Alexa Skill FAQs

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In this post, I will discuss the basics of Alexa Skills for a non-technical perspective.

  • What is an Alexa Skill and why should I care?
  • How to name your Alexa Skill according to Amazon’s guidelines
  • Minimum things you need to get started creating an Alexa Skill
  • Can I create an Alexa Skill without coding?
  • Most often asked question about Alexa Skills

What is an Alexa Skill and why should I care?

An Alexa Skill is similar to an app on your smartphone. You can enable and disable skills with your voice, most skills (if they have a unique name) come enabled by default. The vast majority of Alexa Skills are created by 3rd party developers, not Amazon. As of December 2018, there were over 70,000 published skills in the Alexa Skill store.

One of the most common questions I am asked as an AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder is, “How can I change Alexa (globally) to promote my business?” i.e. How can I ensure that Alexa tells all users about my business? (If you’d like to know the #1 question I am asked about Alexa, I’ll disclose at the end of this post.)

My Answer: The best way to promote your business on Alexa is to create an Alexa Skill about your business. As the domain name and/or trademark owner of your business, you can create an Alexa Skill about your business to be published in the Alexa Skill store. From a marketing perspective, businesses need be available on as many platforms as possible, instead of expecting prospects to find them. Gone are the days of expecting your clients to find your website.

This article focuses on “Custom Skills,” the most common type of Alexa skills today. Follow this link for a full explanation on all types of Alexa Skills.

How to name your Alexa Skill according to Amazon’s guidelines

Amazon approves every skill in the Alexa Skill store. As a starting point, your first Alexa Skill should be named after your company. Amazon will request documentation that you own your trademark or domain name, and you are authorized to create an Alexa Skill on behalf of your company. You can submit a screenshot showing you own your domain name, and send yourself (or the developer that you hire) an email (from your domain name, i.e. stating, “I am an authorized owner of Company XYZ and I authorize Caroline Dunn of Alexa Dev Group to submit an Alexa Skill on Company XYZ’s behalf.”

If you create an Alexa Skill that is not your company name, you’ll need to find a 2 to 3 word name that accurately represents the purpose of the skill. Note that I said 2 to 3 words for the name of your skill. Amazon does not allow 1 word invocation names, unless you own the trademark.

What is an invocation name? An invocation name is equivalent to opening an app on your smartphone. Let’s say your company’s name is “Acme Industries.” Your skill name should then be “Acme Industries,” and your invocation name would be, “Acme Industries.” For a user to launch your skill, they would say, “Alexa open Acme Industries.”

Can I have a different invocation name from Alexa Skill name?

Short answer yes, long answer is that a different invocation name is confusing to the end user, and not advisable. I have published a skill in which the invocation name is different from the skill name. My skill name was Georgia Tech Traditions, and my invocation phrase was, “Alexa, launch rambling wreck.” Check it out here.

There are exceptions to every rule, which is why Amazon does not require skill names and invocation names to match perfectly. For example, if your company’s name was “Marathon Runners Unite to Feed the Hungry,” but your company was commonly referred to, and owned the domain name, then I’d suggest that your invocation name be “runners feed.”

Follow this link for a full list of Amazon’s policies on skill naming / invocation names

What is the absolute minimum I need to get started creating my custom Alexa Skill?

  • Skill name
  • Invocation name
  • Short text description
  • Detailed text description
  • Keywords
  • Category (You’ll select from a dropdown list.)
  • Is this skill created for kids under the age of 13 to use? (Yes or No)
  • Does this skill contain advertising? (Yes or No)
  • Skill Icon
  • Countries and languages that your skill will be available. Keeping in mind that for each language/country, you will need all of the above. I go into detail on languages/countries in a future post.

Note that you do not need to own an Amazon Echo device. You can test with a simulator such as

Can I create an Alexa Skill without coding?

Yes, you can create your own Alexa Skill about your business today! Non-coded skills can be created in Amazon Alexa Skill Blueprints

From Blueprints, you can select from many different functions that you create and submit for publication in Amazon Alexa’s skill store. Disclaimer: Not all “blueprints” can be submitted for publishing, please check the details of your “blueprint” before you get too far into creating your skill.

The most common types of Alexa skills created in Blueprints for companies are:

  • Flash Briefing – Flash briefing automatically plays your latest podcast to a user who has enabled your skill though their app under “Flash Briefing” and then says, “Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?”
  • University – This is the same as the previous example in that its purpose is to play your latest podcast, but the user would say, “Alexa, open Acme Industries.” i.e. your business name here.
  • Business Q&A – This is a simple Q&A where you define the FAQs for your company. For example, after opening your skill, a user could get information about your company such as, “When was the company founded?” Keep in mind that you would type in every question and every answer.
  • Facts – You provide a list of facts about your company; when the user invokes your skill, Alexa reads a random fact.
  • Quiz – You provide a list of questions and the correct answer. When a user invokes your skill, Alexa asks player one a question, once they answer, Alexa confirms right or wrong.

What programming language(s) are Alexa skills coded in?

If your needs are not met with Alexa Blueprints, then you are probably wondering how custom Alexa Skills are coded. To get started, Amazon provides most samples in Node.js (a flavor of JavaScript) and some samples in Python.

Here are the most commonly asked questions I am asked about Alexa:

How can I change the “wake word” for Alexa? i.e. I don’t like saying “Alexa,” or I want to yell out “Jarvis” instead of Alexa.

  • Open the Alexa app on your smartphone.
  • Select Devices, then tap on your Alexa device
  • Scroll down until you see “WAKE WORD.” Tap “WAKE WORD.”
  • The available wake words will be displayed. Alexa, Amazon, Echo, and Computer.

How can I make money with Alexa Skills?

Alexa skills are just like smartphone apps in that you can add in-app purchases to your custom Alexa Skill. I have developed 3 skills with in-skill purchasing. Amazon has also launched Amazon Pay here.

Cat Food – This skill plays the sound of opening a can of cat food. Users can buy “shake a treat bag” sounds for an additional fee.

My Training Plan – This skill provides a daily workout for runners working toward a distance goal. 5K training plan is free. Longer distances such as marathons are offered at a fee.

Cork Ornaments – Provides tutorials of making ornaments from wine corks. Unlock additional tutorials for a fee. This skill was featured on the front page of the Alexa Skill store November 30 – December 8, 2017.

Can I create a skill that is only accessible to users within my company? i.e. an “intranet” skill?

Yes, that’s called Alexa for Business, and you can find more info about that here.

Or if you would like to make a skill accessible amongst friends and family, you can “send” / “share” your Blueprints skill with a link.

About Caroline Dunn

Caroline Dunn is an AWS certified Alexa Skill builder. She achieved international recognition as the only female finalist (1 of 10 finalists) in the Alexa Multimodal Skill competition. Her Alexa skills have been featured by Mashable and on the front page of the Alexa Skill store multiple times.