A recent increase in studies of β diversity has yielded a confusing array of concepts, measures and methods. Here, we provide a roadmap of the most widely used and ecologically relevant approaches for analysis through a series of mission statements. We distinguish two types of β diversity: directional turnover along a gradient vs. non-directional variation. Different measures emphasize different properties of ecological data. Such properties include the degree of emphasis on presence/absence vs. relative abundance information and the inclusion vs. exclusion of joint absences. Judicious use of multiple measures in concert can uncover the underlying nature of patterns in β diversity for a given dataset. A case study of Indonesian coral assemblages shows the utility of a multi-faceted approach. We advocate careful consideration of relevant questions, matched by appropriate analyses. The rigorous application of null models will also help to reveal potential processes driving observed patterns in β diversity. © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS.