As we learned in the “What is a Web Application?” video, there are five key functions that are common across most apps that you’ll need to master.
These functions are:
Adding data to your database so you have something to work with
Organizing and storing data so you can use it
Editing, updating and manipulating your data
Controlling who can access your data to make sure the right people can use it and the wrong people can’t, and
Presenting your data to users on the web
I’ll go through each of these functions and how you’ll handle them in Ontraport.
Capturing data is the first key function of a web application.
Of course, data is at the heart of every web application, so you’ve got to get it into your database somehow! Sometimes your users will add data by signing up to receive additional info from you via an opt-in form. Other times you or your team will add data manually, by writing and publishing a blog post, for example.
With Ontraport, there are five ways you can add data to your database:
First, you can simply type data into the app manually by creating or updating records. Second, you can import data from CSV files using import tools. Third, you can get data from your users through forms. Fourth, you can add or update data from other systems using the API or integration tools like Zapier. And finally, you’ll see that some data is created automatically as activity logs.
I’ll quickly go over each of these.
A straightforward way to add data into your system is manually. This will probably be how you add things like new blog posts, for example. You’ll do something like “Add new,” then add data to the fields, and you’re done. Easy.
Moving on to importing data. This is also a very common web app function and it’s how you’ll add your existing list of contacts, for example. But you can import any kind of data you’ve got.
You can learn all about how to import data in our “Getting Started” course, so I won’t go over it now.
Next is forms. This is where things start to get interesting, and it’s where you’ll want to focus a little more time. Understanding the basics of forms is easy. You add a form to your page, get people to fill it out and boom — there’s your data.
But when you start to dive deeper into web applications, you’ll find that forms can do a lot more than just collect new data. They also play a big role in how data is organized in your database, and how various records get related to each other.
So let’s say you’re building an application where people can register for classes. When they register, you’ll want that contact record to be linked to that class…and one of the ways you’ll do that is with forms.
This can get pretty advanced, so we’ll dig into this stuff in detail later in a section called “Relationship Management.” But you should get familiar with form basics, so watch our section on forms in our Ontraport for Marketing course.
Next up in our list of data-collecting tools, we have the API and integration tools like Zapier.
An API — which is short for “application programming interface” — is a way of getting different computer systems to share data back and forth. Ontraport’s API is incredible and very powerful but like all APIs, it’s designed for coders.
But since this is a course for non-coders, I’m going to skip the super-technical API part and instead focus on how we can use Zapier, which is a no-code platform that makes using our API easy for civilians like us. There are good competitors to Zapier too, like Integromat. But they all pretty much work the same.
There are a ton of ways to put Zapier to use and I’ll show you how in a bit.
Finally, we have the easiest way to get data, which is automatically.
Ontraport is a data-gathering machine, and even if you’re not adding data using one of the tools I just mentioned, Ontraport is still tracking things and adding information to your database.
For example, when visitors check out your website, Ontraport tracks them and adds each page visit to their records automatically. We keep track of purchases, clicks and SMS messages and keep a whole history of field changes and lots more. All of this data is added to your Ontraport account automatically, without you having to do anything.
And that data can be used as part of your web application! You might show people different things based on whether they’ve visited a page in the past or if they’ve purchased something. So that data’s super valuable too.
And that wraps up the data-gathering tools that you’re going to use. Most are simple, and a couple like forms and Zapier can get pretty advanced. I’ll talk more about them in this course.
The next key function of a web application is storing data. Now, this may seem simple — after all, you just store it, right?
It’s true that Ontraport does make storing data easy. You decide what you want Ontraport to store by setting up fields for each bit of data you want to keep, and the app takes it from there. Ontraport handles all the server stuff and CDNs and caching and backups and scalability and security and permissions and all the other technical stuff.
But when it comes to building web applications, the way you organize your data is important and requires a bit of thinking on your part.
As you hopefully know already, you can store more than just contacts in Ontraport. In fact, you can store just about any kind of info you can imagine and, if you’ve watched the rest of the OPU courses, you know that each new type of data is stored in what we call an “object.” And each object has its own set of fields.
Objects don’t sit in a silo all by themselves. Instead, objects are often linked to each other through relationships.
For example, if you want to, you can store a list of companies that your contacts work for. But you don’t just want a list of companies…you actually want to know which company each contact works for, and vice versa. You want to be able to look at a company and see all their employees who are in your contact database. So, you’ll link the company and contact objects together to help keep track of those relationships.
The objects you create, and the way you link them together with relationships, are going to be a big part of planning how your account works and what web applications you may want to build.
I’ll deal with all of that in the custom objects section of this course. This stuff is crucial, so don’t skip it.
I know this may sound like a lot, and it probably is the most complicated part of designing and building your web app, but you can totally do it and I’m going to show you how.
Once it clicks for you, you’re going to start having all sorts of new ideas about how to use these tools in your business, and you’re not going to stop talking about data with your friends. It’s going to get weird for you, so be prepared.
Once you’ve got your data organized and added to the system, you’ll be able to manipulate that data in different ways. Sometimes you’ll want to update it when something happens, or append new data from other sources, or add things up or who knows what.
For example, maybe you want to show the number of remaining credits a client has available. You’ll need to subtract one from the total each time a credit is used. Or, if you’re renting out properties, you may want to automatically mark certain rentals as ‘Unavailable’ if the owner takes it off the market for the summer.
There are many ways to update and edit the data in your Ontraport account automatically, and most of them involve automations. Sometimes you’ll get webhooks or the API involved, and sometimes doing math calculations with field updates can be handy. Most of this is covered in previous courses, but I’ll show a bunch of specific examples in the Common Web App Features section.
Next, we have the important matter of dealing with who gets access to your data. In an age when data privacy concerns are front and center, it’s more important than ever to consider and manage this closely.
In the past, managing who gets access to what data in your account was a simple matter of assigning user roles and permissions so that when your team logged in to your Ontraport account, they’re only able to see and edit the appropriate data.
But with the arrival of Ontraport’s Dynamic CMS, it’s now really easy to spread your account data all over the internet for anyone to see. So, you’ll want to be careful about that. And there are lots of ways to make sure that everyone can see only what they’re supposed to see.
Of course, that begins with making sure you know who people are when they check out your website. And the most secure way to do that is to get them to log in with a username and password. Once they do, you can make sure that each client sees only what’s relevant to them, and nothing more.
I’ll cover all this in the section called “Privacy and Data Security.”
Finally, the exciting part — presenting your data to customers on the web and in messages. If you’re Airbnb, that means showing listings and reservations and messages. If you’re selling courses, that means showing courses and lessons that the user has access to. If it’s a blog, that means publishing your blog posts and category and author pages. The examples are endless.
I’ll show you how to do all this with our drag-and-drop page builder in our course about Ontraport’s Dynamic CMS. That’ll be a ton of fun.
But first, we’re heading into the deep end. Our Dynamic Content is going to rely on how you’ve set up your data, so first things first: Custom Objects.