Understanding Beta Testing: Examples, Benefits, Challenges
Internal software testing efforts go a long way toward ensuring digital quality. But you can’t catch it all in-house, no matter how skilled your testers might be. Sometimes, you need a different perspective, such as that of an end-user with a real device to verify that software works as expected.
Beta testing is one of the final steps in the software development lifecycle before a product goes live. This crucial software testing step, also sometimes referred to as user acceptance testing or end user testing, helps deliver a great user experience by relying on the expertise of target users.
In this blog post, we’ll explain what beta testing is, examples, benefits, challenges, platforms and more.
What is beta testing?
In software testing, testers typically evaluate a product against a set of internal documentation and customer flows. What beta testing does is different.
Beta testing is a pre-release type of acceptance test in which target users evaluate a digital asset or product to determine its overall effectiveness, as defined by functionality, usability, reliability and compatibility. Beta testers assess the product before it is released to general availability, typically when the product is 90-95% finished.
What beta testing aims to accomplish is:
validate that end users will be satisfied by the product
gather user feedback that can help improve the design, functionality or usability in future iterations
gauge how the product performs in a real-world setting
catch any critical defects that eluded testers at previous QA stages
Complete beta testing requires testing software on as many combinations of devices, OSes, browsers and platforms as possible. Of course, there is never enough time to conduct beta testing on all of these permutations, so organizations must be vigilant in finding a set of beta testers representative of its user base and the devices they own.
Some organizations follow an 80/20 rule for beta testing — 80% of the people only use 20% of the application features, and those are the features to focus on. The more users that can participate as beta testers, the better the organization can understand how the product is accepted and perceived.
Beta testing is often confused or mentioned alongside similar testing terms. We’ll dig into the similarities and differences of some similar software testing approaches.
Beta testing vs. alpha testing. Alpha and beta testing vary in a variety of ways. Alpha testing is done by testers internal to the organization. Alpha testing comes before beta testing, and it is often done in a testing environment. Alpha testing includes multiple testing cycles and a mix of both white-box and black-box tests, all to validate that digital quality reaches enough of a standard to advance to beta testing.
Coming later than alpha testing in the SDLC, beta testing occurs with users outside of the organization. Those users present their issues with the product, whether they be functional or non-functional challenges, to help improve future iterations. Beta testing, which is typically a black-box type of testing, doesn’t require a testing environment, as users provide their feedback on a functional version of the product.
Put simply, alpha testing occurs first with internal users to find any lingering, glaring defects, while beta testing occurs later with external users to help the organization fine-tune the product for the present and the future.
Beta testing vs. pilot testing. Similar to alpha testing, pilot testing comes before beta testing in the development cycle. With pilot testing, the organization collects feedback from a small sampling of end users who interact with the product in a dev environment. The goal of pilot testing is typically to gauge the performance of a product or app.
Conversely, beta testing is open to a much wider group of end users. Coming after pilot testing, beta testers conduct their work in a production environment to gauge the end users’ broader responses to the product.
Beta testing vs. user acceptance testing. User acceptance testing (UAT) is a superset of beta testing, which means it goes beyond the effort of the latter. UAT should occur throughout the SDLC to ensure end user requests are met. UAT typically uses targeted groups of relevant end users that can provide useful feedback that results in immediate action.
As previously established, beta testing differs in that it involves a larger pool of end users. While beta testers must also be relevant to your product and brand, they can come from a less-technical background. Beta testing is an open-ended pursuit, seeking to identify ways to improve products over the long term, while UAT might involve feedback for specific defects or concerns.
Beta testing examples
Beta testing in software engineering serves an important purpose. By putting a nearly finished product in front of users, organizations can gather useful data that is otherwise impossible to collect internally. For this reason, beta testing is valuable for practically any business that delivers software to an end user.
Consider the beta testing example of a quick-service restaurant launching an update to its mobile app. Rather than launch without gathering any user feedback on the finished product, beta testers can provide some insight into various features on the app. For example, beta testing might uncover what functionality is clunky, why the design is off-putting, which platforms tend to be slower than others, issues with new menu items, and how well geolocation works as expected for order pickup.
In fact, beta testing in software engineering has become so commonplace that companies now have ongoing beta testing programs in which customers can sign up to participate.
Here are just a few examples of beta testing programs:
Keep in mind that these beta testing examples do not represent the full extent to which a brand tests its products — or even beta tests its products. In some instances, organizations might conduct individual outreach to find users that match a particular description. Or they might conduct targeted crowdtesting to find functional defects, usability issues, accessibility concerns and more.
Beta testing benefits
Better quality digital products yield significant business benefits over the long term. Beta testing with real users plays a role in achieving that goal, as users will catch functional or usability issues that elude in-house testers, designers and automation.
Here are several beta testing benefits to consider:
a better user experience
validation of post-launch features
increased product awareness
more platform coverage
A better user experience. Beta testing primarily focuses on understanding and improving the product’s full end user experience before it becomes GA. Sure, the organization will prioritize any defects reported from beta testers, but the primary goal is to make the product better.
