Conversion Optimization Reading List: 30 Books For Data-Driven Marketers

There’s no shortage of books about CRO.

Not all of them are good, of course. Some are, some aren’t.

Personally, I think you should read one, maybe two books, specifically about conversion optimization. Other than that, you should go directly to the seat of knowledge.

In other words, conversion optimization is a broad discipline. Instead of getting the executive overview, it’s better to read, from the source, about statistics, strategy, analytics, UX, etc. etc.

Anyway, here are some of the books that have most influenced my thinking around conversion optimization.

Here they are!

Category 1: Statistics

Even if you took a stats 101 class in college, you’ll want to brush up before you run an A/B test. The most common A/B testing mistakes are made because people don’t understand how to run tests or understand how to base decisions on the data at hand.

The following books will put you in at least the 20th percentile of A/B testers.

1. The Black Swan


The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb is one of my top 5 favorite books of all time. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.

The author built his career as a quantitative trader, and from then on devoted his life to thinking about problems of prediction and uncertainty.

While the book will certainly make you smarter in terms of your statistical knowledge, it’s also deeply philosophical in nature. It will make you think about the world and decision making differently (and will also make your question the applicability of the Gaussian bell curve and other common statistics practices).

2. Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder


This book, too, is more about decision making and philosophy than it is about basic statistics. Nassim Taleb is a genius, and his books are incredibly entertaining as well.

This book mainly deals with Antifragility – things that gain from chaos, disorder and uncertainty. It’s about setting yourself upf or the best chances of success in an environment of uncertainty. For that reason, much of it is applicable to how you face optimization decisions from an organizational standpoint, as well as from a mathematical one.

As Andrew Anderson put it in a comment on a ConversionXL blog post, “Mathematically and from a systems standpoint its important to understand antifragility and just how much personal biases and storytelling limit the expected value of your program.”

3. Bandit Algorithms


Bandit algorithms are different than A/B tests in that they exploit the winning variation in real time.

Meaning, instead of a period of pure exploration (50/50 split) they work on an algorithm that attempts to be more efficient and minimize regret.

These concepts are a bit complicated, but reading this book will not only help you directly with optimization, but the multi-armed bandit problem is philosophical in nature and will help you think about life and decision making differently.

Awesome book – clearly written and easy to understand.

4. How To Lie With Statistics


This book was written in 1954 – a little bit before the Optimizely era – but it is still so relevant.

If anything, this book is a good defensive strategy against shitty statistics – whether you’re reading an A/B testing case study or hearing a presentation about the results of a campaign, promotion, or A/B testing.

If you’ve ever messed around with Excel charts, you’ve probably figured out rather quickly how you can emphasize or de-emphasize certain findings. Well, journalists and executives know how to do this, too.

This book, at the very least, will teach you to be a skeptical reader and to ask probing questions of data presented to you. Especially when it’s too good to be true.

5. Quantifying The User Experience


A big part of optimization is making your website more usable and systematically improving the user experience. But ‘user experience’ is one of those things, to most people at least, that sounds like ‘branding’ – a nice idea, but thoroughly untrackable.

Fortunately, that’s largely a myth, and Jeff Sauro shows you how to quantify the user experience.

This book goes both high-level and granular, showing you exactly how to run usability tests and do stats on small data sets. Very good read.

Category 2: Psychology and Persuasion

Understanding what goes into persuasion, motivation, and human behavior is supremely important for optimizers.

How can you get User X to do Action Y and make more $$?

This is a fun section. You’ll not only find optimization applications in the books below, but you’ll find ways to incorporate the persuasion and psychology principles into everyday life.

6. Thinking Fast and Slow


If you only read one book on human behavior, make it this one.

Kahnemann is probably the most influential modern psychologist, famous for his research on judgment, decision-making, and behavioral economics.

Read the book, but know: it will take you a long time to go through. You’ll find yourself stopping to ponder the concepts very often.

7. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products


Hooked by Nir Eyal is super popular among startup founders, mostly those doing consumer marketing.

