Jeff Keleher

The internet acts as a vast repository of marketing insights, tips, strategies and other content – so much so, in fact, that it can be difficult to find anything that comprehensively covers any one topic. If you want to find the definitive – and exhaustive – take on content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media strategy, growth hacking, paid search, etc., you would have to comb through hundreds or thousands of articles stretched out across dozens of websites.

What’s a digital marketer to do? Go back to basics – and by that, we mean closing your laptop and cracking open a book. Yes, a real book, with pages and everything. They demand a little more commitment to get through than your typical how-to blog post, but if you’re looking for something to do in lockdown, books will occupy your time while also making you a better marketer.

There are thousands of marketing books out there, not all of which have insights worth the paper they’re printed on. Luckily for you, we’ve done the dirty work of combing through the most prominent and popular digital marketing literature and culling the outdated, the uninteresting and the just plain wrong.

When the dust had settled, we were left with a tiiight top 8 of the very best digital marketing books that are most relevant to marketers today.

1. Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing – Andy Crestodina

If there’s such a thing as the “content marketing bible,” this is it. Andy Crestodina’s book was the first of its kind back when it was released in 2012, helping newbs and digital marketing veterans alike navigate just about every aspect of content marketing. With each successive edition (the most recent being the fifth), Crestodina refines his advice and guidance to account for the latest industry changes and trends. Lord knows Google switches up its algorithms enough that following advice from just a couple of years ago could put you well behind the rest of the digital marketing world.

Crestodina painstakingly researches each edition, speaking with hundreds of different marketing pros to compile a comprehensive collection of content marketing best practices. This should be sitting on every content marketers’ bookshelf.

2. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization – Olivier Blanchard

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram – they’re all vital avenues for customer outreach, content distribution and building brand awareness. But, as it turns out, a lot of businesses still struggle to get the most out of their social media strategies: Only 48 percent of marketers believe they see any kind of return on investment with social media.

If you’re feeling a little frustrated with the current state of your social media strategies, consider picking up Olivier Blanchard’s exhaustive guide on all things social. From strategizing and planning to day-to-day management and optimization, this book gives you all the information you need to adhere to social media best practices and start turning around tangible ROI.

3. Digital Marketing Analytics: Making Sense of Consumer Data in a Digital World – Chuck Hemann

Data should guide every choice you make in your content marketing strategy, from content creation to defining your target audience to affiliate marketing to lead generation – I could go on for a while. Sadly, many of us are not all that comfortable digging into analytics reports and extracting meaningful insights that will shift marketing tactics in the right direction.

For the numbers-averse out there, don’t worry, because analytics expert Chuck Hemann has crafted an in-depth – yet approachable – walkthrough on incorporating data into your digital marketing strategy. Hemann’s book is intended for newcomers and data-savvy marketers alike, so if you feel like your marketing efforts could be a little more data-driven, give this one a read.

4. SEO 2019: Learn Search Engine Optimization With Smart Internet Marketing Strategies – Adam Clarke

The obvious concern when picking up any hardcopy book on digital marketing is that the rapid nature of the industry will leave it outdated before you even turn a single page. Well, you don’t have to worry about that with Adam Clarke’s long-running series on SEO. Every year he publishes a new update to reflect the latest Google algorithm changes, recently launched SEO tools and shifts in industry best practices.

There’s a lot of great, timeless SEO advice to be gleaned here, but Clarke’s dedication to publishing a new edition each year is really what places this one above other books on SEO. He even addresses potential changes to Google’s search ranking criteria that may come down the pike in 2020 to give readers time to plan ahead.

5. Mastering Google Adwords 2019: Step-by-Step Instructions for Advertising Your Business (Including Google Analytics) – Noah Gray

If you take a look around various best-of lists, you will undoubtedly come across your fair share of books claiming to be the “essential” or “ultimate” guide to Google Adwords (the publishing world is slightly behind on the whole Google Ads’ name change) and paid search in general. The only problem is a lot of those books were written years ago and probably don’t serve as the best representation of today’s most successful paid search techniques.

Like Adam Clarke’s approach to SEO, Noah Gray continues to pump out annual updates to his exhaustive guide to paid search. While total newcomers are sure to pick up a lot of useful tips and advice from the 2020 edition, seasoned paid search practitioners will likely get even more value out of Gray’s insights. “Mastering Google Adwords” appears to have been written for those marketers who feel like they’ve hit a ceiling on paid search and need help taking their game to the next level. Gray’s straightforward prose and actionable advice make this a perfect paid search handbook for just about anyone.

6. Ultimate Guide to Link Building: How to Build Backlinks, Authority and Credibility for Your Website, and Increase Click Traffic and Search Ranking – Eric Ward and Garrett French

OK, so the title’s a bit of a mouthful, but if you ever wanted to sit down and read the definitive guide to successful link building, you found it. Clocking in at a paunchy 300 pages, this tome packs in an incredible amount of information on the deceptively complex process of link building.

Ward and French show readers how to incorporate different touchpoints into their link building strategies to maximize ROI, drive more traffic to their sites and improve their search rankings.

7. Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity – Avinash Kaushik

Avinash Kaushik arguably wrote the book on modern digital marketing. In his continuation of “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day,” he lays out an elegant framework for, more or less, all analytical processes. It goes without saying that the modern marketer needs to be data-focused and adept at measuring outcomes. This book provides a template for what that means while stripping away the complexity usually associated with data-driven decision-making.

Web Analytics 2.0 is highly informative, demystifying topics from SEO to email marketing, social media marketing, multichannel analytics and attribution, and much more. But Kaushik also inspires his audience by encouraging and demonstrating controlled experimentation. This is, in many ways, a love letter to data-led business disguised as a digital marketing book. Whether you’re a novice content marketer or you’ve been practicing inbound marketing for years, you’ll walk away from this read with a renewed vigor for web analytics.

8. Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business – Kindra Hall

Kindra Hall’s modus operandi is spreading the word about how storytelling can be used to solve communication challenges, both in business and in everyday life. A great story, after all, is the key ingredient of any successful content strategy. Whether you’re crafting a blog post or writing a script for a corporate promo, epic content beings and ends with an epic story.

In “Stories That Stick,” Hall shows us the nuts and bolts of a great story, and even categorizes the different types of stories for your business (or your personal brand). Potential customers, your employees, your existing customers – all of them will be receptive to a good story. Data may lead the way in marketing, but content fueled by great storytelling will bring your marketing strategy home.

Honorable Mentions

Even in a fast-paced industry like digital marketing, the classics are classics for a reason. Al Ries and Jack Trout’s “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” may have been originally published all the way back in 1980, but the fundamental ideas it promotes on-brand messaging and positioning are just as true in the age of the search engine as they were in the time of the portable cassette player.

Likewise, David Ogilvy’s 1985 “Ogilvy on Advertising” is rightfully revered to this day for its fascinating insights into the mind of one of the most prolific and successful advertisers in the history of the industry. As much as technology changes the marketing world, there is still a core psychological component that drives human behavior, both in digital and traditional marketing. Both of these books are absolute must-reads for any serious digital marketer.

Forget whatever Marie Kondo says: Now is the best time to load up on marketing books and build your own 2020 reading list. Many of the most valuable digital marketing insights and advice cannot be found on the web – you’ll have to crack open a book to get into the minds of some of the foremost marketing experts in the field. So change out the lightbulb in your bedside lamp, because you’ve got a lot of reading ahead of you.