The future looks bright for voice search. If you search online for these words – or any version of them – you’ll be met with many grand forecasts and strong convictions. Although no-one can know exactly what’s going to happen for sure, it’s good to know that voice search is heading in the right direction. Which is why we’ve put together some information on one of the most exciting developments in the world of voice search: Alexa skills!

Understanding the Voice Landscape

To understand the value of Alexa skills, we must first look at the voice landscape as a whole. In 2018, smart speaker usage in the UK doubled; this meant a rise to 9.5 million monthly active users, according to eMarketer. The predominant players in the market are Amazon (Alexa), Google (Home), Apple (Siri) and Microsoft (Cortana), with Alexa commanding the highest market share (68%). As such, it makes sense for anyone looking to make more use of voice assistants to approach Alexa first.

The following image shows the number of daily downloads of the Alexa app on the Google Play store, a good indicator of the growth rate for Alexa-enabled devices:

Source: https://voicebot.ai/amazon-echo-alexa-stats/

How can we ‘optimise’ for Alexa? Introduction to Alexa Skills

It doesn’t take long at all for an Amazon Echo speaker to become an essential part of someone’s home; however, Alexa is nothing without the skills that make it tick. Alexa skills are apps enabling Amazon’s voice assistant to connect to hardware and software with a view to performing certain tasks. Also, because it has an open API, the list of Alexa-compatible services and devices is growing every single day.

Here are just some of the things an Echo can do for its users:

  • Request an Uber. This comes in handy when you need a ride quickly and without any fuss.
  • Play music on Spotify. ‘Alexa, play [choice] from Spotify.’ ‘Alexa, play what’s hot in [country].’ Need great tunes? Not a problem.
  • Order from JustEat, Starbucks, etc.
  • Update your shopping list while your hands are busy cooking. Run out of an ingredient? ‘Ocado, add [product(s)] to my shopping cart.’ It really is that easy.

Building Alexa Skills

It’s easy to get started with building your Alexa skills. The Alexa skills kit has all the resources you need to grow and develop your Alexa skill set and reach (potentially) millions of customers.

Structuring an Alexa skills request takes some getting used to; it isn’t always easy to perfect the formula first time around, but a little trial and error goes a long way. Alexa is command-based, with a typical command consisting of the following:

  • A wake word, initiating Alexa’s attentive demeanour. The default wake word is ‘Alexa,’ but this can be customised in your device settings. At the time of writing, available wake words are ‘Alexa,’ ‘Amazon,’ ‘Echo,’ and ‘Computer.’
  • A launch phrase, telling Alexa to trigger a certain skill. Launch phrases include ‘ask,’ ‘launch,’ ‘start,’ ‘show,’ and many others.
  • An invocation name, which is the name of the skill you want to trigger.
  • An utterance. This tells Alexa exactly what the skill should do (unless your launch phrase is ‘start’ or ‘launch’). Static utterances don’t give you much flexibility, so Alexa lets you add dynamic parts to each command, called slots.

Hopefully, this framework can be a helpful tool for you when it comes to building your Alexa skills. The following image better illustrates the Alexa skills template in action:

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/AmazonWebServices/aws-reinvent-2016-workshop-creating-voice-experiences-with-alexa-skills-from-idea-to-testing-in-two-hours-alx203

Refining Your Alexa Skill Set

‘Practice makes perfect’ is an adage that applies perfectly to Alexa skills. Because in the grand scheme of things use of this technology is still in its infancy, there are likely to be a few teething troubles, but the payoff promises to be totally worth it. And seeing as users can review skills, and how they correlate with their relevant services, you are free to use the feedback to refine your Alexa skill set and hopefully streamline your voice tech usage a little bit. Enjoy!

Whether turning up your heating or ordering some dinner, there’s almost no end to the number of ways voice technology makes our lives easier. And by understanding how Alexa skills fit into day-to-day living and working life, you can figure out how to make the system work best in scenarios specific to both you and your business.