How to Get Any App to Work with Zapier

Matthew Guay
Matthew Guay / November 6, 2014

Zapier’s the tool you use to get your apps to work together. You pick two different apps, and when something happens in one app—say, when you receive a new message in your email app—it automatically does something in the other app—perhaps it’ll send you a SMS about your email or save that message to your notes app. You can do almost anything automatically when your apps work with Zapier. And with over 1000 apps supported in Zapier, chances are your apps are ready to go.

But when you find that your favorite app doesn’t work Zapier, don’t despair. Most apps work with something else—perhaps email or Dropbox—and if that something else works with Zapier, you’re in luck. You’ll use that extra part as the bridge to get your apps working together with Zapier.

There are many little ways you can get your apps to work together. Here are some of the best, presented in order from least to most technical.



Share Data with RSS

RSS

RSS feeds are one of the internet's unseen wonders. From the latest posts on your team’s blog to weather and traffic alerts in your city, there are RSS feeds for almost anything—and yet, they’re often invisible.

Many of the simpler apps you use each day, such as news and weather apps, are actually powered by RSS feeds. Those apps likely won’t work with other apps, but the RSS feeds behind them can be utilized elsewhere.

Then, many other apps have RSS feeds of the user activity—either by yourself or others—that occurs in the app. Project management tool Basecamp includes an RSS feed of everything that happens in your projects, and online invoicing app Freshbooks has an RSS feed of your client’s activity. Both of those apps are integrated with Zapier, but if they weren't, their RSS feeds would be an easy way to get them working with the automation tool.

RSS feed in Basecamp
RSS feeds lurk in all kinds of apps—here, in the footer of Basecamp projects.

Web development firm Thoughtbot, for example, employs RSS as a simple way to get a new app they built to work with Slack, a team chat app. They needed a way to handle customer support for their new Upcase app, and RSS bridged the gap.

"We have a username-and-password-protected RSS feed that we pipe to Zapier, which pipes to the Slack room where the team is hanging out," explains Dan Croak, Thoughtbot's chief marketing officer.

There’s more, too. The team behind mobile news app Circa uses RSS feeds from App Figures to alert their team anytime their iOS and Android apps are reviewed on their respective stores.

“Bringing in all of our App Store and Google Play reviews in real time helps our team understand what readers think of our app," says Circa co-founder Matt Galligan. “It's far more efficient to read our app reviews this way than having to remember to go to each store often and parse through the reviews."

WordPress hosting company Flywheel, in a similar way, uses RSS feeds to get status update notifications for the services they rely on to run their business.

“Keeping track of the status of all (our services) can be challenging," says Flywheel CEO Dusty Davidson. RSS with Zapier gave them an easy way to integrate their apps' status notifications with their team chat app, HipChat.

“Since we basically spend 18 hours a day in HipChat in some form or another, it becomes a great place to alert our team of issues that may be occurring with our partners,” says Davidson.

RSS feeds are also great to get customized news to your crew. The Meldium team, for example, uses RSS feeds with Yahoo Pipes to be alerted of industry-relevant articles published across the web. Yahoo Pipes isn’t directly integrated with Zapier, but the Meldium team can use it to find the important articles from all the RSS feeds they want and turn them into a new single RSS feed that does work with Zapier. That gives their team a heads up about what’s being talked about in their field—web security, in Meldium’s case—and also helps them find interesting content to share with their social media followers.

"I'm a savvy programmer, but I don't have time to build connectors like this," says the company's co-founder, Boris Jabes. "Zapier can do it in five minutes and anyone on the team can use it—technical or not."


Send Emails to Your Apps

One of the many reasons your email inbox is overflowing is that so many apps send you email notifications. But that can be good—emails are an easy way to get those apps working with Zapier.

Copy Info from Notification Emails

Zapier Email Parser

If you’re like the rest of us, you spend quite a bit of time each day filing away important info from emails. You get notifications when there’s comments on your posts, receipts when you buy or sell stuff, reminders of important meetings and events, and more. You already have apps to manage each of those things, so let Zapier send those messages to the right place.

