What are the best SEO books you should invest in right now?
I purchased the top 26 SEO books on Amazon to find out.
This guide will show you my top 5 and why the other SEO books didn’t make the cut.
Let’s dive in:
Top 5 Best SEO Books (After 40 + Hours of Reading)
Most reviews about the top SEO books online are:
- A) from people who haven’t read the SEO books and…
- B) they’re looking to make affiliate commissions.
I wanted to take a different approach.
So I sat my butt down in a chair and read all these SEO books.
It was painful at times, but worth it to show you what’s worth investing in.
My #1 recommendation (as of 2023) is:
1. The Art of SEO
If you search “best SEO books” on Google, you’ll find The Art of SEO ranking on 24 different lists.
And I understand why!
The Art of SEO is the thickest and most comprehensive SEO book you’ll ever read.
Here is its thickness relative to Think and Grow Rich:
It’s so large that I was getting college flashbacks.
The Art of SEO is the perfect book for the early stages of mastering search engine optimization.
You’ll expand your SEO knowledge by learning:
- How search engines work
- The composition of the SEO industry
- How to maximize search engine rankings
- Countless SEO basics
- Proper keyword research (see the top keyword research services)
- How to develop SEO strategies
- How to develop SEO-friendly websites
- Local SEO
And even digital marketing at a broad level.
It’s written by industry vets like Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, and Jessie Stricchiola. Eric sold his SEO agency (Stone Temple Consulting) to Perficient, Inc in 2018.
Here are some key takeaways:
1. Take one concept and go into the rabbit hole
For example, take the section on “Determining Searcher Intent.”
Open up Google and conduct searches in all the primary intent categories and analyze what Google shows.
For “Navigational” queries, search: “Coca-Cola” or “Best Buy”:
Your brand should dominate queries with navigational intent because they have incredible organic CTR. For example, Gotch SEO gets ~70% CTR:
On the other hand, targeting other brands’ names is a poor strategy. Even if you rank for a navigational keyword like “blogspot” or “duplichecker” you’ll get ~ 1% organic CTR (or less):
For “Informational” queries, search: “how to build backlinks” or “how to dribble”
For “Transactional” queries, search: “semrush review” or “stocks to buy now”
Notice how the results shift based on the intent.
There is no concept that’s more important in Search Engine Optimization!
Study it, and then build your keyword-targeted pages to satisfy the intent of the keyword.
2. Understand that “Every SEO Strategy Should be Customized”
I agree with this idea from The Art of SEO. Unfortunately, there are many people pushing cookie-cutter SEO solutions to “scale” their agencies.
While this may help the agencies, it doesn’t help the client.
Every Search Engine Optimization campaign is different because of competition, your website’s authority, and any baggage a website may have.
You need to tailor each campaign to the client’s unique needs if you want to succeed.
Yes, there are evergreen principles within Search Engine Optimization that apply to every client. But personalization is vital because it will dictate priorities.
My recommendation is to perform an SEO audit at the campaign’s onset.
It will help you identify every SEO opportunity and will help you develop an intelligent roadmap for delivering results.
3. Don’t ignore content marketing
The Art of SEO dedicates 118 pages to content marketing, and for a good reason! Backlinks are the most important ranking factor in Google.
I love this section because it focuses on evergreen link building principles (instead of gimmicks or tricks).
In short, create amazing and unique content and then promote it. That’s the most scalable, proven, and safe way to acquire backlinks.
Speaking of link building, let’s move on to the second-best SEO book:
2. Ultimate Guide to Link Building
Coming in at 270 pages, the Ultimate Guide to Link Building by Garrett French and Eric Ward is much shorter than The Art of SEO.
However, it’s jam-packed with deep link building value. This SEO book will stand the test of time because it shares universal link building principles.
Keep in mind:
This book is 100% focused on link building. So if you need help with keyword research or developing a solid SEO strategy, I recommend The Art of SEO.
So here are a couple of keyword takeaways:
1. Know what makes a website link-worthy
When anyone can go and buy backlinks at will, this has become a lost concept. Yes, it’s hard for Google to know the difference between a paid and earned editorial link.
