How we built a popular Alexa skill with 60, 5-star reviews, 6x industry retention and made $880 last month.

It’s no secret that of the 40,000 skills 61% have no reviews. With average week one retention hovering around 6%. In 2 months, the Storyflow team built a skill with 100+ total reviews, 6x industry average retention while making $880 last month- not too shabby! This article will start out with foundational aspects of creating a successful skill, and then get into some more in-depth tips & tactics.

The Storyflow skill makes interactive children’s stories.

So, here’s the playbook on how to make a successful Alexa skill from someone that has done it.

1. Make great content and talk to users

This sounds like a no-brainer, but creators often seemed perplexed as to why their skill isn’t wildly successful, or featured by Amazon. I’d start off by asking yourself- is the content of your skill better than at least 90% of what else is on the store? The only way you can know if by asking your users. (P.S You’re own opinion is not valid proof) Here’s how I knew people loved Storyflow- they told us:

Your users are your greatest asset. Learn from them and tailor an experience that provides delight. However, like most products, users weren’t always so fond of Storyflow. Here are some more screenshots of when we just started out:

Formerly called Fable

For brevity I’ve only shared two examples of somewhat negative feedback. However, I have 20 more where these came from. You’re skill is not going to be successful if you don’t talk to users and leverage their feedback to make better content.

(1) Talk to users: Talk to people who have used your skill and ask for candid feedback. When doing so, try to remove all emotional ties you have to your skill. Don’t try to convince people it’s good. Rather, ask them why it’s not. Negative feedback drives improvements.

(2) Actually implement feedback: Don’t just talk to users because you know it’s the right thing to do, or want a warm and fuzzy “good job”. Do it to drive product improvements so the next round of feedback is better. If someone just says, “it’s pretty cool”- dig deeper.

(3) Do your homework: Enable the top skills on the store and study them. People have already determined their content is good, use this as a bar for your own unique content.

2. Pick a habit and build for it

For example, we chose bedtime stories as our beachhead. In doing so, if a user loved our product there would be a good chance they would go on to use it ever day around bedtime. Some great skills only get used once, because there is no incentive to come back. We’ll talk more about this later.

3. Use Amazon’s beta testing tool

As outlined above the current mentality Alexa skill creators looks like this:

If you’re just building a skill for fun, then that’s fine- but if you want more, then you need to do more. You’re lead up to launch should look more like this.

Whether you’re a hobbyist, or are trying to create a business, you can think of your Alexa skill like a startup. Most amazing companies aren’t built by people coding in their basement for 3 months and then posting about it online with the hopes of virality. Storyflow is no exception.

We had just over 100 people test our skill before we published live- using Amazon’s beta test tool from within the developer console.

We gained these beta users by posting non-spammy requests in popular Alexa Facebook groups to test a skill and provide blunt feedback. I highly recommend using the beta tool as a risk-free way (not getting a 1-star review off the bat- AKA the kiss of death) to gain feedback and make product improvements.

4. Create a community for your users

Storyflow created a private Facebook community which has grown to over 1200 parent’s using Storyflow. This is a place for users to voice feedback, refer Storyflow to friends, share experiences and learn about new content releases.

Our Facebook group has been instrumental in making our skill successful. We have the ability to talk to users daily.

Note: Don’t be afraid to start a community because you don’t have many users. Size doesn’t matter, the quality of feedback you gain does. Like all groups, our’s also started at 0.

Spikes in the graph are due to us asking users to invite their friends that would enjoy Storyflow. A major driver of user growth. Plus, it’s free.

5. Solve for retention early

Retention is the achilles heel of Alexa Skills. With no visual cues (for now), getting people to use your skill every day is a challenge, one that we also faced. Here’s our week 1 retention directly after public launch:

With a grand total of 7 users in 2 weeks, not a single one returned to use the skill. Yikes.

Here’s our most recent week 1 retention data:

With 202 new users, 46% of them came back to use the skill the following week. So what changed? Let’s dive in.

(1) We learned that content is king: User’s we’re willing to use us every day during bedtime, but their children constantly wanted new content. After learning this (by talking to users) we began making series of content with new ‘episodes’ released daily. Here’s an example:

Tiny Tales short bedtime stories

We built the Storyflow tool for content creators like ourselves. We made our tool in a way that makes it super easy to have multiple pieces of content on the same skill. Rather then having to build, launch and promote a new skill for every piece of content. That’s what others are doing, but we felt like that was comparable to making a new app for every song, as opposed to just hosting your music on Spotify. Here’s what it looks likes on our end.

Tiny Tales Episode 2 built on Storyflow’s creator tool

Tiny Tales Episode 2 is built on Storyflow’s creator tool, a code free Alexa skill builder. This piece of content is for a younger audience (3–5yo) and has very little complexity (I’ll show you something more complex we built later).

Storyflow CMS

Here’s our content management system where you can view, and edit all the content hosted on our skill. Storyflow is more like a channel on Alexa, rather then a one off skill- this is why our retention is 6x better then the average skill. We’ve also separated our live skill and our staging environment to allow creators to quickly test anything live on their device or in browser.

Outside a host of small product improvements, what solved retention for Storyflow was by continually creating and sharing amazing bite size content on the same skill. Our tool made this possible.

6. Collect and leverage basic data

We build a robust analytics tool from the ground up, specific to entertainment skills on Alexa, to allow creators to know exactly what’s happening in their skill on an individual user basis.

Here’s our top level overview since the start of October.

Now time for the good stuff. Our analytics tool allows you to see what pieces of content an individual user is listening to, how many stories they’ve started /finished, when they normally use the skill, when they joined, when they were last seen…etc.

confidential info covered

We can even view individual pieces of content consumed by a particular user.

Along with line by line data to track user drop off throughout a story/game.

User drop off on Storyflow

So, if you use Storyflow to create your skill and have access to your skills crucial data, you can then use it to create a more delight-able experience for users.

For example, let’s say a user by the name of Kelly starts off by listening to ‘Tiny Tales’ around bedtime. Well, with this data we know what to recommend to her next. Rather then recommending Dragon Trainer (a loud adventure story), we’re going to recommend something more appropriate to her use case (bedtime), creating a better overall customer experience and driving repeat usage- something very few Alexa skills effectively do.

7. How to build content that drives repeat use

Having good content is one thing, having content that drives a user to come back and do it over and over again is another. Storyflow uses complex scoring systems and global leaderboards to incentivize users to come back, even if it’s to do the same story/game for the 10th time.

Here’s an example using Movie Quiz, a multiplayer game made on Storyflow that collects points for correct answers with increasing points awarded for getting multiple questions correct in a row. You can do things like set wagers, decide how many questions you want to receive and add your contestants names which Alexa will say back to you when it’s your turn.

Variable system used on the right hand side to create complexity

But we don’t stop there, what’s the point of complexity if it amounts to nothing for the end user. We have a global leaderboard where every user of Storyflow can see how they stack up, with the weekly winner receiving a small prize (Storyflow t-shirt, or teddy bear).

Terri absolutely crushing

It’s small enhancements like these that will take your skill’s retention from 6% to 36%, and is all available by using Storyflow’s creator tool.

Conclusion

Well, that’s all I have for now. 7 pretty simple tips that we used to create a successful skill. It’s not rocket science, just a lot of iterating and talking to users while having the right tools to execute. If you have any questions I’d be happy to chat.

If you’d like to use Storyflow, to create your own skill and gain access to the features we used to grow our own- you can click the link below! Thanks for reading, and I wish you the best!