Beta Testing: How to Find The Ideal Beta Tester For Your Software
The elusive search for the ideal beta tester is something many product managers will be familiar with. You know you need to find testers… But sourcing people who strike the right balance of experience, first-time usage, and insight is a massive challenge.
In this article, we’re going to break down what beta testing is, what makes a good beta tester, how to find and recruit them, and the difference they can make for you and your software.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
- Beta testing is a term that describes a specific type of test activity: testing with actual users prior to launch.
- Beta testing can help you identify and fix bugs, spread the word, validate product-market fit, and gather valuable feedback from your customer community.
- When should you use beta testing? When releasing an entirely new product, launching a new feature, or before a big product update.
- Although effective beta tests should differ depending on the context, there are common principles to bear in mind. Start by defining your goals, figure out who you need to test with, and what sort of tests are appropriate, set clear acceptance criteria, and remember to monitor analytics and gather feedback as you go.
- Once you’ve set yourself up for success, you can think about recruiting users. There is a range of options available, from paid sites, social media, testing communities, or directly within your app.
- In-app beta testers are often ideal (and free). You can recruit them with segmentation, fake-door tests, and setting appropriate incentives using a tool like Userpilot.
What is beta testing?
Beta testing is a term that describes a specific type of test activity: testing with actual users prior to launch.
What you’re testing can differ.
It could be a new product in its entirety, a specific feature of an existing product or service, or assuring a big release before it’s pushed to a wider audience.
Beta testing has increasingly become an industry standard (i.e. Twitter sampling new features with a subset of the audience, like the short-lived ‘fleets’).
Product managers will look to get a sense of assurance from the beta test phase. Mainly around general usability, stability, functionality, and ultimately value.
Why is beta testing important?
Getting hold of a good beta tester can be invaluable – and understanding how to run an effective beta test period is an extremely valuable tool in any product manager’s arsenal.
Beta testing can help you:
- Identify and fix bugs – there’s nothing worse than a carefully choreographed plan falling apart during a launch – and issues with bugs can (and have) derailed launches before. Beta testers should spot any final bugs before you push them on to a wider audience.
- Spread the word – beta testing is a fantastic way to increase ‘buzz’ and word-of-mouth marketing with your potential end users. Reviews, chatter on social media, and forums can all drive interest before a launch.
- Validate product-market fit – You can do all the research you want, but you’ll only really know if a product or feature works once it’s in the hands of your users. Beta testers can help validate if a release gels with your target audience and enhances your brand.
- Gather feedback – Use beta testers as a way to elicit valuable feedback on specific features and functionality: all feedback can be helpful, providing you act on it.
When do you need beta testing?
So, now you know what beta testing is – and maybe you’ve started to form a few ideas about how it can help you and your team.
Let’s take it a step further and answer the question: when exactly should you deploy beta testing to get the most out of it?
Here’s an example of some of the most common scenarios to launch a beta test:
- Updating your product: every time you update or enhance your software – whether that’s leveraging a new piece of technology, fixing bugs, or making changes to the front end – you should consider grabbing hold of a few ideal testers and running through an assurance period.
- Launching a new feature: beta testers can be particularly valuable when pushing new features and functionality into production: they’ll help catch bugs, find UX issues, and more.
- Releasing a new product: when launching an entirely new product, it’s important to see how it lands with beta testers. It’ll give you an idea of whether they’re getting value from using it. Ultimately, that’s a good way to understand if you’ve got product-market fit.
How to design a good beta test
Let’s get into the real reason you’re here: breaking down the specific steps you need to set this all in motion.
In this section of the article, we’ll explore how you can create a beta test that helps you and your team drive toward your goals.
Define your goals for the beta test
“Without a goal, you can’t score.”
First things first, you need to get clear on exactly what you’re trying to achieve with beta testing.
As we’ve discussed previously, there are many circumstances where you might want to deploy beta testing, so it’s not enough to just get started and hope for the best.
A multi-faceted challenge, usability is incredibly important.
Typically, product managers want their beta testers to help them understand something about a product’s usability. As the diagram above shows, usability is multi-faceted, so the type of testing you’ll do will closely correlate with what you’re hoping to understand.
Do you want to:
- Understand how your product performs?
- Identify missed product opportunities?
- Experiment with a redesign?
- …or something else?
Understand the type of testers you need: Who is your ideal beta tester?
Hopefully, now you’re set on what you’re trying to achieve.
Next, you need to figure out who your ideal beta tester is. The sort of beta testers you’ll target should be directly linked to the type of goal you’ve set.
- If you’re looking to get usability feedback on a product update, existing users will be more likely to give accurate feedback on how it feels (they have a baseline to compare from).
- If you are expanding into a new market, perhaps beta testers unfamiliar with your product could be a better option… Or you might want to select a beta tester with experience using a direct competitor to draw out comparisons.
What type of test do you need?
Next, you need to set your sights on exactly the sort of testing you’ll want to get your beta testers to conduct. You’ll be in a great position to do that now you know what you’re trying to achieve and which users you need to test with.
Let’s dig into an example.
You might want to use a ‘first-click’ test to understand how your customers might attempt to navigate to complete a task (or access a feature). This is a great way to determine how intuitive your site design and information structure are, by measuring how long it takes users to make a decision.
