Have you been thinking about using WhatsApp API for business but you’re not sure what it is or how it works? This ultimate guide to WhatsApp Business API answers all your questions. We'll cover what is WhatsApp API, as well as how to create a WhatsApp API account, manage contacts and send WhatsApp API messages according to best practices.
WhatsApp API: The Basics
WhatsApp API is designed for medium to large companies that want to use WhatsApp with multiple users. Unlike the WhatsApp Business App, WhatsApp API has no app or front-end interface and needs to be integrated into a messaging software.
WhatsApp Business API: Business Solution Providers
Your experience with WhatsApp API may differ radically depending on your BSP. To simplify things, there are two types of WhatsApp BSPs: SMS providers and others.
SMS providers like Twilio and Vonage integrate WhatsApp API with their proprietary API. Therefore, it takes more time and effort on their end to include or update any new features from WhatsApp.
BSPs that do not identify as SMS providers likely use proxy APIs similar to WhatsApp’s infrastructure. This makes it easier and faster for them to enable new WhatsApp Business API features.
However, the speed at which they implement new updates depends on the WhatsApp API hosting options they provide.
WhatsApp API Hosting Options
BSPs offer two WhatsApp API hosting options: WhatsApp On-premises API and WhatsApp Cloud API. WhatsApp On-premises API is hosted on a BSP’s server or business's own server while WhatsApp Cloud API is hosted on Meta's cloud servers.
With the Cloud API, businesses can get all the latest API updates and features quickly. In contrast, those using On-Premises APIs will not be able to access new WhatsApp API features until their BSPs perform API software upgrades manually.
Although businesses can get WhatsApp Cloud API access directly from Meta, setting it up requires technical knowledge. So it's easier for businesses to get it from a BSP like respond.io for a much simpler application and setup process.
Another important factor between the two WhatsApp API hosting types is their pricing. Let's explore this below.
WhatsApp API Pricing
To recap, businesses can host WhatsApp On-premises API on a BSP’s server or on a business's own server. If a business hosts its own API, it has to pay its BSP for WhatsApp API access and cover the costs of API hosting and maintenance.
When hosted on a BSP's server, the BSP has complete control over the charges they impose on businesses. BSPs that offer On-premises API typically have to pay a fee to WhatsApp, which they then pass on to businesses along with a markup to make a profit.
In contrast, WhatsApp Cloud API access is free and there are no server hosting and maintenance fees as Meta hosts the API on its cloud servers. Businesses only need to pay conversation charges as per WhatsApp’s conversation-based pricing.
To avoid additional costs on top of these compulsory charges, choose a BSP like respond.io, which offers WhatsApp Cloud API and doesn't charge any markups or additional fees. Next, we’ll dive into the components of a WhatsApp Business API.
WhatsApp Business API: Components
This section provides an overview of WhatsApp API components, including WhatsApp Business Profile and phone number.
WhatsApp API for Business: Business Profile
A WhatsApp API Business Profile provides customers with more information about your business. Businesses can optimize their business profiles by updating their cover photo, description, address, email and website.
Unlike other messaging apps, the WhatsApp API Business profile is not searchable in the app. In the next section, we’ll discuss how a WhatsApp API phone number works.
WhatsApp API for Business: Phone Number
A phone number needs to be associated with your WhatsApp API account. Depending on your BSP, you can buy a phone number or port an existing one. Remember, the phone number tied to WhatsApp API needs to be able to receive calls or SMS.
We recommend using a phone number that’s not in use for another WhatsApp account. Phone number migration from the App to the API is possible, but going back from the API to App is not recommended as you'll lose account information associated with the phone number.
Phone numbers tied to your WhatsApp Business Account (WABA) are managed through Facebook Business Manager. A Facebook Business Manager can have multiple WABAs and a WABA can have up to 20 phone numbers.
However, the amount of phone numbers that can be connected to your WABA depends on the verified status of your Facebook Business Manager. Unverified businesses can only connect up to 2 phone numbers to their WABA.
Besides phone number limits, Facebook Business verification also impacts your WhatsApp messaging limit, which we will discuss below.
Unverified businesses are limited to messaging 250 unique contacts in a rolling 24-hour period. Once you’ve verified your Facebook Business Manager, you can achieve one of the messaging limit categories below:
- Send messages to 1K unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period
- Send messages to 10K unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period
- Send messages to 100K unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period
- Send messages to unlimited unique Contacts in a rolling 24-hour period
Note that the messaging limits only apply to business-initiated messages called message templates, which we will discuss in detail later.
Depending on the BSP, businesses will either start with the unverified business messaging limit or reach 1K unique contacts upon registering their phone number.
