Top 19 Best CRO Books (recommended by experts)
If there’s any trait that binds CROs together, it is the quest to get better and learn new and better approaches to CRO concepts and marketing.
One sure way to do this is by reading marketing books and CRO books by experts.
After Dan and Johann from AWA wrote their first CRO book, we asked some of our team what non-fiction books they would pack in their suitcase (or load up on their Kindle) to optimise every minute on the sun loungers. Their choices cover a wide range of topics that come under the umbrella of Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) and experimentation, so you’ll return home with not only a topped up tan, but also the tools to top up your sales figures.
Here are their top 19 recommended best books on Conversion Rate Optimisation:
Table of Contents
The Power of Experiments: Decision Making in a Data-Driven World by Michael Luca & Max H. Bazerman
Luca and Bazerman’s ‘The Power of Experiments – Decision-making in a Data-driven World’ is a worthy rival to Thomke’s book (below). What Dan likes about the book is that it features case studies of experiments from the offline world. (Predictably many similar books are packed full of online-only examples). Offline examples include the work of Behavioural Insights Teams working with the British Government to include the response to ‘you owe us back tax’ letters as well experiments to reduce school absenteeism and increase the number of people saving for their retirement. I believe seeing experiments in this wider societal context add richness to the whole area of experimentation.
See book here.
- Market-level experiments are needed to understand spillover effects when intervening in markets with multiple related products, as with Uber’s suite of ridesharing options
- eBay spent $50 million per year on Google ads until an internal experiment showed the ads were wasteful, as users clicking the ad would visit eBay anyway. This experiment saved the company $50 million annually.
- When testing whether to launch a new product called Uber Express Pool, Uber ran a market-level experiment where it was rolled out in a randomly selected set of large markets while not being launched in a synthetically constructed control group of markets. This was to avoid spillover effects across products within the Uber platform (Chapter 9).
Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments by Stefan Thomke
You know all those questions you have about experimentation that nobody could ever explain to you in simple non-techie language? This is where you’ll get those answers. A surprisingly easy read considering what’s packed into it. Don’t expect a practitioner’s how-to guide; this is the definitive text on experimentation for managers pushing to reach their business goals using experimentation.
Harvard Business School professor Stefan Thomke is well-placed to write this book. He has thoroughly researched business experimentation and studied the impact on organisations, their culture and performance. He shares practical insights and best practices, gathered over decades of unparalleled access to experiment-driven organisations and leaders.
See book here.
- Large-scale experimentation allows companies to continuously innovate through business experiments. Experiments help drive profitable growth and create shareholder value.
- To obtain useful learning from an experiment, companies must have testable hypotheses, conduct controlled experiments, and analyze the results. They need to understand cause and effect relationships.
- Online experiments should test everything that can be tested. Appreciate small changes, as they often produce outsized returns when scaled up. Define clear success metrics.
- An experimentation culture requires attributes like a learning mindset, consistent rewards, intellectual humility, integrity, trust in tools, appreciation for exploration, and a new leadership model.
- Building trust in results is key, as is defining high-quality data, transparency, and maintaining cause-and-effect understanding. Getting full value means breaking down programs and maximizing ROI.
Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments: A Practical Guide to A/B Testing by Ron Kohavi, Diane Tang and Ya Xu
Ron Kohavi is one of the most experienced leaders in experimentation. Ex-Amazon, ex-Microsoft, now Airbnb – he writes from the trenches. He’s seen it all, and has devoted an entire chapter to common pitfalls and another to statistical issues which get in the way of success. How to define key metrics, especially the OEC (Overall Evaluation Criterion), is also discussed in detail.
It’s not just Kohavi’s industry experience and reputation as an industry leader in controlled experiments that lends this book serious street cred. He has a PhD from Stanford, and both co-authors have impressive CVs rounded off with Ivy league advanced degrees.
See book here.
- Running A/A tests is one of the most important things a company can do to establish the trustworthiness of its experimentation results. Many times when A/A tests fail, it points to issues that need to be addressed.
- Twyman’s law states that any figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong. When analyzing results, practitioners should apply healthy skepticism and look for possible errors or issues.
- There are four phases of experimentation maturity for companies: Crawl, Walk, Run, and Fly. As companies progress through these phases, their ability to turn more changes into experiments through controlled experiments improves.
- Instrumentation is critical for running trustworthy experiments. Before experiments can be run, basic instrumentation is needed to log user actions and compute metrics. Ensuring high-quality instrumentation is important.
- Selecting the right randomization unit is important. Common choices include users, pageviews, sessions, and user-days. The choice affects both the user experience and the ability to measure certain metrics.
Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy by Phil Barden
Jonny read this book years ago when it was first published in 2013 and has re-read it many times since. It’s about neuroscience, and placement, proximity and sizing of pricing on a page, proximity to imagery and what that’s going to do to a brain. The book talks about the web, but also about supermarkets. Understanding the scientific fundamentals of why and how consumers make buying decisions is core to the methodology we use at AWA. We’re not moving stuff around the page, we’re optimising sales conversations.
See book here.
- Perception is an active process in the brain that is based on past learning experiences. Unlike a camera, our perception constructs our subjective view of the world.
- Implicit goals can be activated and pursued on autopilot. Goals drive attention, and implicit goal pursuit has been found to influence behavior without conscious awareness.
- Decision interfaces influence purchase decisions without changing minds. This provides marketers with an additional approach to influencing consumer behavior, beyond the prevailing model of having to change attitudes first.
- Heuristics work internationally. As human perception works similarly across cultures, the implicit decision rules uncovered by behavioral economics should be similar for most populations.
- Total value increases through implicit frames. Maximizing net value requires maximizing both the explicit and implicit value. The goal is to be consistent at the meaning level while being new at the signal level.
Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
John likes this book by Steve Krug, a classic and easy read. He and a few other optimisers highly recommended this book to anyone working on websites.
See book here.
- Web navigation should make it easy to find whatever it is users are looking for and show them their options at a glance. Navigation is essential to the site in the same way that signs and shelves are essential to stores.
- Users need to be able to tell where they are on a site, both to feel oriented and to easily move to different areas. Devices like “You are here” indicators and breadcrumbs help provide a sense of place.
- Page names should match what users clicked to arrive at the page to avoid confusion. The names also need to be prominent enough to stand out.
- Sites with good persistent navigation make it obvious what the site is, what’s available, and how to get started without requiring extra thought.
- Search is an essential part of navigation, and most major pages should include either a search box or a prominent link to search.
Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It by April Dunford
One of the things we always look at is how to best communicate value: why your ideal customer should choose you over alternatives. By understanding and communicating how you’re different we see big wins in our testing. Brendan has read Ries and Trout’s book on positioning but this is a necessary update. It gives actionable insights and processes into how to evaluate how you are different and compared to your competitors and then how to communicate this.
See book here.
- Users spend very little time reading most Web pages. Instead of reading, people scan pages looking for words or phrases that catch their eye to help them find the relevant bits. Scanning allows us to find what we’re interested in from huge amounts of content very quickly.
- Customers need to understand your product’s position in the market in order to evaluate whether to purchase it. Positioning consists of several components including competitors, attributes, value delivered, target market characteristics and market category.
- People can ‘get’ a site very quickly based on their initial glances, forming impressions about how it looks, whether there seems to be a lot of content or a little, and what areas attract them. These instinctive reactions create expectations about what the site is.
- Mobile screens are very small, so content has to be adapted to work within tight constraints. It’s easy to overload mobile pages and overwhelm users. Testing helps determine what content is crucial.
- Users navigate sites by clicking links rather than reading long pages. Well-written headings give valuable information, support scanning, and guide users.
Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense by Rory Sutherland
Rory’s book looks at context, and in particular how ideas can be improved by changing how they are framed rather than the ideas themselves. This is very powerful for brands: Jonny tries to focus where possible on copy / context / perception / framing in testing as much as the typical on-page stuff we might also test.
For example: he talks about London a lot and how the tube map has influenced how the city is used. Areas that look ‘close’ to the city have lifted in price, whereas in reality the map is actually a schematic, and most of it exists in north London. Areas that are not on there, but are closer in travel terms get far less love.
In his day-to-day work, Jonny tries to let this steer testing: people see ‘big’ in terms of complexity, but Jonny sees it more in terms of a shift in frame of reference / context.
See book here.
- Not all problems have logical, quantifiable solutions. Some problems like human motivation and behavior can only be understood through psycho-logical problem solving rather than strict logic.
- Magic can still exist in our modern world through unexpected innovation and new ideas that defy conventional logic, similar to how graphene was discovered by scientists messing around with pencils and Sellotape.
- Costly signaling theory explains how some behaviors in nature like extravagant plumage in peacocks serve to signal long-term commitment and fitness to potential mates rather than provide any survival advantage.
- People irrationally prefer options that offer choices even if identical options are available, like selecting cable options that bundle TV, internet and phone rather than choosing separate providers.
- The value and experience of products is determined more by human perception and meaning rather than objective characteristics. Flowers use scent and coloration through evolutionary alchemy to attract pollinators rather than for any nutritional content.
Persuasive Copywriting: Cut Through the Noise and Communicate With Impact by Andy MaslenBoth Johann and Michael recommend Andy Maslen’s ‘Persuasive Copywriting’. It’s about consumer psychology as much as it’s about writing, covering insights into human decision making and consumer engagement. Its practical advice around writing different types of copy designed to convert site visitors is invaluable when running online experiments.
