Niche Surfer is now Digital Surfer!

James Brockbank
James Brockbank - Family Vacation Guide Logo

James Brockbank


United Kingdom


“I’m a big believer that you learn way more by getting your hands dirty and actually doing rather than reading or watching videos (although these can absolutely give you the basics).”

published: August 20, 2022

The Interview

1. Where do you live?

I’m based in the UK.

2. When did you start creating content?

I’ve been creating content in one way or another as long as I can remember.

I built my first website when I was 12 or 13, using tables in Dreamweaver and a free hosting plan. Looking back, this is when I started getting a buzz for publishing online.

As I began working in an agency, and later launching my own, I’ve been creating content for clients and myself (writing for places like Search Engine Journal) for the last 10 or 11 years.

But in terms of a content site; I launched my first proper site just last year, in August 2021. I’ve spent so long working on client projects, I’d never got round to launching something for myself.

But that’s now changed and there’s no going back.

3. Are you a full-time Creator?

No. I own and run an SEO and digital PR agency as my main business, building a portfolio of content sites with some of the team as a mixed side-project and training project for others.

4. What was the “Click” that made you decide you can make full-time money online?

I’ve been working in SEO for 13 or 14 years, and running my own agency for almost 9 of these.

By 2021, I was doing less and less SEO and more and more managing people and teams.

I’m an SEO at heart, and it’s what I love spending my time doing the most.

So I figured I’d invest some time and resources, alongside some of the agency team, into growing our first site.

12 months later and we’re doing more than 400k hits per month and growing, with an all-time-high in both traffic and revenue pretty much every month.

Right now, I’ve no desire to be a full-time creator; but having my own project(s) to balance alongside client work and growing the agency suits me perfectly. It keeps me ‘doing’ which I love, gives me a way to train some of the team in a hands-on way and drives recurring revenue.

What’s not to love?

5. How many niche sites or online businesses have you created?

Niche sites – 3. Agency – 1.

6. How many are you still running now?

I’m still running all of these at the moment. The agency takes up approximately 80% of my working week right now, with the other 20% spread across planning growth and strategy for the portfolio of content sites and working with the team who are on this project.

7. Have you sold any sites or online businesses? And what was the ROI like?

No, I’ve not sold any yet and right now, I have no plans to do so.

I’m in heavy growth mode on our main site, and the two smaller sites are growing at a reasonable pace, despite a much lower investment in terms of time or resources.

I’ve got a 12 month roadmap planned out for all of the portfolio, including launching a few more assets from scratch. This roadmap doesn’t feature selling any of the sites at least in the next 12 months – we’re in a lucky position to be able to reinvest 100% of the revenue earned from the site(s) each month at the moment, meaning we’re in able to continue to accelerate growth and benefit in the long-run from the revenue.

8. How many sites or online businesses have failed or not gotten going?

None – I came into growing content sites from a 14 year SEO background. Why I’d never launched a project like this of my own before, I’ve still no idea. But I grow other people’s businesses via the agency full time; it made sense to build my own assets. I’m a big believer that investing heavily into the growth of the portfolio isn’t too much of a risk with the experience I’ve got and the exposure to 50+ client sites across the agency to see what’s working and what isn’t across different industries.

9. How much are you earning each month?

  • $10,001 – $50,000

10. What are your current streams of revenue?

  • Affiliate Sales
  • Display Ads

11. What are your Top 3 on-page SEO strategies?

1. Publishing Velocity

We publish between 150k and 200k words on The Family Vacation Guide each month, sometimes more. There’s a direct correlation, in my experience, between the velocity of (high quality) content and growth. But when you think about it, it makes total sense; you won’t rank for a keyword until you’ve got relevant content. So the sooner you can launch that content, the sooner you’ll rank and see the traffic come in.

Content velocity can be your competitive advantage, so use it.

2. Scalable Keyword Types

We’re constantly looking for keyword types that can scale.

