The goals of a beta test will vary greatly depending on your product and situation. Here are some of the major goals beta can achieve.
One great thing about beta testing is that it lets product developers quickly and inexpensively tackle a wide variety of goals that can dramatically improve their products. Quality is often the primary goal of beta testing, but there are many additional objectives that a beta program can address.
Beta testing provides the unique opportunity to ensure that as a final step prior to release, all of the product components (including quality, feature/functionality, installation, documentation/training, support, delivery, and more) perform as expected, ultimately providing the intended total customer experience.
For new products, products introducing substantial new functionality, or products aimed at a small defined audience, beta offers the ability to achieve legitimate customer acceptance, ensuring the product meets the requirements of its audience. Similarly, in the MVP (minimum viable product) context, beta can help establish the minimum feature set for a lean launch.
While it's ultimately the product designer's job to develop a strategic roadmap, the process is rarely done in a vacuum. Beta testing offers a significant source of early inspiration from the product's target audience. While it's likely too late to implement most of the suggestions gathered in a beta test, this pool of information offers insight that can be leveraged when looking ahead to future revisions of the product.
Beta testing is not constrained to only the product being developed. Beta testing offers product developers the ability to incorporate competing products in an effort to determine customer sentiment including feature/functionality, quality, and performance.
QA can't run tests with every platform, peripheral, or product that might interact with yours, which results in hidden defects. Beta testing helps cover those gaps by providing real-world usage in an incredible variety of environments and scenarios. It's also very common for beta testers to discover a number of show-stopping bugs that QA was unable to discover for other reasons.
Many products perform great in the lab, but fail to achieve the same level of performance "in the wild". Beta testing offers a much-needed predictive benchmark for real-world performance of both clients and servers. This is especially true for products that are heavily affected by the Internet and load such as web sites and games.
Beta tests often focus a portion of tester efforts on ensuring that previously encountered issues have been addressed to their satisfaction, forming a complete "feedback loop" for issues. Beta tests that introduce new features (some of which may have been suggested by testers) seek to determine acceptance of these features.
Many products, especially those which exist in a network environment, are impossible to fully simulate in a test lab environment. Beta testing gives you the opportunity to test your product in thousands of different environments and scenarios to analyze how it's measuring up.
Compatibility testing is one of the most common beta objectives, focusing a real-world audience on testing the product with adjacent products and technologies that will influence its performance and uncover issues.
In addition to providing real environments, beta testing gives you insight into unscripted usage patterns for your product. Beta participants will provide detailed feedback about usability challenges they encounter, allowing you to either make immediate changes or prepare your support team to assist customers in these scenarios.
Beta testing is commonly used to evaluate and identify issues related to the new user experience (onboarding, installation, out of the box, etc.) of highly targeted customers.
Focusing beta tests on documentation allows product developers to ensure real-world comprehension of these materials, improving the total customer experience of the product.
Beta testing can be used to trial and improve the customer support process associated with any product.
Enabling testers to write reviews of the product in a private setting can provide valuable predictions of real-world customer satisfaction, demonstrating sentiment that will later be shared publicly on sites like Amazon, Google Play, or the iOS App Store.
Beta participants are the first customers who possess real experience with your product. This presents the opportunity to collect valuable testimonials for your marketing and PR teams. With high-cost or B2B products, you can also use beta participants as customer references, so the sales team can hit the ground running.
Providing early access to a product or service is an effective way to gain an audience of enthusiastic users who are more than willing to spread the word about you.
Public betas are now common in the release strategies for web applications, entertainment products, games, and more. The goal is to build viral, widespread awareness (and vast amounts of feedback) by offering an early (and free) version of the product, with the understanding that issues are still being worked out and expectations should be a bit lower than with a released product.