Everyone that has used an Amazon Echo for more than a few minutes has come across some version of an Alexa response such as, “Hmmm. I don’t know that.” She might say she is always learning and to check back later. However, until very recently either Alexa knew how to answer a question or would say she couldn’t help you. This was true even if there was a third-party Alexa skill that could answer your question. Users were forced to find the Alexa skills that could answer their questions on their own volition. That has changed.
Alexa Now Recommends Skills – Sometimes
It is not clear exactly how Alexa is determining what skills to recommend and when. The video above shows a clear example related to stock price information. However, that video was recorded after several interactions. Some of those queries yielded one recommendation, some had a different recommendation and still others said Alexa couldn’t help me.
The first time I noticed this I asked Alexa for the stock price for Apple. Until recently, I would have had to ask Alexa to open an independent Alexa skill such as Motley Fool to find out this information. Alexa is slowly incorporating various information capabilities into its platform and stock price information is one recent addition. Think of this as a native Alexa skill like setting a timer. However, the information is limited. I cannot ask by ticker symbol yet and it only provides price information. That was true at least when I started the queries.
After I asked for stock price information, I asked for Apple stock’s 52-week low price. The initial response was:
I don’t know that. Maybe the skill Stock Prices by Opening Bell can help. Do you want to try it?
I am accustomed to this behavior on Google Home as Google Assistant has deep link discovery baked into the platform. I was surprised to get this recommendation from Alexa because it is not a publicly supported feature. The session timed out so I restarted the sequence.
Then Things Got Weird
I asked the same set of questions and received the latest Apple stock price and then followed up with the 52-week low question. This time I received a different response. It asked if I would like to try the Alexa skill Fifty-Two Week Low. I said, “yes” and then the Alexa skill started telling me the stocks that achieved their 52-week lows on Friday. That is the feature of the Fifty-Two Week Low skill though that information didn’t answer my question. My supposition is that Alexa interpreted my intent behind the initial query based on the “stock price” phrase, but on subsequent attempts zeroed in on the “52-week low” phrase. However, even that was inconsistent. I would sometimes get the Fifty-two Week Low skill recommendation and then would get a “I don’t know that” response. It may have been driven by inconsistent query phrasing but “52-week low” and “stock price” were consistently included. This inconsistency may indicate that Amazon is actively testing and improving this feature before making is publicly known.
Then Alexa Appeared to Learn
I tried the query interactions several times before I recorded the video. In the video, I asked for the stock price of Amazon which Alexa dutifully reported. I then asked for the low price in August and Alexa responded with the 52-week low even though that wasn’t my question. Subsequent attempts shows that Alexa is trying to provide 52-week low stock prices when I ask for them without referring me to a third-party skill. Could Alexa be learning?
This behavior was again inconsistent. You saw in the video that after giving me the 52-week low for Amazon stock which I did not ask for, it then referred me to the Fifty-Two Week Low Alexa skill when I asked that explicit question for Apple stock. Another trial showed that Alexa attempted to answer the explicit 52-week low question. It appeared that Alexa was learning my intent and recognized that she had access to the relevant data. That meant there was no need to recommend another skill.
Implications for Voice SEO
This recommendation feature has big implications for voice application SEO. The biggest challenge today for developers is voice application discovery. The Alexa skill store enables users to browse, but that requires intentional search and sift activities. Google Assistant recommends answers or suggests Assistant apps that may be able to fulfill the user request. It appears Amazon is now implementing a similar feature for Alexa. This means that developers can start to optimize their Alexa skill titles and descriptions for suggested discovery recommendations. It also means that skill developers should test variously phrased requests to see if Alexa is already recommending another skill proactively or attempting to answer the question on her own.
Editors note: Subsequent to the publication of this article, Amazon confirmed to TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez that the new discovery feature exists and has limited availability.
Amazon has confirmed this skill recommendation functionality is new, but it’s not yet broadly rolled out either in terms of supported skills or Alexa’s customer base.
‘Currently, in limited scenarios, Alexa will respond to certain questions by suggesting skills that may be helpful,’ an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch. ‘We are excited for this feature to expand and to roll out to more customers over time to help them discover new skills and get information through Alexa.’