What Is Zapier? Automation in 2021

If you’ve ever researched ways to speed up work by getting two programs to work together, you’ll have heard the word Zapier. In this article, we talk a little about what this automation tool can do for you and how to use it.

Fergus O'Sullivan
By Fergus O'Sullivan (Editor-at-Large, Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-05-06T10:01:32+00:00

If you’ve ever wanted to save yourself some trouble by making two services work together, preferably without any further input from you, then Zapier is for you. In this article, we’ll go over what Zapier is, what this automation tool can do for you and also the basics of how to use it. If doing less with more sounds like what you need, read on.

Key Takeaways:

  • Zapier is a web app that sets up automations and integrations between other apps, saving you time and effort.
  • Zapier is a great way for the not-so-tech-savvy to set up automations, as you need no technical knowledge to make even complicated integrations work.
  • The service can get a bit pricey, but by using it judiciously you can save yourself a lot of money.

Zapier is a great service, but if it somehow doesn’t quite rub you the right way after reading this article, check out our article on what IFTTT is. It can fulfill many of Zapier’s functions, plus a few that Zapier can’t, so it may be worth your time. We have a full Zapier vs IFTTT comparison if you’d like more specifics on the differences between the two services.

  • Zapier automates processes for you between apps and programs, making stuff easier overall, as well as removing some drudgery from your life.

  • Zapier has an excellent free plan that allows up to 100 tasks and five Zaps, but anything more will require signing up for a paid plan.

  • Zapier is not an API, though it makes use of them, especially the Zapier Partner API.

  • About as long as it takes you to set up a Zap, though there is a set interval at which Zapier checks if its triggers have fired.

What Is Zapier?

Before we jump into the details, let’s quickly go over the main terms Zapier uses.

Common Zapier Terms:

  • Zap: An automation between two programs
  • Workflows: Zapier’s preferred word for automation
  • Action: An act performed either by a user or by Zapier
  • Trigger: An action that causes a Zap to fire
  • Task: An action performed by a Zap
  • Update time: The interval at which Zapier checks for triggers

Understanding Zapier’s Zaps, Triggers & More

Zapier is a productivity tool that can help you automate certain tasks between two different programs. For example, you can have Zapier create a new Google Doc every time you move a card in your Trello board, or have specific emails in your Gmail account pop up in Slack. There are a lot of different options available.

Zapier homepage repetitive tasks
Zapier is a massive time-saver for users with repetitive tasks.

It does this using automations called Zaps (Zapier prefers the term workflow over automation). Each Zap performs one or more actions when a specific trigger fires. 

For example, you can set up a Zap so that any document created in Google Docs is automatically duplicated in OneDrive. So, when Zapier detects the trigger of a document being created, it then performs the action of duplicating it in OneDrive.

This detection by Zapier doesn’t happen all the time — the frequency is determined by the pricing plan you’re on. In the case of the free and Starter plans, this update time is set at 15 minutes, while the more expensive plans bring it down to as little as one or two minutes. 

Zapier Tasks

It’s also important to note that each plan limits your number of tasks. A task is any action completed by Zapier, like the duplication of the document in OneDrive; the trigger action does not count as a task. For instance, on the free version you’re allowed 100 tasks, which means Zapier will duplicate 100 Google Docs files in OneDrive. The 101st time the trigger fires, it will fail.

You can also have multi-step Zaps set up on all paid plans. Then, each action performed by Zapier counts as a task. If you have set up, for instance, a three-step workflow, every time it fires it counts as three tasks. You can reach your task limit pretty quickly this way, so it’s important to keep an eye on it.

How to Use Zapier 

All the above sounds pretty complicated, not to mention that the word “automation” itself can send people into a panic. However, the great thing about Zapier is that it pretty much does all the work for you. Where even a few years ago automating a process meant coding together a script of some kind, Zapier reduces the process to clicks.

That’s not to say it’s entirely without hurdles. You do need to pay attention to what you’re doing, as a single overlooked detail can scuttle even your best-laid workflows. However, given the choice between writing code and picking a Zap, we figure most people will prefer the latter. If you’re in the former group, we recommend you check out the book Automate the Boring Stuff with Python instead.

Getting Started With Zapier

The first order of business is to get a Zapier account. All you need to do for that is to go to the Zapier homepage and click on the “sign up” button at the top right of the screen. From there, enter your full name and email address, create a password and you’re all set.

Zapier signup webpage
The sign-up button is at the top right.

Note that you’re automatically enrolled in a 14-day free trial of the Professional plan; at the end of those two weeks, you’ll be downgraded to the free version.

The Zapier Dashboard

With your Zapier account set up, you’re brought to a screen where you can select your favorite apps. We recommend you pick at least five apps so you can get started a bit more easily. From there, you go to the dashboard.

zapier dashboard
We like how this screen gets you to setting up new Zaps, as well as giving you some great suggestions.

This is where you can select the Zaps you want to set up, either by entering them in the search field, or by picking suggested Zaps from the list below. This is why we recommend telling Zapier which web apps you use most, as it offers more suggested workflows than you could ever come up with on your own.

For instance, we never would have thought of setting up Slack to send a notification when we receive an email containing specific keywords. Somebody else did, though, and you can set it up in just a jiff. In fact, we like the idea so much that we’ll use it as an example for how easy it is to set up a Zap.

