I woke up at 4:30 am on November 30th to check the front page of Amazon’s Alexa Skill Store. I was informed the day before from Amazon that my Alexa Skill Cork Ornamentswould be featured. How did I get there?
My Amazon Alexa Journey
I’ve been creating Alexa Skills for Amazon since 2016, and have over a dozen published Alexa skills under my moniker CraftyC. Elizabeth Simpson, Steve Youngblood, and I created skills for companies including Kids2 for their Baby Einstein Storytime Alexa Skillas Alexa Dev Group.
This is my 10th LinkedIn article on Voice User Interface (VUI). If you’re wondering what the heck an Alexa Skill is, please check out my Alexa 101 post here, or just click on my profile to see all of my recent articles.
My strategy is simple, I create one Alexa Skill of each type to show a breadth / depth of understanding. Here are a few examples:
- API Calls – Rent Prices – This skill pulls current rental prices by zip code.
- Button Skill – Georgia Tech Trivia – This skill is a game show on famous Georgia Tech Alumni that utilizes Echo Buttons for the players to “buzz in.”
- Atlanta Food, Atlanta Running Guide, and Wireless Technology Forum – These skills are optimized for Echo devices with screens with beautiful graphics to illuminate content. Wireless Technology Forum includes a short summary video about the organization.
- Audio Skills – Balanced Running – Tina Klein is a certified running coach and world-ranked track and field athlete. Her coaching in her voice (recorded MP3s) can be found in this skill.
Amazon’s staff are constantly searching to find unique skills to feature on the front page. In November, they searched for a holiday themed skill with premium content. Fortunately, my skill, Cork Ornaments, fit the criteria, and Ben from Amazon contacted me via email and phone. We set up time for a phone meeting to discuss next steps.
In my phone meeting with Ben from Amazon, we covered the following:
- Required changes to my Cork Ornaments skill to be considered for Amazon promotion. Required changes were simply the bare-bones updates that Amazon required for certification since the skill was previously certified. No problem.
- Suggested changes to my Cork Ornaments skill. AKA, keys to success.
- Disclaimer that even if I make all of the changes, my Cork Ornaments skill may not be featured by Amazon. Time period, 7 days if selected for promotion. Timeline: I needed to submit my updated skill by Thanksgiving in order to be considered for promotion in early December. The timeframe was key as this is a holiday skill.
Secretly, I was less than thrilled that Ben wanted to feature my Cork Ornaments skill. At that time, the Cork Ornaments skill featured verbal tutorials explaining how to craft ornaments from wine corks. It was not the crown jewel / showcase skill from my portfolio.
Fortunately, the suggested changes Ben recommended were exactly what I needed, and would get my skill featured. Ben suggested that I add Alexa Presentation Language (APL) to my Cork Ornaments skill. Adding visual images to a verbal tutorial was truly the key to success.
Unfortunately, I did not have photos / images of most of the ornaments described within my Cork Ornaments skill. Furthermore, this skill featured 10+ projects / tutorials.
I got to work immediately. First I reviewed the APL documentation from Amazon to understand the syntax. Next, I physically crafted all 10+ ornaments in one afternoon. Nancy Thompson was a tremendous friend to me. I sent a preview to Nancy and her response was, “Wow – they look even better than in real life!” Thank you Nancy!
For example, I created a tutorial image for each project. Here’s the screen for the Cork Reindeer Ornament tutorial.
When Alexa verbally describes the steps to make a cork reindeer ornament, I added the visual to accompany the verbal tutorial.
I also created a welcome screen to provide the user with samples of the tutorials included with my skill.
I submitted my new and improved Cork Ornaments skill on November 20, the first day that Amazon accepted APL skills for certification. (2 days before Thanksgiving)
On Thanksgiving morning, my changes to Cork Ornaments were rejected by Amazon. I went into the Alexa Developer forums and found another developer that was also rejected for the same reason. We “worked together” virtually to solve the problem via the developer forum over Thanksgiving weekend. I resubmitted my skill to Amazon.
My updated Cork Ornaments skill was approved Monday morning after Thanksgiving. Yay!
The next step was to notify Ben at Amazon that I had met his criteria for Amazon promotion and cross my fingers. Ben kept me in the loop all week while I waited to find out if my skill would be featured by Amazon. On Thursday, I was officially notified that my Cork Ornaments skill would be featured for 7 days on the Alexa Skill Store front page. Woo Hoo!
Looking back, it was a crazy ride, and an educational experience. I learned APL features, functionality, pitfalls, and opportunities in a compressed timeline. I’m not only proud to say that I was featured by Amazon, but I now have one of the first Amazon approved APL skills in history.