Zapier can integrate with your Gmail or Exchange accounts, or you can add your email account directly via IMAP. It’ll watch for all new emails, or you can add a custom filter to your Zap to have it watch for emails with a particular label or from a specific sender. Then, whenever you get a new message, it can copy the email and send it to the correct app.

That’s how the team behind productivity app RescueTime employs Zapier to find new signup emails in their Gmail account and share them in HipChat automatically. They wanted a way to help their distributed team all be informed about the same stuff, and most of their other apps worked with Zapier already. Email filled the missing gap.

“With only a few hours of experimentation, we came up with an interesting feed that required no manual input, but let us get and give some really interesting information about our days,” says Robby MacDonell, RescueTime’s vice president of product development.

Or, you can use the Zapier Email Parser, a free tool that scans emails you send it for important information, and then copies that info to your other apps. That way, instead of sending full emails to your apps, you can send just the most important info. Here’s how it works:

  1. Open the Zapier Email Parser, and it’ll give you a unique email address.
  2. Forward an email with info you’d like to use to that address.
  3. Back in the Email Parser, select the important parts of the email—perhaps a client’s name, or the total price on a receipt—and name them.
  4. Now, the next time you make a new Zap, select the Email Parser and you can copy that info to any other app.
  5. Finally, have your email app forward similar emails to the Email Parser and it’ll copy their info and send it to your other apps automatically.

That’s one of the best ways to add apps to Zapier, since so many apps are already sending you email notifications for things like account activity, payments and bill notices.

Send Emails to Your Apps

Email

Your apps emailing you info sounds normal enough, but did you know that you can also email your apps? No, really. Tons of apps, from notes to productivity apps, have built-in email integration. You’ll copy a special email address from your app’s settings, and then when you send anything to that address, it’ll be recorded in the app for you.

That’s an easy way to save a thank you letter to your Evernote account or log a client email conversation in Highrise, and it’s also a perfect way to integrate other non-supported apps with Zapier. In fact, it’s how the iDoneThis team recommends logging your activity from any app to iDoneThis. Have Zapier send iDoneThis an email, and the stuff you’ve done will be logged for you.

As Walter Chen, iDoneThis’ founder explains, “By automating the recording of dones, now you don’t have to enter duplicate information into iDoneThis and you can spend more time on the things that matter.” All it takes is a simple automated email.

You can even use this trick to publish posts on Tumblr, something currently not supported by Zapier. When the 80sTees team wanted to start a new blog, they got around this Zapier limitation by using the Tumblr post-by-email address to automatically share their new products and more. Now, when they post a new product on Shopify, Zapier sends a new email from Gmail to the Tumblr address, with the body of the email containing the body of the post.

“Our Tumblr page is brand new and was only practical for us to create once we could automate it,” says 80sTees founder Kevin Stecko. Luckily, Stecko and his team found a way to do so with Zapier and Tumblr’s email integration.

"Now you don’t have to enter duplicate information ... and you can spend more time on the things that matter."- Walter Chen, iDoneThis Founder

Beyond logging what you’ve done and publishing blog posts automatically, you can use emails to make sure you don’t forget any tasks. Though project management tool Flow isn't integrated with Zapier, on their blog they recommended using Zapier to email new tasks to your Flow account.

They do this by employing their email to task feature—when you email tasks@getflow.com, Flow adds a task to your account. So instead of either going to your inbox or the app itself to add a task, you can use Zapier to trigger an outbound Gmail email to tasks@getflow.com after a designated activity takes place in another app.

When setting this up in Zapier, you're able to customize the task text by using the data from the other app. For example, you could trigger an outbound email to tasks@getflow.com after you receive a new Wufoo submission, get a new file in a specified Google Drive account, or mark an item in feedly as "Saved for Later". This latter use case is how David Pidsley, co-founder and data strategist at Cause Analytics, connects his company's RSS reader of choice with Flow.

"Executives can scan our ecosystem of feeds on mobile and tablet, which contains feeds from industry news, customers and their markets, and action them in one click using the Save for Later feature in feedly," says Pidsley. That triggers an outbound email from Gmail that subsequently creates a new task in Flow, which has then led to a post being authored for the company blog.

