The RANKABLE Podcast


FEATURING Mark A Preston

In episode 98, Mark A Preston joins the show to give out some valuable tips and tricks for all of you in-house SEOs hoping to get buy-in from the C-Suite at your organization.

Mark shares thoughts on how you can identify where your SEO team may be able to provide value to other departments within the business and what red flags you’ll want to avoid.

We also discuss how you can capture quick wins that will make C-level execs smile and open the door for new opportunities.

Episode Time Stamps

  • [0:00] Intro

  • [1:30] Making a Difference in SEO

  • [2:53] The Barriers to Entry in SEO

  • [4:03] Advice for New SEOs

  • [6:07] The Business of SEO

  • [8:04] The Larger Perception of SEO

  • [10:10] Before You Go After The Budget

  • [12:25] Red Flags to Avoid

  • [14:07] Identify Where You Can Provide Value

  • [16:55] How to Get Quick Wins

  • [19:55] Revisit Your Resources

  • [22:20] Rapid Fire Rankings 🔥

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This Week's guests

Mark A Preston

Title: SEO Trainer, Speaker & Advisor

Bio: Mark A Preston is a straight-talking SEO trainer, speaker & advisor. Mark is also the author of ‘The Business Side of SEO’. Mark is on a personal mission to give the marketing industry a business development focused SEO mindset along with the SEO skills and knowledge to enable marketing individuals to do their jobs better. Mark has been working within the digital marketing and SEO industry since 2001 and has trained hundreds of professional marketers and has educated thousands of people about various SEO techniques through speaking on stages around the world at both digital marketing conferences and corporate events.

Podcast References:


Rank your top anything: 

  • Family (they are my why)
  • Making a difference
  • F1

Rank your best SEO marketing win:

I once had 7 (not No.7 but seven websites) out of the top 10 positions for the term ‘Business Opportunities’ and all related phrases.

Rank your top 3 SEO tools: 

Rank your best SEO trick or tactic:

The trick is, there is no trick. The tactic is thinking the right way about what you’re doing. 

Rank what you love most about SEO as an industry:

It has real potential to make real differences to real lives.

Rank your best SEO learning resource:

Just talking to people about scenarios.

Rank the top 1-3 SEOs or Marketers that you most look up to: 

I find some really good conversations with people you may not have even heard of online. That’s the key.

Rank your number one cause/charity that you want to promote:

I just want people to be more respectful of each other in the industry.

Host: Garrett Sussman

Title: Demand Generation Manager

Garrett loves SEO like the 90s loves slap bracelets.

Each week he interviews the most interesting people in the world (of SEO). When he’s not crafting content, he’s scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

Get insights, stories, and strategies from a range of practitioners and executives leading the charge in SEO.

Enjoy this podcast? Check out Garrett’s video show round-up of everything search engine optimization: The SEO Weekly

Garrett Sussman: Hey, welcome back to another episode of the Rankable podcast. My name is Garrett Sussman. I’m the demand generation manager at iPullRank. And I’m excited today because we’re talking about one of the most important aspects of SEO, and this is that high level business of SEO topic, that conversation that you’re having between the C-suite, between the directors of SEO, all the way down to those who are executing. And I’m joined by someone who’s been in the industry for 20 plus years. He’s seen it all in-house, agency, consulting, working with corporate. He gives speeches. I’m joined today by Mark Preston. Mark is an SEO trainer, speaker, and advisor. He’s a straight-talking SEO trainer. He wrote actually the book, The Business Side of SEO, and he’s been doing this since 2001. Thanks for joining me today, Mark. How are you doing?

Mark Preston: Great. Thanks. Thanks for inviting me.

Garrett Sussman: Yeah. So it’s funny, just before we started this, you and I were talking about some of your goals for the industry. I’ve been following you on Twitter and I always see you engage with the community and just you’re always there to help. You lift people up, you educate, you shoot it straight. What is your perspective on the SEO industry and what role do you want to play at this point after being in it for 20 years?

