itself in the long run.
I hope this investigative report helped you better understand what an API is and how it might be applicable to us PPCers. I also hope that this blog post helped answer some of your more basic questions about API, but I also hope that it helped raise new, more in-depth questions as well. Ideally, you’re better equipped now to go out and find the answers to those questions yourself!
Lastly, if you haven’t already, go listen to GZA’s Liquid Swords. You may or may not be disappointed. I don’t know your tastes in music.