The author is one of the best in the industry. We know – we’ve worked with him on projects in our agency.
See book here.
- Motivation drives action. Information drives analysis. We want our reader to act, not just analyze.
- Promises carry huge emotional power. You can use them to help engage your prospect’s emotions.
- Developing insight and empathy is a hugely important exercise for any self-respecting copywriter. It’s a much better use of your time than studying grammar and punctuation.
Delivering Profitable Value: A Revolutionary Framework to Accelerate Growth, Generate Wealth, and Rediscover the Heart of Business by Michael LanningJohann likes this seminal book on value proposition theory written by the guy who coined the term.
‘Value proposition’ is one of the most misunderstood, bastardised terms in marketing. It’s also one of the most powerful levers in eCommerce conversion optimisation. Ignore the fluff on the internet, this book is the real thing.
See book here.
Selling to Win by Richard Denny
Phil recommends ‘Selling to Win’, and says that although it is meant for field salespeople, you can apply a lot of it to online selling.
At AWA we view an ecommerce site or app as the equivalent of a salesperson conducting a sales conversation with visitors. It’s all about sales!
See book here.
- Planning is essential for success. Develop specific, achievable goals that can be accomplished in a short time period in order to stay motivated.
- Attitude is the most important characteristic distinguishing stars from average sellers. Thinking positively and believing in yourself is essential.
- Time management is crucial. Prioritize tasks, avoid wasted effort, and focus on achieving goals each day.
- Existing customers are the richest source of potential new business. Nurture relationships and follow customers as their needs and roles change.
- Asking the right questions is vital for consultative selling. Find out buyers’ unique needs and desires in order to present targeted solutions.
Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
Brendan recommends the best-selling ‘Atomic Habits’ because it not only talks about how people create habits, but also how to change behaviours or perceptions – a lot of which can be applied online.
See book here.
- Habits are cued by their context – the types of situations, locations, people that trigger them. Good habits can be built through Implementation Intentions which pair an action with a specific cue.
- Habits follow a four stage loop of cue, craving, response and reward. The cues that spark habits don’t have to be conscious, and dopamine drives desire for both anticipated and realized rewards.
- We can form habits through incremental effort, focusing first on simply showing up rather than optimizing performance. Mastering basics frees mental energy for advancing.
- Tracking habits provides inherent motivation through visible progress. Simple measures like crossing off daily habits create immediate reinforcement.
- Environment design shapes what cues are obvious versus invisible. Positioning positive cues in obvious places and negative cues out of view supports behavior change.
The Great Sales Book by Jack Collis
This is ‘probably the best sales book’ Johann has read. He likes it as it’s old-school and was published in the 80’s, but has some very relevant chapters.
See book here.
Sales Therapy: Effective Selling for the Small Business Owner by Grant Leboff
Phil recommends ‘Sales Therapy’ as it discusses how you can build meaningful relationships but in a digital world. It tells you how to include personalised sales in to your landing page and web page and how you can apply those critical closing techniques. It tells you how to incorporate personalised sales messages into your web design, from your landing page optimisation and to product pages, as well as how you can apply those critical closing techniques.
See book here.
The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters – Joseph SugarmanA few team members have read this classic. Brendan found it very interesting as it gave him a few copywriting ideas to use online.
The copywriting profession is all about creating great content, as the name implies. Copy is the soul and heart of every digital marketing campaign, whether it’s for print, television, radio, or any other medium. In The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, legendary copywriter and ad man Joseph Sugarman offers tried-and-tested guidelines and expert advice on how to write great copy designed to enhance conversion rates.
Sugarman guides readers through the complete copywriting process, from beginning to end—from getting organized to researching goods and markets to putting ideas on paper and polishing them to a high shine, whether that’s short form copy for a CTA or longform copy for a blog post. He goes through the most important parts of great copy and examines the emotional triggers that persuade customers to buy, giving readers all of the tools and methods they’ll need to write compelling, persuasive ads.
See book here.
- All the elements of an advertisement (headline, photos, etc.) are primarily designed to get the prospect to read the first sentence of the copy.
- The sole purpose of the first sentence is to get prospects to read the second sentence.
- Copywriting is a mental process of transferring thoughts and experiences onto paper through incubation and editing.
- Establishing authority through expertise, brand name, size of company, etc. enhances credibility.
- Prospects buy on emotion but justify purchases with logic. Advertising sells on emotion and justifies with facts.
Conversion Optimization: The Art and Science of Converting Prospects to Customers by Khalid SalehOne of the first CRO books to be published, it’s basic but a great resource for someone who is new to CRO.
‘Conversion Optimization’ presents useful ideas for encouraging website visitors to make a buying choice — without repelling them with data overload or tedious navigation.
