Illustrated by Nayane de Souza Hablitzel
Testing is an integral part of the product design process, with each phase calling for a different type. In this blog, we’ll explore beta testing, specifically, which typically fits into the later stages of product design.
This article will answer the following questions:
- What is beta testing?
- What is a beta tester?
- What is the difference between alpha and beta testing?
- How do you make the most of beta testing?
What is beta testing?
Beta testing is a type of user and usability testing, in which the product team gives a nearly finished product to a group of people who represent the target audience. The group performs regular tasks in their natural environment and then evaluates the product experience. The goal of beta testing is to uncover any issues with the user experience so that the product team can address them before releasing the product.
While there is no standard approach for beta testing, there are a few requirements that a product should meet first:
- The product should be stable and have all the features that the final release will include.
- Test participants should belong to the product’s target audience, as defined by your user research.
- Test participants should interact with a product in a “real-life” environment, whether that’s at home or in an office.
What is a beta tester?
Beta testers are real users who test the product in their natural environment and with their own devices. As part of the testing, these users complete real-world tasks and then evaluate the functionality, reliability, and usability of the product.
Alpha vs. beta testing: what is the difference?
Before diving into the details of beta testing, it’s important to differentiate it from alpha testing. When the testing occurs and who is involved are the main differences.
Alpha testing is the testing phase that precedes the beta phase. It’s usually with a less stable version of the product, and sometimes with a limited feature set. Alpha testing is typically done by an in-house team of developers, designers, and QA specialists. It’s also done in a controlled environment.
Alpha testers usually mix black-box and white-box testing in order to discover issues. Black-box testing is when the tester is not familiar with the internal structure or source code of the product. White-box testing is when the tester is familiar with the internal structure.
Beta testing, on the other hand, always comes after the completion of alpha testing. Beta testing is typically black-box testing and most of the time it happens at the user’s discretion (meaning, it cannot be a controlled activity).
During this beta phase, it’s possible to:
- Match the expected user journey with the actual user journey (i.e. how you expected users to interact with a product vs. how they really interact with a product).
- Gather emotional responses to interactions (i.e. understand how the user interface (UI) design makes your users feel).
Beta testing can provide extremely valuable insights that may inform your app design decisions. For example, a product team might reconsider the design of a specific part of the product based on how users interact with it.
Here’s a recap of the differences between alpha testing and beta testing:
A quick summary of alpha testing vs beta testing.
| ||Alpha testing||Beta testing|
|Who participates?||Internal product team (developers, designers, QA specialists)||Customers|
|Where is it conducted?||Lab (or controlled) environment||Real user environment|
|How long does it usually take?||Months||Weeks|
|Is it structured?||Yes, rigorously structured||No, completely unstructured|
The phases of beta testing
“When should we conduct beta testing?” is a common question for product teams to ask. There is no single right answer to this question, as it depends on the nature of a product you’re creating and the available resources. Some teams reserve beta testing for major releases, while other teams conduct beta testing for both minor and major releases.
However, the actual testing phases are similar for many different types of products:
- Pre-alpha testing (in-house testing done by the product team)
- Alpha testing (in-house testing done by the product team and a small group of trusted and invited users)
- Beta testing
- Pre-release testing (testing a finished product before sending it to the market)
- After-release testing (testing after the product release)
Ideally, every phase should have clear exit criteria. For instance, with beta testing, the exit criteria might be zero open high-priority issues in the bug tracking system.
The three types of beta testing
In addition to the phases, there are three major types of beta testing. Teams might use one, two, or all three types as part of their testing.
Closed beta testing vs. open beta testing
Closed beta (also known as private beta) is when you test with a select group of people, such as early adopters or current customers. This type of testing is better suited for testing a limited scope of product functionality, i.e. only the key features of the future product.
Alternately, open beta tests allow anyone to participate. Open beta tests usually follow the closed beta phase, and it’s a great option when you want to collect quantitative data about your target users. Open beta testing can also provide insight into how well your infrastructure scales, like whether your back-end can handle a large number of users working in your product at the same time.
Technical beta testing
A technical beta test involves a group of tech-savvy users—usually an internal group of specialists in the organization, including those responsible for designing and developing the product. The goal of this testing is to uncover complex bugs and report them quickly to the engineering team. This internal group will usually ignore minor issues, so the testing is more focused on larger technical problems.
Marketing beta testing
While the two previous types of testing focus on finding problems within a product, marketing beta testing has two goals—find problems within a product and get media attention for your product.
With this testing, your marketing team promotes your upcoming beta testing on various channels, such as posting on your Facebook page or emailing targeted users. In addition to getting valuable feedback from your tests, you can then also see what the initial buzz is like. For example, what percentage of your followers or email subscribers were interested in testing the new product? You’ll typically get both qualitative and quantitative feedback from this kind of marketing-driven testing.
What you need to run beta testing?
Now that you have the answers to “What is beta testing” and “What is a beta tester,” it’s time to explore how to actually do it properly. Like any other testing process, beta testing requires preparation. Below are a few points to consider.
Define your goals in advance
First and foremost, it’s important to identify the goal (or goals) of your beta test. What exactly do you want to test? Do you have a particular user flow or specific feature you want to validate?
Based on your goal, you can then select the most relevant type of beta testing. For example, when you test the web design of your eCommerce solution, you might want to focus on collecting user feedback about the product purchase flow.
Review the product functionality
Ensure that every function that you’re going to test works properly. Double check that you won’t have unexpected system crashes or dead-end states, like an error screen that prevents users from moving forward.
Recruit the right test participant
Identifying and recruiting the right participants is one of the major challenges of beta testing. Here are two factors you need to consider when recruiting your test participants:
- Test participants should have the necessary skills to use your product.
- You’ll also need the proper number of beta testers. This article from TechBeacon shows how to calculate the ideal number of participants based on your project size and other elements.
Motivate your test participants
Consider offering incentives or rewards to help you collect more detailed feedback. This could be a credit or gift card simply for participating, or opportunities to earn rewards if the user finds a bug or issue.
Define the length of the testing period
Test periods that are too short or too long lead to non-representative test results. To combat this, start by defining the scope of your testing. Identify the specific areas you want to test, as well as the start and end dates. Aim for one or two testing cycles, each between two and four weeks.
Write clear instructions and documentation for test participants
When people interact with a new product for the first time, they need to learn how to use it. To smooth out this learning process, it’s a good idea to write instructions and how-to documentation that answers common user questions. Make these readily available for your test participants, so they can more easily get back on track as they’re testing your product and learning how to use it.
Share known issues with test participants prior to testing
If your product has some known issues that might affect user interactions, it’s better to share that list before starting your beta testing. This ensures they won’t provide feedback on issues you’re already working to fix.
Create a clear procedure for collecting feedback
A clear procedure for collecting feedback and bugs will help you streamline your testing process. Here are a few practical recommendations for product teams:
- Collect information automatically, if possible. For example, your product could have a built-in mechanism to send crash reports and other system information. Tools like Buglife, Instabug, and Bugsee can help you with that.
- Create a clear channel for communication between test participants and your product team. This could be a feedback form on your website or a private channel in Slack. The key is to make it easier for your test participants to share their thoughts and suggestions.
Beta testing is a great practice that allows you to see how real users interact with your product and what problems they face before your product reaches the market. Though the purpose of beta testing as well as the procedure of testing may vary depending on the product, the ultimate goal remains the same: create products that will have an excellent user experience.