Ultimate Guide

WhatsApp API: The Ultimate Guide to WhatsApp Business API [January 2024]

Serene Tan
April 19, 2023

Have you been thinking about using WhatsApp API for business, but you’re not sure what it is or how it works? We have created this first-hand guide to answer all your WhatsApp Business API questions. Here, you’ll learn how to create an account, manage contacts and send a message successfully.

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WhatsApp API: The Basics

First, let’s go through the basics. In this section, we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • Differences between WhatsApp API and the WhatsApp Business App
  • Aspects to consider before getting WhatsApp API
  • WhatsApp Business Solution Providers (BSPs)
  • Hosting options for WhatsApp API
  • WhatsApp API pricing

What Sets WhatsApp API Apart from WhatsApp Business App

WhatsApp API, also known as WhatsApp Business Platform, is designed for medium to large companies looking to use WhatsApp with multiple users. By contrast, WhatsApp Business App is intended for micro-small businesses, as it comes with limited multiuser capability.

WhatsApp API supports advanced automation, which empowers businesses to streamline lead qualificationchat routingauto-assignment and more. It also lets you send automated WhatsApp messages effortlessly, including WhatsApp greeting messages and away messages. In contrast, WhatsApp App only offers basic functionalities like Quick Replies.

Unlike the WhatsApp Business App, WhatsApp API has no app or front-end interface. For that reason, you’ll need integrate it into a messaging platform to send and receive messages.

Is WhatsApp API Right for Your Business?

Wondering if this is the right solution for your business needs? We’ve compiled a list below to help you decide if you should get WhatsApp API:

1. Business size: If you are a small business, WhatsApp Business App may meet your needs. However, as your business scales, we recommend upgrading to WhatsApp API. This option is ideal for large businesses and enterprises with teams of agents, as it comes with advanced multiuser capability.

2. Volume of messages: If your company deals with a high volume of messages, this is your best choice. To manage high volumes of messages efficiently, connect it to an AI-powered customer conversation management software like respond.io.

3. Integration with e-commerce platforms: Unlike the WhatsApp Business App, you can integrate WhatsApp API with popular e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce and Magento.

4. Use cases: If you plan to do customer support, sales and marketing at scale, WhatsApp API is the right choice for you. For instance, you can consolidate conversations on WhatsApp and other messaging apps for a 360-degree view of customers. You can even use AI tools to automate sales and support inquiries and create a WhatsApp drip campaign!

5. Verticals: WhatsApp API can benefit businesses in all verticals. In our experience, it has worked well for businesses in the food and beverages (F&B), hospitality, healthcare, education, real estate and retail industries.

<call-out> By using WhatsApp API and respond.io, Farmacia La Buena cut first response and resolution times by half. Read the full story here <call-out>

While businesses can get WhatsApp API access directly from Meta, the more popular way is to access it through third-party services called WhatsApp Business Solution Providers (BSPs).

WhatsApp Business API: Business Solution Providers

Your experience with WhatsApp API may differ radically depending on your WhatsApp 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.

This is a picture of WhatsApp API Business Solution Providers (BSPs). There are two types of WhatsApp BSPs - SMS providers and others. Your experience with API WhatsApp like WhatsApp business pricing and more may differ radically depending on your BSP. Learn more about WhatsApp API and WhatsApp API integration in the blog.
WhatsApp for Business API: Business Solution Providers

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 hosting options they provide.

WhatsApp API Hosting Options

BSPs offer two 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.

This is an image of the hosting options on WhatsApp Business API. Previously, the only way to host api.whatsapp was through an On-Premises API on the BSP’s own servers. From 2022, BSPs will offer Cloud API, where the API will be hosted on Meta (formerly Facebook). Cloud API is currently only available in beta to selected BSPs. Read the blog to find out more about how to use WhatsApp business API and whatsapp api send message
Ways to host WhatsApp for Business API

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 hosting types is their pricing. Let's explore this below.

WhatsApp API Pricing

If a business hosts its own API, it has to pay its BSP to access it 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.

This is an image of the price model used by some messaging apps.
Conversation-based pricing

In contrast, WhatsApp Cloud API access is free. Besides, you won’t face 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 your BSP wisely. For example, respond.io 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 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.

This is an image showing how a Business Profile of WhatsApp business platform looks. 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. Find out more about other features of API for WhatsApp on the blog.
Overview of a Business Profile in a phone device

Unlike other messaging apps, Business Profiles are 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

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 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. However, going back from the API to the App is not recommended as you'll lose account information associated with the phone number.

