Search engine optimization is the method behind the madness of online marketing. At its most basic level, it’s the process of figuring out how to become the top result for Internet users who key a certain combination of words into Google, Bing, and other online search engines. At its most complex, it is the science of determining what combination of keywords, content, code, layouts, and marketing strategies optimize a website to maximally reach both its intended audience and the rest of the Internet.
Being the most popular search engine, Google has been responsible for leading the charge among for professional search engine optimizers, having literally and virtually set the bar for search engine optimization practices. And yet, because of the fact that the leading search engine is always undergoing updates that fundamentally alter how search engine optimizers operate, there has been a surplus of books published on SEO over the past 10 years. In their effort to keep up with the world’s tech giant and other search engine algorithms, authors have published literally hundreds of books to hit a very fast-moving target. And like so much content on technology, most of these authors and their books have either missed the mark completely or become obsolete due to the time-sensitivity of their target. But some, whether through yearly editions or sheer dint of authorial declaration, have withstood the test of time to hold their shelf life and become titans of SEO advice. Which is why we’ve created this ranking. To find those titans, and share their SEO advice with you.
Our method for compiling this ranking was to sift through the nearly 500 books shelved under “SEO” on the popular reader review site, Goodreads. We then handpicked the only 90 with at least two ratings, and scored them according to the average number of stars that readers have given them; the total number of ratings each book has received; and the relevance of their author to developing an understanding of search engine optimization. Only the highest rated, most rated, and most authorially relevant books rose to the top of our list. See if you recognize some of the titles. If you’ve been one of the many search engine optimizers who’ve taught yourself, we bet you’ll recognize at least one title, and perhaps even several, that you’ve read yourself.
1. The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization by Eric Enge, Stephen Spencer, Jessie Stricchiola, and Rand Fishkin
The Art of SEO is a textbook in its third edition published by O’Reilly Media by four SEO experts: Eric Enge, Stephen Spencer, Jessie Stricchiola, and Rand Fishkin. In this book of books, the authors add to the growing collection of scholarship they’ve written in previous years on such topics as diverse as social media data, user engagement, and of course search engine visibility, using the latest information available on Internet search engines. Published in August of 2015, The Art of SEO is written for fellow experts and interested newcomers who are looking to stand on the helm of future developments in search engine optimization. It provides a clear window into the past and present indexing practices of search engines and their developers, exploring the underlying theory of search engines, and providing a thorough glimpse of their inner-workings at the byte-sized level. Although the authors cannot predict the future of SEO, they provide a basic, well-researched foundation of knowledge necessary for any individual to reasonably speculate on and create an optimization strategy with their website’s future in mind. As this foundational reference work continues to grow with each edition, the reader’s experience continues to be a humbling one: “The moment you think you know everything about SEO, this book will put you back in your place.” We will need humility like this if we’re going to understand the ever-changing nature of search engine optimization, a required task that Art of SEO will make easier if we allow it to teach us something new every day.
2. Search Engine Optimization: An Hour A Day by Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin
An Hour A Day is a beginner’s guide to all things search engine optimization, especially planning it. Co-authored by U.S. SEO consultants, Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin, An Hour A Day became a go-to resource upon its May 2006 release, since which time it has been published in three editions, the latest of which came out in 2011. In creating and updating this resource, Grappone and Couzin became became global voices in a global discussion about the importance of developing a unique and optimal strategy for increasing a website’s online visibility by virtue of its place in search engine rankings. As a testament to the search engine optimizer’s method of operating on the principle of perseverance and experimentation, the book condenses the art of search engine optimization into its most attractive form: one hour per day of step-by-step action and following a prescribed plan. Indeed it teaches us, one step at a time, how to optimize a site not only for search engines, but also for blogs and social media. With practical advice like this, Grappone and Couzin understand that in order for a website to do well, its marketers should make sure that all of its strategies are operating under the same plan. A fine example of how taking a few simple actions can revolutionize a site’s place in the rankings, Search Engine Optimization: An Hour A Day is an excellent read for anyone interested SEO, online marketing, and how the two can work together to place a company in the spotlight.
3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Secretsby Danni Dover and Erik Dafforn
SEO Secrets is a business book written by professional SEO consultants, Danny Dover and Erik Dafforn, thought leaders at the head of the SEO movement. Dover and Dafforn draw on their own personal and professional experiences, having been acquainted with the ways of search engine optimization since its early days, in order to convey the tips, tricks, and little-known methods used by some of the best Lead SEOs in the world. To build their case, Dover and Dafforn dives deep into the principles of Internet marketing via SEO, including on-page optimization, off-page optimization, link building, all using real-life examples from their careers for the purposes of illustration. These examples include, but are not limited to, work performed for Fortune 500 companies like Honda and AT&T. Dover and Dafforn provide persuasive explanations of the importance of developing an SEO strategy that both ranks and converts, which is perhaps their greatest contribution to the conversation on search engine optimization. Published in 2011, SEO Secrets superseded many similar books released around this peak time in SEO’s recent history, because it is so accessible to marketing newcomers and latecomers, specifically those who want concrete advice on some of the best-kept secrets in the industry that not only produce leads, but generate financial results.