But that’s not the issue.
The issue is HOW you link. Novices slam transactional pages with backlinks and wonder why it doesn’t work or why they’ve been penalized.
So WHAT you link to is just as important as the type of backlink you get.
Most backlinks should hit something linkable or “link-worthy.”
In most cases, that will be something of value, like blog content, guides, data, tools, etc.
2. Use the 55 link opportunity qualifiers
Not all backlink opportunities are equal, and this section will save you many headaches. The geeky operational side of me loves how they broke this process down into two parts (none of the other SEO books had anything like this):
Automated qualifiers and manual qualifiers.
Some examples of automated qualifiers are:
- You can use Moz’s Domain Authority (DA), Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR), or Semrush’s Authority Score (AS) metrics here.
Inbound links from new sites, .edus or .govs
- This is a genius qualifier because it indicates that the site has earned credible links. And it eliminates websites that are juicing their numbers.
- A no-brainer here. If a site’s been around for a long time, it’s likely to accumulate more links and be more trustworthy. At the same time, the opposite is true as well.
And then some examples of manual qualifiers are:
“Is there a genuine relevance between the page and the page you’re building links to?”
- It seems like an obvious question, but most link builders would struggle to answer “Yes.” You have to abide by quality over quantity if you’re serious about using this qualifier (that’s a good thing).
“Is the site owner/moderator easily accessible by email or phone?”
- At first glance, this one seems silly because why would it matter? But it’s a powerful way to disqualify websites that are nothing more than link farms or a part of a private blog network.
“Does it have strong content?”
- Link farms create content to place links, not to add value. Think about what you’re reading right now. Does this content seem like it was built to place links or to add genuine, unique value? I hope it’s the latter!
So to conclude on the Ultimate Guide to Link Building:
Invest in, read, and take action on this SEO book. It’s the only link building book you’ll ever need.
And now, let’s move on to the next excellent SEO book, which is:
3. The SEO Blueprint
My SEO buddy Ryan Stewart (and one of the top SEO professionals on the planet) published this one, and it’s a gem! The SEO Blueprint stands out from other books because it focuses on systemization (instead of impracticable theory).
It’s more geared towards agencies or those engaging in client SEO work.
Here are some key takeaways:
1. You can manage an entire Search Engine Optimization operation with Google Sheets
- Both Ryan and I have love affairs with Google Sheets and Docs. And that’s because they’re awesome! You’ll learn how to start, manage, and execute many Search Engine Optimization campaigns within Google Sheets in the book.
2. SEO team structures are outdated!
- There are many great contractors and vendors you can offload specific Search Engine Optimization tasks. For example, countless link building vendors are doing great work. But imagine if you didn’t need to systemize the link building process in-house.
Could you leverage vendors with systems and connections to acquire backlinks at scale? This applies to content as well.
You do NOT need internal copywriters to do great Search Engine Optimization work.
And then, to take it a step further, you also don’t need a developer in-house either.
Almost every tactical SEO position can be outsourced.
The only positions you need in-house are people who can direct the campaigns and communicate with the clients.
So to conclude the SEO Blueprint:
It’s a terrific guide to see how Ryan systemizes his agency’s campaigns. You can get tons of value from it and then implement parts of its system in your unique way.
And now, let’s move on to the fourth-best SEO book, which is:
4. Product-Led SEO
Eli Schwartz is a legend in the Search Engine Optimization industry because he’s driven results for big SAAS companies. In Product-Led SEO, you’ll learn that it’s best to build an excellent product for users first and optimize for search second.
Pretty hard to deny this order of operations as an SEO professional.
Here are some key highlights from this SEO book:
“Focusing on the searcher experience rather than the algorithm will be relevant until search engines cease to exist.” – Product-Led SEO
Eli nailed this, and I 100% agree. In short, you’ll never lose ground by prioritizing user experience. My favorite example is when some Search Engine Optimization gurus debate whether page loading speed is a ranking factor or not. It doesn’t matter if it is because it’s beneficial for users and conversions to optimize loading speed.
