The two-decade (since 2001) SEO career story of Mark A Preston
SEO Trainer & Speaker
Mark A Preston is on a personal mission to help companies and agencies to increase revenue by improving processes and educating their marketing team.
Mark is achieving this by getting individuals to 'think' about SEO in a certain way and giving them the 'skillset' they need to be able to solve their challenges, progress their career forward, and help achieve their business goals.
Mark openly admits that he thinks a little differently when it comes to the world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) due to his background. It is this unique mindset that he now passes on to marketing teams, small business owners, and corporate brands through his coaching, mentorship and speaking.
Mark A Preston
Get to know the real Mark A Preston
Mark was born in July 1969 in the Lancashire town of Burnley. His parents (mother was an auxiliary nurse and his father was a long-distance lorry driver) were hard working and he was brought up in a loving environment despite not having any surplus money to splash around.
Mark wasn’t the brightest kid at school by any means. In fact, despite becoming a best-selling author some 35 years later, Mark was put into a remedial English class at school and was told that he wasn’t even good enough for the bottom set of English.
He left school in 1985 achieving six CSE qualifications and went to college full-time for two years studying City & Guilds Motor Vehicle Engineering (mechanic) then onto agricultural college to do a three-year City & Guilds Agricultural Engineering course part-time block release, where he achieved formal qualifications in both.
Mark then did his time working in car garages and working on agricultural and horticultural machinery where he learned the vital skills and mindset of – Diagnosis, Fixing, Testing which when you think about it is not too dissimilar to the world of digital marketing and SEO.
> Diagnosis = Problem solving
> Fixing = Implementing an SEO strategy
> Testing = Analysing the impact
It is this mechanic background and the ability to problem solve in a logical thinking way that would ensure Mark achieved great things within the SEO industry years later.
In 2001, due to his daughter having a severe heart condition, Mark was forced to leave the engineering industry to start his own business as he needed the flexibility to work from anywhere and be available to take his daughter to hospital appointments as and when required.
The lead generation business story
One day in a conversation with his brother-in-law, Mark was given something called web hosting space and was shown how to build basic HTML websites. Now this was the start of a new and very exciting chapter for Mark and his family as a business idea (generate leads and sell those leads to businesses who did those jobs) came to life.
There were only two things on Mark’s mind…
1. Earn enough money to pay all the bills.
2. Give his family a healthy and happy life.
With this in mind, Mark over a period of five years, built content driven lead generation style website after website (about 120 in total) in lots of different industries (from a flat-pack builders’ website to a luxury furniture restoration site, and everything in-between), constantly improving his website design/building and marketing skills.
During this period, Mark would test and test and test different ideas he had to drive quality organic visitors to all his websites. Some worked great and some fell flat. He would look at what everyone else was doing and do work out a way of doing something different and better.
Today, Mark has a saying that stems from his days running his lead generation business..
"If all you do is follow the crowd - you will only ever be as good as the crowd at very most. Being ‘as good as’ is just not good enough."
This saying has stuck with him in everything he did.
It actually wasn’t until around 2005 that Mark realised that what he was doing (getting web pages to rank high on the search engines for related words and phrases) was actually called ‘SEO’ as he stumbled upon the SEOmoz blog and started reading what Rand Fishkin was publishing.
Mark then started to find the world of SEO very interesting but realised that he was different than most other people who was doing SEO. Instead of the objective being to get web pages ranked in the search engines, Mark’s objectives were purely to drive as many quality leads as possible.
Now, in order to drive quality leads Mark had to make sure that the content on each page totally connected with the person reading those pages, giving them a want and a reason to fill the form in. He also thought that if he got his website mentioned on other websites that shared the same audience as his related websites did, then that would help to drive more targeted people to his site.
Let’s just say that Mark’s little one-person lead generation business gave his family a very good life. It gave Mark the new car, big house, great holidays and money in the bank.
It was also where Mark truly learned his SEO skills along with his logical thinking mechanic mindset.
Mark had been running his lucrative lead generation business for a number of years when he kept getting asked by other business owners if he could do for them what he was doing for himself. Mark then launched his first digital marketing and SEO service website up in late 2005 where he quickly learned to tweak his sales skills due to getting this new website to rank high for the term ‘SEO Services’.
