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).
- “Made to Stick” also by Chip and Dan Heath (if you keep running into brick walls with your messages or you feel that you just don’t have a strong message, start with this book)
- “Waiting For Your Cat To Bark?” by yours truly and Jeffrey Eisenberg
- “Persuasive Technology” by B.J. Fogg
- “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini
- “Your Key to Sports Success: How Understanding Your Brain Type Will Enhance Your Athletic Ability” by Jonathan Niednagel
- “Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types” by David Keirsey
- “The Art of SpeedReading People” by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger
- “Why We Buy” by Paco Underhill
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:
- “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy (this is a true classic that can’t be ignored)
- “Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads” by Roy H. Williams (this book will ground you in the principles of advertising and marketing success)
- “Call to Action” by Jeffrey Eisenberg and me
- “The Psychology of Selling” by Brian Tracy
- “How to Master the Art of Selling” by Tom Hopkins
- “The Sales Bible: The Ultimate Sales Resource” by Jeffrey Gitomer
- “Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing” by Harry Beckwith
- “5 Steps to Successful Selling” by Zig Ziglar
- “Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It” by Al Ries
- “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely
- A few tomes by my pal Seth Godin; my favorites are “Purple Cow,” “Permission Marketing,” and “Meatball Sundae.”
- “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
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 Usability: A Designer’s Guide” by Jared M. Spool (don’t miss his research at UIE.com, either)
- “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville (a.k.a., The Polar Bear Book)
- “Web Form Design” by Luke Wroblewski
- “The Persona Lifecycle” by John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin
- “The Elements of User Experience” by Jesse James Garrett
- “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug
- “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day” by Avinash Kaushik (of Occam’s Razor fame)
- “Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity” also by Avinash Kaushik
- “Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics” by Brian Clifton
- “Web Analytics Demystified” by Eric Peterson
- “Information Anxiety 2” by Richard S. Wurman
- “Envisioning Information” by Edward R. Tufte
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
- “Scientific Advertising” by Claude C. Hopkins
- “Tested Advertising Methods” by John Caples
- “Drilling Down: Turning Customer Data into Profits with a Spreadsheet” by Jim Novo
- “The Copywriter’s Handbook” by Robert W. Bly
- “Persuasive Online Copywriting” by Jeffrey Eisenberg and me
- “Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene M. Schwartz
- “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word” by Joseph Sugarman
- “The Associated Press Guide to Good Writing” by Rene J. Cappon
- “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” by Roy Peter Clark
- “Copyblogger Blog” by Brian Clark (while I’ve tried to keep this list to books, if you want to learn more about writing copy online, you must become a Brian Clark reader, possibly even a disciple)
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:
- “Landing Page Optimization” by Tim Ash
- “Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer” by John Quarto-vonTivadar and me
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:
- “The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization” by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Rand Fishkin, and Jessie Stricchiola
- “Winning Results with Google AdWords” by fellow ClickZ columnist Andrew Goodman, while we anxiously await “Pay-Per-Click Search Engine Marketing: An Hour a Day” by David Szetela
- “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day” by fellow ClickZ columnist Dave Evans
- “Email Marketing: An Hour a Day” by fellow ClickZ columnist Jeanniey Mullen
- “YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day” by Greg Jarboe
- “Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone.” by Mitch Joel
- “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust” by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
- “Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day” by ClickZ’s own Hollis Thomases
- “Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs” by Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah, and David Meerman Scott
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.