Beta testing is a term you’ll hear regularly even when you don’t deal with software testing that often. Popular software products often start as beta versions, sometimes intended only for limited release. But what is beta testing and why do we do it? Here is what you need to know about beta testing in software testing.
Definition of beta testing
Beta testing is the act of testing a product by ordinary users in an unprepared environment. It is a type of user acceptance testing. The unique thing about beta testing is that it doesn’t always require a specific scenario to be successful. In fact, beta testing relies on three principles:
- Real product
- Real people
- Real environment
The job of a beta tester is to see how the product behaves when it’s interacted with by the end user. Beta testing can involve UX testing, performance testing, compatibility testing, functional testing, and other aspects that directly affect the work of the product and its reception by the audience.
Why is it important?
There are several advantages to regularly beta testing your software solutions, and these are the strongest ones:
- Releasing your product to as many beta testers as possible helps you check the performance of the product on all three platform levels: devices, operating systems, and browsers. Achieving the same variety in a controlled environment of a QA department may prove challenging.
- Beta testing is performed by people with no prior experience with the product. They are not the ones who participated in the development of the product and they have no stakes in its success. Their assessment is going to be unbiased and therefore essential for a complete idea of the product and its strengths and weaknesses.
- The opportunity to beta test the product is often made available to the most loyal customers with a sincere interest in the product. They tend to view it as a privilege, not a chore. In turn, this helps the company foster a special relationship with its customer base, leading to higher profit and success in the market.
Beta testing vs. alpha testing
Alpha testing and beta testing are both types of acceptance testing and belong to Customer Validation methodologies. The goal of both alpha and beta testing is to gather and analyze user feedback to further improve the product. However, these two types of testing are definitely not identical, and here is why.
Alpha testing is a form of in-house acceptance testing. It is typically the last type of testing performed by the QA team before the product is sent to beta testing. In some cases, alpha testing can also be done by the end users of the product, but it still happens in a more or less controlled environment.
Moreover, since the alpha testing stage is only open to a limited number of users, they may already have some connections to the product or the team behind it, which may create unwanted bias.
Beta testing, on the other hand, is a type of acceptance testing that is done by people outside of the development team and the company overall. The company may select beta testing groups based on certain criteria or release their product to a wider audience, but the essence of beta testing remains unchanged. It’s done by real users in a real, uncontrolled environment, and therefore produces unbiased results.
When to do beta testing?
Beta testing is performed immediately after alpha testing but before the product is released to the general public. There is no universal rule on how complete the product should be before it’s sent to beta testing. However, the consensus among software testers is that the product needs to be at least 90% ready. This includes having a complete UI, compatibility with different platforms, and most, if not all desired features already present in the product.
Another sign of a product being ready for beta testing is that all the documentation intended for the end user is available at hand. Specifically, user manuals and other types of documentation that can help the end user have a better understanding of the product are essential for this testing stage. There should also be guidelines on identifying and submitting the discovered bugs.
How to do beta testing?
Like any other type of testing, beta testing requires preparation and a careful approach to be effective. These are the 5 steps of a successful beta testing phase:
- Test planning. At this stage, the team needs to design the specifics of the testing process, including how many participants they will need and what goals they are hoping to reach. The duration of the beta testing phase also needs to be defined there.
- User recruitment. When the team is using definitive criteria for selecting the participants for the beta testing project, the number of participants will likely be limited. For a medium-sized project, 50 to 200 participants should be enough to give the QA team a clear idea of where the project stands.
- Product release. Here the product is distributed to the beta testers, usually in the form of a download link to the installation package. The team behind the project should also supply the testers with user manuals, as well as documentation on the scope of testing and known issues.
- Feedback collection and analysis. After the beta testers have spent the predetermined amount of time interacting with the product, they are ready to give feedback. Feedback may consist of bug reports and suggestions on how to improve the product. The team then analyzes the feedback to determine the steps that need to be taken.
- Project closure. The beta testing stage of the project can be closed when the previously discovered bugs are fixed and no new bugs have appeared since the start of beta testing. The QA team can prepare to formally release the product to the general audience and try to maintain a good working relationship with its beta testers — their input can be a valuable asset in the development of subsequent projects.