The agency story
In 2006, Mark made a life changing decision to sell all his lead generation websites and ploughed all his own money into launching his first rapidly expanding agency and started to employ people after he secured a multiple six-figure contract not long after launching.
Mark soon found that he had a different way of training all his team as he explained the world of SEO and digital marketing in a logical thinking way that anyone could easily understand.
Due to an abundance of new clients into Mark’s agency, a second physical office was launched. Mark now had an office in Scotland and in England. Everything was flying until the Great Recession which started at the end of 2007 hit like a ton of bricks. Suddenly, a lot of Mark’s own clients could no longer afford the marketing investment as their customers were no longer spending.
At this time, Mark made a promise to all his team in both office locations that he would try everything within his power to get through these hard times until every last penny Mark owned had gone.
Times were very tough, and it didn’t help that one of his employees he was fighting to keep in a job, made a deal with Mark’s biggest client when their contract was up for renewal. Let’s just say that this big client indeed decided to terminate his working relationship with Mark’s agency and went with Mark’s (now former) employee as he quoted less than half what Mark’s agency were charging.
This was kind of the nail in the coffin for Mark, and as he promised, he was now in a position where he had lost all his savings, the nice house, and the new car. Mark and his family were totally flat broke trying to save everyone’s jobs.
The franchise story
After a very stressful time for Mark and his family, Mark dusted himself off and with the support of his loving family, Mark did what Mark does best.
He setup a desk in his bedroom and started to offer white label SEO services to digital marketing agencies within the UK. Mark built a website offering white label SEO services and, yes you guessed it, got it ranking in the No.1 spot for the phrase ‘white label SEO’ and all related phrases. Mark then reached out to a lot of agency directors to inform them that he was offering this service.
The inevitable then happened. It very quickly turned into a white label SEO agency. However, this time things would be very different. Mark had learned a hard lesson and would learn from all his mistakes that he made within his previous agency.
The big difference was that Mark had very little sales or marketing costs as his clients (the agencies) would be doing the selling and then just get Mark and his team to take care of the SEO side. Mark would keep all costs to a minimum and put profit as a top priority.
One day, Mark started to chat with a friend who was a franchise consultant. They both sat down in a restaurant and Mark explained what he was doing. This conversation sparked the idea of Mark turning his white label business into the white label digital marketing franchise.
Mark built an in-house team of digital marketers and trained them from the ground up, starting with the apprentices. Mark had put together a great career progression plan so every single person within his team knew exactly what they needed to do in order to progress to the next level.
The franchise bit came in as existing agency brands would join Mark’s white label digital marketing franchise under their existing brand name. These agencies would take care of all pre-sales with the help and guidance from Mark’s training plan and Mark’s in-house team would take care of the after-sales. It was a win-win scenario for both parties that would provide a cost effective way to grow and streamline everything.
Mark grew his white label franchise business to around fifty active (although there were many inactive franchisees).
At this stage, Mark’s role within the business was devoted to bringing new franchisees on board and training both the franchisees and his in-house team through the training programs he had personal created.
It was like Mark had built himself a solid National sales team which he did not have to pay. The only downside was, what made the business successful also meant that Mark got ZERO recognition for the hard work himself and his in-house team were achieving.
Remember, that Mark was also servicing other agencies with his white label SEO services outside of his own white label franchisees, some of which had large brand names on their books.
One day Mark was looking through a national newspaper and one of his white label franchisees were holding up an award they had won at a well-known search award in recognition for a campaign Mark and his in-house team had achieved.
Mark thought of himself as the biggest unknown SEO specialist where everyone else were taking all the credit so the thought of launching his own personal brand seemed very appealing.
At this time, Mark had already been approached with offers to buy his white label franchise business and sold all his shares.
The deciding what to do story
In this period of Mark’s SEO career, he was trying to work out what the next thing for him was. All he was sure of is that he never wanted to launch another agency again.
Mark took on a three-month contract within a digital marketing agency as Head of SEO to help them streamline their processes and help them build up a solid in-house SEO team. It was quite a very strange experience for Mark and allowed him to see agency life as an employee which opened his eyes to many factors.
