A term originating within software development, beta testing plays a critical role in gaining feedback from users about a product and/or its respective features. Once this phase has been completed, the product in question is on the cusp of being launched amongst the target market.
The process is an important part of a cohesive product marketing strategy, and in this article, we’ll answer a breadth of key questions, honing in on core discussion points, including:
- What is beta testing?
- Types of beta testing
- Alternative types of performance testing
- How to complete an effective beta testing phase
- Beta testing advice
What is beta testing?
A type of user acceptance testing (UAT), beta testing enables real users to offer their feedback on a “beta” version of a new product or new features that are due to be introduced to improve an existing offering.
During the beta phase, the development team liaises with users to identify potential flaws, bugs, and areas for improvement. Improvements are then made based on the feedback to ensure the product performs to its optimum performance and the user experience isn’t compromised.
Types of beta testing
There are three types of beta testing. These include:
Closed beta testing
Closed beta testing is exclusive to a small user sample and isn’t open on a broader scale.
The recruited sample group is asked for feedback on strengths, as well as areas of improvement for products and features. This allows companies to identify changes that need to be made before wider testing begins.
Open beta testing
Open beta testing is available for prospects who have expressed an interest in investing in a new product.
The validity of this form of beta testing hinges on users identifying problems with new features or products and communicating this information to the company.
Technical beta testing
In some cases, developers pinpoint particular beta testers based on their technological knowledge. This provides more specialist, technical information that could be lacking elsewhere.
However, it’s important to note that technical beta testing is dependent on users possessing in-depth knowledge of the program in question, as well as an understanding of debugging solutions.
Alternative types of performance testing
Beta testing forms a huge part of the testing process, but it isn’t the only option available - some alternatives can be used to generate essential information for development:
Alpha testing is when employees at a company test their own products. When this method is used, the dev team moves heaven and earth to deliver a test environment that’s bug-free and user-friendly.
For example, before the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft implemented alpha testing at the company, releasing the product to a group of its employees before collecting feedback and data based on their experience.
Black-box testing is when users have no prior knowledge of the extent to which the product or feature has been designed or implemented.
Final release testing
Following the completion of the beta testing stage, a final release test takes place before the final product is launched.
This involves the end-users and stakeholders testing the product and/or features for a final time before it’s released to the public.
White-box testing is the opposite of black-box testing, with users involved in the process garnering prior knowledge of the code and design process that’s been completed as part of the product development phase.
Considerations for an effective beta testing phase
You may be wondering: “What constitutes a successful beta testing phase?”
The success of a beta phase depends largely on sending your product out to the masses as closely to the earmarked launch date as possible whilst being receptive to making necessary changes based on the suggestions from your target market.
The good news is that there are steps you can proactively take to heighten the likelihood of achieving your desired results:
Spend time alpha testing
We can’t stress the importance of conducting alpha testing enough. This process is important because when it’s done properly, it can flag any number of problems with your product or feature and support you in removing any bugs and glitches ahead of the beta stage.
When you’ve completed work on the beta product, this should be as close as you’ll get it to be perfect. If you skimp on the alpha testing stage, you’ll wind up with a beta product that’s riddled with imperfections that could prove detrimental to the customer experience.
For example, video game giant Rockstar Games announced in 2021 that remastered versions of the hugely-popular Grand Theft Auto series would be released on next-gen consoles, with sharper graphics and slicker gameplay.
However, what followed was a bug-ridden mess that’d been rushed through development to meet the inevitable demand of the Christmas season.
The critical response amongst fans and reviewers alike was scathing, with the title deemed unplayable, so much so, its release on Nintendo Switch was shelved. This cost Rockstar millions of dollars from the lucrative handheld gaming market.
Key takeaway? Nobody is above alpha testing - no matter how tempted you may be to cut a few corners, don’t do it. It’ll catch up with you and your customer retention will suffer.
Never leave anything to guesswork when it comes to testing your products - always have a watertight strategy in place to ensure you’re ticking all the right boxes and test your assumptions.
Your plan should leave nothing to the imagination: which features will you focus on? Who’ll be a part of your sample group? Is it internal or external? Will your feedback be targeted, limited, or will you extend the invitation to every man and woman under the sun?
Focus on the right segment
Your beta test should always be super-specific and address the people who matter the most to you using segmentation methods.
For example, if you’re developing an app to help first-time buyers source affordable mortgages, then why waste time gathering feedback from people with a mortgage in place? Hone your efforts on gaining feedback from those who are relevant.
Don’t underestimate user experience
Users will be more equipped to provide tangible feedback on the performance, quality, and adoption of your product. Of course, if you’re conducting technical beta testing, they’ll also be able to provide more specific feedback.
This phase won’t offer you fixes. Instead, use this opportunity to gather perspectives on how your product is performing from a UX standpoint.
Value honest feedback
Beta testing without authenticity is a mere ego exercise - nothing more.
If the feedback from your users isn’t honest, it’s useless. You need to put on your figurative hard hat, implore your users to be as honest as they need to be, and act accordingly.
Know when to stop
As much as we aspire for perfection, it doesn’t exist.
Therefore, you need to have a point set whereby you stop testing, hold your hands up, and say “enough is enough, this product isn’t getting any better than it already is.”
This doesn’t mean to say that once beta testing concludes, you should leave the product forever. Revisit the project further down the line and incorporate product and software updates.
Beta testing advice
Jack Preece, Product Marketing Executive at Linnworks earmarked the role qualitative and quantitative feedback plays in a beta testing program:
“Our product and product marketing team need to hear feedback on the feature released directly from the testers.
“We do this in multiple ways, from having forms on the same page that the new feature lives on, with a comments box or star rating, interviewing beta testers, or subscribing to a service such as HotJar.
“Quantitative feedback is also important and you need to create key performance metrics that matter.
“You may need to monitor both for technical and usability data points. Are you expecting the speed of your site to go down if it has a sudden surge of new users? How are you tracking clicks and engagement on a new feature? Are the users struggling to find something? What is the time on site like? It can be worth having a hypothesis too.”
Samia Barud, Product Marketing Manager at Agorapulse, also gave her insights into the steps she’s followed to deliver a successful beta testing stage:
“Meet early with all relevant stakeholders to set KPIs, goals, and dates. This is super important. Create a dedicated slack channel, confluence page, or just someplace where you can easily communicate with everyone (to avoid working in silos from the beginning).
“Plan some bi-weekly/monthly calls and draft the agenda of what needs to be covered at every meeting based on your timeline. Define some key milestones and completion dates too.
“It’s important to carefully select the users that’ll be part of the beta. This can be time-consuming but not choosing the right participants can have a huge impact on the results. Make sure to discuss with customer success, product, and even support — they’ll point you in the right direction!
“Invest some time setting expectations for the participants. Draft a communications plan to figure out what assets you’ll need to support each testing phase, for example, tutorials or tooltips.
“You might want to consider sending out some reminders if they are not testing your features/product. Make sure your users know what’ll happen and when. If possible, present them a timeline of what your team’s doing and when you expect to follow up with them.
“You also need to use data. Once your users have access to the new feature/product keep an eye on the usage data. You can create dashboards in advance on Heap or Mixpanel. If you can, invest some time watching users’ sessions on Fullstory.
“Finally, follow-up! Set up calls, send out emails, and, especially, make sure that you ask users relevant questions. Analyze, document, share, comment - repeat!”
How to improve your Go-to-Market knowledge
As we’ve alluded to in the earlier segments of this article, beta testing is crucial to the Go-to-Market process, which is a core function of product marketing as a whole.
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