Alexa skill development: a developer’s perspective on voice skill certification

As smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home grow in popularity, brands and organisations are exploring new ways to engage their audiences through assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. For many brands this may be the first time their teams have developed a voice skill, or their first time working with a partner doing so. As well as new UX, design, and development considerations, these platforms also come with new stores to release through. So what does it take to get your skill over the line and certified?

As with any maturing technology, the certification process can change often, sometimes even from project to project. To give you a starter for 10 our voice developers have put together some of the key lessons they have learned over the course of multiple voice projects across the major voice platforms.

Back to basics

Ultimately, this is about the roadmap to certification, but before we get to that, it’s good to recap on how voice development is enabled by the two major players and current market leaders Amazon and Google.

Both offer comprehensive developer platforms – Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and Actions on Google – that combine a collection of tools, documentation, APIs and code samples to make it more straightforward to build skills and add functionality to each assistant. Each is designed to smooth the development path, and overall help developers, designers and brands easily access voice-enabled markets. The great thing about both developer platforms is there’s no need for a background in voice development to get started as there’s a raft of tutorials and even pre-determined frameworks to help build basic skills.

Setting up environments: Two useful tips

To save time and delays as you approach the launch of your skill, here’s a couple of steps you should take early in your project:

  1. When you create your initial developer account with Amazon or Google make sure you create the account in the name you want it to appear in the skill stores, as this name cannot be changed later. For example, if your company ‘123 Developers’ is creating a skill/action for ‘456 Industries’ it’s their name – ‘456 Industries’ – that you set as the account name. Amazon doesn’t allow you to change the name once the account is set up, and you need to ask Google’s permission to change it on their platform. A simple thing to get wrong, time consuming to rectify.
  2. Like any other digital project, setting up on the local developer environment over a live server enables you to quickly test changes without the need to upload files to a remote server – saving time and giving you the opportunity to try more iterations.

Test, test, and test again

Both Amazon and Google will test out your skill as part of the certification process. While they won’t test your content (other than making sure it doesn’t breach their content policies), they will be making sure your skill doesn’t fall over as soon as someone tries to speak to it, so make sure you’ve done thorough testing.

Functional testing using development simulators enables comprehensive testing on both of the major voice platforms. However as in every platform ‘war’ there’s different terminology to consider and slightly different pathways to test your skill.

Our Lab article 11 Tips for Testing Voice Skills on Alexa and Google Assistant is a great resource for highlighting what’s different in testing a voice project and how you can make it go smoothly.

The certification process: What you need to know

Quality assurance testing has to be performed in-house if you want your skill to gain certification. So if you’re beta testing with a limited group, follow these steps to ensure they have a good experience.

  1. Ensure your skill meets the platforms’ policies and the voice experience is appropriate for all customers
  2. To protect customer data, your skill must meet platform security guidelines for your method of hosting
  3. Ensure your skill meets functional testing. These tests verify the description presented in each platform’s information architecture reflect the core functionality of your skill
  4. Ensure your skill passes all interface and user experience tests. A well thought-out interface with useful prompts helps promote more natural conversation with your users
  5. If your skill includes screen-based interactions, like on the Echo Show, remember to test these too
  6. If you're developing for Google Assistant, remember to test out the experience on mobile too.

If you’ve checked off all these from your list, the next step is submitting your skill for certification. This is where the platform will review the skill or action and determine if it is ready to go live or needs more work.

Certification time can vary depending on the type and complexity of your skill or action and it’s important to build this time into your project timeline. In our experience, it’s typically five days for Amazon and around three days for Google but keep in mind it’s common for first time skill developers to have their first submission rejected with feedback, requiring changes before resubmission.

Why do skills fail certification?

The top reasons skills fail certification can be categorised into two groups:

Functional failures

  • Bad example phrases, like not including wakewords, or invocation names
  • Lack of intent response: the user says something and skill does nothing with it
  • Displaying code in the cards sent to the assistant companion apps
  • Invocation name containing errors or being longer than the maximum three words.

User experience failures

  • Not having a broad enough range of utterances, and confusing prompting for the user
  • Missing slot values, causing the skill not to prompt users to complete a task.
  • Skills closing inappropriately.
  • Lack of help within a skill.

It’s important to note that while your skill may meet all of the functional requirements, the platforms may still reject your skill if they think the user experience isn’t that great. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go away and make changes, you can resubmit and have it accepted, but it’s always good to pay attention to their suggestions to boost your skill’s chance of a better user experience and a higher rating.

Going live with your skill

You can’t really control your skill’s definitive go live date. Once you’ve received certification, your skill will automatically go live and be available to the public to use. On Google you can unpublish until your chosen ‘go live’ date but there will be a brief window when your skill is open to the public. Amazon don’t allow automatic skill unpublishing, so it’s best to have associated marketing ready to go when your skill receives certification.

Congratulations. Your skill’s now certified. What’s next?

Once your skill is certified and live, a new developer version will automatically be created. This lets you continue improving and refining your skill, ready for your next update without impacting the live version.

So that’s a range of insight, troubleshooting and tips to get a voice skill or action certification ready, all from a developer’s point-of-view. Hopefully this makes the journey to certification that bit easier and speeds up the process from your initial starting point to getting that all important ‘live’ notification. Now you’re ready to concentrate on your next development challenge.

If you’re thinking about how your brand can leverage voice, with Alexa Skill Development or Actions on Google get in touch, there’s nothing we like better than talking about our next voice project.


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