The ultimate guide to beta testing your website

Profile picture of Rebecca Strehlow




Illustrations by {name}

Everything you need to know about beta testing, from what it is, its various types, and the steps you need to take to beta test a website.

8 min read

An illustration depicting the beta testing process, with three gradient circles on the lefthand side and a corresponding label on the right that reads, "alpha testing," "beta testing," and "release.'

Stay informed on all things design.

Thanks for submitting!

Shaping Design is created on Editor X, the advanced web design platform for professionals. Create your next project on Editor X. 

Get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox →

You wouldn’t want to go live with your website before making sure it’s absolutely perfect, right? That’s where beta testing comes in.

Beta testing is an integral part of the product design cycle. It involves evaluating a product’s performance prior to releasing it in the real world in order to reduce its risk of failure. Not only is this an important step when creating a new software or app, but it’s also a core part of the web design process.

In this complete guide, we’ll go over what beta testing is, as well as the difference between beta and alpha testing. We’ll also talk about the various types of beta testing and the steps you need to take to beta test a website.

What is beta testing?

Beta testing is a systematic way to evaluate your product’s performance by testing it with a group of target users before releasing it to the market. By assessing the way these users interact with your product, you can tweak it and address any weaknesses in functionality or user experience.

In the web design world, beta testing is a great way to make sure your site works as intended. Is the interface working like it’s supposed to? Is the checkout process smooth? These are the kinds of questions you’ll be evaluating during the beta testing phase of the UX design process.

Alpha testing vs. beta testing

In order to truly understand what beta testing is, you’ll need to know how it differs from alpha testing.

Alpha testing is the testing phase that comes before beta. You can think of it as a way to evaluate and improve upon a rough version of your product. At this stage, your product may have a limited feature set, and may still be prone to bugs and crashes.

In alpha testing, developers, designers, and quality assurance specialists, rather than real-world users, do the testing. They simulate the behaviors of real users to test the kinds of tasks that a typical user might perform.

This assessment involves using a mix of black-box and white-box tests to discover glitches and bugs. Black-box testing is a kind of blind test, where the tester is not familiar with the back-end elements of a product. In white-box testing, the tester is a person within the organization who has knowledge of the product’s back-end functionality.

Once alpha testing is complete, a company can move onto beta testing. This process is one step closer to the product release phase, and it involves testing a more polished version of your product in the real world. While alpha testing is done internally, beta testing is a type of external user acceptance testing; a way to evaluate that the product works for the end user.

Beta testing typically involves black-box testing, since the users participating in the tests are actual members of your target audience, and don’t have knowledge about your product’s backend. Because of this, it lets you evaluate the performance of your product in real-world scenarios.

There are a few prerequisites to start the beta testing phase. Before you begin, you’ll first need to have completed alpha tests so that you have a stable version of your product that isn’t prone to glitches. At this stage, your product should also have the full set of features planned for the released version.

For web designers, beta testing is a great opportunity to understand the user journey as they navigate your site. You can analyze their behaviors on your website and see if they’re taking the actions you anticipated. Where do they click? How do they move between different pages? Where do they linger to read? If users aren’t getting to the places you wanted them to, it may be a sign that you need to revise your UX design strategy.

Types of beta testing

There isn’t one way to go about beta testing. In fact, there are several different types that you can use for different products or scenarios. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Traditional beta testing: This is a closed or private beta test, in which the product is released only to a select group of people within your target market. Typically, a company in search of testers will encourage users to sign up by promoting the test via landing pages, email marketing, influencer marketing, and referral programs. Once the test is complete, the company evaluates users’ interactions with the product and uses this data to make improvements.

  • Public beta testing: The product is released publicly so that anyone can use it. This is an open beta test in which access to the product is not restricted and anyone can sign up. The company then makes improvements based on the product’s performance with the testers.

  • Technical beta testing: The product is distributed to an internal group within the organization. The goal of this type of testing is to discover bugs so that the testers can provide reports to the engineering and development teams.

  • Focused beta testing: The product is released to the target market in order to evaluate a particular feature. This involves an assessment of specific aspects of the product, rather than the product as a whole.

  • Post-release beta testing: While most beta testing occurs prior to releasing a product into the market, post-release beta testing happens after the product is released. This happens only once a company has done enough tests to determine that the product is fit for the market. While post-release testing isn’t crucial, it does help companies evaluate their product’s performance in the real environment. If any issues are caught, the company can make updates and improvements for future versions of the product.

  • Marketing beta testing: This type of beta testing involves getting media attention for your product and evaluating the efficacy of your marketing efforts. This can help you understand the public response to your product, learn which marketing channels to prioritize, and improve your content.

How to beta test your website

Before you dive straight into beta testing, take a step back and make sure you’re ready to begin. In order for the test to be effective, your website will need to be at the stage where it is nearly complete. That means there will be no unpredictable crashes, and your site already has the full set of features planned for the release. In addition, you’ll need to have a strong understanding of your target audience, since these are the people who will be testing—and ultimately using—your product.

If you’ve checked all these boxes, you’re ready to start beta testing your website. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Define your goals

  2. Determine the testing period