Mark also did a stint as a freelance SEO consultant, helping established businesses to get from where they are now to where they need (or want) to be. He would be constantly at full capacity even though he charged a premium compared to other SEO freelancers but was determined that he would not take anyone else on.
Then a lightbulb moment happened for Mark!
The SEO training story
Mark has always had a real passion for training people when it came to the world of digital marketing, especially SEO. He found that he had a way of taking the scary and complex and communicating that into a language anyone could understand.
One day, an agency director contacted Mark via LinkedIn and asked him if he would come into their agency and provide a two-day SEO training session for their in-house team. Those two days were amazing, and mark saw first-hand the positive impact he could make through educating people when it came to SEO.
Mark then knew what he was meant to do. His purpose from that moment on was to create long-lasting positive impact through educating people on SEO.
Mark then re-branded himself as an SEO trainer and very quickly due to his extensive background and understanding of the SEO industry, started to confirm a constant flow of SEO training gigs to both digital marketing agency teams and in-house marketing teams.
Mark was travelling all over the UK providing SEO training and one day he arrived at the HQ of a global brand to provide a bespoke two-day SEO training session and sat in front of him were the Head of Marketing from twelve different Countries from around the world, all been flown in just for Marks training. Let’s just say that Mark blew them all away.
From that moment on, Mark knew for sure that educating people and making a real difference would be the thing he would be known for.
The in-house Head of SEO story
Mark was now (mid 2017) approaching the big 50 and it was playing on his mind about his goal to semi-retire on the 1st July 2025 and having enough money to enable him to do that.
Then something out of the ordinary happened.
Mark went into the UK’s largest group of independent opticians (a rapidly expanding group) to deliver a bespoke Q&A style training day to their Head of Digital and their Digital Marketing Executive. At this time, the Group were outsourcing all of their website builds, SEO and digital marketing to an external agency but had a goal of bringing everything in-house.
Mark found the journey the Group were going on fascinating and left at the end of the day knowing the two individuals were in a better mindset and understood what they needed to do.
About a week later, I was invited back into the Group for a chat with the Head of Digital and the CEO of the group as they wanted to discuss an opportunity with me. I arrived and sat down with a curious mind.
It turned out that they wanted Mark to help them on a more long-term permanent basis with:
1. Help to build an in-house digital marketing team.
2. Help to bring all the digital assets and digital marketing of the group in-house away from the external agency.
3. To train and mentor the in-house digital team.
4. To help streamline processes for rapid growth.
5. To ensure the online presence of each one of their local optical brands (all independent brands) were outperforming the large optical chains.
Mark saw this as a challenge and something exciting that he could get his teeth stuck into. However, Mark didn’t want his personal brand to fade away. He still very much-loved training and mentoring small business owners, in-house marketing teams, and agency teams.
After some negotiation on the package, a deal was struck between Mark and the CEO where Mark agreed to come into the business under the title of Head of SEO (to keep his SEO status) but still have the flexibility to promote his personal brand and deliver SEO training outside of the group (as long as there was no conflict of interest).
As the CEO of the group loved to see the entrepreneurial spirit in people, he agreed and Mark now had the security of a great monthly salary along with a shares package, but also had the flexibility to still do what he loves to do, which is educating people on SEO.
Mark saw this as a win-win scenario and officially joined the group under the title Head of SEO. A move that allowed him to build great contacts within the professional speaker world further on at the group’s corporate events.
The author story
On his quest to educate people and to help build his own personal brand up, Mark started to write for some of the top search publications giving his own specific take on the mindset of SEO ensuring people would think about SEO in the right way when it came to the world of SEO.
He then got asked to become a monthly columnist within a local business newspaper where their readers would email in with their questions and Mark would answer their SEO and digital marketing related questions within his monthly column.
Mark started to realise that he had quite a different style of writing and thinking than most other people within the industry and one day decided to write an article with a difference.
Instead of writing an article about SEO techniques, Mark wanted to write an article relating to the business side of SEO which was spurred on by the many questions he had received from SEO professionals who had given their jobs up to start their own SEO agency or freelance business, only to find that things were not as they expected.
