How BBC Good Food is using voice search analytics to develop its Amazon Alexa skill

Unboxing my Amazon Echo. An Amazon Echo and its accessories.
My new Amazon Echo unpacked, by Brewbooks, Wikimedia Commons

Today, the newsletter featured a story about how BBC Good Food, one of the several magazines published under the BBC brand, gathered voice data to develop its Amazon Alexa skill.

I think that Marcela Kunova on journalism.co.uk makes a good point in writing about the process: Smart speakers are still an evolving space and that user behaviour and the technology itself is still a moving target.

I’d go one step further. I think that voice interfaces are still in their infancy. I swear a lot at Alexa and Siri, and the voice eco-system is still in its infancy. At the public broadcasting group that I work at, we have already had issues with getting our work to audiences on smart speakers. Reaching audiences on Alexa is mediated through NPR, our national network, and TuneIn, one of the several audio discovery services. TuneIn’s process for managing our stream has been opaque and very informal for such a critical distribution service.

At the moment BBC Good Food is using what data it can get. The report mentioned that of the 90 m searches done through its website, “only a few hundred users who access the content through Alexa skill.”

But they are using some of the same statistics that they use for web search to guide the development of the Alexa skill: “volume of use, volume of completion, drop-off rate etc,” according to Hannah Williams, head of digital content at BBC Good Food.

Apart from how they analytics that they are using, the other thing I found interesting in their process is how they are trying to get information about anonymous users of their digital services by pushing users to other digital content through their skill.

Williams said that people looking to develop an Alexa skill shouldn’t focus on creating a perfect product because one doesn’t exist yet. She said its more important to invest in analytics to improve the product as user tastes and engagement with smart speakers change.

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