Verified businesses will be upgraded to the next messaging limit category when they send half the number of messages allowed in their current messaging category within seven days.
Businesses will automatically upgrade to the next messaging limit category after 24 hours of reaching their messaging limit, provided that they have a good quality rating and a non-flagged status.
Phone Number Quality Rating and Status
Phone number quality rating and status indicate customer satisfaction with your business' conversation quality. You can find these quality insights in the Facebook Business Manager.
The quality rating is determined by a combination of factors. This includes the number of blocks by customers, frequency of outbound messages such as notifications or promotional messages and response time. There are three quality ratings:
- High (green)
- Medium (yellow)
- Low (red)
To ensure a good quality rating, avoid getting your phone number blocked by sending only high-quality messages that are relevant to your contacts. When blocked, your phone number quality rating will drop from High to Medium or Low.
A change in quality rating may affect your phone number status. There are five statuses in total:
- Pending: The status before the Commerce Policy check is complete
- Offline: The status when businesses fail the Commerce policy check or cancel their WhatsApp API Account
- Connected: The default status
- Flagged: The status when the quality rating reaches Low. If it improves to Medium or High in 7 days, the status will return to Connected. If it does not, WhatsApp will reinstate your status to Connected but impose a lower messaging limit on your number.
- Restricted: The status when businesses reach their messaging limit while having a poor quality rating
You can subscribe to receive notifications when there is a change in your Phone Number Status from Connected to Flagged and vice versa, or an upgrade or downgrade to your number’s messaging limit.
Now that you understand the different WhatsApp API components, let's find out how to get a WhatsApp API account.
Creating a WhatsApp API Account
As we’ve mentioned earlier, businesses can get WhatsApp API access directly through Meta or through a BSP. While it's easier to get API access through BSPs, there are two different signup methods available.
Businesses can either get a WhatsApp Business API account through the Classic Signup process or respond.io Express Signup. The Classic Signup method involves a tedious Facebook Business verification process. By contrast, respond.io’s Express Signup lets you create a WhatsApp API account quickly without Facebook Business verification.
As a BSP and customer conversation management software provider, respond.io gives you instant access to the WhatsApp API and allows you to connect the API to an omnichannel inbox to start chatting with your customers on WhatsApp in no time!
On top of verifying your Facebook Business Manager, businesses also have the option to verify their WhatsApp API account to get the coveted WhatsApp green tick.
Verifying a WhatsApp API Account: WhatsApp Green Tick
A verified WhatsApp API account or an Official Business Account adds credibility to your business as WhatsApp only grants it to notable businesses. You can request for the Official Business Account WhatsApp API verification directly on your WhatsApp Manager or through your selected BSP.
To get your API account verified, you need to fulfill WhatsApp’s requirements. This includes abiding by WhatsApp's Commerce and Business Policies and being a notable business. WhatsApp generally only verifies well-known brands like Nike and Coca-Cola.
Whether you apply for an Official Business Account or not, you can start using your WhatsApp API account to its full potential with the right software. Integrate it with a customer conversation management software like respond.io or a WhatsApp CRM to send and receive messages.
WhatsApp Business API: Messaging
In this section, we will walk you through the two types of conversations allowed on WhatsApp API: User-initiated conversations also known as service conversations and business-initiated conversations.
WhatsApp API Business: Service Conversations
WhatsApp doesn’t allow businesses using WhatsApp API to send messages anytime they want. To prevent spam and ensure businesses reply to incoming messages quickly, WhatsApp imposes a messaging limitation called service conversations.
Service conversations are initiated by customers. When they message you, a 24-hour window will open for you to reply to them. Once the 24-hour window ends, you can no longer reply to customers unless you start a business-initiated conversation.
No prior approvals are necessary for messages sent in a service conversation, but these messages must abide by WhatsApp’s Business and Commerce policies.
Service Conversations: Interactive Messages
In addition to the usual text-only service conversations, you can send interactive messages using WhatsApp API. With a user-friendly format, interactive messages offer customers a simpler way to find and select what they want from your business.
There are four types of interactive messages. This includes list messages, reply buttons, single-product and multi-product messages. Single and multi-product messages are great for sending a Catalog to customers.
Interactive messages are handy but to further improve the overall customer experience with businesses, WhatsApp has introduced a new policy to include a human agent pathway within a chat.
Service Conversations: Human Escalation Pathway
Customers dislike chatting with bots especially if they have an issue that needs to be sorted out with a human agent. WhatsApp has finally acknowledged this pain point and made having a human escalation pathway compulsory.