Mark then posted message within one of the world’s top SEO groups on Facebook (White Hat SEO) and asked if anyone had any questions, they wanted answering regarding the business side of SEO. Let’s just say that Mark was shocked at the ‘need’ of such and article.
Mark sat down one day and started to plan out this article ensuring he answered all the questions he had been asked. Let’s just say that Mark got a little carried away writing this article and ended up writing 13,998 words of pure lead generation and sales actionable gold, including Mark’s personal experiences, both the good and the challenging of running his own agency and how he solved all his challenges to allow him to expand and grow.
So, this article which originally was only meant to be around 2,000 words at most, turned into a 14K monster. It was far too long to be just an article, so Mark parked it aside until he worked out what to do with it.
A couple of weeks later, Mark was sat in his car waiting to go into a large brand to train their in-house team when his mobile rang and when he answered, it was a book publisher who Mark already knew. The book publisher actually called Mark to ask him if he could do an SEO training session for a group of his authors.
Talk about fate.
They say in life that things just happen if they are meant to be. Well, this was one of those moments for Mark.
After confirming the training gig, Mark mentioned that he had written this very long article and explained what it was about. The book publisher immediately turned around and said… “That would make a fantastic book.”
The book publisher (Matt Kinsella) agreed to work with Mark to turn his very long article into a real book.
In September 2017, The Business Side of SEO book was officially launched on Amazon and within just 24 hours became best-seller in both the UK and USA within three categories due to the joint promotion of both the book publishing company and Mark himself.
If you remember at the start of this biography, Mark wasn’t even good enough for the bottom set of English at school, so when his very own book landed on his doorstep and he held it in his hands and flicked through the pages, Mark will tell you, that very moment was the best feeling ever. A feeling that just got stronger when his very own book became a best-seller.
Ever since Mark’s book first launched, Mark said he has made multiple sales of his book every single month since it was first launched. Mark put this long-term book sales success down to writing a book that had no timescale attached to it. Unlike most other SEO books which are heavily focused on techniques, those techniques would go out of date. Mark had written a book that would be very much impactful in many years to come.
Unknown to Mark, this very moment in his professional career would be one of the most impactful moments, as Mark soon realised that becoming an Author would not only boost his credibility, but also open so many doors for him.
The professional speaking story
At this point in Mark’s career, he had spoken to small audiences (less than 100 people) at business networking groups and business expos on the subject of SEO, but never got paid to speak as it was just Mark’s way of building up his personal brand and another lead generation magnet.
One day Mark received a phone call from the CEO of an online brand who had purchased and read Mark’s book and was interested in Mark speaking at two of his corporate events. One in London and one in Manchester. He offered Mark a four-figure sum to speak at both his events, which Mark accepted. This was Mark’s first official professional speaking gig.
Mark sat there at the side of the stage in front of a crowd of around 700 people and described that moment as… “feeling very nervous”. He was introduced and Mark described those nerves floating away three words into his presentation and relaxed right into delivering his talk.
Since that moment, Mark knew he could bring his varied style of SEO mindset education onto stages around the world. That is exactly what happened with the help of getting his personal brand website ranking number one on Google for the search term ‘SEO Speaker’.
Mark describes one of his very best professional speaking moments, sat in the green room with a TV presenter, a famous comedian, a TV programme host, an Olympic gold medallist, and a host of top professional speakers within the digital world. He described that very moment sat in the green room looking around thinking to himself… “How did I get here?”
From that moment on, Mark started to perfect his professional speaking career by attending (thanks to a large corporate brand he was working with) talks and workshops by some of the world’s top professional speakers. Mark would study their stage presence and the way they delivered their talks. He would also sit down with them at the end of the day and ask a few questions, gain tips and advice.
Like many things within Mark’s career, something just happened. One of these top world class professional speakers took Mark under their wing and became his personal speaker mentor, helping him to secure better quality paid speaking gigs at a higher price, as well as introducing him to speaker bureau owners.
Listening to all the advice, Mark set about putting everything together and event organiser (booker) would need to know in order to want to book him.
The events story
In order to fully understand every aspect of the events world, Mark wanted to dig deep into understanding what challenges event organisers have when putting on an event.