This is an image of a phone number. A phone number needs to be associated with your account. Depending on your BSP, you can buy a phone number or port an existing one. A phone number lives under a WABA, which is managed through Facebook Business Manager. Facebook Business Manager is also where you manage other Facebook assets such as your Instagram account, ads account and Facebook page. Each WABA can have up to 25 numbers, depending on the phone number tier.
API WhatsApp: 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.

The amount of phone numbers that can be connected to your WABA depends on the verified status of your Facebook Business Manager. For example, 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.

Messaging Limits

Unverified businesses can only message 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.

There are five tiers a phone number inside a WABA can reach. Depending on the BSP, businesses will either start at the Limited Access Tier or Tier 1 upon registering their phone number. To upgrade from the Limited Access Tier to the next tier, you will need to verify your Facebook Business Manager. As for businesses in Tiers 1, 2 and 3, they will be upgraded to the next tier when they send half the messaging limit of their current tier.
API WhatsApp: How to increase phone number messaging limit

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. For this to happen, they must 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 and response time. There are three quality ratings:

  • High (green)
  • Medium (yellow)
  • Low (red)
This is an image about WhatsApp API Phone Number Quality Rating. There are three possible quality ratings. This includes High (green), Medium (yellow) and Low (red). How you send messages using Whats App API will affect your phone number quality rating.
Phone number quality rating: An overview

To ensure a good quality rating, avoid getting your phone number blocked. When blocked, your phone number quality rating will drop from High to Medium or Low. To prevent that, only send high-quality messages that are relevant to your contacts.

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
This is an image illustrating the five possible statuses of WhatsApp API phone number. This includes Pending, Offline, Connected, Flagged and Restricted. A change in quality rating may affect your phone number status.
API WhatsApp: Phone number statuses

Now that you understand the different WhatsApp API components, you’ll learn how to apply for an account.

How to Apply for a WhatsApp API Account

While it's easy to get API access through BSPs, we have identified 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.

This is a picture that shows the two ways to get an API whatsapp for business account. There are two ways to get a WhatsApp API account - either through the Classic Signup process or the 360dialog Express Signup. The 360dialog Express signup offers the cheapest WhatsApp API and lets you create a WhatsApp API account in under 10 minutes without Facebook Business verification, giving you instant access to start testing WhatsApp API. This is available in any country including those looking for WhatsApp API India or WhatsApp API in India.
How to create an Account

As a BSP and AI-powered customer conversation management software provider, respond.io gives you instant access to the WhatsApp API. Then, you’ll get immediate access to an omnichannel inbox to start chatting with your customers on WhatsApp right away!

<call-out> Respond.io is also a badged Meta Business Partner, which means it is recognized by Meta for its expertise in business messaging. <call-out>

We have a dedicated blog that explains the application process step-by-step. Upon getting a WhatsApp API account, businesses also have the option to verify it to get the coveted WhatsApp green tick.

Verifying a WhatsApp API Account: WhatsApp Green Tick

A verified account or an Official Business Account adds credibility to your business as WhatsApp only grants it to notable businesses. You can request for verification directly on your WhatsApp Manager or through your selected BSP.

This is an image on how to verify a WhatsApp API account. A verified WhatsApp API account adds credibility to your business and is more recognizable with a visible business name in the profile. You can request for WhatsApp API verification directly on Facebook Business Manager. Alternatively, you can verify your WhatsApp account through BSPs.
How to verify your account

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. Once you are done setting up your account, you are ready to start chatting with customers.

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.

Send a Message on WhatsApp API Business: Service Conversations

WhatsApp doesn’t allow businesses 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.

This is a picture of WhatsApp service conversations. WhatsApp doesn’t allow businesses to send api whatsapp message using API anytime they want. To prevent spam and ensure businesses reply to incoming messages quickly, WhatsApp imposes a messaging limitation called Session Messaging. Session Messaging allows you to reply to contacts’ messages within a 24-hour window. Learn more about using WhatsApp API to send message in the blog.
Service conversations: An overview

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. However, these messages must abide by WhatsApp’s Business and Commerce policies.

Service Conversations: Interactive Messages

In addition to the usual text-only messages, you can send interactive messages. With a user-friendly format, interactive messages offer customers a simpler way to find and select what they want from your business.

This is an image of the types of Session Messages. There are four types of Interactive Session Messages. This includes List Messages, Reply Buttons, Single Product and Multi-Product Messages.  Check out the blog to learn more about whatsapp api send message to number.
Types of interactive messages

There are four types of interactive messages: List messages, reply buttons, single-product messages and multi-product messages. Single and multi-product messages are great for sending a Catalog to customers.