The same works for Mac and PC apps that have an online component. The task manager OmniFocus, for instance, lets you email tasks to its "Sync Server" to add them to your task list. Beta List founder Marc Köhlbrugge has used this to keep his email inbox clear, and then lets Zapier simplify it further.

“My to-do manager of choice is OmniFocus which isn't integrated with Zapier yet, but they do allow you to set up a special email address to create a task which is then added to your inbox,” says Köhlbrugge.

“Initially, I just forwarded emails to that email address, but I liked to make it even simpler. I created a Zap that checks for emails in Gmail inbox tagged with 'GTD'," explain Köhlbrugge. "It then forwards those emails to my special OmniFocus email address. It's a simple hack that allows me to label an email (using Gmail's keyboard shortcuts) and have it end up in my to-do manager of choice.”

Emails can also get your apps to work together, even if your inbox is clean. For example, Todd Hurst, director of education and workforce innovation at CELLUindy, uses emails to create OmniFocus tasks from Evernote notes.

“Two programs that are absolutely essential to my work, school, and home life are Evernote and Omnifocus. Historically, though, I have had a hard time finding a way to make the two work together,” says Hurst. Zapier and email ended up being the bridge between the two. “Now when I find an interesting article or PDF, I simply save it to my “To Do” folder in Evernote. The trigger automatically puts a link to that document in OmniFocus.”

Each of your favorite Mac, PC, and mobile apps may not let you add content via email, but there’s plenty that do. If your favorite app has a sync tool or connects to the internet in any way, be sure to check if it lets you add data via email. Even if it doesn’t, you still might be able to get your app to work with Zapier via email. On a Mac, for instance, you can trigger Automator via email, which will then kick off automation in the Mac apps you’re using.

Build Your Own App with the Zapier Email Parser

Or, you can almost build an entire app of your own using Zapier’s free Email Parser, as mentioned above, and features from other apps that work with Zapier. That's how the Evvnt team built their self-service booking system using a WordPress site, email, PayPal, and Google Apps.

  1. When a customer fills out a form on Evvnt's website, it saves the info on their server and also sends an email to their Zapier Email Parser email address.
  2. The Zapier Email Parser scans the new email from the user’s name, email address, and phone number.
  3. It then sends that info back to their server to create a new account for the customer in their own custom app.
  4. Zapier also adds the customer’s info to Salesforce as a new contact and saves it to a Google Docs spreadsheet.
  5. Then, it adds an appointment to Google Calendar for 3 days later, and emails their team on that day to remind them who they should follow up with each day.

"In the space of around 3 hours total I managed to implement a freemium self-serve proposition that tied in directly to our platform and management systems," said Mark Stephenson, Evvnt's head of technology and delivery. "We’ve managed to implement all of this whilst maintaining the appearance of a fully automated integrated service without having to take developers away from building value creating software."

The Email Parser empowered the Evvnt team to build something to fit their needs perfectly using the tools they already had, and it’s already more than paid off for them. You can do the same for your team. All it takes is dedicating some time to setting up the Email Parser and hooking it into the apps you use.


Let Documents File Themselves

Dropbox Box Google Drive OneDrive SugarSync

Apps that don’t work together are annoying, but there’s another element of your workflow that’s even more difficult to get to work with all of your apps: paper. Sure, you can scan your paper documents, but putting them into the apps where they’re most useful can be more time consuming than even copy and pasting data from your other apps.

But, with a few tricks, you can utilize Zapier for your paper documents too. Here’s how to get your scanned documents into any app:

  1. Scan your files into your file format of choice—PDF or images work fine.
  2. Name each scanned document descriptively—aka “2014 Signed Tax Return.pdf” or something similar for your files
  3. Sync the files to a folder in Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive, or SugarSync—the five file management apps that work with Zapier
  4. Have Zapier watch that folder and send the files to your app, using the file name as the title, task name, note description, or whatever else you need.

