The Power of a Small Website for House-Sitting Writers

by John Soares on April 16, 2014

Freelance writing lets me travel and gives me the option of a location-independent lifestyle, which I take advantage of in winter months by house-sitting in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere with my partner Stephanie.

Why House-Sitting?

Simple — we get to stay in beautiful homes and explore beautiful parts of the western United States. We live in a great place in Ashland in southern Oregon, but we like to experience a wide variety of climates and cultures, and house-sitting lets us do that. We primarily do it during the colder months (it’s foggy and cold in Ashland in the winter), but we can be enticed away just about any time of the year to go to San Francisco, our favorite city, or to an outstanding destination like Hawaii. (I lived on Kaua’i from 1996 to 1999.)

How Do We Get House-Sitting Gigs?

Two ways: word of mouth, and…

Our business card for house-sitting in northern California, with a focus on San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and the greater Bay Area.

…the spiffy little “small website” I put up about three years ago.

Setting Up Our House-Sitting Site

No surprise here: I used self-hosted WordPress. I’m no expert at setting up blogs, but I have enough experience that I was able to do this (in part because I borrowed widget coding and other stuff from and my other professionally designed blogs).

Getting the Traffic: Six Reasons

First off, I snagged the domain It has one of our main keywords, which Google may still appreciate (or maybe not anymore, given all the recent algorithm changes).

Second, I wrote a 1200-word sales page selling us. It’s the home page and you can see it here: “Why We Housesit in San Francisco, the Bay Area, Santa Cruz, and Beyond…

Third, I bowed to the Google god. Note that I used good search-engine optimization techniques in the headers and the keywords/metatags I chose. I also used a few choice photos to help convince owners that we’re quality people that will take good care of their homes and pets.

Fourth, I shared the site on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Fifth, I also linked to from my other sites, either in posts or in the blog roll, and I highlighted it prominently in this post: House-Sitting and the Location-Independent Freelance Lifestyle.

Sixth, I added an actual blog to the site, and we used its launch to help promote our site and service to people we know. We did our first post in October and plan to blog once a month.

The Results So Far…

Pet sitting: two dogs in San Francisco

Stephanie and the two wonderful boxers we took care of during our recent San Francisco Cole Valley house-sit.

Well, we spent nearly three weeks house-sitting in San Francisco’s Haight/Cole Valley area, all because the home owners found that small website in Google. And we turned down a two-month sit in Santa Cruz earlier this year, along with another three opportunities that conflicted with either other house-sitting we were doing or our other travel plans; all found us through Internet searches.

The site has also gotten us two other house-sitting gigs in San Francisco, yet another in Cole Valley, and most recently another one in Bernal Heights.

And here’s how we rank in Google for important search terms:

  • San Francisco house-sitter: page 1, #4
  • San Francisco Haight house-sitter: page 1, #5
  • San Francisco Cole Valley house-sitter: page 1, #3
  • Santa Cruz house-sitter: page 2, #3

Note: I checked these using a browser I almost never use (Internet Explorer, of course), and I also clicked the Hide Private Results icon.

In Sum, It Can Work for Freelance Writers and…

A small website that’s well optimized can bring outsized results. This can also work for freelance writers and other business owners who want to draw qualified traffic without a lot of effort.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on using a small website to get good results? Do you agree that self-hosted WordPress is the best way to go? And what do you think of our house-sitting service?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tom Bentley April 16, 2014 at 8:21 AM

John, my girlfriend and I have house-sat for periods in the Bahamas and Panama (and had people house-sit our house while we were gone). We’ve got those gigs by subscribing to (and putting our profiles on) sites like MindMyHouse and Caretaker’s Gazette, which have listings from all over the world.

But your idea of targeting an area and hosting your own site sounds very effective. Good thinking. And perhaps we’ll ask you guys if you want to house-site our place outside of Watsonville sometime, since I see from your site you’ve done some Santa Cruz County stints. Thanks for the site idea!
Tom Bentley recently posted…Stealing Grandma’s Word Machine


2 John Soares April 16, 2014 at 8:41 AM

Tom, I read an excellent guest post you wrote about a house-sit in the Caribbean that went a little less than smoothly.

Stephanie and I have been members of, but we didn’t really look much there. Since we’ve moved to Ashland, Oregon, we’re out of the snow belt and we’re in civilization, so we’re house-sitting less, primarily in SF during the winter.

Do feel free to contact us, but remember we primarily only house-sit in December and January.
John Soares recently posted…How I Chose My Freelance Writing Niches


3 Don Wallace April 16, 2014 at 9:17 AM

Not very original on my part, but, “whoa, dude!”, is all I have to say. Kudos. And one heck of a great idea!

I have seen a variation of this tactic that is very SPAMmy, however. I once Googled “web developers , Ohio” to see what my possible competition was. I tripped across the page of some guy who is a solo web developer who claimed to build web sites for local businesses. I looked more closely and saw that his area code was for a town in Pennsylvania. Then I found an “index list” at the bottom of his page that listed about 100 cities in Ohio and each one went to a clone page that asserted that he’s a local web developer in each of those towns. So, apparently, this person has a tool that regurgitates clone pages.

NOT what you’re doing. I can see applying this principle in an extremely targeted way to specific potential opportunities.
Don Wallace recently posted…Why Your Inbound Leads are Low Quality


4 Don Wallace April 16, 2014 at 9:53 AM

Ah, here is an example of an evil way to do “localism”:

I found this, and got suspicious.

Then I readily found:

And a few thousand more like these.

They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! 😉


5 John Soares April 16, 2014 at 10:13 AM

Don, it would definitely be easy to try to abuse this, especially if I were to put up a hundred sites for every city I want to house-sit in.

Seems like it would be difficult to fool Google for ever with the ploy you uncovered — have to create a separate site for each with unique content that reads well.
John Soares recently posted…Why Freelance Writers Often Miss Deadlines


6 Carol Brennan April 16, 2014 at 2:10 PM

Hi John

Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like a great way to travel and not only afford it but get paid for it. One of the reasons I started writing was to travel more. Your post has certainly given me something to think about. Thanks



7 John Soares April 16, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Carol, there are several sites that connect house-sitters with home owners. We were most impressed with, but see also the ones mentioned above by Tom Bentley.
John Soares recently posted…How to Align Your Writing Income with Your Career Goals


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