Home » Books


Recommended books on web site optimization

There are a number of books on web design techniques, but only a few that address the optimization of web sites. Below you’ll find some outstanding books that I’ve read and reviewed that will help you optimize your web site prose, content and servers, search engine rankings, usability and user experience, and information architecture.

Web Site Optimization

Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets
Website Optimization uniquely combines the disciplines of online marketing and site performance tuning that is necessary to attain a competitive advantage on today’s Web. You’ll learn how to improve your online marketing with effective paid and natural search engine visibility strategies, and how to strengthen lead creation and conversion to sales methods. In addition, your increased site speed, reduced download footprint, and improved reliability will work synergistically with those marketing methods to optimize the total effectiveness of your site. By Andrew B. King.
Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization
This book shows readers why we need speed (the psychology of performance) and how to deliver it to your users. Through the optimization of popular web page components and compression you can halve download times, raise user satisfaction and loyalty, and lower bailout rates and bandwidth bills. Attacks web site optimization primarily from a client-side perspective, optimizing the content you deliver. By Andrew B. King. Companion site at SpeedUpYourSite.com. Book is out of print, but still available used at Amazon.
High Performance Web Sites
This 256 page book presents 14 specific rules that will cut your website response time by 20% to 25%. Steve Souders, Chief Performance Yahoo!, discovered these techniques when profiling and speed optimizing high profile website properties to maximize speed. Many of the techniques we talk about in our Speed Tweak series are there, but some are new. These include keeping Ajax cacheable and small, turning off ETags to improve caching, avoiding redirects, removing JS duplicates, minimizing the number of domains referenced in your objects, and avoiding CSS expressions. See also High Performance Websites: Rough Cuts, SteveSouders.com, and Yahoo! Developer Network – Performance Rules for more information.
Web Performance Tuning, 2d ed.
Four years in the making, the second edition of Web Performance Tuning is some 30% larger (456 vs. 351 pages) than the first, but don’t let the increased size slow you down. Patrick Killelea makes good use of it by showing you how to get the best possible performance out of your web server, site, and browser. The primary emphasis is on tuning web server software, but tuning client and server hardware, streamlining content, getting the most bang for your byte are also covered. By Patrick Killelea.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Visibility
Finally, a no-nonsense SEO book that avoids unsavory tactics. Shari Thurow, highly rated speaker and SEO expert, has codified her vast knowledge into this great introduction to search engine optimization. Learn what to avoid when designing and submitting your site and best practices on tuning your site for maximum relevance. Companion site at searchenginesbook.com.
Search Engine Positioning
Now out of print, you can still buy this bible of SEO techniques used. This book is written for SEO professionals and details how to refine your keywords and raise your relevance with proven techniques. By Fredrick Marckini.


Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide, 2d ed
Newly updated for CSS 2.1, the second edition of this classic book explains how CSS works like no other. CSS, CSS1, CSS2.1 are covered with clear examples and code snippets. Shorthand properties and colors, grouping, and positioning can help you prune both your CSS and XHTML markup. This book is an indispensable reference for web authors. By Eric Meyer (companion site).
Eric Meyer on CSS: Mastering the Language of Web Design
Eric Meyer is the acknowledged master of CSS, the new styling mechanism for the Web. His newest book, which completes a CSS book trilogy, reflects this vast experience. On the surface this book is a collection of 13 redesign projects, each illustrating different aspects of CSS layout techniques and HTML. Underneath is a philosophy, a way of thinking, and a collection of ideas. The book makes CSS look relatively easy, when in fact it’s not. The projects illustrate (in full color) how to rework existing designs in CSS, from the simple to the sublime. By Eric Meyer.
More Eric Meyer on CSS
Eric Meyer’s self-titled sequel More is a collection of ten conversion projects that teach you CSS by example. More advanced than the original, the book is designed to inspire designers to switch to CSS. Chapter 6 “CSS-Driven Drop-Down Menus,” where Meyer shows how to create JavaScript-free nested pull-down menus, is worth the price of the book alone. By Eric Meyer.