Beta testers investigate the experience flow and report back on any pain points that hinder enjoyment of the experience for your end user. Some issues might be subjective in nature, but the overall findings of broad beta testing will yield helpful results to your customer conversions and brand reputation.
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Validation of post-launch features. Prior to beta testing, software testing techniques largely occur in testing or staging environments. While you can catch key defects in these environments, you won’t catch them all.
Beta testing in a real-world setting uncovers points of friction you would otherwise miss. A defect at this stage might not be a showstopper — one can hope — but it could present a significant usability issue that requires fixing. Rather than launch a product immediately to general availability, it’s better to limit the proverbial damage to a small group of users. Or, if the new feature delights users, beta testers can help you understand why as you consider future sprint items.
Increased product awareness. Beta testing programs offer a direct pipeline between the organization and some of the business’ most fanatical customers. If a user goes to the trouble to participate in a beta testing program, it is often because they care about the product and/or the brand on a deep level — in other words, a brand champion.
Many beta testers will naturally help create buzz around a new product or feature. In today’s age of influencers, some positive buzz can go a long way toward future sales. And even if a feature misses the mark, an open dialogue between beta testers and the organization can help establish trust and acceptance.
More platform coverage. The goal of beta testing is to push the digital experience across the finish line, making sure everything works correctly for every possible user. Beta testing in the real world helps achieve this goal, as it occurs on three levels of platform:
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Executing beta testing in the wild provides the benefit of actual users testing your experience on actual devices, which inevitably unveils issues you never planned for. These issues are often only discoverable in imperfect conditions that cannot be replicated in a lab setting. This emphasizes the need to test with as many users on as many combinations of relevant devices, operating systems and browsers as possible.
Beta testing challenges
While a beta testing strategy often yields helpful returns, it’s not without some effort. Beta testing challenges range from logistical to financial, and they can undermine confidence in programs.
Be mindful of these beta testing challenges:
scale of beta testers
quality of user feedback
cost of beta testing
managing the program
Scale of beta testers. How do you get enough users to test across your desired platforms? Beta testing at scale can be challenging, whether you do it in a lab or in the wild. An eager user base can certainly help you get there, but there is never a guarantee that they will provide enough data on the key platforms you require.
Keep in mind that when you launch in a new market, you must also summon beta testers in that market. Localization is a key component to a successful new-market launch, as it is impossible to fathom the various cultural, political, legislative, financial and technical differences from one market to another. Your customer in urban Brazil is nothing like your customer in rural Montana. Ideally, you have beta testers that represent both customers, and all other customers.
Quality of user feedback. Beta testers provide helpful feedback — if you can successfully elicit it from them. Not all end users are savvy with reporting beta testing results. They might be unclear in their responses, misunderstand questions or completely ignore some responsibilities altogether.
Scope is the beta testing challenge in this case. Can you get enough useful feedback from beta testers? Does the effort create a lot of noise that is hard to sort through? With beta testing, it’s difficult to establish clear goals, as you are dependent on what users find. Organizations should standardize their beta testing processes to make everything as consistent as possible.
Cost of beta testing. Software testing isn’t free, but, when done right, delivers exceptional value to brands that care about their digital experiences. Given the beta testing challenges above, it is certainly possible not to see enough ROI from the effort.
There’s no denying that adding layers of testing to your SDLC is an additional expense, but beta testers help avoid the cost of repairs in production, or ones missed sprint over sprint. The earlier you find issues to remediate, the cheaper they are to fix. Whether you want to spend the money or not, there will be beta testers for your product — either in a strategic manner by the company, or when you release the product and customers report real problems. A thorough beta testing period isn’t just good business practice, it could be the difference between losing customers and a successful launch.
Managing the program. As we’ve established, beta testing programs can involve a great number of beta testers. These beta testing programs must be organized and standardized to see successful results — and that requires a lot of people, resource and tool management.
Customer validation can come in many forms, including surveys, open-field questions and bug reports. These different types of data might require different tools to both collect and visualize the information. As with any data collection operation, there’s a lot of maintenance that goes into the process. On top of that, the organization must constantly recruit new beta testers, as churn will inevitably dwindle the ranks over time. Between the resource, tool and maintenance commitments, it can be a lot to manage internally.
The future of beta testing
Beta testing in software engineering serves a useful purpose, but it has its limitations. The end user’s perspective will always be useful from a digital quality standpoint, whether it is in finding defects or making suggestions for future improvements. However, beta testing, like any form of software testing, must be optimized to deliver value and maximize ROI.
To gain access to a large user pool, many organizations now augment their beta tests with crowdtesting. This combination of a broad user base for beta testing and a targeted base of real testers with real devices in real markets enables businesses to be even more strategic and targeted in their software launches.
Applause’s digital community of more than one million testers enables you to test the pathways that internal functional testing and external beta testers miss. You define user demographics, hardware, skills and location, and Applause sources testers in as little as a few hours to validate your digital products in a real-world setting. Crowdtesters provide detailed feedback, including screenshots and video if necessary, and Applause delivers results directly to your bug tracking platform.
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