I’m very proud to present a guest blog post by Alexa Champion Ralf Eggert. He is currently founder and CEO of Travello, an officially recognised Alexa partner agency for Alexa Skill design and development. Since the beginning of 2017 Ralf also personally designs and develops skills some of which have become very popular. Fun fact: he powers the backend of his skills through a custom PHP framework he developed himself, called phlexa.
By Ralf Eggert, Alexa Champion
It is now relatively easy to create a new Alexa Skill. There is ample support for the development, the design and the marketing of Alexa Skills. Developers can follow YouTube videos or Twitch streams to learn and fine tune their Skills even more. However, what happens to an Alexa Skill after it has been released? What options and tools should a developer us to secure the smooth operation while at the same time continuously improving the Alexa Skill? This blog post hopes to shed some light on how to go about this by covering…
At Travello we found that almost every Alexa Skill goes through the same broad project phases. They are as follows:
I won’t go into the individual phases (1-6) in detail at this point. In principle, it doesn't matter whether someone has identified more, fewer or different project phases in their workstream as different teams have different ways of working. What is critical however, is what happens after the publication of an Alexa Skill: the so-called maintenance phase.
The maintenance phase for any Alexa Skill project will be the longest phase in its life cycle. Hardly any skill is “finished” after its first publication. The odds are it will need to be patched, tweaked, and improved on again. This maintenance phase is actually a broad meta-phase in which the previous phases such as conception, design, implementation and testing are regularly run through for new features or improvements. We call this phase the Continuous Maintenance Phase. In the following I explain the different tools and possibilities to continuously improve a published Alexa Skill in this phase.
The metrics that can be found for every Alexa Skill in the Alexa Developer Console under the tab »Analytics« represent a valuable source for the analysis of your Alexa Skill. Here you will find a lot of data and analytical insights to ensure proper visibility on the success of your skill and to identify possible technical issues. There are definitely some parts which are worth a regular look.
The Summary tab should be viewed daily or at least once a week (preferably on the same day of the week). The default setting here is seven days and that should be more than sufficient if you consult this section regular regularly. In this way, it is easier to identify rising or falling trends. One word of advice (based on experience): you shouldn't panic if your skill drops in a week or if it suddenly goes through the roof. Weekly fluctuations are quite normal. It is more about long-term trends. You can see below an example screenshot of my Summary tab:
This tool is a data mine, so check it regularly and most importantly: act on any issues you spot!
I’ll cover the Intent History separately from the Analytics section as I don’t consider it to be distinct from the other metrics previously discussed and it is found on a completely different part of the Developer Console: in the » Build « tab.
When you first look at the Intent History of a well-performing Alexa Skill, you might feel overwhelmed by the shear amount of data. To get started, I recommend the following step-by-step procedure for analysing your Alexa Skills using the Intent History:
The most important thing about the Intent History is that you check it regularly. It gives you the awareness you need to solve problems better and even get ideas for new features.
The reviews in the Alexa Skill catalogue can be a great source of good news, as well as bad. They are an essential feedback tool for you and can also contain information about problems and tips for new features. Here, too, we have developed some best practices:
In summary, cherish any positive reviews but embrace the (constructive) negative ones.
You shouldn’t blindly adopt any new feature that the Alexa Team provides immediately. Having said that, you should keep yourself informed about innovations as some can be relevant for your particular use case and could open up new experiences that were not previously possible. This can be done via this Alexa Developer Blog or via the Developer Newsletter. Another great source is the Feature Updates section.
Sometimes, a new feature can instantly solve an older problem that you had to find a workaround for. Other times, parked ideas from the past that you couldn't implement with the feature-set at the time suddenly become unblocked. So definitely keep yourself informed about these innovations and make your own roadmap for the future.
I hope this post was able to shed some light on how you can continuously improve and expand your Alexa Skills. Check the metrics regularly, clean up problematic utterances in the intent history, don't be afraid of negative reviews and keep up to date with what's new. Cheers!