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Women in CRO: Insights from Our Conversation with Els Aerts, co-founder of AGConsult

11 Min Read

We recently had the pleasure of hosting Els Aerts, co-founder of AGConsult, on our Women in CRO podcast series. You can catch the full conversation on Spotify here. With over 20 years of experience in roles such as Chief Content Officer and Editor-in-Chief, Els brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to the field of user research.

At AGConsult, she is dedicated to helping businesses improve through user research, customer centricity, usability, UX, and conversion optimization. Here are the top learnings from our insightful discussion with Els.

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Leveraging usability principles for effective UX

Effective conversion rate optimization (CRO) relies on a thorough understanding of UX and usability. Familiarity with established interface patterns and user behaviors enables the development of variations that align with research insights. A robust UX knowledge base empowers us to create impactful solutions that improve conversion rates.

A deep knowledge of UX and usability is vital for meaningful work in conversion rate optimization.

Leveraging usability principles for effective UX is critical to creating user-friendly and successful digital products. Usability principles are guidelines and best practices that ensure a seamless and intuitive user experience. 

Key usability principles include simplicity (avoiding clutter and confusion), consistency (maintaining familiarity through uniform design elements), accessibility (ensuring inclusivity for diverse user needs), effective feedback and error handling (providing clear guidance and resolution), and conducting user research and testing (gathering insights to align designs with user expectations). 

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By incorporating these principles into the design process, designers can create interfaces that are easy to navigate, understand, and use, boosting user satisfaction and engagement. Continuously refining our practices and staying informed about industry trends enables us to create impactful, efficient user experiences that drive business growth.

For instance, Klickkonzept, a German marketing agency, enhanced UX and boosted revenue for eCommerce client: point-rouge. By identifying high cart abandonment and bounce rates through data analysis and usability tests, they repositioned key value propositions to the header bar via A/B testing. This adjustment led to a 7.12% increase in conversion rates and a 19.24% revenue boost, demonstrating the significant impact of improved UX.

Research in CRO and UX

The role of research in UX and CRO

Research is fundamental to successful UX and CRO, serving as the foundation for informed decision-making and effective strategy development. 

UX research methods like usability testing, interviews, and analytics help understand how users interact with and experience a website or product. This insight guides design decisions to create user-friendly interfaces that meet user needs. 

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For CRO, heatmaps and user behavior tracking identify potential roadblocks in the conversion funnel. Analyzing how users navigate and engage with different page elements allows you to optimize those elements for increased conversions.

Whenever we run a survey or do interviews or user testing, you always learn something new, which excites me.

The VWO Insights platform provides robust capabilities for conducting research for both UX and CRO initiatives. The heatmap and session recording tools visualize how users interact with your website, pinpointing confusing areas. Surveys help businesses understand visitor behavior and preferences, enabling them to align their strategies with user needs and improve the overall user experience. 

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With these insights, A/B tests can be conducted to validate design changes before implementation. This continuous improvement cycle ensures your website stays aligned with evolving user expectations and market conditions. Combining UX best practices with CRO can optimize the user journey for a smoother experience that drives conversions.

Expertise in conducting user research

Expertise in conducting user research is paramount for gathering accurate and actionable insights that drive successful CRO and UX initiatives. Effective research involves recognizing and avoiding biases, crafting questions that allow for open-ended answers, and thoroughly analyzing the data collected. 

Skilled researchers must understand the importance of minimizing leading questions, confirmation bias, and other factors that could skew results. This can enable them to design studies and surveys that encourage participants to share their genuine thoughts, needs, and pain points without undue influence.

A good survey looks the same as a bad survey. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t tell the difference between a good survey and a bad survey because you don’t know that you can ask questions in a biased way.

Moreover, experts in user research should employ rigorous data analysis techniques to uncover patterns, trends, and opportunities that may not be immediately apparent. This can involve analyzing behavioral data to gain valuable insights. For example, the AI feature in VWO Surveys summarizes reports from survey responses, providing actionable insights based on scientific principles. Further, advanced filtering helps you understand how visitors from different segments respond to survey questions, allowing you to analyze segment-specific insights.

