Not everyone who designs Web pages is an expert. That's where this book (and others in the "Missing Manual" series) comes to the rescue. When you need to know where to start with CSS -- literally at the ground level -- this is a great volume for you. It helps you understand all the essentials about CSS from elements to selectors and everything in between through well-arranged and detailed definitions, tutorials, hand-holding, work-arounds and more.
Although this book focuses primarily on existing CSS 2.1 standards, it also gently introduces the reader to the world of CSS 3, which is still very much under development. That means that while you are learning about using the CSS 2 code that's active now, you can already be looking ahead to the innovations that are coming with CSS 3. In other words, you can get ahead of the curve even as the curves are being put in place.
Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design by Dan Cederholm with Ethan Marcotte (New Riders, Aug. 2009, $40)
Learning how to use the available Web design tools out there is a great start to Web site creation. In this book, you dive in deeper, learning how to use CSS and HTML to hand-craft your pages to differentiate them from others.
My favorite aspect of this book is that it's written with the bright future of CSS in mind. Those still-nascent CSS 3 standards? This book dives right into them, explaining how you can build Web pages using that emerging CSS 3 code even if it's not fully recognized by the latest browsers.
The book calls this "future-proofing" your code, which I think is brilliant: By using CSS 3 tools as they appear now, you won't have to go back and change your code later to conform to future CSS 3 standards. You'll already have them in place. That's just smart design.
The book, which assumes you have a good foundation with CSS and HTML already, uses a case study for a fictional business to illustrate its CSS lessons and at each step shows you how your actions affect the pages you are building. I like that the book doesn't try to teach too much too quickly. Each lesson is explained, demonstrated and set up to prepare you for the next one, giving you plenty of time to absorb what you just saw and learned.
The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization by Eric Enge, Stephen Spencer, Rand Fishkin & Jessie C. Stricchiola (O'Reilly Books, Oct. 2009, $45)
If your Web site is up but no one can find it out there in the vastness of the Internet, it really doesn't matter how beautiful, useful or fabulous it is. Once you build it, you have to help your visitors find it easily using a search engine.