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Alexa commands don't meet your needs? Just make your own

With Amazon's channel on IFTTT, you can teach Alexa some new tricks.

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With Amazon's channel on IFTTT, you can teach Alexa some new tricks. 
Chris Monroe/CNET

Your trusty Amazon Echo does a lot for you each day: It can read the day's headlines, play musicmake phone callsentertain your kids with fun games and set a kitchen timer. But have you ever wanted more from your Amazon Echo devices

If you're tired of the same old Alexa tricks, then you're in luck. We're going to show you how you can make your Echo do anything you want by customizing your own Alexa voice commands. 

How does it work? Well, Amazon Echo boasts a channel on IFTTT, the free online automation service that lets you craft your own automated "recipes," also known as Applets, using an "if this, then that" approach. That opens the door to use Echo with even more smart gadgets and services, and thanks to a cool update to that IFTTT channel, you can use it to create your own custom Alexa voice commands, too. Keep reading to learn how to set it up. 

Read more: Every Alexa command you can give your Amazon Echo device

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1. Connect Amazon Echo to your home's Wi-Fi network

It probably goes without saying, but you can't start automating with Alexa unless your Amazon Echo is up and running on your home's internet.

Fortunately, setup is a cinch. Just plug the Echo in, connect to its Wi-Fi signal on your Android or iOS device, then open the Alexa app. From there, select your Wi-Fi network and enter its password to finish the job.

Read more: CNET offers advice about internet providers, Wi-Fi, routers and more. You can find everything home internet-related here.

2. Connect IFTTT with Alexa

The next step is to get your Amazon Echo synced up with IFTTT. To do so, head over to the IFTTT Alexa channel page and click 'Connect'. Alternatively search for Alexa in the IFTTT app. It will prompt you to sign in to IFTTT (if you need to create an account, doing so is free). Then enter your Amazon login info to authorize the integration. Now, Alexa and IFTTT are connected. 

If you'd rather do all of this on your phone or tablet, you can do so by downloading the free IFTTT app for Android and iOS devices.

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You can integrate IFTTT with your Alexa device for free. 

Screenshot by Macy Meyer/CNET

3. Create your own Applet

On the IFTTT website, there are Applets already pre-made that you just simply have to turn on or off. If you want to tweet your Instagram posts as native photos on Twitter or automatically add songs from Youtube videos you like to a Spotify playlist, then IFTTT has you covered. There are tons of pre-made Applets that control a variety of services and actions, and you can use the search bar at the top of the app to find specific Applets. 

Here's some of my favorites:

Simply click the Applets you want to activate and then hit "Connect."

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There's hundreds of Applets to explore. 

Screenshot by Macy Meyer/CNET

But if the Applets available don't suit your fancy, you can create your own in a few easy steps. Now, it's time to start crafting. 

Click "My Applets" and then select the add (+) button. IFTTT's recipe-creation tool is pretty straightforward -- you need to first choose a trigger (the "if this" part) and then an action (the "then that" part). For our purposes, Amazon Echo is going to be the trigger. Whenever we give Alexa a specific command, we want it to trigger a specific action. 

Click the big blue "this" to get started. IFTTT will display a list of all of its channels -- click on or type in the search box "Amazon Alexa" (you've already activated it, so it should be good to go). Once you've done so, you'll see a list of triggers. You get a lot of options with Alexa, but the one we want is "Say a Specific Phrase." Select it, and IFTTT will ask you what you want that phrase to be.

A couple of quick caveats at this point. You'll still need to say "Alexa" in order to wake your Echo up, and once it's listening for a command, you'll need to say "trigger" in order to tell it to listen for a custom IFTTT phrase. Therefore, every IFTTT command will start with "Alexa trigger," and then finish with your custom phrase. The "Alexa trigger" part is already assumed, so don't include it with whatever phrase you type in -- if you do, you'll have to say it twice.

Your custom phrase should be written in lowercase letters only, and you should also avoid any punctuation marks. For now, let's keep it simple and go with "my recipe" and then finish by clicking on "Create Trigger." We're halfway done -- our command will fire every time we say "Alexa, trigger my recipe." 

For the purposes of this setup, we selected our Echo device, but IFTTT will allow you to create triggers for Arlo security cameras, Blink security cameras, Dropbox, email and much more. 

Now we just need to figure out the "then that" part.

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You'll find several Applets for Amazon Alexa. 

Screenshot by Macy Meyer/CNET

4. Choose your action

At this point, you'll need to decide what it is that you actually want Alexa to do. You'll find plenty of inspiration by browsing through IFTTT's growing list of channels, which includes social media services, Web tools, and smart gadgets galore.

For this example, I'm going to use my trigger to perform an action on my Nest Learning Thermostat. The Nest channel gives me a couple of options: I can have Alexa set the heat to a specific temperature, or I can adjust the range between automated heat and air conditioning. I can also trigger the HVAC fans to circulate for 15 minutes -- which, come to think of it, might come in handy the next time I try searing steak in a cast iron pan and end up filling my house with smoke as a result (damn you, Alton Brown!).

So sure, let's go with that. When I say "Alexa, trigger my recipe," I want the fans to kick on to help clear the smoke out of my kitchen. All I need to do is select the "Turn on fans for 15 minutes" action, then specify which Nest I want to control (we've got two of them set up in the CNET Smart Home, one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs).

Your options will obviously vary depending on which action channel you go with, but for all of them, programming the desired result should be as easy as navigating a couple of drop-down menus and then clicking "Create action." From there, IFTTT will offer a final summary of your Applet, giving you the option to change the title if you'd like or to receive notifications when the Applet runs -- if everything looks good, click "Finish."

5. Keep experimenting with different commands

You've already got one custom command under your belt -- why not try a few more? You can choose from more than 700 apps, services, and devices using IFTTT, and you could even create a variety of custom commands for the same action in order to give you more flexibility. For instance, saying, "Alexa, trigger the security system on" and "Alexa, trigger the alarm to armed" could both arm your IFTTT-compatible security system

You can also jump back into your existing Applet to tweak the verbiage. For instance, if I decided that my "Alexa, trigger my recipe" command was too generic, I could quickly change it to something more specific and fitting, like, "Alexa, trigger my fans because I almost just set my kitchen on fire."

Let us know what commands you're trying out in your home, as well as the ones you'd like to see us put to the test. If you'd like more advice for your Echo device, check out our guide to using your Echo to call someone and our guide to prevent Amazon from listening in and delete your Echo voice recordings

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