Some acceptable escalation methods include human agent handoff, business phone number, business email, web support form and in-store visit prompts. Be aware that indirect channels such as social media, a help center webpage or a link to an app are not considered escalation methods.
Without a human escalation pathway, your phone number quality rating may become Low (red) and your phone number status will turn to Flagged. You’ll receive the warning via an update from your Facebook Business Manager and through your registered email.
If this remains unresolved in 7 days, WhatsApp will restrict your messaging limit. Businesses sending under 1,000 messages a week will not see an immediate impact. But to increase the messaging limit in the future, you’ll have to resolve this issue first.
And that’s everything you need to know about service conversations. Next, let’s find out how to use message templates for business-initiated conversations.
WhatsApp API for Business: Message Templates
After 24 hours from the contact’s last incoming message, businesses are only allowed to reply with a WhatsApp Message Template. Message templates are pre-approved messages used to reopen the 24-hour customer service window or start a new conversation.
In addition to standard message templates, WhatsApp API also supports multimedia and interactive message templates. The former supports images, videos or PDF documents, while the latter lets you attach call-to-action or quick reply buttons.
You can create a WhatsApp message template on your BSP’s Console which also applies to respond.io. Remember, WhatsApp may reject submitted message templates for different reasons. Check out these best practices to improve the chance of having your submission approved.
Businesses can send message templates with transactional and non-transactional content. As of 1st June 2023, the three message template categories are marketing, utility and authentication conversations.
That said, you should avoid sending message templates too frequently or customers might mark them as spam. This can affect your Template quality rating and status.
Message Template Quality Rating and Status
The message template quality rating shows how message templates have been received by your customers in a rolling window of the past 24 hours. You can view your template quality rating and status in the Facebook Business Manager.
Message template quality rating has three quality states:
- High (green)
- Medium (yellow)
- Low (red)
A drop in the quality rating of a message template can affect its status. There are five statuses for message templates:
- Pending: When a business first submits a template that is yet to be approved
- Approved: When the message template is approved
- Rejected: When the message template is rejected
- Flagged: When the quality rating reaches a Low state
- Disabled: When a message template enters the Flagged status and its quality rating does not improve within 7 days, its status will switch to Disabled. You cannot send or edit a Disabled message template.
When your template status changes to Flagged or Disabled, you will receive an email notification. To prevent having your message template disabled, make sure you only send message templates to customers who have opted in.
Message Templates: Opt-ins
To maintain the quality of customer experience, WhatsApp requires businesses to obtain opt-ins from customers prior to starting a chat with message templates.
You can obtain opt-ins both on and off WhatsApp. Think interactive voice response (IVR), website forms, WhatsApp Ads, WhatsApp links, WhatsApp QR codes or through WhatsApp threads (customer-initiated messages).
For contacts to opt-in, they must first see the value of doing so. It’s best to ask for opt-ins at the right time and right place. For instance, get their opt-ins to receive new updates or WhatsApp newsletters when they sign up for an account on your platform. Now that you know how opt-in works, let’s talk about managing contacts.
Message Templates: Contact Management
In this section, we’ll discuss the various aspects of contact management on WhatsApp API. This includes verifying and importing contacts to a WhatsApp CRM, as well as managing contacts’ identities through user identity notifications.
Verifying and Importing Contacts
Before importing contacts, you will need to verify if your contacts have a valid WhatsApp number. Verifying contacts is important because sending messages to WhatsApp numbers that don’t exist will lower your quality rating.
Here’s what to watch out for: WhatsApp will ban API account users who verify too many phone numbers without sending messages to them. This is likely to prevent spammers on the platform.
Contacts are not stored on WhatsApp API. After verifying your contacts, you can import them to a messaging software or WhatsApp CRM. While WhatsApp documentation does not comprehensively explain contact imports, we’ve covered how to do so in this article.
Sometimes, a contact's phone number might change hands. Businesses would not be aware of the change of number ownership unless they opt to receive user identity notifications.
User Identity Notifications
User identity notifications ensure that businesses are communicating with the right contact. Upon opting into these notifications, businesses will be notified when they receive messages from a re-registered number under a new user.
Unless businesses acknowledge the re-registration, they are unable to message these numbers. This protects both businesses and customers from leaking sensitive information over WhatsApp. Plus, user identity notifications prevent businesses from getting flagged for spam lest they message someone who did not opt-in.
You’ve made it to the end! Now that you have learned everything you need to know about WhatsApp Business API, get ready to apply your newfound knowledge and take your WhatsApp messaging to the next level.
Sign up for the respond.io WhatsApp Business API and start chatting with customers on the world’s most popular messaging channel today!
We hope you found the guide useful. Check out these articles if you want to learn more about WhatsApp for Business: