Whenever you create a Zap, the very first thing that you set up is its trigger event. Depending on the app, you can choose from one, two, or over a dozen trigger events.
But have you ever wondered why certain apps trigger your Zap instantly while others force you to wait?
The difference lies in the type of Zap trigger that they’re using.
In this guide, we’ll explore the different Zapier trigger types. We’ll also review common questions and problems, and look at how you can set your trigger event the right way.
What Is a Zap Trigger?
Every Zap has a trigger that “tells” Zapier to run the Zap and let the magic happen. It’s what starts your automated workflow. That’s as long as the data found meets the criteria that you picked when you set the trigger event.
Almost anything can trigger a Zap: a new email, form submission, a blog post comment, or even a new row in a spreadsheet. Interestingly, while trigger events are the starting point of (often very long) Zaps, they’re usually the easiest to set.
For example, the “New File” Google event, requires you to pick just one thing – the drive which you want to scan:
The reason is simple – triggers require less tinkering than actions. Moreover, because they look for the data, they rarely feature any input fields.
Most of the time, any extra configuration is there to help you filter the data. But, unlike some of the most robust Zapier actions, they rarely need any complex setup.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that some trigger events aren’t problematic. A great example is a manual webhook, which is not as straightforward to set up as other Zap triggers
But, while there are hundreds of things that you could choose to start the Zap, they all belong to one of three Zapier trigger types.
Why Are There Different Trigger Types?
If you’ve already created any Zaps in the past, you might have noticed that not all Zaps get started instantly.
In fact, some need you to wait for several minutes before anything happens.
This is caused by how Zapier receives information from the app that’s set to trigger your Zap.
There are three different Zapier trigger types – polling triggers, instant triggers, and hybrid triggers. Let’s look at the main differences between all three.
Zapier Polling Trigger
Most APIs require Zapier to ask for new information regularly. If it finds the information it’s interested in – it will run the Zap. If not, it will wait for a set interval before it asks the app again.
That asking for information is what we call polling – hence a polling trigger.
Because it’s the most popular way in which APIs ask for information, the majority of Zaps use polling triggers.
Unlike an instant trigger, where the app notifies Zapier about new data, in a polling trigger, Zapier has to “reach out” to the app. It does so via its API with a GET request.
You can spot polling triggers by their lack of an instant tag:
Because there can be hundreds or even thousands of Zaps polling the same apps, it’s done at regular intervals. They depend on your Zapier plan and, as of early 2023, are as follows:
- Every 15 minutes on the Free and Starter plans
- Every 5 minutes on the Professional plan
- Every minute on the Team or Company plan
But, how does that work in practice? Let’s take a quick look at how the polling time works – and why faster is better.
How Does Polling Time Work
Let’s say that you’re on a starter plan and trigger the Zap. It’s 5:00 PM and Zapier checks for new data, but there’s no data. It then returns to the app at 5:15 PM and checks again, but again, there’s no new data.
It comes back 15 minutes later – at 5:30 PM – and finds new data. The Zap triggers correctly. Zapier then polls the app again at 5:45 PM and then keeps coming back every 15 minutes.
This means that in the first two plans, Zapier will only check the app for new data four times in total. In the professional plan, it will do so 12 times, and in the team and company plans, sixty times.
That’s fifteen times more compared to the first two plans! And it’s not like polling time doesn’t matter – quite the opposite.
Why Is Polling Speed Important for Business?
The more frequent the interval, the more often you can trigger the Zap. This is important, especially if you’re running customer-oriented Zaps where every minute counts. Your leads have plenty of choices. They’re impatient.
And, most importantly, they don’t want to wait for you to get back to them.
This means you need to act fast if you want to turn them into customers.
That’s also why Zapier automation can benefit your sales and marketing. And fast automation can benefit your business even more!
That speed is especially visible whenever there’s an instant need for communication involved. There’s a big difference between getting a text message in sixty seconds and fifteen minutes.
Similarly, sending an email while the lead is fresh boosts the chance they’ll take action.
So, if your business relies on quick outreach, a faster polling time can skyrocket your conversion rate.