World Wide Web Marketing: Integrating the Web into Your Marketing Strategy, 3rd ed.
This is the most comprehensive web marketing book I’ve seen. No mere fluff piece touting opt-in emails and keyword optimization, Sterne’s newest edition goes deeper than most, from achieving Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow” state to avoiding Nielsen’s Top Ten Mistakes, Sterne synthesizes current marketing and optimal Web design wisdom into this 400+ page compendium. See also Sterne’s Web Metrics book for measuring web site success. By Jim Sterne.
Poor Richard’s Web Site Marketing Makeover: Improve Your Message and Turn Visitors Into Buyers
Although somewhat dated, Marcia Yudkin gives useful and practical advice to branding and marketing your site. The Poor Richard books are always a good read, see also Chris Pirillo’s book, Poor Richard’s E-mail Publishing on email marketing.

Usability / HCI

Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity
If you buy just one book on web usability, buy this one. This full-color book distills down years of usability testing and wisdom into one easy to read volume. By Jakob Nielsen.
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
A practical Web design usability guide, Don’t Make Me Think! is based on empirical observation not exhaustive statistics. Steve Krug’s five years of usability consulting and testing are distilled down to this thin yet gem-filled how-to. Krug observed how people actually use the Web rather than how we think they use it, gleaning key usability guidelines. Most folks can’t afford a full-blown usability consult, but they can afford to buy a $35 book. This book is an amusing read, and shows you how to conduct your own usability tests on the cheap. By Steve Krug.
Engineering Psychology and Human Performance, 3d ed.
Now in its third edition, this classic HCI textbook is required reading for many college courses. Wickens and Hollands explore many aspects of applied psychological research, including reaction times and how we react to different stimuli including color. See also Wickens’ research lab.
Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed
Jakob Nielsen is out to change the Web, one page at a time. His latest book, Homepage Usability coauthored with Marie Tahir, takes on the most important page of your site, the home page. Now that Nielsen and the usability community have “defeated bad design” by reducing “user-hostile” design practices they are fighting for good design. What better place to start than your own home page? The authors present 113 homepage usability guidelines that will make your site easier to use, and apply them mercilessly to 50 popular sites. By Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir.
Human Factors and Web Development, Second Edition
This book provides a snapshot of current and future research being conducted in HCI labs on the Internet. Twenty-three experts in HCI-related fields contributed the 16 chapters of this book. Well-known names like Ed Chi (Xerox PARC), Mary Czerwinski (Microsoft Research), and Andrew Sears (UMBC) all wrote about their research into how we interact with the web. The book offers a fascinating glimpse into current and future HCI research on the web.
Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information.
Information Foraging Theory models how we shape ourselves and our information environment to maximize our intake of valuable information as we search through information spaces. Part of the new field of Adaptive Information Interaction information foraging theory has its roots in optimal foraging theory in animals, HCI, information retrieval, and the behavioral and social sciences. The last few chapters will be of most interest to web developers and designers with social information foraging, practical guidelines, and future directions. Available in early April 2007. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do
Nine years in the making, B. J. Fogg’s book reveals how web sites, software, and mobile technology can change people’s minds and persuade them to take action. Includes a chapter on the factors that influence credibility on the web (including slow response times) with results and design guidelines from his 1998 and 2002 web credibility surveys. See also WebCredibility.org.

Further HCI Reading

Interaction Design
Jennifer Preece, Yvonne Rogers, Helen Sharp
Response Time: Eight Seconds, Plur or Minus Two
Chapter summary from Speed Up Your Site, including books and articles.
Flow in Web Design
Chapter summary from Speed on flow, including books and references.

