A Must-Have Reading List for Conversion Optimization

Here is a list of 57 books that should be on your radar for optimizing conversion rates.

If 2010 is the year of conversion rate optimization, then people are going to have to move beyond today’s simplistic tactical application (pushed mainly by tool vendors anxious to sell technology fixes) of basic landing page optimization and testing, to the strategic worldview that conversion optimization should play in an organization. Good conversion optimization should focus on uncovering and understanding your target market’s needs, your content strategy, and on delivering your brand promise and a remarkable customer experience. Great conversions come from developing persuasive systems that allow your audience to flow naturally from awareness to evangelism.

Last week, I was with a client who asked me several months ago if he should hire a conversion rate consultant before or after doing his redesign. I explained to him that especially in cases where the sale is a bit more complex than present product, he should bring a conversion consultant in at the beginning of the process. Within an hour of an analysis it was obvious what bright spots existed in his current marketing efforts, why they occurred, and why he had such a terrific opportunity to increase market share. As I explained, he was really good at marketing to one or two of his target market personas, but he suffered from a “curse of knowledge” and was missing the mark with most of his current marketing efforts and Web site (when in actuality his target market consisted of six personas). The rest of the day we planned out his content strategy, looked at his wireframes, which we had to redo based on the personas, and looked at his PR and marketing strategy for the next 12 months to evaluate how each persona would respond. Is that what you’re doing to improve conversions?

This is why I told my MarketMotive students that while the coursework consisted of us learning from my book, they needed to get a solid foundation in “The Sciences and Disciplines of Web Site Optimization.” Someone suggested I create a reading list of the best books and resources that a conversion optimization consultant can’t do without.

The resulting list, below, is in no particular order and is far from comprehensive. It includes books and a few other resources that I know to be unavoidable if you want to talk shop and keep up with a real conversion consultant. Most people believe a conversion consultant should start off grounded in usability, analytics, and testing, but that is the difference from the tactical tool based application of conversion optimization and a strategic one. A good conversion consultant should know all the tactical issues but also be well grounded in buyer psychology, persuasion, social psychology and dynamics, sales (online and offline) strategy, and the nature of advertising and media.

Psychology, Human Behavior, and Persuasion

I chose to start the list with Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick,” because I referenced their concept of the “curse of knowledge” and they have a fabulous new book, “Switch” (you can see an early video review by my friend Chris Brogan).

Marketing, Branding, and Selling

No doubt this is the most difficult category because there are plenty of fine marketing, traditional advertising, and branding gurus. I wanted to identify some books that will influence a lot of the great books still to come. Every one of these books is still relevant to marketers and the challenges we face online. You simply can’t go wrong reading anything on this list:

Once you have these core human psychology fundamentals you can focus on the specifics of the medium we want to improve.

Usability and Information Architecture

Web Analytics

To learn what kind of things you should be testing and how to test you should start with the direct marketing masters who have been doing testing for longer than the Web has been around.

Direct Marketing Techniques



There is a lot of science and rigor in the area of testing and statistics. And while marketing is becoming more accountable, we aren’t quite ready for the amount of rigor possible in this critical area. But we will be, and when we are there will be a few more books that make this subject palatable for the average marketer and conversion analyst. Until then, these are two solid choices to devour and have more than enough information to get you started testing, and testing well:

You want to be sure your conversion consultant is constantly improving his skills in this ever-evolving medium.

SEO, SEM, E-mail Marketing, & Social Media

When it comes to search marketing and other dynamic markets, most of the treasured resources are blogs or sites like ClickZ. Here are a couple recent books worth mentioning:

Get Reading

As you can see, I definitely left a few out. But every resource listed will help you on your way to understanding the ins and outs of how to be a great conversion consultant.

Did I leave out one of your must-reads? If so, please list it in the comments section below.

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