4. Learn SEO: Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization by Darren Varndell (tie)
Learn SEO is the third business book written by software developer, Internet entrepreneur, and serial SEO author, Darren Varndell. Published in 2014, it is one of the more recent SEO marketing books to provide a beginner’s guide to the practices and principles of search engine optimization. By emphasizing the importance of participating in “white hat” marketing methods like content publishing and avoiding “black hat” marketing methods like keyword stuffing, Varndell draws our attention to the importance of abiding by big search engines’ algorithms for maximal ranking boosts and minimal ranking penalties. Learn SEO is intended to appeal to search engine optimizers across the spectrum, from blogger to Lead SEO, and Varndell works to ensure he covers every aspect of the SEO process, from keyword research, to content creation, to social media marketing strategies. Although targeted primarily at newcomers to the world of SEO, the book’s advice to webmasters on the topics of troubleshooting ranking problems and penalties, as well as the effect that Google Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird have had on the SEO marketplace are indispensable. It’s this degree of industry currency and a broad audience awareness that helps Learn SEO rise above the rest and land on target.
5. DIY SEO & Internet Marketing Guide: How To Do It Yourself Search Engine Optimization and Internet Marketing by Darren Varndell (tie)
DIY SEO is the first business book written by software developer, Internet entrepreneur, and serial SEO author, Darren Varndell. Published in November of 2013, Varndell’s book focuses on answering the question of how to make money on the Internet with Do-It-Yourself SEO marketing strategies? As a culmination of Varndell’s 20 years of experience as a practicing SEO thought leader, DIY SEO much of the guide is directly connected to taking newcomers through the steps necessary for creating, setting up, and marketing Internet businesses. Of course, first-time search engine optimizers, Internet marketers, and online entrepreneurs interested in reaching a better understanding of how keywords and rankings affect audience engagement will find the book riveting. Varndell wrote it with them in mind. But its many practical, step-by-step guides for performing keyword research and developing an essential strategy for off-page optimization will be attractive to brick-and-mortar business owners who want to start a website or even webmasters who need a refresher of some of the basics. Varndell even includes a glossary of terms that would help any SEO become as well-informed as possible, as it works to demystify some of the industry’s most technical terms. Inasmuch as this message applies not only to beginners but also to seasoned professionals, it’s no surprise DIY SEO earns a seat at the table among the great books for SEOs to crack open, again, and again, and again.
6. SEO SoS: Search Engine Optimization First Aid Guide by Darren Varndell
SEO SoS is the second business book written by software developer, Internet entrepreneur, and serial SEO author, Darren Varndell. Published in December 2013, the book focuses on simplifying SEO for both new and established Internet marketers who struggle to find what works. It spends ample time going over how to fix existing SEO “health issues” that may have a negative effect on rankings due to algorithmic penalties or linking oversights that place websites lower on Google’s ladder, and can even result in removal from the index altogether. As a 20-year expert, Varndell is a seasoned professional who is dedicated to the practice of retooling methods that have been blacklisted and adopting new methods that have been whitelisted. Inasmuch, SEO SoS functions as more than just a “Mr. Fix-It” manual. Indeed, it can even offer advice to fellow seasoned professionals on the overarching concepts and best practices for healthy, organic online success, tactics that inevitably wind up avoiding costly wastes of time, energy, and resources. Not one to merely place a bandaid, hand out a lollipop, and see out the door, Varndell’s website health goals are always holistic and proactive in nature. That is, to increase traffic and revenue to sites that consistently play by the rules, exercise restraint in adopting unhealthy ways of marketing, and deserve the long-term boost in traffic they inevitably get from such taking such good preventive care of themselves.
7. Google Semantic Search: Search Engine Optimization Techniques That get Your Company More Traffic, Increase Brand Impact, and Amplify Your Online Presence by David Amerland
Google Semantic Search is a business book written by search engine, social media, and corporate strategist, David Amerland. Published in 2013, Google Semantic Search is dedicated to demystifying the most technical aspects of the search engine selection process, or how a machine understand what we mean when we include certain combinations of keywords to perform a search. Having had over 20 years of experience in media, communications, and broadly observing search engine trends as they come and go, Amerland is well-suited to explain Google functions like Knowledge Graph, TrustRank, AuthorityRank in plain English. He is also well-equipped to tease out the differences between performing personalized mobile searches, social media searches, and many more types of search with relative ease and comfort. Google Semantic Search is a sprawling work of explanatory SEO, even going so far as to cover SEO marketing techniques that no longer work, alternative methods of organizing keywords for maximal search results, and ways to capture meaning from unstructured data by appealing to the four V’s of semantic search: Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity. And indeed, despite the book being some years old, David Amerland has written a splendid piece of evergreen content that remains relevant to this day for breaking down many of Google’s most basic principles of operation.
