To Beta or Not to Beta?

The Beta Test is a trial run of any new site before it goes live to the target audience; be it as small as a targeted user group or as large as the rest of the world. This is the perfect opportunity to make sure everything is working the way it was planned to work.

Step 1: User needs assessed and validated. Check.

Step 2: Built site strategy and supporting structure.  Check.

Step 3: Determine site functional needs. Check and double check.

Step 4: Selected the right technology solution. Check.

Step 5: Implement technology and build site. Check.

Step 6: Go live to audience. Stop right there! Hold the presses and put the champagne back on ice, you missed Step 5.5: Beta test.

“Beta what?” you ask yourself. Beta testing. Testing a web (inter or intra) site, new or renewed, is a great opportunity to ask some key questions such as:

  • Is the site working as it should?
  • Does the visual design look as good implemented as it did in the conceptual mock-ups?
  • Does the site layout make sense; it is intuitive to use and easy to navigate?
  • Are YOU impressed? Because let’s face it, if you aren’t impressed nobody else will be either.

This trial run of the site is a way to work out any bugs in the site or programming before it goes live to the target audience; be it as small as a targeted user group or as large as the rest of the world. This is the perfect opportunity to make sure that everything is working the way it was planned to work.

Some considerations for a Beta evaluation should include:

  • Is all the planned functionality present?
  • Does it all work they way it is suppose to?
  • Do pages render visually as they should?


  • Do they work?
  • Do they link to the pages, forms, documents that they are supposed to?


  • Is the site accessible/viewable in Explorer and Firefox


  • Be sure all pages are tagged with key words, descriptions, ownership ... all the meta tags needed to properly index and empower user searches.

Double check the obvious

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Typos

Gathering feedback

  • Is there a feedback form for users and administrators to access for simple, easy submission of their thoughts, findings and suggestions?

Some of this may seem obvious and simple, but it is amazing how many sites fail to hit their mark because of really simple things.

Usability testing; not just a Build Phase thing

Usability testing the new site in a Beta environment with a sampling of users from your primary target audience is invaluable in making sure you have hit your mark with the layout, design and navigation of the site. Even if all those elements “pass” the test, the feedback garnered “straight from the horses’ mouth” can provide the guidance and direction for those last week tweaks that take the site from good to great.

Creating a Test Plan:

1.   Know what you are going to test. What are the most common tasks performed on the site? What information will most visitors be seeking when they visit? If it is a site relaunch, what has changed or been added? Generally these are the most important elements to evaluate during the test.

2.   Organize the logistics of the tests. Arrange for a convenient and well set up location. Invite and confirm participants. Arrange for payment or incentive.*

  • An incentive is particularly important when securing test participants from the general public. The last thing you want is to have everything set and ready to go and then have none of the participants show up!

3.   Create the test Scenarios scripts. Each situation or task script to be used during testing should be written as a story that characterizes typical end-user activities. Each scenario should only test one element or site feature. The scenarios should be simple, short and realistic. Each test should be written in plain language using terms and context as the users would.

  • Sample internet site scenario script: You want to find the nearest location of Store X to your work. Find the locations listings for Store X. Please let me know when you are done.
  • Sample intranet site scenario script: You want to include your company’s mission statement in a proposal but can’t remember the exact wording, so  you go to the intranet to find for the information.  Please let me know when you have found the company mission statement done.

4.   Execute Tests. During the test try to keep the testers focused on the task at hand. It is easy for participants to get side tracked by new and exciting elements of the site. Take notes; lots of notes. Use codes and abbreviations to ensure you capture as much detail and dialogue as possible. Alternatively, have someone else from the team to take notes so that you can focus on the participant and the task. Be sure and note down comments and behaviours as well as direct dialogue. NOTE: Try not to guide the participants; let them find their own way and make mistakes. This will provide you the opportunity to correct errors found that were previously undiscovered.

Beta related Communications

It is important to reach out to content owners/contributors to give them updates, tidbits and encouragement.  The following is a suggested schedule of informal communications to the Beta team.

  • Poll Users: Post a quick poll or survey to the site to collect feedback.
  • Updates to Team: Let those involved with the beta (content providers, programmers, managers) know what is happening with the site, provide a plan of scheduled activities and make sure to say “thanks” for their contribution.
  • End of Beta: A summary of actions, findings and next steps to all involved.  

Now that the bugs have been exterminated and the wrinkles ironed out you are ready to launch the site, with confidence, to your target audience.

Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.

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Good to Great Intranet Matrix
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