“The primary goal of a search engine is and always was to benefit the user in their quest for answers.”- Product-Led SEO
This goes back to the earlier discussion on search intent. You must understand search intent if you want to drive Search Engine Optimization results.
The reason is simple:
It’s the foundation of search. Google wants to deliver the most relevant results based on the query.
Therefore, it’s your job to be the most relevant result.
Here’s an example:
We have a blog post that targets “iMovie review” and it was also ranking #50 + for “imovie crashes when importing.”
The “iMovie review“ page would never rank for this long-tail keyword because it isn’t focused enough and won’t satisfy the intent.
That’s why we splintered it off and created a dedicated page for “imovie crashes when importing” and it’s been ranking #1 since:
That’s the power of understanding intent and creating 100% relevant content to support the query.
And now, let’s move on to the last SEO book:
5. The Executive SEO Playbook
Jessica Bowman wrote the SEO book, and she’s been doing enterprise-level in-house SEO since 2002! Crazy.
The Executive SEO Playbook is a must-read for any in-house SEO trying to build internal teams and get stuff done.
Getting buy-in for SEO initiatives can be challenging because it involves so many teams (and bureaucracy). Jessica explains how to get around this and finally get the right Search Engine Optimization work executed.
She breaks in-house SEOs into two categories:
SEO Pacesetters (good)
- They “hold non-SEO teams accountable for doing the 20% of SEO that makes 80% of the impact of their role.”
SEO Avoiders (bad)
- They “have an SEO team that chases projects and puts out fires because non-SEO teams unintentionally (or intentionally) fail to include SEO at key moments in projects.”
It’s a critical concept because SEO shouldn’t be bottom of the list priority. It needs integration at the beginning of any important project. Otherwise, you’ll have to try to improve Search Engine Optimization performance retroactively. Very tough!
Take a look at this chart:
This is how Search Engine Optimization interests trend in-house over time. People get pumped about the prospects of growth using SEO.
But things get interesting when planning and execution become a reality.
The reason is simple:
SEO is an amazing and attractive idea for growth. However, it’s tough to drive results, and it requires support from many different teams.
You need to read Jessica’s SEO book if you’re struggling with buying and getting teams to support the Search Engine Optimization initiatives.
Keep in mind:
The Executive SEO Playbook is not about improving your Google rankings, optimizing your SEO skills, or search engine optimization techniques. The other Search Engine optimization books are better suited for that goal.
So those are the best SEO books to invest in for 2023.
Now you might be wondering: what about the other 21 SEO books? Keep reading:
5 Reasons Why 21 SEO Books Didn’t Make the Cut
1. Too much theory, not enough action
You can theorize all day, but getting Search Engine Optimization results is about taking action. Unfortunately, many SEO books didn’t formulate how to take concepts and put them into an actionable format.
For example, they might say, “optimize for semantic indexing,” but it isn’t followed with how to do it.
2. Actions not prioritized based on effectiveness
Almost all SEO books make these mistakes. They’re a laundry list of SEO tasks without any prioritization whatsoever. Furthermore, not all SEO actions are equal.
So not making this clear isn’t helpful for the reader (or someone new to SEO).
3. Too salesy
To no surprise, almost every SEO book was more a sales message than an attempt to add value. Of course, there is nothing wrong with selling.
However, it becomes problematic when you defer to your services or tools instead of helping.
4. Poor writing
Some of the SEO books were painful to read because they were littered with grammar, spelling, and readability errors.
Most of these SEO books are outdated. This is to be expected because Search Engine Optimization is a fast-moving industry. But it’s another reason why trying to learn SEO via reading SEO books isn’t the best path.
Conclusion: Don’t Read SEO Books?
I’ve read hundreds of books, but I can say this with great conviction:
You don’t need to read SEO books to grow organic traffic or succeed in this field.
It’s one of the worst ways to master the skill of Search Engine Optimization. Instead, it’s better to surround yourself with current SEO experts in the trenches every day.
Speaking of that:
Gotch SEO Academy is an SEO training, and coaching program and community of successful SEO agency owners, consultants, and freelancers who are in the trenches every day. Join us.