Web Design

The Art and Science of Web Design
This is a different kind of web design book. Veen doesn’t dwell on technical details, he guides you towards more elegant solutions. He provides ways you can find the best solutions (interfaces etc.) through the use of heuristic usability and pattern matching, rather than tedious testing. It’s a new design philosophy really, a more fluid approach with “intelligent content that can figure out how to display itself correctly” created from dynamic publishing systems (databases and scripted templates). By Jeffrey Veen.
Designing With Web Standards
Jeffrey Zeldman has done more to promote web standards than arguably anyone else. This book is a natural extension of his tireless work on WebStandards.org, AListApart.com, and elsewhere. The book essentially makes a compelling case for adopting web standards when creating web sites. He says that standards are a continuum, not a set of inflexible rules. You can transition to strict XHTML or dive right in. It doesn’t matter to him. The book shows the benefits of switching to standards (interoperability, speed, accessibility, cost) using his own and other sites as examples. Three chapters on CSS form the core of the book, showing you how to use CSS, hybrid layouts, and finally a CSS-based redesign of his own site, Zeldman.com. I found myself laughing out loud as I read his trademark humor. Don’t expect reams of dense code however, the book is like his blog, more like a relaxed conversation than a rigid required class. See also DWWS.
Son of Web Pages that Suck: Learn Good Design by Looking at Bad Design
Flanders takes a different approach to teaching usability than the likes of Nielsen and Norman. Through over the top humor and outrageous examples of bad web design he manages to teach good design while keeping us entertained. Flanders uses humor as a teaching aid because he’s found that people tend to learn better when they are engaged. By Vincent Flanders.

Graphics and Multimedia

Designing Web Graphics 4
Lynda Weinman’s classic just keeps getting better. A great introduction to web design, includes graphics shrinking tips. For beginning to intermediate designers. See also lynda.com.
Streaming Media Bible
The definitive (and comprehensive) guide to streaming media on the Web. Includes a chapter on optimizing your files for faster downloads. By Steve Mack. See also StreamingMediaBible.com.

Web Programming

The Art of Computer Programming series
Donald Knuth’s classic textbooks delve deeply into computer algorithms and sorting and searching techniques. Makes a good foundation for computer programmers, and has been required reading for college programming courses since your editor has been in college. Prof. Knuth says he’s writing the fourth volume, and he told me a future volume would cover optimization topics.
JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, 4th ed.
David Flanagan’s 900 page reference is part how-to and mainly command reference neatly organized into logical sections. A must-have for JavaScript programmers.
The Practice of Programming
Kernighan and Pike’s 1999 classic describes best programming practices in a thin, highly useful volume. Don’t miss chapter 7 on performance.
Programming Pearls, 2nd ed.
Bentley’s 1999 sequel plus his More Programming Pearls: Confessions of a Coder features many examples of code tuning and recaps the 27 code-tuning rules in his out-of-print classic, Writing Efficient Programs. See Column 10: “Squeezing Space.”
Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
How do you rewrite code to perform faster or more efficiently? Refactor it!
Martin Fowler has written the definitive work on this popular programming technique, and features a companion site at refactoring.com

Information Architecture

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites, 2nd ed.
Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville’s definitive IA book has become even better. Expanded and revised with 75% new material, the second edition adds new chapters on the IA profession and how info architects fit into the larger picture. Web sites are becoming larger and more complex, so we need library science-trained experts like the authors to help us create sound ontologies and hierarchies to make wayfinding easier. Follow the breadcrumbs above to a better site.

Writing for the Web

Hot Text: Web Writing that Works
Writing for the Web is different. Computers are cold, so warm up your text to “push through” the screen. Develop an attitude. Write in a genre. Go gonzo. Pull a Rageboy. Be outrageous. Oh, and make sure you spellcheck that last post on your blog. The authors are professional writers, and it shows. Sentences flow seamlessly, and the writing is tight and entertaining as you’d expect. This book shows you how to tighten up and optimize your prose for the Web. By Jonathan Price and Lisa Price. See also WebWritingThatWorks.com.