You followed all the rules of developing a new product; you did research, surveys, identified user needs, and came up with an absolutely wonderful product that you cannot wait to release.
But slow down, you cannot launch the product without doing the necessary testing. And, that’s where beta testing and alpha testing comes in. Alpha testing is what the developers and designers do in-house.
But beta testing is different because it involves real users in real environment. A product life-cycle, thus, has a number of stages — right from the initial development plan to its release, followed by timely updates.
Beta testing is one of the most important part in product development, and once it’s successfully completed, it ensures that the product provides excellent user experience without any glitches.
You can choose a specific group of users as beta testers and they use your product for a stipulated period of time. They would report bugs or any issues they faced, and the feedback that you collect from them can be used to correct and perfect the product.
It is only through proper QA and testing strategy can a defect-free product be released. It is also important to have a good strategy to communicate your ideas with the users so that they can deliver helpful feedback.
All the bugs and problems that eluded the grasp of the designers, developers and testers during the alpha testing stage will now be captured and eliminated. Through beta testing, you can understand how users will be receiving your product in the future. This is a very important step as it can improve the QA of the final product.
Thus you can say beta testing is a precursor to come out with a quality product, and maybe a peephole into how your product’s fate will be written.
Beta testing doesn’t just provide an answer that may arise with the technicalities of the product; it also gives an insight into those features that should be added or avoided in the product.
One of the biggest advantages of beta testing is that you can avoid a lot of potential PR issues that might arise with the release of a poorly made product. So you can say proper beta launch can cut costs significantly.
The major benefits achieved from beta testing of software products are:
This is an obvious reason for conducting beta testing. This testing phase enables quick discovery of bugs, and their fixing so users can enjoy seamless use of the product, without any hiccups. The first impression is the best impression; so never take chances when you really have to impress your users with a great product.
Quality assurance is an important strategy that cannot be discounted at any cost. Your product will have to go through strict scrutiny before it gets submitted in the app stores, so make sure all the efforts of the previous weeks do not go waste at the last moment. Beta testing would assure that your product is built according to guidelines.
A number of things can affect the usability feature of an app, and this will, in turn, affect its performance. Imagine releasing an app that works in two different ways in two different devices.
That would really affect its overall performance, and beta testing is the only way to bring this to light. Certain issues will not be visible when they are tested in the lab, so you really have to test them in the real environment.
A lot of factors can affect the performance of the product, especially when you expect it to work on a number of platforms. Hence, it is important to test the speed and performance of the product, and this can be done by beta testing.
Beta testing is also a kind of marketing strategy that you initiate for your product. It helps create a buzz among your target users, and this momentum would pave the way for a better, and perhaps, an eager reception during the official release.
There is no negating the importance of beta testing for your product. However, you need to have a solid plan to do it in the proper manner. Interestingly, many companies do not have a clear strategy about how to conduct beta testing. So, if you have a beta testing in pipeline, ensure that you have done the following before getting started.
All the basic functionalities that should go in the final product must be there in the beta version. This is the only way to check that all the features in the product function optimally, when you submit it to beta testers.
You must create a strong beta testing plan with testing goals, strategies, responsibilities and deadlines clearly defined and assigned to each team member. This will ensure that the work proceeds in a systematic way.
It is important to decide on the tools for beta testing. Some products may have security vulnerabilities, some may show performance drop, and the others instability. So, get the necessary tools ready for testing and fixing all such problems.
It is important to prepare a Beta Tester NDA to prevent the secrets of your product from leaking out before it actually reaches the public. Companies hire testers and get them to sign the NDA so that they don’t reveal information about the product until it’s readied for launch. Beta test and secrecy is very important, and there are official documents that bind the testers to it.
Trust is an important factor in hiring beta testers, so hire only those people who have won your trust. Trust your instincts first. Make sure they are aware about the responsibilities, schedules and deadlines before they get down to the testing task.
Let’s see how to create a beta testing strategy and execute it successfully.
When every aspect of beta testing is in readiness, you can now get down to the main task by selecting the right platforms for which you need to do the beta testing. For example, you may have to choose among device iterations like iPhone 8, iPhone 8Plus, etc. and OS iterations like iOS 8.0, iOS 8.1, iOS 8.1.1, etc. This is all based upon the technical specifications of the product.
Based on the product and its needs, you can choose either iOS or Android testing platforms, and there are platforms that support both OS. Some people choose to go for platforms that enjoy greater community support, while others look out for remote accessibility. You need to identify your needs before choosing a platform.
To start the process of beta testing, select the testers. Ideally, if you can get around 200–300 beta testers, it would be good because you’ll get plenty of constructive feedback on different aspects of the product.
If you already have a list of beta testers, invite them through email. And always be on the lookout for new quality testers to be added to your list. It is important to keep your testers active and engaged by offering them promotions, offers, discounts, rewards, incentives, newsletters and tips.
Beta testers can be found through multiple sources — both online & offline.
1) Websites — You can target websites like UserTesting, BetaList, Erli Bird, PreApps that provide Beta testing as a service. This would be an ideal resource to tap if you don’t have an email list of beta testers because these websites would give you list of people who may be willing to test.
2) Social media — There is nothing like social media channels to attract interested testers. Twitter and Facebook (Facebook ads is a good strategy to attract testers) are the best resources to tap.