Of course, you might be interested in how Zapier knows that the data it sees is new.
If Zapier polls the app for new data every minute, yet new data only comes in every 10 minutes, it keeps seeing the same data over and over.
But, that’s where data deduplication comes into play.
Zapier Data Deduplication
Zapier Deduplication is a process used for polling triggers to ensure they don’t trigger for the same data twice. To achieve that, Zapier uses a special identifier for each item it has seen.
That way, the Zap that’s triggered by that particular app knows not to trigger on that data.
Note that deduplication only works for polling triggers. Instant triggers (more on them in a second) don’t poll apps for information.
Thanks to that there’s no risk of the Zap getting triggered by duplicate data. That’s as long as the app itself doesn’t erroneously send duplicate data.
Still, two interesting deduplication cases are worth explaining:
What If Two Zaps Use the Same Trigger?
The good news is that deduplication works separately for each Zap. What does it mean for your workflow?
Let’s say that you integrated Zapier with Formstack. You then created two different Zaps that are using the same form:
Thanks to deduplication being separate, you don’t have to worry that one Zap will block the other.
Zapier only checks for duplicates within the same Zap – no matter how many Zaps use the same trigger.
What If the Trigger Takes Some Time to Finish?
A new item triggers a Zap the moment Zap first encounters it. But what if the previous trigger hasn’t finished yet?
For example, you might still be adding data to a spreadsheet row when Sheets triggers your Zap. Thanks to the post-deduplication process, you don’t have to worry that Zapier will trigger the Zap before you finish.
Zapier Instant Trigger
As the name suggests, instant triggers work the moment an event occurs in the trigger app.
Whenever something happens in the trigger app, it immediately sends a notification to Zapier.
For example, a Zap will trigger the moment you add a new event to your Google calendar. Or add a new label to a Trello card:
All instant triggers are identified by a special “Instant” tag next to their name.
The biggest benefit of an instant Zapier trigger is that it doesn’t matter if you’re using a free plan or the team one – there’s no waiting time. All instant trigger events will start your Zap the moment the app sends data to Zapier.
Thanks to that, you can be sure that your lead or whoever the Zap affects doesn’t have to wait for the Zap to run. Sadly, there are way fewer instant triggers and the majority of all triggers are polling ones.
To sum up the difference between Zapier instant triggers and polling triggers, here’s a quick video recap:
Interestingly, while the two are the most popular types of triggers, there’s also a third type that’s a mix of both. Meet hybrid triggers.
Zapier Hybrid Triggers
Hybrid triggers are similar to instant triggers – but slower. How do they work?
With a hybrid trigger, Zapier waits for the app to notify it about the change.
The difference between an instant and a hybrid trigger is that, in the case of the latter, the app doesn’t send all the data right away.
Instead, Zapier has to poll the app for the details.
Luckily, you don’t have to wait for the entire interval for the polling to happen. Still, the whole process can take several minutes.
The hybrid triggers are the least common of all triggers.
Usually, they’re marked with the same “instant” tag as an instant trigger. As a result, there are only two ways to distinguish them from an instant trigger:
- Dive deep into their setup/code (hard)
- Test the time it takes for the Zap to trigger (easy)
What’s important is that, similarly to a polling trigger, they also run the deduplication process on the data.
Only a few apps use hybrid triggers – they’re the least common of all triggers. Two notable examples are Google Sheets New and New and Updated Spreadsheet row.
Interestingly, they’re both marked as instant:
That doesn’t mean that you should always get suspicious when you see the instant tag. The vast majority of triggers tagged with it are, indeed, instant.
Is It Possible to Change Trigger Types?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to change the trigger type. It’s defined for each trigger event when the integration is developed. In some cases, the type will also be restricted by the event itself. This happens when either a polling or an instant trigger doesn’t make sense.
However, if you need the app to trigger the Zap instantly, it’s possible to use webhooks as a workaround.
In this case, rather than creating the usual Zap with the app as a trigger, you want to use a webhook as a trigger.
