AlexaDev Tuesday: Tips For Improving Alexa Skill Discoverability

Alexa skill discoverability is weighing heavily on many devs’ minds, now that Amazon has started offering royalty payments for top-performing skills. Even the most amazing, engaging skill ever can’t earn its designer a dime if consumers aren’t finding it.


Where Is Your App


Here are some tips that may help ensure more Alexa device users find your skills.


1. Name your skill strategically.
I’ve previously mentioned the importance of keeping skill titles and invocation phrases short and memorable, but it’s also important to think in terms of the types of queries users are most likely to make of Alexa—even when they have no idea a skill may exist for what they want Alexa to do.

For example, this week I released a new skill called Make Me Smile. It’s a super-simple skill that dispenses cheerful, amusing factoids on demand. The morning it went live I noticed usage statistics started ramping up right away, before I’d made any mention of the skill at all through my usual social media channels or on this site. It turns out people were finding my skill because they were experimentally asking Alexa to ‘make me smile’, expecting Alexa to have some kind of baked-in, Easter Egg -type response.

In this case the naming was a stroke of luck, but it’s something I’ll be pondering when naming any future skills. Ask yourself: if the user were to assume this functionality already exists natively with the Alexa service, how would they ask for it?


2. Shoot for less crowded skill categories.
Some skill categories are more sparsely populated than others, so if discoverability is crucial you might want to focus development efforts in the category areas where the field is less crowded. Games skills are fun to write and and play, but that category is already stuffed to the gills and sure to become even more crowded when Amazon releases its Alexa buttons and the accompanying developer tools.

Don’t try to take the shortcut of sticking your skill in a less crowded category where it doesn’t really belong, though. People browsing a given category will of course be hoping to find skills that legitimately belong in that category. You can even find your skill saddled with critical reviews based solely on user annoyance that your entry isn’t the type of skill the user thought it would be, or doesn’t do what the user expected it to do.


3. Feeling hamstrung by limited Alexa skill categories? Do some research in the Amazon mobile app store.
Alexa skill categories are currently much more limited, and limiting, than what’s available for mobile apps. It can be difficult to know exactly how to classify a skill that doesn’t seem to fit perfectly into any of the existing Alexa skill categories.

Mobile app usage has already “trained” users in app discoverability, and led them to certain expectations and assumptions about which apps belong where. To ensure your Alexa skill is correctly and optimally categorized, browse the Amazon mobile app store for mobile apps whose function is similar to that of your skill. Drop your skill into the category that most closely matches the category of the comparable mobile app.


4. Do some research in the Alexa skill store, too.
Before you get too deep into development of a new skill, search the skill store to see if something like it already exists. If you find one or more similar skills, are they using the skill names and invocation phrases you intended to use? If so, are there other, equally good / discoverable skill titles and invocation phrases you can use for your skill?

I have a concept for a home remedies skill for instance, but I’m not going to bother building it because there are already skills called Home Remedy and Home Remedies. Since “home remedy” and “home remedies” are the most likely phrases users will employ to launch this type of skill, even if users are specifically interested in my skill most of them will inadvertently end up enabling and using my competitors’ skills.

Alternatively, if you find similar skills with names and invocation phrases that can be improved upon, then get hustling on your skill so you can lay claim to the better name and invocation phrase(s) right away, before some other dev grabs them.


5. Ensure your skill icons are eye-catching and legible, even in the smallest size.
Mobile is king nowadays, so you can’t count on users to shop the skill store in a full-sized browser window. Your skill icon must communicate the function, value, or best feature of your skill at a glance, even in its smallest 108x108px size.

For example, I recently chose a cutout photo of an apple as the icon for a new Health & Fitness skill. It’s instantly identifiable, even in a small size, and apples are something most people associate with health. My Fall Screensaver skill shows a photo slideshow of fall imagery with backing music, and its icon is a photo of a burnt orange Maple leaf. The image immediately conveys what the skill is all about, and it’s easy to identify in the smallest icon size.


Discoverability is not entirely outside your control, and there are things you can do to improve it without spending money on promotion.