Beta, beta, beta! That’s the cool phase to be in isn’t it? Ask any ‘web entrepreneur’ how their site is coming along and the usual vague response is:
“We’re aiming to be in beta by April.”
So that’s June or July then, I think to myself.
“So you’re in alpha phase at the moment then?” I ask.
“Well that comes after beta doesn’t it?”
I head to the bar, by myself.
While I understand it’s easy to get whisked away in the excitement of launching a new web business, I’m not convinced that the 1st and 2nd letter of the Greek alphabet has suddenly switched around. After all, we call the alphabet ‘alphabet’ not ‘betaalph’!
The website release life cycle should be built into the foundations of your strategy. You may feel rushed to launch before someone else does but if you haven’t given yourself enough time to test your website thoroughly then you’re giving any competitors a head start straight away. You might be first past the post but running a successful web business is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady wins the race.
From the moment you scream “Eureka!” to yourself in the shower to the moment you ask your friend to be the first person to try your site, you are in the pre-alpha phase. It encompasses everything from designing the first wireframes or conducting the requirements analysis, to developing the code or integrating a social network’s API. When you’re ready to show the dev site to friends or marketers, pre-alpha is done!
We recommend that during this phase a ‘Coming Soon’ landing page is hosted at your web domain with an email data capture for visitors to show their interest in. This also gives marketers a conversion to achieve.
Now it’s time to start testing internally. You are happy with the site and you want to get it to the masses as soon as possible so you can call your new pal Mark Zuckerberg to arrange a tech billionaire’s lunch. Before that happens though, really use the alpha testing phase to get all friends and family trying the site and giving you feedback. If you’re on a tight budget, check out the W3C Validator for code compliance, Go Mo for mobile optimisation or WebPageTest for a free general performance test of your site. If the angel investors have just loaded your pockets, professional testers are essential. They are professionals for a reason.
As it famously said in the Godfather, “We go to the mattresses.” In other words, it’s time for war! Beta testing is when you show your cards to the public and it’s understandable to go into this phase with some trepidation. Fear not, that four letter word gives you a wealth of forgiveness from your early adopters. The start of beta is commonly private or “closed” where you will invite people who have already shown interest to register and have a play. It’s important to encourage feedback from these first users. Although they are unlikely to inform you of any technical issues, they will give you valuable opinions on usability.
When you decide to open the beta you can encourage your established user base to invite their friends or you might take your marketing strategy up a gear to drive fresh traffic, it depends what your objectives are. It’s important to make full use of this phase. There is no rush. If you receive a swell of new users this is a good opportunity to see how your site handles with real volume. As with the closed beta, be sure to encourage feedback from your users; as the end of beta testing draws near, consider incentivising your customer base to continue using your site.
Release Candidate (RC)
This phase is also known as gamma testing. You will now have a beta version of your site you are happy to attribute a ‘1.0’ to. Usually, at this stage your site will not need any new source code, so can be declared “code complete.” Now that you are at the end of beta testing, it is important to migrate your customers cleanly to your first release so adjustments and tweaks can be made. However, you shouldn’t be making drastic changes – if it needs more than minor tweaks, it’s not yet at the RC stage.
Release to Marketing (RTM)
This phase name makes it sound like now is the time to start marketing. Although this may be the case in some instances, marketing usually should have started earlier. In RTM you have the first version of your website ready for any customer that comes your way. All significant issues arisen in testing should now be ironed out. Now it’s time to drive growth and you should know by now if that will happen.
General Availability (GA)
Congratulations! You’re flying! Your email inbox should now be filling with suggestions rather than complaints. Brand advocates and influencers will start to emerge from your customers who should be rewarded accordingly. All launch marketing will have been completed and your targets are being met. You have successfully completed alpha testing, beta testing, RC and RTM and can change your LinkedIn job title from ‘Professional Procrastinator’ to ‘Web Entrepreneur’.
To The Bar
Knowing and understanding the website release life cycle from conception to completion will make the development and growth of your website much easier. Giving yourself enough time for each phase to be completed will not only give you better sleep but your investors will appreciate it too as you will have a clear picture of when and when not to spend money.
So if we meet at the next industry drinks and we start talking about your web startup, I hope that when I get the drinks in, there’ll be a pint in there for you too.