Amazon Guides Developers on Alexa Skill Discovery Tactics and How to Get Featured
This past week at Voice Summit AI I heard a new term: Alexa skill graveyard. The implication was that among the 37,000 Alexa skills in the U.S. and tens of thousands more globally, there are many that are never used and among them many that are not maintained. Other skills are supposedly “low quality” or “experiments,” which has some basis in truth. This “clutter” makes it harder to discover new Alexa skills. If you had one of only 100 skills available, it would be easier for consumers to find, but that is not where we are today. Skill developers face the challenge of determining how to rise above the clutter and capture more consumer trial. It’s a fine thing to talk about retention, but there is no retention without trial. Everything starts with discovery.
The Value of Alexa Skill Store Hero Banners
Amazon has recently introduced nameless invocations and the CanFulfillIntentRequest feature. This will help drive Alexa recommendations to users of skills to try based on queries or past experience. However, that capability is still new and will take some time to mature. The tried and true method for generating a large increase in users is to get featured in the Alexa skill store. In 2017, many developers said that getting a hero banner in the Alexa skill store would increase your daily user base by about eight times. Today, one experienced developer tells Voicebot that a hero banner is worth about 6,000 new user trials per day.
Everyone agrees that getting a hero banner is a good thing for driving skill discovery. Amazon’s Paul Cutsinger breaks through the mystique in a blog post today to help developers better understand how Amazon chooses which skills to feature. He also points out that you need to already have some users and adoption momentum before you will get noticed by Amazon and considered for a hero banner.
One of the criteria for selection is high customer engagement. When you have more customers using your skill, we see that as a signal that your skill provides an engaging voice experience. Promote your skill to eager Alexa users and generate a baseline of customers to enhance your promotion eligibility.
In other words, if you have no audience you are unlikely to get Amazon to promote your skill. You must build an audience and demonstrate your popularity before hitting Amazon’s radar as having potential for skill promotion. Think of the hero banner or featured tiles in the skill store as a means to boost your growing audience and not to find one. As a result, Mr. Cutsinger’s guidance is about how to promote your Alexa skill in general and what criteria can help you get discovered organically which may in turn help you get a hero banner in the skill store. Cutsinger writes:
One of the most common questions we receive from developers is ‘How can I get my skill featured by Amazon?’ We review and consider all skills. The ones that we choose have a few things in common:
- High customer engagement. They are customer-focused and keep users coming back for more.
- Great customer experience. They are fully functional and user tested to eliminate friction in the customer experience.
- Fresh content. They offer new, exciting, or up-to-date content to keep customers coming back.
- High reliability. They are load tested and able to handle high customer traffic.
How to Get Featured is Based on How to Grow an Audience
Guidance for developers is broken down into five areas. The first two are about skill characteristics are are likely to entire repeat usage. Recommendations three and four are about avoiding problems caused by falling short of user expectations. Finally, number five is where this whole thing started: promotion to drive trial. The order is likely intentional. There is no sense in driving trial if you don’t provide a solid experience and your users’ first trial is likely to be their last. Make sure your first impression is a good one. It may be your only shot.
- “Design Your Skill with Your Customer in Mind.” The lesson here is to build a skill with a clear benefit that fulfills a specific need and entices users to to come back gain.
- “Keep Customers Coming Back with Fresh Content.” Don’t let your Alexa skill get stale. Continually update it and offer new content and features to deepen the value and as before, entice users to come back again.
- “Deliver a Seamless Customer Experience.” Amazon means to set expectations about what your skill can do and fulfill that promise. Cutsinger also refers to performance capabilities such as ensuring quick responses. This is about meeting expectations users subtly form by using other first and third party skills. They are accustomed to fast response times elsewhere and expect them from your skill as well.
- “Make Sure Your Skill is Consistently Reliable.” When a user wants to use your skill, can they access it? If there is a spike in usage, will your infrastructure enable everyone to use your skill simultaneously? If not, then you are likely to have unhappy users that do not come back. Worse yet, they may leave you a bad review.
- “Promote Your Skill to Drive Engagement.” At Voice Summit AI in Newark this past week, everyone was in agreement about promotion. Do it. Use owned, earned and paid channels to drive usage. Cutsinger touches on the owned (e.g. your website) and earned (e.g. social media). Many others insist that advertising is also an important consideration to drive initial trial among broad consumer segments.
Amazon is making a big push this year around quality of skills and on discovery. The quality push is to ensure when skills are discovered, users are likely to have a good experience. Discovery is about surfacing the best skills so users have a more delightful experience on Alexa and high quality developers capture well-deserved session growth. Mr. Cutsinger’s blog post is good advice around quality and skill hygiene. Assume those are table stakes for getting featured in the Alexa skill store. However, don’t overlook promotion. Even the best Alexa skills need some promotion to get their audience started.