8. SEO Made Simple: Search Engine Optimization Strategies for Dominating the World’s Largest Search Engine by Michael H. Fleischner
SEO Made Simple is a business book written by American author and Internet marketing expert, Michael H. Fleischner. First published in 2013 to generally positive reviews, SEO Made Simple has been praised as “a very brief and concise primer,” “easy to understand,” and “great if you are new to SEO.” The 2015 edition, like those before it, explains the importance of search engine optimization, as well as how businessmen and businesswomen can use the power of gripping content across all channels to get ranked for a chose set of keywords on the world’s largest search engine: Google. But unlike those before it, the 2015 edition also accounts for all of Google’s algorithm changes since 2013 (of which there were several) and even provides proven guidance on local optimization strategies that are essential to conducting business online. With his casual, sincere, and authorial voice, Fleischner draws on his greater than 12 years of experience as an entrepreneur at the helm of a successful marketing blog in order to provide insight into the business of content marketing and promotion. Concerning this business, Fleischner implores us that “Doing proper keyword research is the first step to a successful SEO campaign,” and to “ Never underestimate the power of internal linking. A good internal linking structure can improve your SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Fleischner’s perspective on the relationship that code should have to content is particularly instructional, as it offers up the principle that “How you format your page is important for optimization purposes,” a piece of advice that extends to his recommendations on compliance with Google’s algorithms that prioritize content which is consistent with its placement of keywords in headers, subheadings, and meta tags. In these respects, Fleischner’s book is an excellent “how-to” for new content marketers and webmasters alike.
9. SEO Toolbook: Directory of Free Search Engine Optimization Tools by Jason McDonald
SEO Toolbook is an Internet directory authored by SEO expert, Google AdWords professional, and social media consultant, Jason McDonald. Published in 2015 after a series of Google algorithm updates that led to the creation of software that would help optimize search engine marketing, SEO Toolbook houses an index of those software tools, all of which are free. McDonald uses the directory to teach classes at Stanford Continuing Studies, as well as San Francisco’s Bay Area Video Coalition, and Academy X. The tools it indexes are curated so as to cover every aspect of the SEO process, from keyword research, to page tags, to link-building, to diagnostics, rank measurement, google analytics, and beyond. Along with a description of each tool and a relevancy score, the book also includes links to each and every free tool, in addition to tutorials, blogs, and trade shows that demonstrate their usefulness. Readers who purchase hard copies receive access to the book’s online edition (which includes access to Jason’s dashboard of clickable tool links), while readers who take any one of McDonald’s classes from Stanford, San Francisco Bay Area Video Coalition, or Academy X also receive an e-copy of the book for free. As a practical reference tool—one might even call it an old school “search engine” in its own right—SEO Toolbook is an excellent companion piece to any introductory or advanced book on the topic of search engine optimization or Internet marketing.
10. SEO 2016: Learn Search Engine Optimization (SEO Book Series) by R.L. Adams
SEO 2016 is business book written by the best-selling author, speaker, blogger, software engineer, and serial entrepreneur, R.L. Adams. Published in 2015 and with a 2017 edition forthcoming, the book is part of a running SEO book series that Adams has dedicated to explaining the evolution of search engine practices and the principles they operate upon. Drawing on his extensive experience as a technology and online marketing writer, Adams explains the underpinnings of why we go through the process of researching and developing the most effective SEO strategies for our brands. He describes the immense number of ranking factors that go into a website’s placement in Google’s index. (Spoiler: There are over 200). He explores Google’s sole mission to place the most relevant content at the top of our search results when we type in given set of keywords. He even goes so far as to outline the four major components of trust on which Google bases its search algorithm: Trust in Age, Trust in Authority, Trust in Content, and Relevancy. Even Lead SEOs will find Adams’ advice to be a goldmine of information, especially as it pertains to small-but-important optimization concerns, especially mobile. And because much of its detailed advice is distilled through the lens of someone who understands that he is aiming at a fast-moving target,SEO 2016 manages to be evergreen, despite the title that dates it. Indeed with so much of our current energy focused on placing websites at Google’s top spot for all our keywords by gaining trust and displaying relevance, it seems only a matter of time before Adams rises all the way to the top for producing this most relevant and authoritative series of books on our own keyword: SEO.
Josh R Jackson is Contributing Editor of BestMarketingDegrees.org, a growing resource for online learners, educators, and marketers in between.