10 non-marketing books every SEO should read

When you work in an industry like SEO, staying updated on new technologies is crucial.

But, not all learning needs to be about link building, content or technical aspects of SEO. It’s also valuable to look outside of the industry.

With that in mind, here are 10 of the best (in my opinion) non-marketing books that offer great insight and value for any SEO professional.

1. ‘Never Split the Difference’ by Chris Voss

‘Never Split the Difference’ by Chris Voss

This book might seem an unconventional choice for an SEO, yet negotiation is a skill more embedded in our daily activities than we often realize.

Whether we’re discussing budgets, negotiating time off or championing the adoption of a new tool, effective negotiation tactics are pivotal.

Chris Voss masterfully draws from his extensive FBI career, illustrating how to leverage behavioral psychology to navigate negotiations in a manner that is both non-confrontational and effective, often leading to outcomes that meet or closely align with our objectives.

Dig deeper: How communication issues prevent you from getting buy-in for SEO

2. ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman

‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman

This an intriguing exploration of human cognition backed by decades of academic research. The late Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, published this classic book over a decade ago, yet it still applies today.

This book urges its readers to harness the power of deliberate, “slow” thinking amidst a fast-paced, “noisy” world. Kahneman introduced two distinct cognitive systems through this framework, guiding us in refining our decision-making skills.

For SEO professionals who operate in an ever-evolving and dynamic industry, adopting this nuanced understanding of thought processes can significantly enhance their strategic planning and execution. It can be easy to feel pressured into making decisions quickly. This book explains how you can change your decision-making process for the better.

3. ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

‘Rework’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson‘Rework’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

One of the most surprising reads in the list, no one would describe “Rework” as a cookie-cutter step-by-step guide. It stands out as a refreshingly unconventional business book that applies to business owners and employees alike. 

Eschewing the traditional step-by-step business guide format, the book encourages readers to fundamentally reassess their preconceived notions of success and business practice. It is full of actionable insights, challenging entrepreneurs and employees alike to rethink the essentials for success.

“Rework” is a valuable resource, providing practical wisdom that readers find themselves returning to repeatedly, irrespective of their role within a business. If you want to improve productivity and completely reassess how you currently work, this could be just the book for you.

Dig deeper: 10 things to eliminate from your life to be more productive at work

4. ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu

‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu

Here, Sun Tzu provides timeless strategic advice that extends well beyond the battlefield, finding relevance even in SEO tactics. 

As SEO professionals grapple with the ever-increasing competitive world of search engine rankings, they can apply Sun Tzu’s principles of knowing the enemy (competitors) and oneself to craft superior strategies. 

The book’s emphasis on planning and positioning can guide SEO professionals in executing proactive and reactive campaigns, ensuring adaptability.

Planning and strategy is often something that goes amiss, particularly with experienced SEO’s who can sometimes feel like they already know exactly what to do. This book will help show why putting strategic work upfront is so important to success.

Dig deeper: SEO strategy: 3 steps to strategic SEO planning

5. ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries

‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries

Eric Ries introduces methodologies that revolutionize how we understand business agility and growth, offering valuable lessons for SEO. 

By embracing the lean startup’s principles of “Build-Measure-Learn,” SEO professionals can implement a cycle of continuous improvement, testing and iterating on SEO strategies based on actual data. 

This approach can lead to more effective and efficient optimization efforts, with a focus on delivering results that genuinely enhance online visibility and performance.

Continually assessing and adjusting can make all the difference in an industry where minor changes can positively impact ranking positions and traffic.

Dig deeper: SEO testing: Shifting from reactive to proactive strategies

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6. ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg

‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg’s exploration into the science of habit formation in “The Power of Habit” provides profound insights into consumer behavior.

For SEO professionals, understanding how and why users form habits online can inform the development of content and SEO strategies that tap into these routine behaviors.

By crafting experiences that resonate with the habitual nature of their target audience, SEO efforts can achieve greater engagement and loyalty, driving sustained traffic and interaction with websites. 

Having a deep understanding of our audience can especially help when working on the end-to-end journey from initial exposure to a brand to making a purchase.

7. ‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely

‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely

In “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely uncovers the hidden forces that shape our decisions, offering a perspective that can drastically alter SEO strategy.

SEO professionals can leverage these insights to better understand the irrationality of search behaviors, helping to predict and cater to the seemingly illogical ways users interact with search engines and digital content.

This knowledge can refine keyword selection, content creation and user experience design, aligning them more closely with the real-world behaviors of online users.

One of the most important parts of keyword research is not understanding the overall volume of searches but the searches likely to result in the end goal. This book shows us why that isn’t always what we think it might be.

Dig deeper: How to make SEO and CRO more human with behavioral psychology

8. ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel H. Pink

‘Drive- The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel H. Pink‘Drive- The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel H. Pink

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all suffer from a lack of motivation from time to time. Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive” reveals what truly motivates us, challenging traditional beliefs about incentives.

Understanding these motivational drivers can be key in two ways for SEO professionals.

First, it will help us better understand the target market, enabling us to create content and strategies that motivate users to engage, share and convert.

By tapping into the intrinsic motivations that Pink discusses, such as autonomy, mastery and purpose, SEO efforts can be crafted to resonate deeply with audiences, leading to more effective and meaningful engagement.

Second, it lets us understand what motivates us and how to overcome those periods when we are struggling or to identify when to take a break away from work and come back refreshed.

9. ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath

‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath

“Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath investigates the qualities that make ideas memorable and impactful. SEO professionals can apply these principles to make content visible, resonant and enduring in the minds of their audience.

By understanding why some ideas survive while others fade, SEO strategies can be designed to ensure content is found and influential, enhancing immediate SEO performance and long-term brand recall.

Having the long term in mind when creating content is a valuable but often overlooked view in SEO, especially when we are under pressure to produce results. Yet, all the research shows us that older content tends to do better. So, if we can do both and create impactful content that “sticks’ we can aid SEO performance for years to come.

Dig deeper: How to create captivating, compelling and optimized content

10. ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell

‘Outliers- The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell‘Outliers- The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell

It’s difficult to choose just one book by Malcolm Gladwell as all of his work has something valuable to offer.

“Outliers” looks into the factors that contribute to high levels of success. It’s not always what you think, and the stories and research shared in this book can enlighten SEO professionals.

By examining the roles of culture, luck and the famed 10,000-hour rule for mastering skills, SEO experts can gain insights into the nature of success in their field.

This understanding can guide professionals in cultivating the persistence, context and continuous learning necessary to achieve and sustain peak performance in the competitive SEO world.

Dig deeper: 13 essential SEO skills you need to succeed

Break out of the SEO bubble and elevate your strategy

While the world of SEO is constantly evolving, stepping outside the marketing realm can provide invaluable insights and perspectives that elevate your approach. 

By expanding your knowledge horizons, you can enhance your SEO strategies, better understand your audience and ultimately drive more effective and impactful campaigns.

Embracing diverse sources of wisdom will make you a well-rounded SEO professional and equip you with the skills to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape with greater success.

Dig deeper: 12½ emotional ingredients for SEO success

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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