When selling an API to a non-developer, there’s an extra level of complexity involved: many of these people don’t know what an API is or what it can do for them.
They have no idea that APIs make the world go around.
They probably don’t care, either.
What they do care about is how an API makes their lives easier.
Trying to sell the concept of an API to someone who doesn’t come from a technical background isn’t easy, though.
In person, it’s a lot easier to answer their questions.
In writing, you don’t always know what they’ll think when reading your page.
So how do you write about APIs for non-developers?
Don’t use dev speak
When writing about technical concepts, it’s always tempting to use developer jargon.
But, in doing this, you isolate those that aren’t developers.
Their brains will switch off because they don’t understand what you’re talking about.
Instead of using developer speak, use plain English.
When that’s not possible, explain briefly what the term means.
This won’t dilute your page, it will make it more beneficial to readers from all backgrounds.
Since it’s both longer and more helpful, readers will spend more time reading it. Google will know this, and your piece will therefore rank higher in search results. That gives you more exposure, bringing in more leads, and eventually more customers…
Focus on what it does, not what it’s called
When you’ve come up with an amazing product name, there’s always the temptation to focus on that. But the name of your product isn’t what matters to your reader. What matters to your reader is what you can do for them.
For instance, we say that Cronofy connects software to users’ calendars. In its most basic form, that’s what our API does.
Stripe streamlines the payment process for vendors and customers.
Selling what you do for your customers instead of who you are or what you’re called is a key part of copywriting.
Since everything we write about our product or service is copywriting, it’s important to remember this rule.
The deeper you can go, the better.
So instead of talking about your features, you could talk about the benefits.
Or, if you want to go really deep, you can talk about the outcomes that customers can achieve. How could their life look with you in it, compared to what it looks like now? How much of a difference could you make?
Metaphors, similes, and analogies are a great way for us to understand concepts. If you really have to explain what an API is to someone non-technical, try using a metaphor.
Sideways Dictionary has a few that you can choose from, and if you come up with a great one, you can even submit your own.
Tell a story
Storytelling creates an emotional connection between you and your audience. The better the story, the deeper the connection.
It’s why the most popular TED talks don't start with discussing statistics or promoting products; they tell stories we can relate to.
There are plenty of scenarios that explain how and why APIs make 21st century life easier.
Stripe is a prime example: a small business wanting to sell products online doesn’t have to deal with private payment information, nor do they have to think about what country their potential customers are in. Stripe does it all for them.
Storytelling is an incredibly powerful sales tool and can be used on everything from sales pages, to use cases, to case studies, to blog posts.
While numbers aren’t as powerful as stories, whenever you can quantify something, you should.
These could be your customers talking about how much time you’ve saved them, you talking about how many transactions you’ve made; whatever you feel helps to reinforce your point.
Make sure that it does, too — don’t use a statistic for the sake of putting in a statistic. It should fit the narrative that you’ve created for the page. If it doesn’t, save it for somewhere else.
Much like with everything in life, practice makes perfect.
Try your sales pitch in person on a willing friend or family member.
It’s better if they’re someone you don’t work with because they won’t be as familiar with what you do.
As time goes on, you can refine your description to find something that works.
Practicing in-person also helps you to come up with something that sounds more natural.
Many of us have a tendency to have a written voice, and a spoken voice.
The more your written voice sounds like your spoken voice, the quicker readers will connect with you and the more likely they’ll be to keep reading, which also means they’ll be more likely to convert.
Explaining APIs to non-developers can be challenging. The more often you do it, the easier it gets.
Try experimenting on your grandparents or someone else who isn’t tech-savvy.
The more you explain it to people who can’t even turn a computer on, the better you’ll get at explaining it to everyone else.