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!