Alexa Skills: The Discoverability Conundrum

Ian Wilson
Jan 1 · 4 min read

This article refers to Alexa skills specifically, but it can be applied more holistically across the voice app landscape.

You have a great idea for a voice-based app.

You embrace the new technology and create an Alexa skill.

You test it thoroughly.

You publish it.

You get very excited when you see your published work appear in the Alexa Skills Store.

Then nothing.

You get despondent that people are not flocking to use your skill and providing rave reviews.

The issue of ‘discoverability’ is not a new one. To some degree it’s always been the case with web sites and apps too, and it’s definitely a factor that’s holding back the broadening of voice app usage. This article refers to Alexa skills specifically, but it can be applied more holistically across the voice app landscape.

Despite there now being more than 100,000 published skills, the majority of Alexa interaction is still limited to core Amazon features such as making lists, listening to music, asking for general information, setting timers etc. It’s unreasonable to expect many people to find your skill in the Alexa store, especially given the amount of dross that resides in the skill store, making it harder for quality skills to stand out. You might get the odd hit but expecting consumers to find and ‘pull’ your skill in large quantities is unlikely if they don’t even know it exists.

Rather than waiting on the consumer ‘pull’, what methods are available to ‘push’ the skill proactively towards the consumer?

Existing Channels. If you have an existing brand, then promotion of your skill can be done through the same channels as your web site. It’s commonplace to see URLs on pretty much all marketing material. But the same is not true for skills. How many skills have you seen advertised in the same way as a website URL? Not many I would guess, and quite possibly none. ‘Just Ask Amazon Alexa’ logos will gradually become more mainstream, though at the moment it’s rare to see brands doing this — Talisker Whisky is an exception, with promotion of a tasting experience on printed adverts and on the bottle label.

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If your skill is standalone and not linked to a recognised brand, then other promotional methods need to be explored.

Skill Distribution. Do all you can to make your skill discoverable on the Alexa store and increase the chances of being found. Devote sufficient time to come up with a compelling skill name, eye catching icon and highly relevant keywords when going through the distribution stage in the Alexa Developer Console.

Invocation Name. Give your skill a memorable invocation name. Worst case scenario is a consumer becomes aware of your skill and uses it, only to not be able to remember how to invoke it a few days later when they want to revisit the skill.

Friends and Family. Ask friends and family to try out the skill and leave a review. This is a great way to get interest started.

Social Media. Run your own marketing campaigns via social media channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. It’s a no-brainer and involves just a small amount of your time and pretty much zero cost. Leverage your existing network to become early adopters of your skill and also to spread the word into their own networks. Maybe even include a video of your skill in action.

Cross Promotion. If you have a website or app that relates to your skill, give your skill prominent promotion on those platforms. If that’s not possible, see what other related/complementary sites are around and investigate whether the owners of those sites can promote your skill. Maybe you can agree a reciprocal arrangement.

Amazon Promotion. Amazon are investing heavily in promoting Alexa to end users. Some of this relates to their own core features as mentioned above, but they are also keen to showcase quality third party skills. This is done via various channels, including email newsletters and also featured skills in the Alexa store. Gaining Amazon’s interest is more of an art than a science, but key features Amazon look out for include:

o The skill is customer focussed and generates return visits

o The skill offers a great customer experience in that it is robust, well tested and easy to use

o The skill offers new or exciting content

o The skill is scalable and can handle high volumes of traffic

Amazon expect to see usage of the skill before they will consider their own promotion of it. It’s a bit chicken and egg, but subscribing to some of the other points itemised here will help provide that initial traction.

In conclusion, there will no doubt be greater consumer awareness in time with voice assistant usage becoming more mainstream. Plus the voice assistant providers such as Amazon and Google will no doubt find better ways of hooking up consumers with voice apps. But for now, the onus is on the skill producer to plug their skill and then plug it some more.

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Ian Wilson

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A freelance IT consultant, which suggests a bias towards logic — but have always been interested in finding ways to express myself in more abstract ways too

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