Let’s set one thing straight right now. I’m sure most of you are saying, “Really Tom, you’re putting together a 2014 reading list three months into the year?” Well it’s true that for many, the year is three months old. But the Web Site Optimizers fiscal year runs from April through March, so this list is right on time!
So perhaps you use a slightly different calendar than I do, but most of you are probably like me in that you just don’t have enough time to do much reading. At the same time, you want to know so much more about how to get the most value possible out of your site. I’m telling you, there is a treasure trove of valuable information out there for you. I urge you to set aside some time to read some or all of the books in this list and improve your knowledge tremendously.
Don’t worry—I’m keeping the list short. Honestly, there are dozens more titles by as many true experts out there. But this is a good start. The list below is in no particular order, but set a goal to read at least some of the following books over the next twelve (or nine) months, and I promise you will thank me for it.
Your Customer Equation by Brian Massey
Brian has so much knowledge when it comes to marketing a web site—not just in Conversion Optimization, but in Content Marketing, Social, Marketing in general, and more. His book focuses mainly on conversion, but the key to it is that it is really written to the non-techy. He writes for the marketing managers out there who have their company’s site in their responsibility. For the owners of small businesses who rely on the web site but don’t understand technical jargon.
Brian covers things like Landing Pages, Analytics, Testing, and Tools, and puts them within a framework that is not only understandable to the everyday business person, but also makes sense. He takes basic marketing fundamentals such as goals & objectives, the sales funnel, and building awareness, and applies them effortlessly to your work with your site.
If you are suddenly responsible for the results of your website but are intimidated by jargon of the industry, this is the first book you should read.
Website Optimization: An Hour A Day by Rich Page
If Brian Massey’s Your Customer Equation is designed for the non-technical person focused more on strategy, then Rich’s book is the ideal complete optimization overview for the hands-on person trying to maximize return on their site.
Website Optimization takes you through a 27 week journey, spending an hour each business day to improve your site. He starts you right where you should always begin, setting up reliable and accurate analytics and ensuring that you focus on the most important metrics. He then covers pretty much every area of true website optimization (although I think the book could place more emphasis on Usability Testing), and helps you dissect pretty much every component of a website for improvement opportunities.
You certainly don’t have to be a coder to benefit from Website Optimization, but if you are someone who gets down and dirty in actually making improvements or changes to your site, this book will help improve your numbers.
Web Analytics: An Hour A Day by Avinash Kaushik
If anyone wears the title of Guru of Gurus in Analytics, it’s Avinash. And I don’t mean from a technical standpoint, although I think he could measure up to just about anyone technically. But there is nobody out there that comes close, in my opinion, to Avinash’s ability to apply the data and get true insight into how to improve a site.
I’ve always said that reliable and accurate analytics are the cornerstone requirement to managing website performance, and there is no better guide for that than this book. So if you’re new to Analytics for a website, this should be your first book. Avinash explains core concepts such as how to choose the best analytics tools for your site’s needs, the differences between basic-but-similar metrics, and how and why to focus on some critical initial metrics. Then he moves deeper to assist you in measuring every aspect of your site
But as I said, more importantly, he gives you keen insight that I just don’t see from most other sources into the “So What?” of this information. Which is why I say if you consider yourself a fairly advanced analytics expert, you should also read this book, and it will probably be the most valuable book you’ve read all year.
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
I make no secret about how important I think the value of Usability Testing is, and Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is quite simply the Bible of Usability Testing books. Its subtitle is “A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” and that is spot-on.
Don’t Make Me Think works for you if you are looking for an easy-to-read book to help you through the truly best practices to follow in making your site easy to use. Or, it’s a great resource to help you get started in testing your own site.
In Steve’s own words, “If you want a great site, you’ve got to test it… Testing reminds you that not everyone thinks the way you do, knows what you know, uses the Web the way you do.” Read and apply this book, and your site will be easier to use. And it will generate better results. Plus I really like Steve’s old movie references.
Landing Page Optimization by Tim Ash, Rich Page, and Maura Ginty
I still reference this book all the time. It’s a great resource of examples, tools, techniques, best practices, and more when it comes to designing pages to convert. Every page on your site is a Landing Page, and Tim’s book helps you focus on the pages that need the most work and flat-out improve them.
Chapter 4 alone, “Common Problems: The Seven Deadly Sins of Landing Page Design” is worth the cost of the book. Regardless of your role or responsibility regarding your website, if you read this book you’ll be ready to make several changes to your site that will pay off. If you think your site is pretty well optimized, think again. As Tim likes to say, “Your baby is ugly”. Take an unbiased look at your site while you read Landing Page Optimization, and you’ll be on your way to improvement.
Call To Action by Bryan Eisenberg & Jeffrey Eisenberg
The Eisenberg brothers are truly pioneers in the area of Conversion Optimization, preaching it long before it came in fashion. I could easily list any of their books here, but Call To Action is my favorite. I think that’s probably because it is such a great reference for communicating on your site and persuading your visitors.
The Eisenbergs pack a lot of meat into five big chapters, starting with looking at a high level and laying out your strategy for your site and planning how to achieve your goals. They follow with some of the best stuff ever written about the content on your site and how to move potential customers through the funnel. All are done with entertaining and interesting examples and scenarios.
You Should Test That! by Chris Goward
Chris’s book is another one that reaches out very well to the Marketing Manager responsible for the success of the company’s website. Chris’s company Wider Funnel has always been a champion of Testing, and with a title like You Should Test That!, you can see he still is! And the book does a very impressive job of illustrating the value of testing such as A/B Testing, and the high-level strategies behind it without going too deep into the nuts and bolts of how to use different testing tools.
Chris has so much experience to draw examples from, and his book is full of examples that illustrate key concepts such as choosing hypotheses to test, how to analyze the results, and the importance of a continuous testing cycle, as well as breaking down the different areas of a website to consider testing for. There is also a really great full-color section to illustrate some concepts that just can’t be done well in black and white. Truly innovative.
Now Start Reading!
Okay, that’s seven titles for you to start with. Maybe all seven are not for you, but I think most people reading this post will get a pretty good return on their time for reading any and all of the books listed. I still flip through each of these at regular intervals (along with others on my office bookshelves) and continue to find nuggets of wisdom that I had missed before.
Go start reading and improve your site! And if there are any books or authors you have found particularly useful, please let us know in the comments section.
Image Credits: Google Books