The Harpoon Blog

The 2020 Outlook for Freelance Web Designers and Developers

by Ryan Battles in Business Tips

It’s true that the landscape has been shifting over the past several years for freelance web designers and developers. A timeline comparison of how frequently people have searched Google for the terms Web Designer and Web Developer shows that there was a peak around 2007 for web developer searches, while searches for web designers have steadily been in a decline for as far back as Google will share with us.

Interesting to note, however, is the relative upswing in "Web Developer" in recent years. 

What does this tell us? Well I think that the rise in “web developer” was largely due to people becoming more used to the term, as previously a “web designer” was considered one in the same as a developer. The separation of the two roles seemed to become understood around 2007.

But why the decline in searching for designers and developers? I would venture to say it is a number of things:

  1. Clients have found a designer/developer that they like working with, and are no longer shopping around.
  2. Clients have discovered freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Guru, and are hiring freelancers through those services. Because there is more competition in these marketplaces, freelancers within them tend to make less money.
  3. Clients have hired in-house web designers and developers, creating new roles within the organization that require less outsourcing to freelancers.
  4. Instead of paying top-dollar for a custom site design and development package, clients are using do-it-yourself tools like Shopify and Squarespace to build attractive websites for a low monthly fee.

In addition to a decline in clients searching for a web designer or developer, there is also increasing competition.

The Titles are Changing

Even though there seems to be an overall downward trend in the term "Web Developer" since 2017, this may be balanced out by the changing of titles. In fact, in 2019, the term "Software Developer" became more popular than "Web Developer." This may be due to the fact that the role of a developer can encompass so much more than the web, especially when it comes to mobile development.

The same is true with web designers, as the term "UX Designer" is now more popular than "Web Designer," at least in terms of web searches.

A key takeaway here is to rethink the title you brand yourself as with each new year, as the terms are constantly evolving.

How to Thrive in Today’s Environment

It is important now more than ever to differentiate yourself as a freelancer by choosing a particular brand direction. Instead of branding yourself as a freelance developer, why not niche down into a specific language that is trending up?

For example, a Ruby on Rails developer has been in demand for several years now, however, according the search frequency for a Ruby on Rails developer, there are other languages that have surpassed it in popularity (like Angular developer).

To thrive in 2020 as a developer, it wouldn’t be a bad choice to niche down as an Angular developer, build up your knowledge and project portfolio (even if you have to create demo projects), and market your expertise accordingly.

Are We in an Upswing in 2020?

I’ve heard mixed stories here. Some businesses are still struggling, while others are thriving. Software as a Service (SaaS) is continuing to rise, providing new job opportunities for web workers, and an online presence has never been more important for companies wishing to engage with their audience (and grow new ones). For any freelancer that can effectively market how their services will add value to clients’ unique needs in 2020, it will continue to be a very good year indeed.

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