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
Beta testing is a methodical process that requires a clearly defined approach before you even begin. It’s crucial that you know exactly what you’re aiming to evaluate. Rather than simply looking for general feedback about your site as a whole, identify specific aspects that you’d like to test—for instance, the user flow or eCommerce functionality.
Knowing your goals will guide you in building a clear plan and in determining your timeline, budget, and number of participants. Discuss these goals with your team so that everyone involved knows what to look for.
2. Determine the testing period
Next, decide how much time you’ll need to run the beta test. This will largely depend on your budget, goals, and deadlines. Note that if your test periods are too long or too short, your beta test results may not be representative of an actual customer experience with your product. A long test can risk burnout among the testers, while a short test may not give you enough time to gather sufficient data. Typically, running the test for 4 to 8 weeks is a good rule of thumb.
3. Gather participants
Getting the right participants is critical for running an effective beta test. As mentioned previously, test participants should be members of your target audience so that you can accurately assess customer experiences with your product. On top of that, they should have the necessary skills required to use it. When it comes to beta testing your website, this means they’ll need to have online fluency and some interest or affiliation with your niche.
There’s no exact formula for determining the proper number of participants, but keep in mind that your number of testers will be proportional to the time and budget you allot to this project. Using your deadlines and budget as constraints, make sure you have enough participants to prove the statistical significance of the data.
To find testers, reach out to actual customers and partners. You can also try Ubertesters, a network of remote professional testers who specialize in app testing, website testing and more. However you recruit participants, make sure they represent a diverse group of people within your target market, as this will give you a wider range of insight into your product.
4. Provide clear guidelines
To maximize the effectiveness of your beta test, specify the kind of information you’re looking for. Rather than asking for general feedback on functionality and UX, ask them about specific elements of good web design. Is the navigation seamless? Is the conversion process frictionless? Is the visual language effective? This type of feedback will get you straight to the heart of the problem so that you can make the necessary adjustments to your site.
You should also let participants know which features you are or aren’t testing, particularly if you’re running a focused beta test. Ask them to complete certain actions, like using live chat or online scheduling. If the site has eCommerce functionality, ask participants to run a test transaction so that they go through the checkout and payment process. This will help ensure that the tester focuses on the most important elements of your site and provides you with the information you’re looking for.
Finally, request that testers try your site on various browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. You should also encourage users to test across various devices, including computers, mobile phones, and tablets. This will maximize your chances of uncovering every possible issue.
5. Collect feedback
In addition, create a clear procedure for gathering feedback. Ideally, you should use a combination of automated data collection and in-person communication. Have an automated system for collecting reports of technical errors, while also creating a dedicated communication channel between participants and your team.
Encourage open and honest feedback, whether positive or negative, and make it smooth and easy for participants to share their thoughts and requests. You should also request that testers provide diagnostic information—their operating system and version, their browser and version, and their internet connection and speed—to help the development team better address any issues.
To manage tester feedback in an efficient and organized way, consider using specialized beta testing tools. Test Rail, for instance, is a test management platform that provides real-time insights and tracking. Zephyr is another beta testing tool that gathers reports and monitors progress.
6. Discuss results with teams and stakeholders
Share the results of your beta testing with all relevant players, whether that’s your design team, development team, or QA team. Make sure everyone is in sync so that you can discuss any issues and make the necessary improvements.
7. Revise and iterate
Even after you make improvements, they won’t necessarily be perfect on the first try—and that’s perfectly fine. Beta testing is a revisionary process. The more you test, revise, improve, and test again, the better the final product will be.
The importance of beta testing your website
Beta testing is a core practice for any product developer or designer, whether they’re building a software, app, or website. It’s an effective way to triple-check your product with real members of your target market before it gets released into the world. This way, you have the best chance of reducing glitches and bugs, improving the functionality and design, and creating the perfect user experience.