Reflecting on My 2021 Freelance Writing Predictions

Note: The following is an archived email newsletter, originally distributed on February 7, 2022. Minor updates were made as-necessary. To receive content like this before it appears in archives, subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter and blog updates.

In a prior newsletter, I made a few predictions about what I thought 2021 might have in store for the freelance writing community.

Let's look back on those and see how things played out. But first, here's what I expected to see:

  1. Demand for freelance services would slowly, but significantly, increase.
  2. Search visibility for freelancers would continue to suffer, but we'd see new hope by year's end.
  3. The confusion between "gig workers" and freelance professionals would either lead to accountability or unintended consequences.

Updates on My 2021 Freelance Writing Predictions

Here are where things currently stand with the three 2021 freelance writing predictions I previously offered:

Freelance Demand

This prediction has been playing out, but maybe not in all the right ways.

The main issue was my expectation that the pandemic situation would have eased much more over the past year than it has.

I do see more demand for freelance professionals as more companies decide to either go remote or stay remote.

I'm even seeing more advertised gigs with disclosed pay than usual (and some better-paying gigs than are typically advertised publicly).

It's not all good news though. 

When I review job listings seeking freelancers (for curation at AFW), I don't just see more freelance writing jobs. I also see a troubling trend:

More companies are advertising for freelance positions that aren't actually freelance.

These are often blatant misclassified employee positions. 

For example, they want someone to commit to 40 hours per week, work on a set hourly schedule, get paid by the hour, and take on employee responsibilities (like attending administrative meetings or mentoring junior "freelancers").

Of course, these also have minimal or no benefits. And they advertise these jobs as 1099 roles, meaning the company won't pay their half of taxes even though they're acting in the role of employer.

So while, yes, I'm seeing more companies going remote and being willing to take on freelancers, I'm also seeing companies mistake remote work for freelance work simply because the micromanaging element has been removed.

Search Visibility

This prediction centered around Google's prior updates making it more difficult for freelancers to rank for client-focused keyword phrases.

Instead, Google started prioritizing things like generic job boards and freelance bidding sites, even when the searches were about finding a service provider rather than a gig.

My prediction was that we'd start to see changes in 2021, but that more dramatic results changes would likely take another year or two.

And it looks like that prediction was spot-on.

While these larger sites are still ranking well even for keyword phrases where they don't directly match search intent, I'm seeing more individual freelancers' sites ranking well alongside them (and I've seen improvements in my own site's rankings again without any SEO-oriented changes on my end).

Google had numerous algorithm updates in 2021.

Several focused specifically on spam results (such as those using link schemes to rank well).

There were also updates related to page experience and core web vitals.

They issued other updates that aren't as likely to impact your freelance writing website too.

So while it's good to see freelancers with specialized expertise ranking better than a year ago, what this really means is you have new opportunities to improve your own search presence and the warm leads that brings.

Google still has a mess to clean up (one particular bidding marketplace is running one of the biggest link schemes I've ever come across, and they're still ranking well for the spammed terms).

But they've also made progress on serving results that better match search intent. And this isn't just true in their general search results.

That same bidding marketplace used to spam Google's own job search results. That appears to have stopped (my guess would be due to manual action as the site violated their job search terms by requiring payment from applicants).

Fingers crossed 2022's updates improve this situation even more.

"Gig Workers" and Freelance Professionals

As a result of California's AB5 and the PRO Act situation on a national level, I expected to see some accountability or consequences for the confusion between "gig workers" and freelance professionals running businesses by choice.

While there are legitimate cases to be made for some types of gig workers being misclassified employees, that's not the case with freelance writers and other solopreneur service providers.

I do still stand by my predictions on this issue. But it looks like things will take longer to play out. That's government for you.

What can you do to take advantage of these recent and likely changes?

  • Search more internal company job boards, especially when companies announce they're going remote, or staying that way. I'm seeing a bigger increase in freelance job leads here than on traditional job boards.
  • Improve the user experience and speed on your freelance writer website, and focus on onsite SEO if you haven't yet. Warm leads are waiting in those search results.
  • Stay on your representatives to make sure the ABC Test that failed spectacularly in California doesn't impact your freelance writing business at the federal level. This post on the blog explains the problem.

Predictions for 2022?

I can't say I have any big predictions for this year.

Instead, I see more improvement coming in the first two areas I shared updates on today -- continued increases in freelance writing gigs as more companies opt to stay remote, and more search opportunities for solo professionals who put the work in.

I hope we start to see the big bidding sites become a bit more buried in search results (a good thing for new freelancers more likely to get sucked in and have a tough time moving away from them).

Google lacked speed in holding big sites accountable in the past, even when involving exploitation and poor content quality (think content mills like the old Demand debacle). But ultimately they did act.

Marketplaces are a little different, but they're still big players in the low-quality / high-quantity content game.

As for the ABC Test, I'd expect to see a bigger push for (and against) it closer to the mid-term elections

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