For example:

“The Best [X] in [Y]” also becomes “The Best [X] in [Z]”

This can work across both commercially-focused keywords and informational and is really all about spotting trends. This can make it really easy to quickly scale keyword research and the creation of content briefs, whilst also helping to build topical authority.

Get good at spotting these trends and you’ll quickly identify hundreds of untapped keywords for your site.

3. Internal Linking

This is one tactic which, in my opinion, is NEVER a waste of time, so long as you have a strategy in place.

Focus your efforts on adding internal links to relevant content that point to pages that have keywords ranked in page 2 or lower page 1 positions and you’ll almost always see wins.

I’m not disclosing my full internal linking strategy, but let’s just say it pays to understand in detail how PageRank works to be able to leverage this properly. Most people don’t; so go read the patent(s), understand them and build your strategy around this.

As well, of course, as remembering that links are there to be clicked, so always consider your user’s experience when building internal links. Don’t send a user to a page where they’ll give a WTF reaction as it wasn’t where they expected to be taken to; usually this means you’ve linked to a page that’s not relevant. Focus on relevancy at all times and ask yourself how the link you’re adding adds value or depth to the content you’re taking someone away from.

12. What’s the biggest issue(s) that you’re facing today?


We’ve got a solid roadmap and strategy in place, but there’s always that want to go faster when you know what’s going to drive growth.

I’m using the exact same processes that we use across our client base at Digitaloft, but the portfolio is still not a full-time project for anyone. There’s multiple people working on it, and we’re using a mix of freelancers and content agencies to produce a lot of the content, but we edit and optimise EVERYTHING in-house. It’s how we’re able to maintain quality and focus and deliver against our strategy.

We’re adding resources each month, but scaling this whilst maintaining quality is the biggest challenge we face – albeit it’s a good one to have as it means we’re growing the portfolio at a faster rate than we projected.

13. What tool(s) do you rely on the most?

I rely on a pretty simple and straightforward tool stack when it comes to growing out our portfolio of content sites:

Keyword Research: Semrush,
Keyword Clustering:
Content Planning: Postpace, Surfer
Content Optimisation: Surfer, Query Hunter, Google Search Console, Grammarly Pro
Link Insights: Ahrefs

I’m a huge believer that tools are there to help speed up tasks that would take an age if done manually, or to collect data and insights that would otherwise be either extremely difficult or impossible to collect.

I’ll use tools to guide me, but a lot of the time, spending time to really dive deep into the content that already ranks, what these sites are doing (or aren’t doing) can help you to both gain an understanding of what’s driving growth but also to spot opportunities.

When you’re able to discover a competitor’s weakness, you’re in a really strong position…

14. What has been the biggest mistake you made?

I wouldn’t say it’s a mistake, but we waited way too long to start diversifying our monetisation methods on the main site.

By the time we started to build out an affiliate strategy, we were getting over 250k sessions each month. Just think of all that revenue we could have driven.

We’re well on with this now, and seeing promising early results as we’re able to carefully prioritise the affiliate links we add to maximise revenue.

15. What has been the best decision you’ve made?

In mid 2021, I was training a newer member of our agency team on all things content strategy.

I’m a big believer that you learn way more by getting your hands dirty and actually doing rather than reading or watching videos (although these can absolutely give you the basics).

I decided to run this particular training project based around building out a site; everything from choosing a niche to keyword research, content planning, briefing writers and publishing to on-page SEO and link acquisition.

This project turned into The Family Vacation Guide. It’s a site that started out very much as a way to train a member of the team, but that quickly took off.

That said, it continues to be used as a training asset for the agency, too. This means we’ve constantly got fresh eyes working on the site, passionate newcomers to the industry giving it their all and an ongoing drive to keep hitting new highs every month.

16. What’s one thing that you felt accelerated your journey the most?

Maybe this is a little too predictable given that I own and run a digital PR agency, but by far the one thing that accelerated the growth of The Family Vacation Guide the fastest (rather than my own personal journey, per se) was the decision to kickstart PR-led link acquisition the week we launched the site back in August 2021.

