The electroweak phase transition is investigated by means of the pertubatively calculated high temperature effective potential. An analytic result to order g4, λ2 is presented for the Abelian Higgs model, the SU(2)-Higgs model and the standard model and a complete on-shell renormalization at zero temperature is performed. Higher order corrections are found to increase the strength of the first order phase transition in the non-Abelian model, opposite to the Abelian case. This effect is traced back to the infrared contributions from the typical non-Abelian diagrams. The dependence of several phase transition parameters on the Higgs mass is analyzed in detail. A new, gauge invariant, approach based on the composite field Φ†Φ is introduced. This method, which supports the above Landau gauge results numerically, permits a conceptually simpler treatment of the thermodynamics of the phase transition. In particular, it enables a straightforward comparison with lattice data and the application of the Clausius-Clapeyron equation to the electroweak phase transition.