In 2022, we had lots of new developers getting started on their skill building journey. To help new developers coming into 2023, we’ve put together a summary of the top 5 questions we saw specifically coming from new developers. If you’re already inspired, start your skill today, and keep this list in mind as you build!
1. Certification - understanding feedback, automated testing, manual testing
It’s no surprise to see certification as the top issue for new Alexa developers. Certification is one of the biggest components to publishing a skill, and is critical to ensuring a smooth and trusted user experience. Navigating our certification requirements can be tricky for new developers.
Solution: Read this blog we published recently that focuses on 5 common certification failures that include metadata problems, response errors, example phrase issues, test account credentials not working, and closing a session after a response.
Certification is comprised of multiple phases: automated testing, functional testing, policy testing, security testing, and user experience testing. Within each phase, there are specific “test cases” that represent the actions our certification team will take to test your skill for compliance. You can find the full list here. Of course, exceptions do happen, so if you ever disagree with a test result or don’t understand the issue, our support team is here to help.
Automated testing: To speed up the certification timeline, some certification test cases are performed with automation. You can see the results of these tests within the developer console on the Certification > Validation tab.
Functional testing: These test cases ensure your skill works the way it is supposed to. We check metadata (your skill description and what you show users on the store page), any visual elements and interaction, account linking, video or audio streams, and any APIs are working appropriately. We will also block skills that look like samples, tests (not meant for public ingestion), or templates.
Policy, Security, and User Experience testing: We’ve grouped these tests into one section since they are all types of policy. Policy guidelines can be tricky and subjective when it comes to understanding, so before you develop a skill idea, please make sure you carefully review the guidelines and consider potential compliance issues. Security tests are straightforward and generally are functionality requirements about customer data protection policies. Lastly, the User Experience tests help enforce best practices for a higher quality skill experience across all Alexa skills.
Certification test cases aren’t always easy to understand or may have multiple interpretations. We are happy to discuss any questions, clarify the intent or meaning behind a given test case, or provide other support to get you over the certification hump. Reach out through the Contact Us page with your skill details or idea.
2. Skill management - publishing in the right locales, publishing timelines, skill status
Skill management is related to certification but usually is a bit further in the submission process. Most of these questions related to this stage are about skills that have been submitted and are either still within the certification stage or have just finished certification (either approved or rejected).
Within Certification: The biggest question about a skill still in certification is, “Why hasn’t certification completed yet?” As a rule of thumb, we ask for 5 business days to certify a skill, but most skills are certified sooner. When certification is taking longer than expected, it is usually due to a policy concern. These can be minimized by carefully reviewing the policy guidelines before creating a skill, and if there are any potential compliance issues you foresee, calling those out and clarifying why you believe it is compliant in your skill’s Testing Instructions (under the developer console Distribution > Privacy & Compliance tab).
Shortly after Certification: There are two very common questions right after we see a skill finish certification:
Why can’t I find my skill in the store?
There are two reasons why this might happen. You are checking for your skill too soon after it has been published — give it a few hours! Most often, this happens because you have published your skill in a different marketplace than their own. In order to be able to search a skill in the skill store, the skill has to be in the language locale of that given marketplace. For the US marketplace, the locale required is en_US; for the IN marketplace, the skill must have the en_IN locale. If you publish a US skill but are located elsewhere, your account marketplace won’t map to the US marketplace and you won’t be able to see the skill. To avoid this problem, select “In all countries and regions where Amazon distributes skills” for publishing availability in the Distribution > Availability tab. Don’t worry; the languages your skill supports will automatically limit distribution to only marketplaces supporting those locales.
What happened to my certification feedback?
Certification feedback is missing! We find that feedback is often delivered to a different email than the developer expected. Every account has two account email types associated: the user email, and the company email. Your user email is what you use to log into your account. You can have multiple users and user emails per account. The company email is what the account owner/administrator sets on the developer console Settings > Company Profile page. All account-level communications, including skill certification results, are sent to your Company Profile email address. This is not customizable, but as an account administrator you can update it any time. If you can’t find your results even still, check your spam folder.
3. Skill building - interaction models, NLU issues, design
Designing for voice can be a new concept for many developers. There are special considerations and adjustments that need to be made when designing for voice-first and voice-only experiences. We recommend leveraging our Alexa design guide to help with conventions, best practices, and tips and tricks. Beyond design concepts, once you are actually building your skill and focusing on your skill’s interaction model in the developer console, things can get tricky as you try to understand slots, intents, or even Alexa Conversations. You can find a high level rundown here, but you can get deeper on these concepts here.
It is important to note that designing an interaction model is more relevant for custom skill types; not all skill types are built the same way or require the same degree of manual coding. Check out our full list of skill types here and see if there’s an easier way for you to bring your skill concept to life.
Sometimes, developers experience Natural Language where you can get unexpected feedback that your example phrases or invocation name aren’t working, or live skills get unexpected customer complaints and bad reviews. We always recommend conducting comprehensive testing with your voice if at all possible (you can even use your phone if you don’t have a device). Let us know through Contact Us if you think your skill is having an NLU issue.
4. Policy issues - invocation names, child-directed skills, content
Our fourth highest issue type in 2022 for new developers focused on policy concerns. Policy concerns are a challenge for developers because inherently, policies are subjective and up for interpretation.
If you are experience policy failures in certification, edit your testing instructions (Distribution > Privacy & Compliance tab) before you resubmit to provide clarification for testers, and if you continue having issues, open a Contact Us case.
Common policy failures include issues with invocation names (one-word isn’t allowed, and brand names need IP rights), issues with skill content (user-generated and unmoderated, or inappropriate), and having a child-directed skill without indicating it is a kid skill and getting proper approvals. These are all included on our policy checklist.
5. Smart home device discovery
Smart Home skills are very popular with customers as Smart Home devices are increasingly being brought into homes. A Smart Home skill allows device makers to offer an Alexa-supported experience to users. You can learn more here. One common issue in Smart Home skills is device discovery - that is, the Alexa app cannot discover the Smart Home device to pair to. This can be a tricky technical issue to resolve, but there are some quick steps to debug the issue:
- Check that your account is in the correct marketplace. All endpoints in the Discover.Response must have a supported locale. Otherwise, your Alexa app will not discover the device endpoint. (Learn more here)
- Check that your AWS Lambda functions are hosted in the corresponding AWS region. If your Smart Home skill is offered in en_US, the AWS region must be US East (N. Virginia). For en_UK skills, the AWS region must be EU (Ireland). (All region/locale pairs and more info here)
- Make sure you aren’t having a size or timeout issue. The payload for a device discover response event can be at most 256 kilobytes (KB), and a response must occur within 8 seconds.
As you learn and begin building on Alexa, keep these top issues and solutions in mind, and leverage our support team and developer community Slack for any help as you go.
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