There’s plenty of ways you could use that with apps that already work with Zapier—say, to automatically add your scans to Evernote. It’d also work with apps that don’t work with Zapier using any of the other tricks in this article, or with any other files—not just scanned documents.

Scott Nixon, for example, uses a variation on this workflow to send PDF receipts to Shoeboxed, an expense tracking app not yet supported by Zapier. He captures receipts with his phone or saves emailed receipts as PDFs, then has Zapier pick up the files from Dropbox and email them to Shoeboxed.

It might take you a few tries to get it working perfectly—Scott says it took over a dozen times for him—but with a bit of experimenting you should be able to get your files working with any app you want.

But then, when you need a hard copy of your digital files, printing them out can be nearly as annoying. Zapier can come in handy here, too. You can use a tool like Automator or Hazel on your Mac or Macro Recorder on a PC to watch for new files in a folder, and have it automatically print them out. If you’ve never setup a file-based automation like that, this guide from 52Tiger includes detailed steps for Automator while this Microsoft tutorial should help you get started making macros to print files.

Once you have your computer ready to print files as soon as they’re added to the folder, setup a Zap to copy files there and they’ll automatically get printed. You could have it print out attachments from emails with a particular tag, for instance, or let Zapier copy text from any app, add it to a new file, and print it out as this integration to print out Trello cards did. You’ll never have to click a print button again.


Work with Other Apps that Support Zapier

Zapier apps

Then, there are the other apps that your app may support. Perhaps it doesn’t have email integration or a way to sync your files with Dropbox, but it might work with a social network, notebook app, or any other tool that connects to Zapier. Say, for instance, you have a favorite app that’s integrated with Evernote. Evernote works with Zapier, even if that app doesn’t, so all you have to do is save something to Evernote from your app and then let Zapier pick it up from Evernote and automate your work.

A great example of this workaround is sending updates to Google+. You can’t post to Google+ directly from Zapier, but Buffer lets you share on Google+ and Zapier works with Buffer. When blogger Michelle MacPhearson wants to share a picture a day from Instagram on every social network, Zapier’s Buffer integration was what she needed. She posts a picture on Instagram, has Zapier add it to a Buffer queue for each network, and then sits back and watches the magic happen.

It’s a bit more trouble to have to use another to get your apps working together, but at least it’s an option. As Michelle noted, "Once this initial set-up is complete, you don’t have to worry about anything else.”


Tap into Your Databases

databases

Self-hosted apps are great. Whether they’re pre-built apps that you run on your own, or in-house apps your team has put together, they give you the benefits of web apps without the worry that your data might disappear in the cloud. The only problem is, they’re often not integrated with other web apps.

They almost all, though, store your data in a database, and that’s where Zapier comes in. It can connect to many common database systems, including MySQL, giving you a way to deeply integrate your self-hosted apps with everything else you use. Anything that’s stored in your database can be used in another app. Or, if you want, you can add data to your database from any other app.

That’s how the Seattle Seahawks and Sounder FC management keeps up with their fans. They use tools like Zendesk help desk and Wufoo forms to gather feedback, and then rely on Zapier to send that data to their internal MySQL database. Their database-powered internal app, then, sends a nightly email to the organization's directors with a roundup of fan input. It might have been complicated to build on its own, but with a few standard tools and Zapier to tie them together, you can build solutions for almost anything.


Use Webhooks to Send Data to Zapier

webhooks

Then, if you’re willing to get your hands a bit more dirty with tech, you can dive into the world of webhooks. Webhooks are, as our own Bryan Helmig says, essentially advanced notifications.

“At their simplest, [webhooks] carry a payload of data which is usually a single record that has been created or modified,” explained Bryan in our guide to using webhooks with Zapier. Here’s how they work in a nutshell:

  • When something happens in your app—say, a new contact is created—your server will create a notification in JSON, XML, or list format. It’ll look something like this if it’s in list format: first_name=Bryan&last_name=Helmig&age=27
  • It’ll send that notification to a link that you’ve provided; Zapier provides you with a unique URL to send your webhook to when you’re setting up a new Zap with webhooks
  • The receiving server—Zapier, in this case—will use that data in your app. With Zapier, that means it will send that data to your other connected apps.