3) Reddit — There is a very passionate and involved community of users in Reddit who welcome testing tasks. You can choose the user segment that would be best suited for your project and contact them.
4) Directories — One of the best places to attract beta testers would be startup directories and beta directories. There are passionate techies and early adopters who would be ready to pitch in. You can search for them at BetaCandy, InspiredBeta, BetaBound, AppStorm, AppUseful, FeedmyApp and so on.
5) Forums and Communities — Forums and communities like iPhone Dev SDK and Quora would great resources. However, you may need to build your own community in the specific niche, and demonstrate your expertise there.
6) Personal contact — Source personally all those people whom you think you would be willing to test your product. Through this, it would be easier to get first hand feedback because personal interaction is there.
Now that you know where to get beta testers and how to shortlist them, it is time for the real action. Given below are some of our top picks for the best beta distribution tools. Choose the one that would be more suitable for your requirement.
1) TestFlight- Apple has acquired TestFlight, a beta distribution platform, and it is integrated into Xcode. You can send emails through this platform to all the beta testers inviting them to join your testing group and trying out your product.
2) Google Play Beta testing — This is an incredible tool that allows you to distribute to both beta and alpha testing. You can send links to your subscribers and invite them to beta test your product. You can follow the same list and send future release versions of the product automatically.
3) HockeyApp — This actually contains a lot of automatic tools, even the ones not found in TestFlight.
4) Crashlytics (Fabric) — Gives you a single, cross-platform toolset for both iOS and Android products. Once your testers receive the initial email invite, they can just come in and join; and no complex processes are involved.
5) Applivery — It is reputed to be a very powerful mobile products distribution system that allows for continuous deployment, beta testing and enterprise product distribution, feedback and bug reporting.
6) AppBlade — The platform helps in creating custom release tracks when you are releasing with different variants. It can shorten feedback loops and focus on the QA process of the product, thereby enabling you to launch a high quality product.
7) TestFairy — The best thing about TestFairy is that it works on both iOS and Android, compatible with any kind of bug tracking system, works on native products and on platforms like Xamarin, PhoneGap, Adobe Air, Unity and Appcelerator.
Now that you have distributed beta testers, they will work on the product and come up with certain suggestions. Feedback can be either positive or negative; but ultimately, it will help fine tune the product to the best of standards.
Here are a few ways in which you can collect feedback from your beta testers:
The main aim of beta testing is to spot and squash bugs and other issues that went unnoticed in the development phase of the product. So, bug reports are really important; it’s a great way for the testers to report the existence of bugs. This will help the beta team to identify and take measures to eliminate bugs; thereby enhancing the user experience.
While using your products, the testers would feel the ‘missing’ of some important feature(s). Hence, there has to be a provision to submit feature requests, so the beta manager would know which feature will be preferred by the users in the future. Features requests and feature improvements that the testers submit are valuable insights.
Journals, here means short accounts of what the tester experienced while using the product on a daily basis. This is also a kind of feedback, but it could be something personal also. If the product was too hard to use or if there’s any particular feature that the tester liked, then he can pen down his thoughts and convey it to the beta manager.
Participating in forums and discussion boards would provide insights into what people are talking about your product. If there is something a user found exciting in your product, he would mention it, and the others would express their opinion. Similar would be the case if there is something negative about the product.
Collect the feedback from each and every tester, analyze them thoroughly, observe for patterns, and this would give you an idea about product crashes and glitches.
You can collect the analytics and crash reports from sources like Crashlytics, Parse Analytics, Apple Crash Reports and Google Analytics for iOS and run them through to get a clearer picture. Also analyze the functional reports of the testers to check which features are working fine, and which are not.
For example, if there has been a crash, Crashlytics would provide a crash log that talks about the circumstances that led to product termination or shut down. Each time a crash occurs, it would be reported in the log for you to analyse and act on. A thorough analysis of the feedback would bring all the glitches of the product to light, and you can work on improving the quality of the product.
Testers are putting in time and effort to analyze your product, and make suggestions for changes. They must be rewarded in the form of coupons, discounts, promo codes, offers and other big ticket prices. This is how you personally acknowledge the efforts they took to work hard to improve your product.
Gifting them will help build brand loyalty; so the next time you need to test an product, you will find many willing testers around.
However it is important to remember that incentives should be given only to testers who have made an active contribution till completion of beta testing. It would also be good if you can keep the surprise till the end; if you want an honest reprisal at the end.
If you announce what you are going to give, it may not bring in the desired results. If the incentive is too exciting, they might just praise the product and overlook the bugs, and if the incentive is less than exciting, they might just quit.
Ideally, you must leave the tester guessing, and they will assume you will be fair. But remember, good incentives will leave a lasting impression, and the next time round, they will be willing to test your product.
Beta testing is thus a crucial step to product release. While developing your product idea, make sure you build an audience around it simultaneously, because you just cannot afford to launch your product first and then discover the flaws that is within it. That could cost you dearly.
And pay attention to the methods of doing beta testing successfully — right from selecting the platform to choosing deserving beta testers, and assimilating the feedback. Also make sure that you add all the credible beta testers into your email list, so you can easily inform them at the launch of your product, or whenever an update is released.
Thinking of adopting a strong beta testing strategy for your product? We can guide you…
Originally published in Cabot Solutions Blog on September 29, 2017.