Mark Preston: Well, I think the SEO industry is very mixed. There’s a lot of different sides to SEO and I just want to make a difference, but not just to SEO, but to people, actual people that work in the industry. I want to make a difference to their lives. I want to be there to talk to them and if they’re going through a bad time, I just feel as though that a lot of people in the industry are too scared to openly discuss issues with the app. So, I have lots of conversations privately and messages and everything. So for me, it’s more about just helping people in the industry, making the industry a better place to work in.

Garrett Sussman: Do you… And I agree with that. I feel like you can see there is a community side of SEO, especially on some of these social platforms that is growing. And then there is the other side. What do you think those barriers are in those conversations that you’re having with people? What is putting people off and how do we change it?

Mark Preston: Well, it’s mainly people that are not recognized names. They don’t want to openly discuss things online in case they are made to feel stupid. And that is honesty, that is the key. And so many people have said that to me because what they see online often is not respectful conversations. There is some… An audience that stamps on people, well, why don’t you know that? So what it is, they turn into these people who just don’t talk, they just watch. And then they’ll private message me and we’ll have a really honest, deep conversation because they don’t want to be made to feel stupid.

Garrett Sussman: What do you recommend? Do you recommend them to just tune out certain sections of social, certain people, certain events? Or do you tell them to like… Do you recommend to kind of acknowledge it, see it, but also not allow it to dissuade you to kind of not feed the trolls, if you will?

Mark Preston: No, I mean, there’s respectful conversations where people say, “Okay, well, it’s okay, you don’t agree with me, but please could you explain why?” And you’ll have a respectful conversation. Now, then there’s blatant abuse. And the thing is, it’s looking at what’s out there, but not taking it to heart. You know, it’s just… That’s to block out negativity, not to block out people, but block out negativity and focus on the positives that’s out there. I mean, just as an instance, we’re at 2017 when I moved my own personal website from WordPress to Wix and did a big case study and Rand Fishkin shared it back then. And let’s just say I understand what abuse means. Oh, God, I can imagine that was brutal. That must have been very trying. Yeah, it wasn’t pleasant. It was brutal. I mean, beyond brutal. Obviously, I probably was the first SEO to do that and mention Wix in a positive light back then. And literally, so I understand what brutality means online. Yeah, it’s been fascinating watching their whole brand kind of rebuild their reputation. They’re doing a great job over there.

Garrett Sussman: So you wrote this book, The Business of SEO, which I’m very curious about, because obviously with SEO, a lot of the fundamentals are still the same, whether you’re talking technical or on page, but Google is changing. How has the business of SEO, in your opinion, changed over the last five years?

Mark Preston: The truth is it hasn’t. The truth is people’s perception of SEO is changing, is the business side of SEO is fundamentally the same. You still have the same challenges. You still have the same ways of generating new clients. You still have the ways of generating new business. You still have the same ways of talking to C-level and board level about challenges. But obviously, the industry itself progresses. You have to progress with it. So what does that mean? It means that you need to understand what’s happening now and the future in the industry. I’m not going to rant on about AI and all that, but it’s here. It’s the future. You have to understand it. From the business side, you have to understand how that fits into the ecosystem of the business and the challenges that that business is going to face. So when it comes to that, and then you take into consideration the economic challenges that are currently happening right now, there are certain uncertainties.

Garrett Sussman: How do you think… And you mentioned that the perception of SEO is changing. Through your conversations with various CMOs, CEOs, C-suite, what is the common perception of SEO, at least at the larger corporate level, at bigger organizations? Are you seeing any sort of themes or any real changes when it comes to understanding the value of the marketing channel?

