Have you ever had a less-than-ideal product launch? Maybe the product had more bugs than expected or didn’t deliver the value your customers needed. Turns out you skipped a key step—you didn’t bring in beta testers for feedback.
A buggy release or one that misses the mark can squash any initial interest that has built up over your new feature and stop your product’s growth in its tracks. A beta test, however, allows you to make sure that your product works as intended and effectively solves users’ problems.
Before you can run your own beta test ahead of your next release, you’ll need to know what the process entails, how to find testers, and your options for making sure they’re qualified. Understanding those details will help you run a smooth, efficient beta test that provides you with actionable feedback on how to improve your product before its official launch.
Beta testing is a multi-week process of gathering and incorporating feedback on a product from real users—people outside of your company.
Beta testing is done on a product in a real-world environment. Alpha testing, on the other hand, is typically performed by internal team members earlier in the software development cycle (prior to the product launch). Both beta and alpha tests are forms of user acceptance testing—a phase that puts your product in front of its intended audience.
Beta testers use your new product or feature and report back on how well it works, its design, and the user experience.
Because your beta testers are new to your product, they bring a fresh perspective on what works well and what needs improvement.
During the beta test, your overall goal is to gather high-quality, actionable feedback from your testers that you can use to implement feature changes. Your particular goals may get more specific, like:
The quality of the beta feedback will rest in large part on your ability to recruit and motivate the right group of testers, and the type of beta testers you need may depend on your goal for the beta. Typical beta goals are user experience/user interface feedback, user acquisition, product functionality, and bug testing.
If, for example, you’re trying to identify bugs in your new feature, you may run a technical beta test with a group of specific testers who know to look for performance issues, crashes, and other hiccups.
If you’re trying to gather feedback from a large pool of testers and generate some buzz around your release, you may run a public beta test (aka an open beta) that allows anyone to try your product and leave suggestions. The inverse option is a closed beta, where only a select group of testers will have access—this approach may be a good fit if you don’t want public scrutiny on your new release quite yet.
Your goal for your beta test can also include turning your beta testers into a group of early adopters of your product. According to branding expert Mikal Belicove:
“Many view these testers as the early adopters of your offering. So not only can they help suggest improvements and features, they’re often the first ones to generate excitement about your launch.”
It’s the early adopters, the ones who have a stake in the outcome and are your target users, who are the most likely to provide actionable feedback and will most likely stay engaged throughout the beta period. The hope is they will also turn out to be early evangelists. Ultimately, a core group of product evangelists could be the difference between product success and failure.
You’ve run the pre-release feature through its paces internally, design has run focus groups and usability testing on portions of the product, QA has been checking on it non-stop, and engineering is ready to ship it. That’s the perfect time for a beta test.
Beta testing is typically performed on a version of the software that is substantially feature complete, with few bugs or known issues.
In 2004, Joel Spolsky explained that a beta test should run for no fewer than eight weeks and that you should plan on releasing a new version every one or two weeks during that period. Today, with more rapid development cycles and more sophisticated DevOps tools, it’s possible to release more frequently and to even incorporate feedback quicker. For example, Centercode spends between three and five weeks on beta testing.
If you’re launching a brand-new product, plan on having multiple rounds of beta testing. The feedback from each round needs to be vetted, prioritized, and potentially incorporated into subsequent beta versions of the product.
New features may not need as much testing (though, you’ll still need to build time into your development cycle to update your feature based on the feedback you received during the beta test).
Before you find your beta testers, try to prepare for the testing process. A little planning will help your test run smoothly and on time.
Preparation for beta testing involves:
Next, you’ll need to find a platform that you can use to conduct your test. Small-scale validation software can be a good fit for a short, highly targeted beta test, or there are other, more expansive options out there.
Finally, you’ll need to locate your beta testers and run your test. Give them an easy way to offer their feedback, and make sure you have a system in place to organize their comments and suggestions.
For even deeper insights, try to observe your testers while they’re using your product. FullStory, for example, lets you watch user behavior while running your beta test (and after your test is done). You can see where users click most often, how far they scroll, and which areas of your site or app receive the most attention. Those detailed product analytics are valuable for making targeted improvements to your customer experience.
You have several options for finding beta testers, including paid services that will handle the entire process and free bootstrapped options that will require a little more legwork on your part.
Depending on how mature your product is, you may be able to find beta testers within your existing customer base. You can simply reach out to your community through already established channels (like social media, email lists, or your blog) and customer-facing personnel within the company (meaning your sales, marketing, and customer success staff).
Running a beta test with your actual users will likely mean you’ll spend less on recruiting costs than you would with a paid service. However, the cost of managing your beta program may be higher since you’ll need to run the entire process in-house.
If your product is less mature or you do not have a broad customer or user base to leverage, don’t you worry, there are services that you can use to help with the recruitment.
Paid sites like BetaList and BetaTesting require an investment to get started and allow you to post your needs, then further qualify the respondents. These sites work well if you’re willing and able to devote some of your budget to outsourcing much of the beta testing process.
Note that BetaList is meant to publicize early-stage tech startups—think pre-launch, available by invite only companies—and it offers paid advertising packages you can purchase to promote your company.
BetaTesting offers tiered paid packages you can choose from based on criteria like the number of tests you need to run per year, how many beta testers you’d like to work with, and how long you’d like each test to run.
If you’re just getting started and have not yet released a product to market and don’t have the budget to use a paid service, it’s time to go another route. Free forums often attract people who fit into your target market and would make qualified beta testers for your product. Reddit, Quora, and Hacker News can be goldmines for beta testing, but you need to invest the time to build a reputation within those communities.
Facebook and LinkedIn groups offer another free way to reach interested people with beta testing opportunities. You can also turn to a free testing service, like Betabound.
If you follow the free route, consider offering a reward to your beta testers. Gift cards, product-based perks or discounts, or other incentives can make testers more willing to give you their time and attention.
Once you’ve gathered a group of beta testers, it’s a good idea to qualify them. If your beta testers aren’t prepared to offer detailed, relevant feedback, you won’t have a clear idea of how to improve your new features before launch.
Qualification involves making sure that your testers understand their role and checking that they fit a use case for your product. The most qualified beta testers will match the general demographics of your customer base: they should have a similar job at a company that’s comparable to your targets, as well as the same level of familiarity and expertise with products like yours.
Beta testers also need to be committed to providing you with detailed, actionable feedback. You’re asking them to do some work on your behalf. If they’re submitting a bug report, for instance, they’ll need to be willing to provide details on precisely what they were doing prior to the error. Uninterested, disengaged testers won’t be a good fit for this process.
A survey is a useful tool for beta tester qualification. Surveys give you an easy way to collect demographic data on your testers while getting them to feel more invested in testing. Because filling out a survey requires some action on the part of your testers, you can use them to pre-screen disinterested participants. If a potential beta tester isn’t willing to fill out a survey, they’re probably not willing to come up with detailed feedback for your product.
After you complete beta testing, it’s time to implement your findings into your new feature. Sift through the feedback you received and use it to address bugs, improve the user experience, revamp your user interface, or make other improvements. You may also end up with suggestions for new features or functionality. Even if you can’t address those suggestions yet, hold on to them—you may be able to offer those product changes in a later update.
Beta testing is incredibly helpful for validating that your assumptions and goals about your product are accurate. By checking in with real people acting as stand-ins for your customers, you’re ensuring that your product delivers value.
With UserVoice Validation, you can conduct user testing on a small scale, so it fits your product development timeline. Set up a customer validation study to check your assumptions about your user base, or sign up for a free trial today.