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Why app beta testing is essential

Why app beta testing is essential Kevin Rice

It's easy to fall into the trap of creating an app experience that appeals to a room of marketers but doesn't actually empathize with the wants, needs, or desires of the customer. Mitigating the ripple effect of doing so, however, isn't as easy.

Not only will your brand's app be shelved and your revenues be stilted, but you'll also create a newfound fear of similar initiatives within your department. This fear is only exacerbated when you consider that even the right strategy can't fully safeguard your department from app failure. Whether it's poor discoverability, usability, or performance, there are many aspects of design that can lead to the same outcome.

Suddenly, innovation and strategic thinking are stunted, and your marketing team becomes hesitant to take innovative risks. It's the beginning of the end.

To avoid app armageddon, we compel our partners to incorporate testing into each stage of the initiative. I say "compel" because it's not always an easy sale. Testing has associated costs and requires additional phases in a schedule. But when you weigh them against the ripple effect of stifled innovation, the cost of not testing is much greater than the cost of doing it right the first time.

Here's how you can test at each stage of your next initiative.

Conceptual testing

After your team has conducted an initial brainstorm, you should have some pretty solid concepts for your app experience that are rooted in your customers' wants, needs, and desires. Before you jump into design, however, test the concept by sharing the idea with as many people as you can.

Rather than ask them if it's a good idea, ask them probing questions that will help you come to the conclusion yourself, such as "How likely are you to download the app" or "Is this something you would share with your family?"

It may surprise you how valuable this initial validation is. Everyone is creative in one way or another, and you're likely to develop your idea even further with this sort of feedback.

Usability testing

So you now have some beautiful interfaces that you can't wait to get into development. Before you do, however, there are some nontechnical ways to test your workflows and ensure users will be able to discover the content and functionality they want and need. We use a platform to upload our interfaces and build out links to create a navigable experience that can be tested by real people prior to development.

We're looking for subjective feedback and to validate that our user experience is effective. Questions like "What does this company offer?" and "How does this app make you feel?" or simple directives like "Find a product you might be interested in, and add it to your cart" are key. Give simple directions, and avoid leading questions. Remain objective in your line of questioning, but give context when needed.

We often conduct this stage internally, but you can also leverage a crowdsource testing platform to get feedback from a wider audience.

Functional testing

At this point, you've validated your conceptual assumptions, tested your designs and workflows, and moved into development. A best practice would be to do some level of testing throughout the development process or at the end of each sprint -- or concurrently using test automation practices. Comprehensive functional testing helps safeguard you against bugs.

This can be done internally or with partners, but a good test plan is critical. Following a few simple guidelines can streamline the process:

  • Define the scope. Are you trying to test the entire app or specific workflows and functionality?

  • Determine your method. Will the testing be done ad hoc or "in the hallway"? Will it be done using a remote testing platform or your own testing environment with recording equipment in place? We have a practice called the "bug hunt" that allows everyone to systematically identify issues in a fun setting.

  • Define the test cases. What do you want people to test? Outline specific workflows, features, and use cases to determine that it's working as expected.

Performance (load) and security testing

Keeping your users' information private and secure is paramount. A data leak will not only ruin your brand's reputation, but also drain your bank account. One option is to hire a team of security experts who are trained to seek out any weak points in your app. While security testing will cost you money, failing to safeguard against nefarious hackers from the beginning could cost you a lot more down the road.

Post-launch feedback loops

Even though you've launched your app, it's important to continue the testing process. Consider your launch a live test "in the wild." Establishing feedback loops can help you identify any bugs that you might have missed, areas where you could make things easier to find, or completely new features or content that would improve the experience.

I often hear people exclaim that they can't afford to invest in testing. In response, I say, "How can you not afford to?" Yes, adding this level of testing will increase your investment. But when you consider the opportunity cost of not executing on your initiative correctly, you risk losing a lot more than you think.

Kevin Rice is the CSMO at Hathway.

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Hathway CSMO Kevin Rice's entrepreneurial spirit and drive to understand the digital landscape across industries allow him to solve real business problems for the large brands Hathway works with. These skills have helped Rice grow Hathway, a mobile...

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