What is a universal API? Here’s what you need to know

As you look to build integrations with your product, you’ll likely consider two implementation options: developing and maintaining the integrations in-house and outsourcing them to a 3rd-party.

We’ll break down why the 3rd-party approach, more specifically, using a universal API solution, is often the best choice by highlighting its benefits. But to start, let’s cover what universal APIs are and the vendors you might come across.


What is a universal API?

A universal API, also known as a unified API, is an aggregated API that lets you build multiple integrations between your product and 3rd-parties for a given software category (e.g. HRIS). 

A visual of how universal APIs work

Related: What is unified integration?

Universal API examples

You can find a broad range of universal API vendors in both B2B and B2B2C. In addition, the vendors you’ll come across will likely vary based on the category of software you’re interested in integrating with. 

For instance, Codat and Rutter offer a universal API for accounting and payment platforms; Finch and Kombo offer a universal API for HR systems; Nylas and Cone offer a unified API for email; Vessel offers a universal API for GTM tools; and Merge, which strives to be the one-stop-shop for all B2B integrations, offers seven (and growing) unified APIs across popular software categories, including HRIS, ATS, CRM, file storage, marketing automation, ATS, and ticketing. 

Universal API benefits

Here are just a few reasons why you should invest in a unified API solution:

Closing new business

Your clients are likely evaluating your solution alongside others across a variety of dimensions, from pricing to support to security to integrations. And while each criteria is important, executing a best-in-class product integration strategy is especially influential. Case in point: Roughly 4 in 5 buyers (81%) say that a vendor’s ability to provide seamless integrations is very important.

A universal API solution like Merge provides the competitive differentiation you need in your integration offerings, as it allows you to implement dozens in a given category in a matter of days.

A screenshot of Ledgy's integrations
Ledgy, an equity management software solution, uses integrations as their competitive advantage; they offer dozens of HRIS integrations through Merge.

Related: Benefits of API aggregators

Increasing customer lifetime value

A universal API solution like Merge allows you to offer broad and deep integrations. With the former, you’re able to have a wide range of integrations that meet your clients’ unique tech stacks, while the latter allows clients to sync a broad scope of data as well as access customizable objects and fields—via features like Field Mapping. Taken together, you’re able to provide improved customer experiences that not only increase retention but also upsells.

How Causal uses integrations across different price points
Causal, a modern business planning software, uses product integrations (powered by Merge) to both retain and upsell clients. 

Empowering engineering to focus on core initiatives

The process of building and maintaining API integrations in-house is extremely time consuming and painful—and it only becomes a bigger headache as the number of integration projects grows.

Universal APIs take the burden off of engineers’ plates, allowing them instead to focus on initiatives that require their unique expertise, whether that’s building out or enhancing core product features or resolving technical issues that plague the customer experience and lead to churn.

Tips for choosing a universal API platform

Now that you know why universal API platforms are important, the next question is how you go about evaluating and selecting the best platform for your organization. 

Here are some criteria to help guide your selection process:

Review the platforms’ universal APIs

You might need a specific unified API today, such as a unified API for HRIS, but your future integration needs are likely to evolve and expand. With that in mind, look for vendors that provide several unified APIs across important software categories.

A list of the unified API categories Merge supports
Merge offers 7 universal APIs and we’re quickly expanding our list of categories.

Determine the data each universal API platform syncs with

Your end-users will likely need to access a number of objects and fields within your integrations, some of which may be standard while others may be customized.

To ensure the platforms account for all the data that’s relevant to your end-users, you’ll need to review their common models along with their extensibility (i.e. their ability to work with data that lies beyond their common model). 

Here at Merge, we’ve developed comprehensive common models across each unified API category. But we also recognize that each product and end-user might have specific integration requirements. To help meet them, no matter what they are, we offer Field Mapping, which lets you or your end users’ map data to our common model; Remote Data, which lets you access the most recent data in its original format; and Authenticated Passthrough Requests, which lets you make requests directly to an API.

Using Field Mapping, you can, hypothetically, add the “custom score” field from Greenhouse to Merge’s common model.

Assess the platforms’ integration management capabilities

Maintaining product integrations on behalf of clients can be extremely laborious and complex—even more so than building them. 

Universal API solutions try to address this pain point by providing integration management features, like request and response logs, issue detection, automated alerts, etc. That said, each solution approaches this differently, so take the time to understand the maintenance capabilities offered by each platform; and, if possible, get access to accounts with demo data so you can get hands-on experience with each platform. 

A screenshot of Merge's Integrations Management feature
Merge lets you analyze integration activities holistically and at the account or end-user level.

Analyze the platforms’ reviews on 3rd-party review sites

Even after you’ve played around in the platforms and held extensive technical discussions with different vendors, you should take the time to review how the platforms compare on 3rd-party review sites like G2. 

The reviews can help you confirm each vendor’s unique strengths and weaknesses as well as rule out vendors with overwhelmingly negative reviews. If you want a high level overview, you can also review the G2 Grid® for Unified APIs, which allows you to directly compare the vendors across two axes: satisfaction and market presence. 

G2's grid for universal APIs
Merge is currently the only “Leader” in the G2 Grid® for Unified APIs

Ready to start scaling your product integrations? Learn how Merge can help by scheduling a demo with one of our integration experts!