By ensuring meticulous research practices, businesses can gather data that accurately reflect user needs and preferences, leading to more effective, user-centered solutions that resonate with target audiences and drive conversions.

Advice for user research or CRO aspirants

Building a solid understanding of the basics is essential before tackling advanced techniques. By focusing on core principles, aspiring professionals can develop a strong foundation that supports their growth and enables the effective implementation of sophisticated strategies. This foundational knowledge is crucial for understanding user behavior, making informed decisions, and achieving success in the field.

I would say start reading up the classics and building your foundation first before you try to run, before you try to do the cool stuff. Get to learn the fundamentals first.

Mastering the essentials not only grounds you in the critical concepts of user research and CRO but also prepares you to navigate complex challenges and innovate in your role. By prioritizing these fundamental skills, you will be well-equipped to progress and excel in your career.

Importance of user testing

User testing involves observing and analyzing how real users interact with and experience a product, website, or app to identify usability issues, understand user behaviors and preferences, and gather insights to improve the user experience.

User testing is essential for ensuring a product or service meets users’ needs and expectations. Businesses can identify usability issues by observing real users interacting with the product, uncovering user frustrations, and gathering valuable feedback. This process helps refine and optimize the design, leading to a more intuitive, effective, and satisfying user experience.

Additionally, user testing reduces the risk of product failure by addressing potential problems before the product reaches the market, saving time and resources in the long run.

Nurturing young minds on user testing

Developing young talent in user testing is integral for advancing user experience design. Equipping the next generation with the skills to create user-centered digital products ensures higher user satisfaction and fewer usability issues. Continuous education and practical experience drive industry growth and innovation.

Experienced professionals play a vital role in nurturing young talent. Their knowledge and insights guide young professionals through the complexities of user testing. Mentorship programs enable seasoned experts to share best practices, provide feedback, and help develop essential skills. By fostering a collaborative environment, they instill a user-centric mindset and encourage continuous learning.

I try to keep the mindset that they ask because they don’t know, not because they’re unwilling. It’s my job to explain that for the problem we’re trying to solve, for this research question, user testing is the best solution.

Facilitating hands-on experience through internships and real-world projects is also essential for practical learning. The guidance and mentorship from experienced professionals shape a skilled new generation of UX practitioners, benefiting individual career growth and driving industry success and innovation.

Networking and knowledge exchange in CRO

Illustration on CRO network

Networking and knowledge exchange are vital in conversion rate optimization (CRO). As digital experiences rapidly evolve, staying current with trends, best practices, and insights is essential.

The interactions and the people you meet at conferences, and the shared learning, are what I value most.

Engaging with the CRO community through industry events, online forums, and social media groups facilitates valuable connections and idea sharing. Attending conferences, workshops, and meetups enables face-to-face interactions, while online platforms foster continuous learning and collaboration.

Subscribing to industry publications, blogs, podcasts, webinars, and courses provides access to cutting-edge research, emerging trends, and expert insights, enabling professionals to deepen their understanding and refine their skills.

What I like best about giving talks and doing workshops is sharing my knowledge and learning from everyone in the audience and the workshops. At the end of the day, we all walk away smarter.

Active networking and knowledge exchange allow CRO professionals to gain valuable perspectives, stay informed about advancements, and contribute to the industry’s growth and success. 

At VWO, we prioritize these principles through our webinars, conferences and events, ebook collaborations, and other initiatives. In particular, we organize ConvEx, an annual free virtual summit for experimentation and growth teams, offering insights and inspiration from brands that embrace experimentation. These efforts facilitate connections and share valuable knowledge within the CRO community.

Balancing AI and human insights in CRO

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Leveraging AI and human insights in conversion rate optimization (CRO) maximizes efficiency and effectiveness. AI automates time-consuming tasks that don’t require deep thinking, while human expertise provides strategic context.

