Test Planning

6 Goals of Public Beta Tests

December 4, 2013

Planning a public beta test starts with deciding what you want your beta to achieve. Like private beta tests, public betas can be designed with a wide variety of objectives in mind. How you approach your public beta test will very much depend on your primary and secondary goals, since your goals effect everything from the people you recruit, to the length of the test, to the data you collect. With the end goal(s) in mind, you will have a much better foundation for crafting the rest of these details.

As a general note, public beta tests are usually not focused on collecting detailed feedback from users on their experiences and issues — that’s where private betas shine. Public betas are more focused on marketing goals. For more on this, check out our post on the differences between private and public betas. Otherwise, keep reading to see the six major goals public betas achieve.

1. Launch Awareness

This is the goal most often associated with public beta tests. These projects focus on raising awareness about a product during the weeks or months immediately before its release. This is most commonly used by companies launching video games and websites, in hopes of building excitement and a following that will help the official launch be more successful. In this scenario, your beta build may be a limited or preview version of the product, since the goal is to pique your audience’s interest.

2. Beta In Name Only (BINO)

These public betas use the term “beta”, but the product is effectively feature complete and released. In this case, the beta tag serves to both excuse minor issues and promote a sense of “getting in on the ground floor”. For example, Google’s Gmail was in “beta” for five years and had more than 100 million users during that period. This approach works well if your product is ready for release, but you want to still be able to easily make changes after the product is released or want to leverage the “beta” exclusivity messaging after launch.

3. Viral Release/Buzz

Also popularized by Google, this type of public beta has become prominent with web applications. The general idea is that the product is available by way of a viral invite system prior to an official release. This approach is helpful if your product has a social media bent or you’re looking to leverage social networks to gain traction in your target market. It can also be useful if you’d like to control the number of people joining your beta by only allowing users a certain number of “invites” at a time.

4. Early Adopter Access

In this scenario, a release is made available to early adopters (most often technical individuals) on an opt-in basis in order to receive access to early fixes for issues they may be having, with an understanding that other issues may be present. This can be a helpful approach if you’re releasing a new version of your product in order to fix a problem or include a clamored-for feature, and have people lining up to try it.

5. Data Collection

Some public beta tests function as a tool to collect back end data that can be used to analyze customer behavior, which will in turn influence the design or launch of the product. This is a helpful goal if you’re trying to understand large scale patterns in your product. This is also a good goal if you’re trying to understand the scope of certain pieces of feedback or issues that surfaced during your private beta test.

6. Load/Stress Testing

Many public betas occur in order to test the threshold or scalability of an infrastructure. In these scenarios, thousands (or even millions) of testers are coordinated to use a product at the same time in order to see if the product’s infrastructure can handle the load.

These objectives are merely a starting point. If there are additional goals you want to achieve, be sure to think about what they are, what data you need to collect in order to achieve them, and how you aim to collect that data during your test.

You’ll also want to consider if all of your goals can be met with a single public beta, or if you’ll need to create different phases of your test to focus on different objectives. Some goals are not easily compatible. For example, if your primary goal is looking for trends in your user behavior, but you’re planning on using a limited version of your product to promote interest before the launch, then the limited nature of your beta build is going to skew any data you collect, making it useless for extrapolation to your complete, released product. Considering how your objectives complement or clash with each other will help you build a public beta strategy that meets all your launch goals.

If you’re ready to start planning your public beta test, download our free software beta test planning kit. If you’re looking for more information on using public beta tests as a launch tool, download the complete whitepaper by clicking below.

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