To further improve the overall customer experience with businesses, WhatsApp requests businesses to include a human agent pathway within a chat.

Service Conversations: Human Escalation Pathway

Some customer issues need the intervention of a human agent. WhatsApp is aware of this and has made human escalation pathways 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.

This is an image about Human Escalation Pathway. Some acceptable escalation methods include human agent handoff, phone number, email, web support form and in-store visit prompts.
WhatsApp human escalation pathway

Without a human escalation pathway, your phone number quality rating may become Low (red) and your phone number status can turn to Flagged.

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.

This is an image on how Template Messaging works. After 24 hours from the contact’s last incoming message, businesses are only allowed to reply with Message Templates. Read the blog to learn more rules on the opic of api whatsapp send message.
Template messaging: An overview

In addition to standard message templates, multimedia and interactive message templates are also supported. The former supports images, videos or PDF documents, while the latter lets you attach call-to-action or quick reply buttons.

This is an image about the type of Template Messaging. In addition to the standard Message Templates, WhatsApp API also supports Multimedia and Interactive Message Templates. Learn more about WhatsApp API send message and whatsapp business messaging in the blog.
Types of Message Templates

You can create a WhatsApp message template on your BSP’s Console. Remember, WhatsApp may reject submitted message templates for different reasons. Here are some best practices to improve the chance of having your submission approved.

Your message templates must fall into one of these three categories: Marketing, utility or authentication.

This is an image about WhatsApp message template categories, including marketing conversations, utility conversations, and authentication conversations.
API WhatsApp send message: WhatsApp message template categories

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.

This is an image about Message Template quality rating. The Message Template quality rating has three quality states - High (green), Medium (yellow) and Low (red).
API WhatsApp send message: Message template quality rating

Message template quality rating has three quality states:

  • High (green)
  • Medium (yellow)
  • Low (red)
This is an image about Message Template Status. A drop in the quality rating of a Message Template can affect its status. There are five statuses for Message Templates - Pending, Approved,Rejected, Flagged and Disabled.
Message template status: An overview

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 seven 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).

This is a picture on Template Messaging Opt-ins. Opt-ins can be obtained both on and off WhatsApp. Think interactive voice response (IVR), website forms, WhatsApp Ads, api whatsapp link, WhatsApp QR codes or through WhatsApp threads (customer-initiated messages).
Template messaging opt-in: An overview

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.

This is an image on 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.
Verifying and importing WhatsApp contacts

Contacts are not stored on WhatsApp API. After verifying your contacts, you can import them into 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.

This is an image on User Identity Notifications to ensure that businesses are sending information to the right people. Upon opting into these notifications, businesses will be alerted when they receive messages from a re-registered WhatsApp account. Ready to get started? Sign up for your API account and try our free whatsapp business API 14 days trial.
User identity notification: Get notified when a Contact ID changes

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is WhatsApp Business API free?

No, it’s not. These are the costs you can expect: A phone number, a messaging inbox to receive and send messages and WhatsApp’s conversation-based pricing charges.

What is the cheapest WhatsApp API Partner?

There are multiple partners in the market, and the count keeps going up. To avoid incurring unnecessary costs, we suggest you work with a BSP that doesn’t add markups per message sent or received. Also, avoid BSPs with account setup or maintenance fees.

Is it hard to get a WhatsApp API account?

Fortunately, it is getting easier and easier. If you apply for an account through respond.io, it should only take you a few minutes. Should you face any blockers, our support team is here to help.

How many agents can share a WhatsApp API account?

This depends on your BSP’s plan. If you are a respond.io user, you can choose between three types of plans and pay only for what you need.

Can I use chatbots with WhatsApp API?

Indeed! Respond.io users have access to Respond AI, a conversational AI feature with several tools to reply to WhatsApp messages without effort. Besides, you can integrate all your favorite automation softwares like Dialogflow.

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.

Start chatting with customers on the world’s most popular messaging channel today! Get a WhatsApp Business API account.

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Further Reading

We hope you found this ultimate guide useful. Check out these articles if you want to learn more about WhatsApp for Business:

Serene Tan
Head of Content
Serene Tan, the Head of Content at respond.io, is an MBA graduate from the University of Wales Trinity St David. With her profound understanding of the business messaging landscape, she educates companies on accelerating growth and driving results via customer conversations.
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