First, when creating a new Zap, select Webhooks by Zapier:
Then, select the Catch Hook trigger:
Lastly, you need to configure the app that you want to trigger your Zap to send data to the webhook URL that you receive:
Keep in mind that it’s just a workaround that depends on whether the app that you’re using can send a webhook to Zapier. It doesn’t change the trigger type of the original app’s Zapier integration.
Common Zap Trigger Problems
If the app is configured correctly, there shouldn’t be any problems with its triggers. However, there are a couple of common issues that you can come across:
A Polling Trigger Doesn’t Fire on All Information
This happens most often if your plan is using 15-minute polling, and Zapier has to wait before polling. If the app accumulates too much data during that time, the Zap may miss some of it. This results in an incorrect number of Zap runs.
The number of information that your app can process will vary depending on a few factors. These include the app itself, the trigger event, and the way the integration is built
Of course, this doesn’t mean that if you have enough data for two Zap runs accumulated, the Zap will run only once.
Zapier is capable of queuing the data it receives, so this error happens only in very rare cases.
The Zap Gets Triggered by Old Data
This error is much less common than the first one and happens when the Zap gets triggered by previously seen data.
This happens when the Zap stops recognizing the information as previously seen. Most of the time, this is because:
- You deleted some data in the app, causing older items to change their position. If Zap is using that position to recognize the item (it’s not always the case), your Zap will trigger.
- Very old data resurfaced. This happens when you delete large amounts of already-seen data, causing the old data to reappear. If Zapier has never seen that data (it was created before the Zap), it might treat it as new.
While it’s a rare problem, it’s recommended that you always turn off the Zap when making big changes to your app’s data.
Bonus: How to Set the Trigger The Right Way
Now that you know the difference between a polling trigger and an instant trigger, it’s time to set a Zap trigger event. Here are the 5-steps to do that right:
- Select the App
First, select the app that you want to use as your Zap trigger. You can choose between third-party apps and Zapier built-in apps. Note that not all apps can be used as triggers:
- Select the Desired Event
Next, select the drop-down menu under Event (required).
Some apps have only one trigger event, while others have dozens. For this example, we chose Google Calendar. As you can see, it offers seven trigger events – two of them are instant triggers:
- Connect Your App Account
Once you select the event, Zapier will ask you to connect your account. You can either select one from the drop-down list (if you’ve already connected one) or connect a new one:
- Customize Trigger Options or Filters
In the next step, you’ll be asked to customize trigger options. Unlike actions, triggers usually have very few things that you can customize.
Because I chose the “New Event (Instant)” trigger, I can only select the calendar which the Zap should scan for new events.
- Test the Trigger
Next, Zapier will ask you to test the trigger. Once you hit the button, Zapier will scan for the latest events that pass your pre-set filters:
If there are none – Zapier will let you know that the Zap didn’t find any. If this happens, you’ll have to go back and check your trigger event configuration.
If there is no recent data in the app (or none at all), you might have to create it yourself.
For example, if you’re using a form submission trigger event, you’ll have to submit the form yourself. Without that, it’ll be impossible to configure the subsequent actions.
If the trigger event gets configured correctly, you should see event details. In some cases (if the polling trigger finds more events), you can select the drop-down events to view all of them:
Now that you’ve got the trigger data, you can use that data to set up and test subsequent actions.
Automate Your Business with Zapier
Understanding Zapier trigger types is critical if you want to master Zapier.
For example, by understanding how polling speed affects your business, you can decide which Zapier plan to choose.
You can also adjust your Zapier workflow to account for the delay. Or, in some rare cases, you might even decide to take the webhook route and avoid any wait time altogether.
Of course, if it all sounds overwhelming – don’t forget that you don’t have to set it all yourself.
Instead, consider hiring a Zapier consultant. Let them create Zaps that work (and automate your business).
Head over here to schedule a quick call or send a message describing your Zapier automation needs.
Hey, I’m Jacek. I’m the founder and Chief Automator at Clickleo.com
I’m on a mission to help you use automation to reclaim your time and achieve more in your business.
You can find out more about me – and why I started Clickleo – over on this page