AI can quickly summarize large datasets, saving analysts time, helping them understand user behavior and feedback, and identifying optimization opportunities through statistical modeling. This rapid data summarization is a game-changer for the industry.

I think AI is great if you use it to help you do things that would otherwise require a lot of time and don’t require a lot of deep thought. So, if you can use it to automate things for you, great.

However, AI should augment, not replace, human decision-making. Experienced professionals are needed to interpret the data, develop hypotheses, and apply user knowledge to craft optimization strategies that AI alone cannot achieve.

I am a fan of summarizing data quickly—that is a game-changer. Can it do all the work for you? No. Always keep thinking.

The key lies in balancing AI’s automation strengths with human skills. Use AI for analysis automation and rapid data insights but rely on human judgment to validate findings and design tests informed by UX expertise.

This balanced AI+human approach unlocks CRO’s potential. AI surfaces insights rapidly, while human creativity tailors solutions to user needs, optimizing the process and ensuring relevant, user-centric outcomes.

Wonder how VWO’s new AI feature works? Sign up for a free trial now and explore all the possibilities.

Role of women in the field of CRO and UX

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Women have made significant strides in Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and User Experience (UX), bringing diverse perspectives and innovative solutions that drive these industries forward. Their unique insights and empathetic approaches to design and optimization are crucial for creating user-centric products and effective marketing strategies. Despite their invaluable contributions, women still face numerous challenges that can hinder their professional growth and full participation in these fields.

Challenges faced by women in CRO and UX

Women in CRO and UX often encounter gender biases, limited opportunities for advancement, and underrepresentation in leadership positions. These challenges can result in their contributions being overlooked or undervalued, hindering career growth and recognition. Additionally, societal stereotypes and pressures can discourage women from pursuing and thriving in these technical fields.

Encouragement for women pursuing ambitious careers

Women aiming to excel in fields like CRO and UX should recognize and embrace their potential. Don’t let societal biases or industry challenges hold you back. There is ample space for women in these fields, and your insights are incredibly valuable. Actively seek opportunities for growth through education, networking, and mentorship. Be confident in professional settings, take on leadership roles, and engage in industry events. By asserting your presence and sharing your voice, you can advance your career and create a path for future generations of women in tech and design.

There is space for women, and I would say claim your space. I don’t think it’s good to lock ourselves in a bubble either, but really just to claim our space. What we have to say is very valuable, so we can definitely be there.

Words of advice and inspiration for women

To all women pursuing their dreams, remember that your voice matters. Challenges are opportunities to grow and demonstrate your strengths. Seek out mentors and allies who will support and guide you. Don’t hesitate to take on leadership roles or speak at industry events; your perspective adds crucial diversity and innovation.

Continuously invest in your education and skills, and remain open to new learning experiences. Believe in your potential and recognize that your contributions can drive significant change. Stay resilient and confident, knowing you are paving the way for future generations.

If you want to get up on a stage as a woman, if you want to be prominent, do it. We need more representation in these stages. We need more representation in these panels so they become truly inclusive panels.

Watch the video to further enjoy our conversation with Els Aerts and gain valuable insights into UX and CRO.

Her extensive experience and passion for user research offer practical takeaways for enhancing your own practices. Stay tuned for more expert interviews and tips to help you succeed in your optimization efforts. Thank you for tuning in!

Mareen Cherian
Mareen Cherian I'm a cult branding enthusiast, marketer, and B2B content professional with over 20 years of experience. Author of 'Managing Modern Brands: Cult Theory and Psychology', I've written three more books in diverse genres. I generally write on marketing trends, optimization, brand strategy, consumer psychology, CRO, cult theory, data, personalization, and content strategy. With a strong expertise in building and leading teams and cross-functional collaboration, I have driven demand through content creation, data, digital media, content marketing, and technology.
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