The secret to dramatically increasing conversions from your beta

As web developers, we’ve all run a beta, right? We think up an idea for an app based on what we see as needs in the community/on the web, ideally we validate the idea before we start to build, and then we get users to come and check out our beta, hopefully breaking some stuff along the way so that we can see what the pain points of the app are and make it as good as it can be for its release. We’re feeling good because we have all of these beta signups, and people seem to be using the service. Then we release it and not one of the hundreds of beta users sticks around and gives us their credit card information. Not one.

So you find yourself questioning pretty much everything: How could you have gotten things so wrong? Didn’t you build something useful? Weren’t all of these people actively using the service that I made? Why did everyone read the launch email that I sent, yawn, and completely ignore my email?

Recently I ran a beta for Are My Sites Changed (page change detection for web developers, letting you know if/when the source of your web pages changes). Some betas that I’ve run before this one have failed dismally, in pretty much the way that I’ve described above. This time was different.

What changed? Communication. I made a conscious effort this time to look closely at user activity, and follow up with people at their points of pain. Think about how you use web apps, and apply it to your thinking about how users will react to things in your app. It’s a lot lower-friction to just close the browser tab and never come back to an app that’s confusing or malfunctioning, and that’s what many users do. They hit a wall, and you’ve lost them… unless you notice and proactively follow up with them! I have never reached out to a user who has abandoned my app to let them know that their issue was fixed and been met with anything less than surprise that I noticed, amazement that the issue had been fixed so quickly, and thanks.

If someone signed up, added a site, and got a bunch of notifications about the same thing, I would email them and tell them how to set up exclusions, which tell AMSC what parts of the page you expect to change, so it doesn’t alert you about those. I saw those as potential users who would sign up, get non-stop notifications, not know what to do about them (even though there are instructions in every email alert, because people sometimes don’t read), and figure that the service was just broken. If I didn’t get in touch with them proactively, when I asked them to stick around a month later after the beta (if they didn’t delete their account beforehand), why would they give me money every month? Why would they give me money for a service that fills up their inbox with non-stop email alerts?

If someone added a site, but didn’t add any pages under that site, I’d follow up with them to see if they meant to do that, or if they only wanted to check one particular page for changes. If, during the beta they changed something on a page that they thought was being checked when it wasn’t, they might have assumed that the service was broken. Then, when I launched out of beta and asked them to stick around, why would they give me money for a service that looked like it didn’t work?

Also, when I noticed that things were broken, or I found out from a user that something wasn’t working or was confusing, I dropped everything and worked to make it right, then let either the user or everyone know about the fix, depending on how large the fix was.

There are lots of reasons that your beta users might not convert to paid users. Some of them aren’t within your control, like tire-kickers who sign up for every beta ever and never sign up for anything, or users who love your service, but don’t find it valuable enough for the price that you’re charging (that usually just means that they aren’t in your target market), but there are some that you can control. If you keep a watchful eye on what’s going on in your app and communicate with your beta users, you have a much better chance of keeping them on as customers.

In the case of Are My Sites Changed, 93% of the people that I talked to during the beta stayed on, gave me their credit card information and are happy customers. 93%!

We like to think that we’re building cool software that solves problems, and a lot of the time we are, but we should always keep in mind that your apps are made for people. Talk to them. Find out what they need/want. Do that.

I’m working on a new product that takes what I’ve learned from years of running successful betas/web apps, and using it to build an app that will help you be more effective at running your own web apps, communicating with your customers,
retaining existing customers, and attracting more.
If you’d like to come along for the ride (and be part of the eventual beta, haha), sign up here!


The problem with running betas:

For me, it’s the inability to effectively communicate with beta users and track their comments and suggestions in one place.

At this point, running a beta of your app is commonly accepted as a great way to iterate and test your app with real users and to figure out what the app really needs, but some parts of that process are broken.

I ran a beta lately for Are My Sites Changed, and I’ve run a few before that. I’ve started to notice a trend. During betas, more than almost any other time, I get lots of suggestions and comments, and they’re from all sorts of places, like email, Olark live chat, and even Intercom. It’s hard to keep track of who said what, when, and where, even when I know that a particular conversation happened.

During betas, the app is rapidly changing, bugs are getting fixed, features are being added and removed, and I want to keep my beta users informed, so that they know what’s happening, and that the app is getting better all of the time. So far, there is no good, integrated way to do that.

I want an app that will take my users/app from beta through launch and beyond, providing a great way to keep my users/customers informed about what is happening, to have an open dialog with them, and to use best practices to retain those users as customers for years after launch. I also want an app that takes what I learn from my users and helps me to turn it into knowledge that I can use to convert more users.

Is this something that you need as well? Sense Labs is starting to work on an app that will help to solve this problem, and more that we’ve seen while running betas and the web apps that come out of them. We want to build a toolkit for web app owners like us.

The goals:

  • Keep users informed about what’s changing in the app
  • Surface useful data to you that you can use to find and reward the most valuable users that you have
  • Remind you when the best times are to do things that will benefit your business, based on information that we keep track of for you.
  • Give you an easy way to announce important things to all of your users at once.
  • Find out what actual paying customers want, when they want it, and how they’re using the app, so you can best focus your development
  • Find out how to retain users who are thinking of canceling their subscription to your app (and then actually retain them)!
  • and a few more. I’ll be talking about them as time goes on.

Basically, we’re going to take what we’ve learned from years of running successful web apps, and use it to build an app that will help you be more effective at running your own web apps, communicating with your customers,
retaining existing customers, and attracting more.

If you’d like to come along for the ride (and be part of the eventual beta, haha), sign up here!