Recommend Centercode and get paid - learn more about our new referral programs!  
Test Strategy

Private Beta vs. Public Beta Testing

June 9, 2023

Deciding private or public beta tests is a little more complicated than deciding on more or fewer testers. Making the wrong choice can lead to leaks and confusion. Not to mention you risk wasting precious development time. So, let's uncover the differences between each test and figure out when to use them.

Defining Private and Public Beta Testing

Understanding the meaning of open and closed methods will help you create a clear message to stakeholders. Announcing your type of test declares the state of development to the world. Likewise, it ensures you don't break your back trying to handle feedback from thousands of users like it was a private test with fewer testers. 

What is private (closed) beta testing?

Private or closed beta tests are a user acceptance method used in software development. The purpose of the project is to collect feedback on product features. Defined by their exclusivity and sign up process, often fewer beta testers are invited.

"Smart Soundbar Private Beta" post on Betabound.

What is public (open) beta testing?

Public or open beta projects are a software acceptance testing method. These projects collect usage data, surveys, and feedback from a larger group of beta testers. Open tests are defined by quick access to the software and greater numbers of beta testers.

"Tweetbase Open Beta" (example of public beta) post on Betabound.

Comparing Private and Public Beta Tests

The number of testers and when they happen in development are inherent differences, while the signup process and goals are fuzzier. So considering their differences is an effective way to make the right selection. Here are some differences between private and public beta tests:

The key differences between private and public beta tests fall into these categories: definition, announcing the test, tester sign-up, confidentiality, timeline, goals, and what happens after the test.

How is announcing each test different?

Both private and public betas can use web, social, and email promotion. However, you'll use different terms to communicate the nature of the test. Terms like private, closed, limited, exclusive, or waitlist are used to explain the confidential nature of testing. 

Razer's beta program homepage shows the benefits of their beta program and how to join.

While open tests use terms like public, trial, early access, or preview. 

Details about Evernote's early access program including the benefits of joining, the caveats, and steps to join.

How is the signup process different?

The beta signup process is the primary way people apply to become a tester. Open tests commonly allow users to access the software on an eligible device without the barriers of a waitlist or screening survey.

Apple's Beta Software Program homepage featuring details about what betas are available, how to join, and FAQs.

While private tests tend to use an application process, qualification surveys, or screeners to ensure they recruit the right testers.

A qualification survey example from the Centercode platform including a variety of question styles.

After submitting the application, users are typically placed in a holding pattern or on a waitlist before they are reviewed and selected to join as beta testers. 

A thank you message served to testers who have applied for a test that hasn't started yet in the Centercode platform.

How is confidentiality different?

A typical way to identify whether or not the test is public or private is based on the use of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). However, both types of beta likely require consent to a privacy policy or terms of use.

An advertisement for Zapier's Early Access program links to the terms of use and privacy policy for the program prior to signing up.

It's common to see open tests encourage sharing information or stories about the project because it generates awareness and can encourage more testers to join. While closed tests, use NDAs to enforce and remind testers of confidentiality while participating in the project.

Need a free Beta Non-Disclosure Agreement template? Download it here.

How is the timeline different?

Both types of beta testing come after alpha testing and before launch. As you increase exposure to a larger audience, the more stable your product should be. So running an alpha test, followed by a closed beta, and after a closed beta comes a public beta.

A timeline of the software development lifecycle, which includes from left to right: Analyze, Design, Develop, Test, Deploy, and Maintain. Private Betas typically happen during the Test phase while Public Betas typically happen during the Deploy phase.

Additionally, closed projects tend to be shorter, and can happen more frequently. Meaning there can be a private beta 1 and a private beta 2. While open tests tend to be slightly longer and infrequent. Meaning there's likely a single public test before launch.

How are goals different?

Both test types share their main initiatives, like collecting qualitative and quantitative data. The differences are highlighted by how much emphasis they put on each type of data.

Public tests prioritize collecting data based on how testers use the product. This helps teams measure feature usage and adoption. Understanding how to prepare sales, marketing, and support for launch based on how customers will actually use the product is a great way to help ensure a successful launch.

On the other hand, private tests collect feedback to tune features prior to going to a larger group. Learning what's working, what's not working, and how satisfied users are with a product helps validate where your attention needs to be while you’re still in development.

In private beta tests, the emphasis is roughly equal between qualitative and quantitative data gathering while in public beta tests, the emphasis rests more on quantitative data with a smaller focus on qualitative data.

What happens after public and private beta tests?

Each test acts as an evaluation and a loose gate to the next steps in development. Whether the product progresses to later development stages or launch depends on the findings from the beta test(s) and the time required to implement the identified improvements. 

Typically, after concluding a closed test, teams will run a public beta. This enhances the quantitative data and puts the product into an even more realistic environment.

After finishing a public beta test, it's time to prepare the release for general availability and finish up your launch checklist.

How to Choose The Right Test Type

Private beta tests enable you to gather detailed feedback from a select group, promoting a focused refinement process. While public beta tests enable you to engage a larger user base and obtain a diverse set of data.

Having unique test methodologies and best practices ensures you don't waste your time during the crucial final stages of development. There are similarities, but the differences, if handled properly, will help to deliver the right results at the right time in the most efficient manner possible.

To identify if you should choose private or public beta tests, take into consideration the following factors:

  • The goals of testing
  • The current state of your product in development
  • What kind of exposure you want on the product
  • How you plan on providing the software or hardware to testers

Evolving Your Private and Public Beta Test

The way products are being developed has changed dramatically over the years. You are likely producing features and products at a much faster rate. However, beta testing processes hasn't changed much since the days of waterfall development. To align private and public testing to the faster and more iterative development processes in agile, beta needed to evolve.

Best practices, a framework for managing projects, and technology have combined to create Delta Testing. Delta Testing leverages automation and tools to alleviate the challenges of recruiting testers, collecting feedback, prioritizing data, and integrating insights into business systems.

Learn more about how beta testing has evolved with The Definitive Guide to Delta Testing.


Choosing between private and public beta testing requires careful consideration. Each approach has its own strengths and purpose. Private beta tests allow for a focused improvement process, while public beta tests provide more quantitative data. So, don't rush this decision—take the time to assess your goals and choose the beta test that aligns best with your product and audience. Happy testing!

Check Out the Webinar on Private vs Public Beta
No items found.