Readers discover how to apply marketing concepts, design, usability, and appropriate analytics tools to their site in order to boost their buyer-to-visitor ratio, which helps with generating quality testing ideas whether readers are small online business owners or executives of a large eCommerce platform. For that reason, we rate it highly in our recommended conversion rate optimisation books.
See book here.
- Personas are intended to bring hypothetical but realistic characters into the optimization you do for your customers. By focusing on personas, companies can anticipate how specific market segments will interact with their site and behave. Personas allow companies to place themselves in their customer’s shoes.
- Continuity refers to maintaining relevance and scent at every touchpoint visitors have with different websites. Your page is delivering a promise to the user; as the user clicks through to the next page on the site, you will need to anticipate what the user expects to see.
- Social proof refers to the influences that lend credibility and authority within society; hopefully, but not necessarily, for a good reason. This phenomenon is especially important when people are not able to determine how to react to a specific person or entity, so they rely on the behavior of others to guide their actions.
- The value proposition should support the main objective, which is ultimately to sell products on the site. If the primary conversion goal is to capture orders, the value proposition should address customers.
Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion by Nathalie Nahai
Jonny read the first edition of this book when it first came out years ago, and found it extremely insightful and practical.
You’ll find it on the shelves of several other team members. This is unsurprising given the importance of online consumer psychology in our methodology at AWA.
See book here.
- Communication is ‘the process through which the attitudes and behaviours of an agent are intentionally conveyed in a certain direction by another agent without coercion’. Persuasion allows us to influence each other’s behaviors intentionally.
- There are two main types of persuasion processes – systematic persuasion which appeals to logic and reason, and heuristic persuasion which leverages cognitive shortcuts and rules of thumb. Most persuasion relies on heuristics due to our limited cognitive capacity.
- Visuals are processed much more quickly than text. Images that contain contextually relevant information will be most impactful online. Perceptual grouping principles can influence how we process online visual information.
- Website aesthetics can be measured based on two key dimensions – aesthetic appeal (how visually appropriate, harmonious and elegant a site is perceived) and dynamic appeal (how well it grabs and holds attention).
- Certain design features supported by perceptual fluency principles, such as contrast and layout, can increase the aesthetic and perceived quality of a website (Chapter 7).
The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton
This was a popular one amongst many of our optimisers, but The Choice Factory is one of Phil’s favourites as it goes a lot in to lizard brain and subconscious thinking – a very interesting read!
See book here.
- Brands need to target contexts as much as target audiences. People are influenced by external factors in addition to their interests. Context helps shape perceptions.
- Strong positive impressions can be formed through subtle cues like branding, graphics, and presentation. These shape attitudes even before full conscious processing.
- Habits are hard to break but brands can target moments when habits loosen, such as after-life events. These provide a window to influence new behavior.
- People underestimate just how much context affects their interpretations. Ads need to account for the influence of framing and medium on message reception.
- Overconfidence is common and causes marketers to assume consumers share their level of brand expertise. Understanding differences in knowledge is important for targeting communications.
Successful Analytics: Gain Business Insights by Managing Google Analytics by Brian Clifton
This book might not have been published recently but John, who lives in analytics, regularly goes back to it. Although a lot has changed in the world of Analytics since it’s been published, John says this book is still relevant because it talks about how you should run an analytics project rather than the actual features of GA and similar software.
See book here.
- Insights are more important than data. Insights explain what data means for your business by examining visitor behavior.
- Insights come from a balanced approach including data, experience, and education. Don’t obsess over just one aspect.
- Maintaining quality is important for data you collect. Set up regular health checks to ensure accuracy over time.
- Default reports provide basic metrics but configuring goals, dimensions, and filters provides deeper insights.
- Service helps enterprises justify Premium licensing by providing implementation support that maximizes analytics value.
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
You’ve probably spotted a theme around consumer psychology and understanding what happens in the brain when people buy. Johann added this one to the list, an international bestseller for good reason.
We see this every day: big wins come from understanding how someone decides whether to buy a product or not, and then whether to buy it from you or a competitor. This is core to our eCommerce optimisation methodology.
See book here.
- Men and women differ in just about every other way, so why shouldn’t they shop differently, too? Shopping is still and always will be meant mostly for females. Shopping Is female. When men shop, they are engaging in what is inherently a female activity.
- People tend to slow down when they see reflective surfaces. And they speed up when they see banks. Therefore, never open a store next to a financial institution, for when pedestrians reach you they’ll still be moving at a speedy clip—too fast for window shopping.
- Stores are still stuck in the early ’60s, the time of frozen food, canned food, processed food, powdered food, packaged food and the germless ideal of blinding white cleanliness. As a result, supermarkets have become dangerously dull.
- People always move toward the right. Not a sharp turn, mind you, more like a drift. Stores should position the most popular goods just to the right of the bull’s-eye, to make it as easy as possible for the quick grab.
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