Book Review: “Website Optimization”

Since my last column nothing dramatic has happened in my life. This is precisely how I would like life to continue. Just me, chained to my desk, head down, getting on with stuff. That said, being based on the 55th floor of the Empire State Building, I have moved my desk away from the window and closer to the door. You don’t want to tempt fate, now do you?

Slowly but surely I’m having my reference library shipped over from the U.K. as I continue to scribble away at my new tome. Unfortunately, it means one or two books that I wanted to mention got lost in the transfer.

A month or so back, I received a review copy of a book called “Website Optimization” by Andrew B. King. I was immediately drawn to the title because it specifically describes what SEO (define) practitioners actually do. We optimize Web sites — not search engines.

I gave it the usual quick scan and decided it was worth more time. The fact that it received praise from Internet pioneer and Google VP Vint Cerf and the forward was written by my pal Jim Sterne certainly helped. The book was then promptly lost in the shift.

There’s quite a lot I like about the book. But it also perpetuated quite a few SEO myths, such as the Google sandbox. However, the book’s overall composition is excellent. For a start, it’s not an SEO book per se. But there’s a whole lot of stuff you’ll learn about SEO if you’re new to the game.

And for those who feel well versed in SEO, you’ll find plenty of useful information on PPC (define) optimization, conversion-rate optimization (the book also received praise from fellow ClickZ columnist and conversion guru, Bryan Eisenberg), and Web site success metrics.

The book has a strong technical leaning with plenty of coding examples; part two of the book focuses on Web page, CSS (define), and AJAX (define) optimization.

King has pulled in a talented crew of contributors from the various disciplines, such as Danny Sullivan on search marketing and Eric T. Peterson on the analytics.

As you’d expect, the SEO section begins with best practice information. This chapter offers 10 steps to overcoming the most common barriers to high rankings. Personally, I’d rather that people didn’t set expectations by talking about achieving “high rankings.” Most best practice advice actually relates to overcoming barriers to crawling. And as I’ve been heard to say on so many occasions: Getting indexed is one thing. Getting a rank is another.

The PPC section is actually written by the folks at Pure Visibility, a digital marketing agency. This chapter focuses on tips for boosting ROI (define) on paid search campaigns as well as optimizing ad copy and landing pages. This is effectively followed by a case study about Pure Visibility client Body Glove International.

The chapter on conversion rate optimization covers the use of persuasive copywriting and credibility-based Web design. The chapter also explains how to craft a unique selling proposition (USP), use risk reversal, and leverage value hierarchies to get visitors to act.

I don’t usually get exited looking at page after page of code. But I was impressed with the chapter featuring AJAX optimization. It’s been kind of a buzz term people have been using for a few years without actually fully understanding what it’s all about. This is very well written and demystifies the technology. And you don’t necessarily need to be a tech-head to follow it.

All that combined with a chapter on enhanced Web performance optimization, which covers server-side and client-side techniques, makes for a great all-round resource.

Apart from odd references to such dubious things as Google sandboxes (please, not in 2008, I beg you!) and a couple of other things, “Website Optimization” gets a thumbs up from this reader.

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