How to Set Up a New Zap in 10 Steps

  1. Try the Workflow

    Once you’ve found the workflow you want to use, click on the big blue “try it” button to be brought to the next screen, where the actual magic happens. In this case, though, the magic is very much on rails and mainly consists of you doing as you’re told. In our case, we need to start by signing in to our Gmail account.

    zapier enter gmail
  2. Sign In to Your App

    Enter your details (in this case, email and password) and then you’ll usually need to verify your information. Because it’s a Google account, we just clicked “allow.” However, you may need to provide more information or an API key, which you can find by following your app’s instructions.

    zapier google access
  3. Continue With Linked Account

    The next step is to select the linked account from a dropdown menu and click “continue.” A new step will appear where we can enter the exact words that will trigger the Zap, under “search string.” For this example, we’ll use “cloud storage” and then hit “continue.”

    zapier enter search string
  4. Test the Trigger

    Next is testing the trigger. You can skip this step, but we don’t recommend it.

    zapier test trigger
  5. Click Continue

    It’ll spit out a wall of code that you can ignore — the main thing is that you get a celebratory emoji and your blue “continue” button lights up below it. If so, click it. If not, check your trigger again.

    zapier test pass
  6. Pick Your Second App and Action

    With the Gmail part of the equation fixed, let’s turn to Slack. The steps here are much the same. Pick the app and the action event, or what you’d like the Zap to do. There’s a big list to choose from, so we just went with the top one in this case.

    zapier slack action
  7. Select Your Account, Give Permission & Customize

    Once again, select the Slack account you want to use and give Zapier permission to access it. After this, you’ll get a laundry list of options to customize how your new Slack messages will appear. There’s too much to go over here, but feel free to experiment to get it just right. Once you’re happy, click “continue.”

    zapier slack permission
  8. Test & Turn on the Zap

    You’ll return to a testing screen where you need to click and wait. Once the test is passed, all that remains is turning on the Zap. Don’t forget to do so — this is a separate action that you need to take!

    zapier zap on
  9. Optional: Turn the Zap Off

    With that, you’re all done. Note that you can always turn the Zap back off by clicking on the slider in the top right of the screen.

    Zapier slider
    Always keep an eye on this slider.

Zapier Integration

As you can see, setting up a new Zap takes just a few minutes, and you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to which web apps you can integrate. The list of tools that Zapier has workflows for doesn’t fit on a single webpage, so we won’t bother with it here. Instead, we’ll give you an overview of some general ideas we like, plus some specific examples.

Best Apps & Integrations for Zapier

All of our best project management software picks play really nice with our best EFSS selection. While some will have built-in integrations — read our monday.com review for one great example — in most cases you’re going to have to use Zapier to get the job done.

These integrations work both ways, too: by storing your files with, say, Egnyte and Box, you can get around some of the storage restrictions of Wrike and monday.com. At the same time, you can have a task pop up in either task manager every time a new file is created in Box — there are lots of options there.

zapier workflow wrike egnyte
There are plenty of other options to choose from, too.

Besides these hardcore business-oriented programs, plenty of the best cloud storage options have ready-to-go Zaps. OneDrive and Dropbox can be made to work together or with others, like having iAuditor reports copied into a cloud folder. You can also have all Stripe transactions show up in accounting program Quickbooks Online, for example.

Another very popular set of workflows is between the different apps in the Google suite (read our Google Drive review to see what that includes). For instance, you could have the Google Calendar automatically update when a date is added to a Google Sheets tab, or have a new entry added to Sheets when a Google Doc is created.

zapier google calendar google sheets
This Zap especially will save you lots of time and annoyance.

As you can tell, the options are pretty much endless, limited only by your monthly allowance of tasks and total number of allotted Zaps. Let’s now look at how that works.

Zapier Plans and Pricing

Zapier has a fairly straightforward pricing scheme, with each step increasing the number of tasks and Zaps you can make use of, as well as decreasing the update interval. Besides this, each plan also comes with some handy premium features. For a full overview please check out Zapier’s pricing page.

Free:0.00>100 tasks per month
>5 Zaps
>15-minute update time
Starter:$24.99 per month
$239.88 per year
>750 tasks per month
>20 Zaps
>15-minute update time
Professional:$61.25 per month
$588 per year
>2,000 tasks per month
>Unlimited Zaps
>Two-minute update time
Team:$373.75 per month
$3,588 per year
>50,000 tasks per month
>Unlimited Zaps
>One-minute update time
Company:$748.75 per month
$7,188 per year
>100,000 tasks per month
>Unlimited Zaps
>One-minute update time

Note that you can increase the number of tasks you can perform per month for each plan, though this costs extra. For example, with 2,000 tasks the Professional plan costs $49 per month when billed annually, while with 5,000 tasks it costs $89 per month.

Zapier Free Plan

We suspect Zapier’s main draw is its free version, which is decent. Though five Zaps spread out over 100 actions isn’t a lot, it should be enough for small businesses to automate a few key processes without spending a penny. If you suspect that you will need more than this, but would still prefer not to pay, then check out IFTTT as it’s a bit more generous.

Final Thoughts

Zapier is a great way to save yourself time by automating all the small, boring tasks and even the not-so-small ones. Though it can be a bit pricey in its higher tiers, it makes up for it with great ease of use. If you need some automations, but aren’t very tech-savvy, Zapier might be the answer for you.

What do you think of Zapier? Can you now answer the question “what is Zapier?” Were you helped, or just left more confused? Let us know if you have any unanswered questions in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.