Webhooks can include any data—the full text of your notes, your contacts’ names, and even files. That makes them one of the best tools in getting your apps working together. There’s a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never used webhooks before, but once you dig in and experiment a bit, you’ll open a whole world of automation potential.

There are so many ways you can put apps to use when you can tap into them with webhooks. Robbie Mitchell, marketing director at Knewton, uses webhooks to monitor Hacker News, a popular tech forum, for particular keywords. The webhook lets Mitchell add the phrases he’s looking for as a query on the webhooks URL, and it’ll then send back the article title, its author, and any comments on that post.

They’re great for far more than search. Internet marketer Bradley Waldrop uses webhooks to integrate Rapidmailer with MailChimp via Zapier.

“RapidMailer is an amazing solution,” says Waldrop, “but it hasn’t reached the integration status of its rivals.” Webhooks and Zapier let him bridge the gap and use the best features of both apps together.

Webhooks can even be a great way to hook up your own app with Zapier. That's how the Thoughtbot team initially got their new FormKeep tool working with other apps.

“FormKeep has webhooks that are primarily intended to send form submission data to Zapier, and then on to other services,” says Croak, the company's chief marketing officer. Now that FormKeep has been released publicly, the Thoughtbot team is now using those webhooks to officially integrate the app with Zapier—they're doing so via the Zapier Developer Platform.

The Boston Globe team behind BetaBoston used webhooks in a similar way to quickly add a feature that would have otherwise required precious development time. They needed a way to let their writers see new reader comments from their custom CMS automatically inside their Slack chatroom.

"We have a homegrown commenting platform with a very large backlog of feature requests, one of which was to notify authors when there are comments on their posts," explained Joel Adams, senior product manager of CruxNow and BetaBoston, Boston Globe Media websites. "Instead of waiting months to get that done by the development team, I was able to do it in an afternoon."

At first glance, if you’re building your own app it might seem like it’d make more sense to hand-code integrations to just the apps that you want to work with. But, as the GoodTwin team found, that can be time-consuming and a nuisance to maintain. The web design and development firm wanted to connect the PHP contact form on their new WordPress-powered site to Base CRM, and chose to use webhooks and Zapier to do the job.

That turned out to be a rather prudent decision, when a few days after launching the contact form, Base CRM changed their API, which would have required more coding time if they'd integrated directly. Instead, "since we were connected through Zapier, I received an email informing me of the deprecation and need to update," explains Andrew Wirick, GoodTwin's development director. "With three minutes of work, I edited our Zap to utilize the new Base CRM API call."

Integrate with Internet-Connected Devices

iBeacon

There’s more to webhooks than apps; they’re also a great way to get internet-connected devices to work with your favorite apps. The Twocanoes Software team, which makes the Geohopper app for geolocation on iOS devices and the Bleu Stations iBeacon device (pictured above) for giving proximity detection iOS apps inside buildings and more, have been using webhooks to send that location data to other apps.

They use Bleu stations—bluetooth beacons that let your smartphone know where you are in a building—with their Geohopper app to send webhooks whenever they leave the building, so the team automatically knows who's in and who's out. Using a similar setup, they've logged their travel to Google Spreadsheets using their phones’ GPS.

There's a wide variety of ways you could put something like that to use, it just takes a little creativity and technical know-how.

“On a road trip I took several months ago, I wanted to track the amount of time required to drive to various landmarks,” says Russell Scheil, product manager at Twocanoes. After integrating Geohopper and Google Sheets to log his arrivals and departures, he was easily able to make a travel journal. “I was able to calculate the drive time between these locations, which was extremely useful for recalling events accurately for the journal.”


Add Your App with the Zapier Developer Platform

Zapier Developer Platform
It's free to add an app to Zapier, and when you do so, you're able to invite others to privately use the integration.

Or you could do something better. If you’ve built your own app from scratch, or if you’re a developer and your favorite app has a public API, you can add it natively to Zapier with the Zapier Developer Platform. The Developer Platform lets you connect any app with an API in a simple walkthrough that’s not much more complicated than making a normal Zap. You’ll pick exactly what can be used as actions and triggers with your app, and make the integration work the way you want.