Mark Preston: I am not seeing massive changes. There’s always been two sides. Either C-suite that don’t really understand the value and all you’re doing is battling, trying to get the budget, trying to make them understand the value. Then you’ve got the other side where, yes, we’ve got all this money. Let’s make it happen. A lot of it is education, but the missing link is so many head of SEOs try and go into the board level educating without results. They’re trying to educate without proving traction, without proving tracking. So they’ll say, well, we need all this money and we’re going to do all these fancy things and we probably want to achieve this. Well, okay, why not go in and say, look, can we have a tester budget to try something out? And I’ll come back to you with the evidence that, yes, it’s worth investing more money into the part and that’s how you overcome those sorts of challenges.

Garrett Sussman: So if you are the head of SEO at an organization and at this point, you don’t have really a voice at the table, the most important thing I’d imagine is getting your shop in order where you have all of your processes and you have your strategy and you’re focusing on things that will actually drive revenue and then taking that to the C-suite. What do you recommend to SEO teams that are kind of either starting from scratch or they really need to rebuild the way they do things in order to get accomplished those tests, those initial projects to get the bigger budget?

Mark Preston: It’s really taking a step back and understanding that business model. It’s understanding the history of that business. What’s gone to where they are now? Have they historically used an agency and want to move it in-house? You have to understand the fundamentals of that business structure. You have to understand, well, what is the objective? So obviously you get goals thrown here, there and everywhere, but what’s important to that business? Now, why do they do what they’re doing? And I think a lot of it is these teams get put in a situation and they’re just too focused on data. They’re not understanding what the challenges are. Like if I get recruited to head of SEO in a big organization, the first thing I want to do is sit down with the CFO. And what are you asking? You’ll build a good rapport with the guy that controls the money. I want to understand the challenges in that business. I want to understand the challenges, not just from an SEO perspective, but from a whole business perspective. I want to sit down with the various departments. Then from that, you can understand the challenges and what focus you need to solve. Because if there’s lots of problems within an organization that need fixing, well, maybe you need to help them fix that before you can do your bit.

Garrett Sussman: What are some of those types of situations, environments that you’ve seen? Is there a point at which, are there red flags, if you will, where you’re like, okay, this is too insurmountable for an SEO versus ones where you see those cracks of where you can really make a difference internally in an org?

Mark Preston: Well, I’ll give you an example. So maybe you know the value you can bring. You know that you can get from here right up here. You know the path. But the HR team are really struggling to recruit people. So you can’t actually service new customers. So what you have to then do is rather than having the focus on driving new customers in, you have to change your focus on helping the HR team get more exposure online to recruit people and get CVs in. And that’s the sort of scenario, one scenario of many, where the SEO team can help. You know, it’s about understanding the challenges, but saying, well, how can I help them make a difference? Because until they solve their bit and get people within the business to service more and more customers, all I’m going to do is create a massive headache for this CEO.

Garrett Sussman: Right. No, and that makes so much sense. Whether it’s like HR, whether it’s like the advertising PPC department, or even just engineering, we’re trying to identify ways to help them in mutually beneficial projects that ultimately get you that much closer to your point, removing headaches for the C-suite where across the board, wherever they are.

Mark Preston: Yeah, yeah, it is. It’s really understanding and going into a business and not being afraid to talk to people. Yeah, you know, yeah. Not being afraid to just say, “Oh, you’re to the CEO. Have you got 10 minutes? Can we just sit down and chat?” You know, it’s not being afraid, it’s understanding. And it’s not going in like a bull in a china shop saying, “Oh, I’m this big name and I’m this and I’m that and I can get you from this to this and all that.” Forget that. You go in as though you know absolutely nothing about that business. Right? Because perception kills everything.

Garrett Sussman: Yeah. Because everybody has a perception of a brand or a company or a business they’re not involved in. Well, you need to go in there, removing that perception to get a clear understanding of what actually is happening. Because marketing teams, their job is, PR teams, their job is to build a perception of that business that they want you to think about. It might not be the real challenges.