With this in mind, Mark decided to launch his own local monthly in-person digital marketing event.
He made a list of everything that needed to happen in order for his event to be successful and very soon realised the catch-22 scenario of creating an event.
> In order for people to ‘want’ to book on the event, he needed quality respected speakers.
> In order to get the respected speakers to want to speak at his event, he needed to make sure that he had the sponsorship capital to make the event great.
> In order to secure the sponsorship capital, potential sponsors wanted to know audience sizes and their potential ROI.
Not to be beaten, Mark contacted a few of his digital marketing speaker friends (as Mark was well-connected due to his extensive career within the industry) and basically asked them for a favour to speak at his local (Lancashire based) digital marketing event.
Mark now had secured his speakers for the first three monthly events. Now he needed to secure sponsorship. Luckily for Mark, he had been helping an online SEO ranking tool (RankWatch) with feedback over a number of years to help improve their platform. The CEO of this SEO tool was only too glad to return the favour and sponsor Mark’s event.
Next came, securing a venue that was cool and had some character to make his audience feel relaxed. Mark contacted a few people he knew within the local business world and managed to secure the perfect venue. Better still, Mark made a deal with the venue owner that if they allowed the use of their great function room along with a staffed bar at zero cost, Mark would fill the room up with people who was going to buy drinks.
Now, the missing piece of the puzzle was to make sure he filled the room up with people who wanted to attend.
Mark did what Mark does best and he used his own marketing skills to promote his own local digital marketing event. He crafted a press release, announcing the launch of his new digital marketing event to help digital marketers who worked on ground level. The difference with Mark’s event was that there was strictly no selling. It was NOT a business networking event.
The local media liked this approach and three local news publications released Mark’s press release to their audiences. Mark also backed the PR up with doing some of his own promotion via LinkedIn and over the space of two weeks all of his 150 tickets had been sold.
At this stage, Mark hadn’t even used any of the sponsorship money, so he decided to use some of it to put a really good buffet style spread on so his audience could come straight from work (as mark’s event were hosted between 6:30pm and 9pm). The remaining sponsorship budget of his launch event was invested into a projector screen and a quality projector.
After a few challenges, the day had arrived and Mark arrived at the venue early to set up just hoping that people would turn up. Much to Mark’s happiness, the launch event was a massive success and out of the 150 people who purchased a ticket, 132 attended. The room was packed, everyone was enjoying the food, chatting with each other and learning something new from the three speakers.
At the end of the event when everyone had left, Mark gained a new respect for event organisers and understood the many challenges they faced which he would now know when event organisers approached him to speak at their event or conference.
The lockdown story
When lockdown hit the UK, suddenly what seemed like overnight, every trainer and speaker’s diary suddenly emptied with cancelled booking after cancelled booking due to the uncertainty of Covid-19.
Luckily for Mark, it wasn’t as challenging as most other trainers and speakers as he had a continuous monthly residual income coming in from his advisory positions within companies he was helping. These companies needed Mark’s experience and expertise more than ever to help them steer through the uncertain path ahead of them. Plus, Mark already had a stream of monthly online training sessions with US based companies when lockdown hit, so he was already setup and servicing the online training world.
It did however mean the death of Mark’s in-person events. Not to be beaten, Mark launched an online digital marketing events brand (Talk About Digital) which meant that suddenly the world opened up to him and the fantastic digital marketing speakers from all over the world wanted to speak at Mark’s online event. Although, slightly streamlined now, Talk About Digital is still live today as a fantastic educational resource to marketers who work on ground level.
The future of Mark’s story
As a business growth (SEO) trainer, advisor and speaker, Mark will continue creating long-lasting positive impact by getting marketing teams to 'think' about SEO in a certain way and giving them the ‘skillset’ they need to help grow the business(es) they work on!
Educating people about the world of SEO is in Mark’s DNA. It is his passion.
Mark does also have to think about his MASSIVE goal of semi-retiring on the 1st July 2025. In order to achieve this, Mark also has shares in a few different companies who he is the SEO advisor for, which will help to enable him to achieve his personal goal.
In short, Mark will use all his personal experiences described above to help others.