It’s free to add an app to Zapier, and if you do, you have the option to make the integration only available to yourself, to an invited list of users or to all Zapier users. If you choose the latter, you'll be in good company as more than half of the apps on Zapier today have been added through the Developer Platform. The former two choices are popular, too, and work well when wanting to get a proprietary tool—say, a custom-built CRM—quickly integrated with hundreds of app. Make use of the Developer Platform, get a unique URL to share with your colleagues, and presto, they're now able to get more use out of your company's main tool.

Zapier Developer Platform invite only app

Beyond hooking up your own internal tools, there are thousands of other niche apps you can connect with Zapier via the Developer Platform. App developer Hung Truong used the Developer Platform, for example, to add support for exercise tracking app Strava so he could chart his biking times. After adding it to Zapier, he then connected Strava to Google Sheets to log his bike rides automatically and even graph them right inside the spreadsheet.

Adding Strava took Troung a bit of time, as he said in his blog post about the integration. “While the Zapier integration had a somewhat steep learning curve, it’s nice to just set the “Zap” and then forget about it,” he says. “Any new integrations I might need to write will also go much quicker.”

That’s the beauty of adding your app via the Developer Platform: once it’s in, you can quickly reuse the app integration with over 350 apps. And if you find yourself struggling to get your app added, Hung recommends using Runscope to explore the app’s API, send test queries, and learn how it works.

Adding your app directly to Zapier gives you the best of all worlds: you’ll make sure the features you need are supported, and can tweak anything about the integration anytime. If you’re not a developer, though, don’t fret. The previous six ways will still give you a way to get your favorite app working with Zapier, even if it's only a simple integration.

To accelerate that into a full-fledged integration, be sure to let the app’s support team know you’d love to see their app work with Zapier. Do so by sending them an email that includes a link to our Developer Platform (zapier.com/developer). Who knows; you might see it officially working with Zapier in no time!


Summary: Get Your App Working with Zapier Today

If you’re excited about adding your favorite apps to Zapier, and want to take that first step today, here’s a quick summary of what you need to do:

  1. Decide which of the above methods you'll use to integrate your app with Zapier; if you find one that works, go give it a try! If you're unsure, keep reading.
  2. If you have a suspicion RSS or email could work, search the app's support docs for those two keywords to see if those methods are supported.
  3. If neither are supported, jump over to the app's integration directory (sometimes called "apps" or "partners") to see if there's an app that connects to Zapier, making it a bridge between Zapier and your app.
  4. If these methods don't work, check to see if your app is a self-hosted web app powered by a database? If that's the case, explore integrating with its database. Here’s a quick intro into databases if you’re unfamiliar with them.
  5. If that doesn't work, it's time to explore using webhooks. Start by reading our introduction to webhooks and how to use them with Zapier.
  6. If your app doesn’t offer webhooks, it's time to consider using the Developer Platform, which requires you have an understanding of APIs. Need to learn how to use APIs? Check out our free APIs 101 course, which includes exercises. Already have an understanding of APIs, then jump to our Developer Platform documentation, which explains the process end-to-end.
  7. If none of the methods above work, the next best step is to get in touch with the app creator through their support team. Do so by sending them an email requesting they integrate with Zapier—be sure to point them to our Developer Platform, too!

Finally, leave a comment below letting us know which apps you'd like to see integrated with Zapier. It's not often we add apps ourselves—most app integrations are done by the third-party apps themselves—but it's always good for us to hear from you about the apps you’d really like to see supported.


Have you ever used RSS, email, Dropbox, databases, webhooks, or anything else to get an unsupported app to work with Zapier? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Credits: Bridge photo courtesy ykanazawa1999 on Flickr. File folder photo courtesy Jurgen on Flickr.

Photo of Brian Harris

“Zapier is amazing. Took us 30 seconds to setup an integration that saves us 2 hours of work every day.”

Bryan Harris, founder of Videofruit

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