You can implement this kind of test by creating an engaging checklist, offering rewards for finishing the tasks in it, and then tracking how they engage with the UI to see where they get stuck.
You’ll want to understand if they manage to stay on the happy path (and if not, where they deviate). This helps you uncover friction and drop-off points within your product and make efforts to improve them before a wider launch.
Define validation criteria
Setting goals is fantastic, but it’s only half a job: you need to write specific acceptance criteria to understand whether you’re actually making any headway toward achieving them.
You should have clear, tangible, detailed criteria set out before you kick off your beta testing.
Think about a combination of qualitative and quantitative data: customer comments and feedback, heatmaps, usage data, and surveys are just a few options.
That puts you in a good position to think about what tools you need and lay the groundwork for setting up analytics.
Set up analytics
Data is power – the more data you have to leverage, the more effective beta testing can be.
Think about what details are going to help you track progress toward specific goals: feature tagging might help you track specific usage data, heatmaps can show you how folks are spending their time in your product and set out friction points, and more.
Recruit and test
You’ve laid the groundwork and done a fantastic job understanding the problem.
Now it’s finally time to get organized, start gathering a research group together, and kick off your beta testing in earnest!
Beta testing is not a static, once-and-done activity: it requires sustained effort. You need to think about how you will collect feedback from your ideal beta testers right from the start.
There are a couple of options to think about here:
- Interviews: you can grab a beta tester for a 1:1 discussion or look to assemble a focus group and gather insight collectively. Interviews are great ways to glean rich insights, but they are time-consuming and it can take a lot of effort to transcribe and process the data.
- In-app surveys: you can leverage technology to reach a broad base of your beta testers with in-app surveys. Formulate surveys – using a mixture of long and short questions – to gather insight on specific issues, find areas of frustration, and thematically group comments.
What does a good beta tester look like?
Put simply, your ideal beta tester will likely be completely different from product to product and product manager to product manager.
It all depends on your goals, the context, and what type of issues you’re hoping to expose through testing.
The ideal beta testers will likely share a few key characteristics though.
- Have the right level of experience for what you are testing.
- Fit your ideal user profile.
- Be open and willing to share detailed insights.
Where to find the ideal beta tester?
Finding beta testers is always a challenge. Let’s break down where you can source testers from (and the pros and cons of each method).
Paid beta testers’ websites
Sometimes, you want to go directly to where you can access a pool of experienced people for your beta test.
Tester websites – like Ubertesters, Betalist, or Testfairy – offer an easy way to get in touch with experienced beta testers. When time is short, and potential budget is not a huge concern, beta tester websites can be a fantastic option.
However, there’s one thing to bear in mind.
Paid testers will not be an accurate representation of your end customers. You could be missing out on important data: depending on the context of your beta test, it could be a risk you’re willing to take.
Your actual users
Most product managers’ ideal tester will be someone that’s representative of your customers: someone who actually uses your product day in, day out.
Often, your actual customers will be the best source of advice and feedback that’s tangible – and actionable.
Of course, there won’t be widespread interest in your tests: try to target those who’ve shown some kind of sign they’re interested (an enthusiastic tester is an effective tester).
Beta testing communities
Perhaps a less popular option is to find volunteers to take part in beta tests. Beta test communities can be an important source to draw from.
If you want to leverage the experience of experienced technology beta testers – but you’re looking to save money (or organize it for free) – building strong relationships with a beta testing community can vastly improve your chances.
Social media is a technology that’s taken the world by storm, and it’s a fantastic way to recruit people to take part in any beta test you organize.
Get creative and leverage multiple platforms to drive traction and interest.
Whether you write an engaging blog, engage with a thriving community on Facebook, targeted messages to email lists, or share interesting content, social media can be an extremely effective way to source beta testers.
How to recruit ideal beta testers in-app?
We covered in the previous section why you should feel positively excited about the idea of recruiting your actual customers. Let’s break down how to find beta testers in-app.
Identify promoters and reach out
User segments can be a fantastic way to identify power users (people that know your products like the back of their hand).
Often, chances are this segment will serve as a proxy for willingness to test your product and provide quality feedback.
Once you’ve identified who those customers are, you can use in-app messages to reach out to them directly and ask them to participate in your beta tests.
User fake door testing to qualify potential testers
Fake door tests are a clever way of gauging interest and feature demand without investing the time in building a feature yet. Simply create a handy tooltip to prompt users to engage with a new feature: anyone that clicks on the link qualifies as a potential tester.
You know all users who click on the CTA are interested in using the feature. The next step is simple: let them know the feature is not ready yet, but invite them to sign up as testers once the beta version is ready.
Offer rewards in exchange for feedback
Any product manager will tell you that understanding incentives is an important skill. Appealing directly to your customers – whether that’s with product-based perks, discounts, or even cold, hard cash – can be an extremely effective way to cut out the middleman and identify interested testers.
Let’s wrap things up.
Beta testing should form a critical part of the launch strategy of any sensible product or service (you can’t only rely on QA tests to assure a release). Beta testers can help you gather feedback, generate ideas for improvement throughout your development cycle, fix bugs before a wider rollout, and generate interest.
Work as hard as you can to track down ideal testers… and it’ll pay dividends.
CTA: Want to get started with beta testing? Get a Userpilot Demo and see how you can recruit and leverage your ideal beta testers, in-app, today.