Want to see the first link we earned for the site, just a few days after we hit publish on our first piece of content?

A link to our homepage from an authoritative DR90 travel publication … you can’t get much better than that.

We often see content site owners shit-talking link building, but in my opinion, that’s because they’re stuck buying the same low-quality links as everyone else. 

If you REALLY want to accelerate your site’s growth, invest in digital PR and EARN links from the biggest and most well-known press publications in your industry.

Data studies and expert comments can help you to smash it and consistently earn links from the type of site’s that will truly help you to see organic growth. Stop thinking about it just as link building, but rather amplifying your site to your target audience – it just so happens that links from these publications are usually the ones that Google rewards you for the most.

Think quality, not quantity.

We’ve been earning press links from the week we launched and haven’t stopped; consistency is key and I’m damn sure it’s one of the main reasons why we’ve taken the site from 0 to 400k+ monthly sessions in less than a year.

Ask yourself; if your industry’s biggest press publications are talking about your site and linking to it; how can Google ignore that?

It’s simple, it can’t…

Wanna talk PR-led link building? Hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn.

17. What’s your 12 month goal?

My 12 (ish) month goal with our portfolio is actually pretty simple; to hit $100k monthly revenue by the end of 2023.

Right now, the strategy is to grow our main site to approximately $60k per month across both display ads and affiliate revenue, with an additional 4 sites driving an average of $10k each.

At that stage, we’ll have established a $1m+ portfolio and be in an incredibly strong position to leverage this for the next phase of growth.

Longer-term, we’re looking to launch sub-brands to compete alongside our main sites on the SERPs. After all, why just have one site ranking on the first page when we could have two?  We’re going to niche down even further into to some of the smaller topics within the main sites and build out assets under these – albeit with a different focus to the other. We’re not about to just create a clone or anything to that effect – but we’ve got a plan to take more of the front page real estate over the next few years but some pretty big topics!

18. How do you stay up to date on SEO, affiliate marketing, display ad, and other news?

I spend quite a bit of time (probably too much) on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with what’s going on, but I’m also lucky to have an awesome team who I chat with daily – we share articles etc on Slack.

I’m also part of the Traffic Think Tank community (if you’re not in it, you should be), as well as having my own network of friends I’ve made in the industry with who I regularly chat on what we’re seeing working, industry trends etc.

Newsletters too; there are some great ones out there and Twitter will usually point you in the right direction.

I’m also big into checking out new voices; I want to hear new opinions and ideas, not just the same thing over and over, and you usually need to go looking to find this – but you don’t kick ass by doing the same thing as everyone else, do you?

19. What do you eat or drink for fuel to keep going?

Coffee, coffee and more coffee. I’m a self-confessed coffee addict, but it’s got to be freshly ground bean-to-cup … some might say I’m a coffee snob, but we’ve all got to have something, right? 

20. Where can people follow you?

You can find me at:

The Family Vacation Guide:
Twitter: @BrockbankJames

BONUS: Anything else you’d like to share that can help others?

Remember that ‘published is better than perfect.’

Don’t be sitting around on almost ready-to-publish content if it’s 90% of the way there.

All too often I see posts sat in draft with the explanation that they’re waiting for an image, for a slight change to the tone of voice oorf for a quote from an expert.

I get it, these things are important. But you’re not going to drive much traffic (at least not organically) as soon as you hit publish.

So go ahead and hit publish as soon as you’re happy that your content is good enough to rank. In the time you’re waiting for the last few things to make it a standout piece of content, your post will get indexed and (hopefully) start to rank.

Update when you’re ready to after first publishing and you’ve probably brought forward starting to see traffic by weeks.

As an extension to this; don’t give into the temptation to schedule posts for publishing. There are still people who I see dripping content out over a few weeks, but again, the sooner you hit publish, the sooner you’ll rank in top spots…

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