The book explains what goes into habit forming products and presents his Hook Model, which includes:

  • The Trigger
  • The Action
  • The Investment
  • The Reward

It also outlines many modern case studies. It’s not only great for product designers and managers, but it’s great for understanding what makes people want to be invested in a product and how to keep them coming back. Also features a ton of behavioral psychology principles, and importantly, shows them being used in a practical way.

8. Predictably Irrational


Awesome book about the irrationality of human decision making.

Actually, I want to say you should read this one before you touch Thinking Fast and Slow. It includes many similar concepts, but Thinking Fast and Slow is more in-depth and takes longer to read. This one will spark your interest and make you want to dive down the behavioral economics rabbit hole.

9. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion


I actually read this one in college for a persuasion class. I’m super glad I did, because it’s now in the canon – one of my all time favorite books.

I got to meet Robert Cialdini and see him speak a bit ago, and the dude is the real deal. This book will help you with optimization – just Google “Robert Cialdini marketing” or “Robert Cialdini conversions” and you’ll see how popular it is. But it will also help you with sales, life, and other areas of persuasion.

10. Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing


Roger Dooley’s Brainfluence is a practical, exciting, and applicable book filled with awesome ideas to increase conversions. If you don’t walk away with at least one revenue boosting idea, you’re not doing it right.

11. Neuromarketing


Neuromarketing is a bit older but still relevant. Lots of the examples revolve around classic ads, but the principles can just as easily be applied to websites and apps. This book is all about appealing to all parts of the brain to persuade a user to take action.

12. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy


A classic. I had a hard time fitting this to a specific category because it’s such a force, but take my word for it: read it.

Category 3: Copywriting

Words sell.

People forget this, and trip and stumble through various iteration of their value prop, but no one ever truly understands what the hell it is they actually do.

A good copywriter can’t solve the problem of a shitty product, but they can present a good product in a clear and persuasive way so people actually buy it.

While you don’t need to be a great wordsmith (I’m not by any means an amazing copywriter), you should be able to tell between good and bad copy.

13. Words That Work by Frank Luntz


Frank Luntz isn’t a copywriter; he’s a pollster. But his research methodology is pure Voice of Customer, and it’s effective – he’s coined some of the most effective and emotional (and controversial) phrases in America, like “death tax.”

Some parts dragged on and were a bit dry. My favorite parts were the 10 rules he laid out for effective language (easily applicable heuristics), and then I really liked the appendices as well for showing words that work in action.

14. The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters


My favorite book on copywriting, hands down. I still refer to it, like a dictionary, whenever I need to write a piece of copy.

15. Finding the Right Message


Jen Havice is an insanely talented copywriter, and reading this book is important because she’s specifically a conversion copywriter. She doesn’t just rely on flowery language that sounds like it will sell; she runs A/B tests to validate it.

This book is about message mining and voice of customer research. It’s about mimicking the way your customers speak, tapping into their emotions, and writing copy that speaks directly to them. Very important.

Category 4: Management and Strategy

Optimization strategy is probably the most important and most underrated part of optimization.

If you’re part of a mature organization, then there’s likely someone on your team that knows how to run a test correctly (a data scientist doesn’t need a blog post to learn how to run a test).

But how do you move quickly (without breaking things too bad), and continuously increase revenue (or signups), while avoiding the bruises of ego and politics?

These books will help.

16. The Lean Startup


So I read The Learn Startup a long time ago, before I really knew what conversion optimization was. When I was in college, I knew I wanted to start a company or work for a startup, and this was the popular book at the time. It came in handy when I joined an early startup later.

And then it came in really handy when I started doing optimization, because the framework is so identical to how we approach conversion optimization.

17. The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect has been called “One of the most important management books of all time,” by Nassim Taleb, which, alone, is enough to read it.

It’s about the delusions and self-deceptions we all fall into, and how to combat them.

18. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard


Change is hard. Are you working at an organization (or for a client) that is resistant to positive change (or data)? Check this book out.

19. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time


Here’s a book that’s basically about waterfall vs agile development. The point is to do short sprints, structured meetings about roadblocks, and to consistently iterative and improve..

20. Nudge


This book is all about small changes that lead to big results, particularly at an organizational level. It’s a good book to start thinking about which organizational “nudges” you could implement to develop a culture of experimentation.

21. You Are Not Smart


A book filled with biases. Not only are these things you can learn to motivate and persuade customers, but you can look out for them in your own judgement and decision making.

22. You Are Now Less Dumb


The follow up. Both are highly entertaining and informative.

23. Growth Hacker Marketing


Not quite a pure “conversion optimization” book, but the mindset is similar.

Also, this book is short, easy to read, and a good introduction to lots of smart ideas and people.

24. Superforecasting

I bought this book randomly, something to read while bumming around London, and ended up loving it.

In all domains of life, digital marketing (my focus) included, being able to predict with some level of accuracy the events of the future is an insanely enviable skill. Some seem to be better at it than others. Many writers have denounced the belief that we can predict future events as delusional. But Tertolck’s research shows that, while most often we can’t predict better than a monkey with a dart board, certain people can predict certain events better than average. Much better.

The book goes through the common traits that “superforecasters” have, some of which are bayesian updating, being “foxes” rather than “hedgehogs,” and having a growth mindset, i.e. being in permanent beta.

The book ends with a 10 Commandments appendix that should make you a better forecaster as well.

Category 5: Conversion Optimization

There are a few really good books specifically about conversion optimization.

Of course, you could also dive into content on ConversionXL (which you should). But if you want a paperback, check these out:

25. Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist


Brian Massey is one of the most knowledgeable optimizers I’ve met. Also, this was the first book on optimization I read and I’m glad I started here.

It gives an excellent framework for the craft, and it’s a great starting point for any optimizer – anyone looking to grow revenue in their business, period.

If you’ve been doing conversion optimization for a while, you might not get much new information from the book. But if you’re new to the craft, or just want a good refresher (with witty, fun writing), this book is awesome.

26. Small Business Big Money Online: A Proven System to Optimize eCommerce Websites and Increase Internet Profits


Lots of small businesses should read this.

The first part is dedicated to methodology – Alex describes in compelling detail his whole process for conversion optimization.

The second part shows how he applied the concepts to three different companies to boost conversions. I’ve read so much theory and so many tactics that ‘s refreshing to read a clearly laid out strategy with case studies to clarify the steps.

Highly recommended reading for any SMB owner that wants to increase their revenue online.

Category 6: Analytics

All analytics tools are different, but the concepts are the same.

So you don’t really need to read much about the high level stuff – rather, get your hands dirty and learn Google Analytics, Amplitude, Heap, Adobe – whatever you’re working with.

And actually, because of how fast analytics moves, you’re best off following a few select blogs on the topic:

Oh, take this course too.

But here are two of the best books I’ve read on analytics…

27. Lean Analytics


Startup? Read this.

Same series as The Lean Startup. Gives you a fundamental understanding of startup metrics and what you should be tracking. More importantly, it gives you a focused-idea of data.

28. Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die


It’s kind of a buzzword, but predictive analytics isn’t as complicated as you’d think – at least conceptually. This book takes the term off its pedestal (and away from software sales people), and explains it in easy-to-understand terms.

Category 7: UX and Usability

29. Lean UX


Again, same Lean series, this time about UX. This series is all about actionable advice, so this is a good one to start with.

30. Don’t Make Me Think


The classic user experience book. The point is simple: don’t make your users think. It’s a quick read. Worth the time.

Conclusion

I love books. Books are great. This list of books will fill your head with optimization knaaawledge.

Eventually, though, you’re going to have to get some experience. So read some of this, get interested, and then get in the game.

Oh, and also, you’ll reach a point where reading books about marketing or optimization (if they’re high-level enough) is going to bore you.

When that happens, go back to reading Voltaire, Fitzgerald, or David F Wallace and feel okay with missing the marginal returns in industry knowledge.

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