Mark Preston: Yeah, no, I mean, that brings us back to what makes me think about Wix, where it’s like, you know, they had this perception for the longest time and it was a real challenge of whether or not it was a good product for SEO. And then I can imagine with all the investment in building out the product to continue to make it better for SEO, then there was the process of changing that perception where the product matches the general brand. And now I feel like more and more people are using the product. Now I can imagine that is going to be a challenge, the bigger the organization. There are different levels, especially depending on where you’re at.

Garrett Sussman: Do you think that CMOs… So like CMOs specifically, has their perception of SEO change, especially with the, you know, what we were talking about, a lot of it takes time, right? And one common thing you hear in the world of CMOs is they don’t have time. So how do you balance kind of the hourglass running out of sand sooner than you want and needing to get like actual wins versus the reality that some of these transformational changes don’t happen overnight?

Mark Preston: Quick wins. That is the answer. Quick wins. It’s about going into this with the CMO and saying, okay, before we start on this 12-month, two-year trajectory, let’s see what we already have. Let’s work together on making the audience we already have better. Let’s work on our existing estate rather than pumping money into producing new things. Let’s tweak what we already have and make it work better for us. Let’s improve the quality of the visitors we get. Yes, we might reduce the overall number of visitors, but the quality of those visitors will improve. Now, it’s better to improve the quality of those visitors and the conversion rate. And if you as an SEO help within the first three, six months to do that, I mean, and the CFO can see money rolling in because you’ve tweaked it and the conversion rate has gone from 2% to 5% to whatever it is, I mean, they’re going to love you. Instance, then you can then go in and they’ll give you whatever you need because you’ve built, you’ve done the quick wins, you’ve proved and I find a lot of people in SEO team, they go in immediately trying to build more and more. They go in and say, build more and more, let’s write all this content, let’s do digital PR, let’s go out there, let’s do all this and that. But then you look at what they already have and well, all they’re doing is driving an audience they’re not really targeting. As an example, I work with a big brand and when I went in and looked at everything from a perspective point of view, only 3.2% of all the traffic was their target audience, people who were genuinely going to be interested in purchasing their product or service. These are the sorts of things that you can do initially to actually solve that issue.

Garrett Sussman: I think to that point, to tie it back to the economic environment that we’re in, a lot of businesses as opposed to finding reasons to spend more money do tighten up in general and it’s the most successful, I feel like organizations in a time of an economic drawback is to find efficiencies and find improvements internally with what you already have. Whether you’re new to an organization or you’ve been there for a while, there’s never been a better case to probably revisit your existing resources and just make them better, to your point.

Mark Preston: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of streamlining that can be done within many organizations and many teams. I think over the past few years and the increase in the industry and everything and everyone and anyone were just taking people on and because the job market was so vast and opportunities were out there, people were often being offered silly money for doing the role they’re in. I find then now we’re suddenly in an economic challenging time and you think, oh dear, right? Well, yes. Well, who are our customers? We are selling Prada handbags here and is our audience going to change or whatever it is. I was looking at that, but it’s about streamlining things, making efficiencies within the processes you’ve got. I’m not talking about streamlining and sacking everybody. Although that’s happening. Which is going on obviously in the industry, but that’s happening because they haven’t thought about the future, they haven’t thought about streamlining things. All they’ve done is thought, well, we’ve got more and more people to service. Let’s just bring people in, chuck money at them, let’s get them through the door without initially helping to streamline these processes along the way.

Garrett Sussman: Yeah, you see it so much in you see it so much in big tech or just in times of economic growth, that that’s the whole thought process, especially in VCs, it’s like growth, growth, growth. Sometimes you really just are shooting yourself in the foot by trying to get too big too fast. Then to your point, it’s like you’re not actually addressing an audience that cares about your product. Mark, this is such great stuff. I feel like I could talk to you for a while about so many things, let alone the business of SEO, but I want to dive into our rapid fire rankings.

Aaron Johnson

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