Build Your First Alexa Skill

Why Build Your First Alexa Skill?

Alexa enables customers to interact with technology in the most natural and intuitive way—with their voice. Today, developers can build voice-driven Alexa capabilities, called skills, to engage and delight their customers. Using the Alexa Skills Kit, which is a collection of tools and templates, anyone can leverage Amazon's pioneering work in conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language understanding to build voice experiences quickly and easily.

Why build your first Alexa skill?

5 Steps to Building Your First Alexa Skill

To help you get started, here's an overview of the skill-building process and the five steps you can follow to design, build, and publish an Alexa skill.

Step 1: Design Your Voice Experience

After you've created your Alexa developer account, you may be tempted to start tinkering with the Alexa Skills Kit. While it's great to have your account up and running, the first step to build a skill doesn't actually require any tools at all! That's because you should design the experience before you build it.

The more thought and effort you put into developing your voice idea and designing the experience, the more successful it will be. The design process can take a few hours or a few weeks—it depends on the scale and complexity of your vision.

First, make sure your idea is a good fit for voice. The best voice ideas are those that naturally lend themselves to conversation. Litmus test your idea with the following criteria:

  • Be adaptable. Will the skill make life easier for users by allowing them to speak naturally?
  • Be personable. Will the skill remember the user's preferences in order to help them more quickly?
  • Be available. Will the skill allow users to lead the interaction?
  • Be relatable. Will the skill cooperate with the user, working with them to accomplish something? 

For example, a skill that navigates through a slide presentation sounds fantastic, but depending on implementation, it may or may not meet these criteria. Will the user simply be “clicking” through menus with their voice? Or will the skill allow them to ask to see specific slides in the same way they might ask a colleague?

Next, identify your users. You should have a clear understanding of who will be using your skill and how your skill meets a specific need or objective they have. Consider what your users want. These "wants" will become your skill's intents. How will your users converse with your skill? Are they teenagers immersed in the latest pop culture? Or are they sailors used to maritime metaphors? You'll need to know ahead of time so that you can anticipate the language they'll use (their utterances) and tailor the experience.

When thinking through who's going to use your skill, ask the following

  • What are these people like? (background, interests, motivations, etc.)
  • What do they want from my skill?
  • When are they most likely to use my skill?
  • Will they be using slang or jargon of any kind? 

Then next part of the design process is writing a script. Scripts show the conversation between the user and Alexa, like in a movie or play, and are a great way to determine how conversation will flow. When writing, you're essentially scripting an entire conversation, which can go in almost any direction. It can be difficult to anticipate every possible direction a conversation could take, so we recommend starting with “the happy path,” which is the best-case script in which Alexa responds exactly how the user wants and creates a delightful user experience.

After you've written your script, grab a friend and read out the dialog to make sure it sounds natural and conversational. As you read, take note of the situations in which your friend wanted to go off script or to say something unexpected. Check out the voice design guide for more tips on writing scripts and sample dialogs.

The last part of the design step is to use your script to identify the language that will define your voice interaction. These language elements include:

  • Intents, which represent what users can ask your skill to do. It's important to think of these less as “what your skill can do” and more “what users intend to get from your skill.” Your skill might help users to plan a trip, get a status, tell a joke, or attack a monster—these are intents.
  • Utterances, which are the sentences a person says to Alexa. They're made up of keyword commands and natural speech sounds like filler words.
  • Slots, which allow people to specify variable parts of an utterance, for example city or date. Slots are common in task and information-focused skills. 

Check out the voice design guide for more information about writing intents and utterances.