I Tested Upwork’s Paid Features For a Month, These Are My Findings

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I spent a month testing out some of Upwork’s paid features, and the results were surprisingly mixed

I originally joined Upwork in 2017 and went on to make a small fortune on the platform – nearly $700,000 to date.

However, I admittedly made the vast majority of those earnings prior to the launch of Upwork’s many pay-to-play features such as Connects, Boosted Proposals, Boosted Availability Badges and Boosted Profiles. And I’ve had little reason to apply for new jobs in a couple of years thanks to the steady stream of dedicated, long-term clients I’ve secured along the way.

It’s not that the platform has ever been free per se. Or “easy” for that matter, as I hear all the time.

Back in my day *adjusts spectacles* Upworkers paid a 20% service fee for the first $500 in earnings on new contracts. That sliding fee decreased to just 10% for contracts with earnings between $501-$9,999. At the $10,000 mark, the fee was reduced to 5%.

Today, that sliding scale fee has been replaced with a flat 10% across the board. A change that made things a bit easier on new freelancers, and a bit more expensive for veteran Upworkers, like myself, who had previously been enjoying the 5% service fee.

But I digress.

I mention these changes to say that the Upwork of today, in some ways, looks quite a bit different than the Upwork I was originally introduced to seven years ago. But as someone who often blogs (and vlogs) about how to make money on Upwork, I felt it was important to put some of these “new” paid features to the test.

And so, I dusted off my Jobs Feed tab and got to work.

In this study, I applied for 30 jobs over the course of one month and tested the efficacy of the following paid Upwork features:

  • The Boosted Availability Badge
  • A Boosted Profile
  • Boosted Posts

As a note, I plan on expanding on this study in the coming year as I believe the data set, while illuminating, could benefit from a bit more, well, data. Below, I will share my findings so far.

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Morgan overheats upwork profile
My Upwork Profile

Test 1: Control Week – No Paid Boosts

As with all studies, it’s important to establish a control. For each active week of this experiment, I applied to 10 jobs ranging in complexity and scope from small ($15) to large ($1000+). Mostly bidding either on budget or slightly over. And I mostly applied to fixed-rate gigs to avoid hourly rate bias.

I spent my first week back on the platform simply applying for jobs the “old-fashioned way” with no boosts or paid “ad features” whatsoever.

Out of 10 proposal submissions, 5 prospects viewed my proposals and 2 replied. I received one offer. 40% of the jobs to which I applied hired no one at all. And I received 0 invites.

Control: 50% Proposal View Rate

a list of upwork jobs, 50% of proposals were viewed
During the control week, with no boosts or paid features, I experienced a 50% proposal view rate.
The blue availability badge on my profile
My Availability Badge.

Test 2: Boosted Availability Badge

The following week I turned on the Boosted Availability Badge. For those who are unfamiliar with this feature, the Boosted Availability Badge is that little blue badge that “lights up” on your profile and cover letters when you have it turned on. Upwork makes no mention of whether or not having this badge turned on or off actually alters the algorithm or simply attracts more eyeballs with its bright blue color.

Upwork claims that “freelancers who turn on their Availability Badge receive up to 50% more invites”. So, I was hoping this would not only improve the rate of organic profile views but also my proposal view rate.

However, in this limited experiment, there didn’t seem to be a statistically positive difference between boosting the badge and not.

Out of 10 proposal submissions, 2 prospects viewed my proposals and both of those prospects replied. I received one offer. 50% of the jobs to which I applied hire no one at all. And like week one, I received 0 invites.

While I wouldn’t blame the Availability Badge for making my stats worse, after all, clients simply choosing to walk away from the platform at such a high rate isn’t a variable anyone can control, I will say its inability to improve my Profile Views and Invite Rates was disappointing.

Availability Badge: 20% Proposal View Rate

a list of upwork jobs - only 20% of proposals were viewed
Only 20% of my proposals were viewed when I used the Boosted Availability Badge.
boosted proposal example upwork
Boosted Proposals are highlighted and appear in the top four positions of a client’s inbox.

Test 3: Boosted Proposals

Boosting Proposals on Upwork is essentially a way of bidding for a top spot in a prospective client’s inbox when applying for jobs. Those with the highest bids remain in one of the top four spots during the auction period until they are either outbid by another freelancer or the auction period expires (7 days after the job is posted or when the client completes a hire, whichever comes first).

According to Upwork, “Boosted Proposals increase the chance of getting hired by 24%.”

Boosted Proposals week was, perhaps, the most highly anticipated week of the experiment. The topic of Boosted Proposals is hotly debated in the Upwork and freelance community. Some swear by them. Others, not so much. I am admittedly in that latter group.

When I use Upwork to hire freelancers, I’m the kind of client who reads every proposal until I make a hire regardless of inbox position. And in my personal experience, Boosted Proposals don’t always correlate with quality. I see freelancers throwing money at this feature every day just to send low-effort or unedited AI-generated cover letters – a practice that rarely wins jobs on the Upwork platform.

With that said I fully realize not every client is like me. Many just browse the first few cover letters in their inbox and make a hiring decision. And so, I was excited to see how this one panned out despite my inherent bias.

And so, I applied to 10 jobs just like the weeks before, only this time, boosted my way to first place each time. I was able to secure the top spot for between 12-35 Connects (or roughly $1.80-$5.25) for each job on average. And I spent a total of 218 Connects (or $32.70). I was only outbid twice.

This is where the data finally got interesting.

My proposal views skyrocketed from an average of 20-50% in the two weeks prior to 80%. In fact, my proposals were viewed 100% of the time when I wasn’t outbid.

With that said, this did not ultimately lead to a higher proposal reply rate. My reply rate on this particular week was lower than the prior two weeks at only 10% (1 out of 10 total, or only 1 out of 8 of those who viewed my proposals). Of course, there could be a lot of factors at play here and I certainly wouldn’t blame the Boosts on those poor reply stats. I wasn’t the best candidate for those jobs. After all, this week also featured the highest hire rate overall with 80% of prospects making a hire on the platform, even if it wasn’t me.

Boosted Proposals: 80% Proposal View Rate

a list of boosted proposals
Proposal views spiked to 80% when I consistently boosted proposals.
boosted profiles on the invite screen
Boosted Profiles improve your chances of appearing higher up on the Invite screen of the Job posting process

Test 4: Boosted Profiles and Boosted Availability Badges

For my final test, I took a week off from applying to see if I could put some of what I perceive to be, the “auto-pilot” paid features of Upwork to the test: The Boosted Availability Badge with a Boosted Profile.

Boosted Profiles improve your chances of appearing higher up on the Invite screen of the Job posting process.

However, during this experiment, I only saw a slight spike in profile views vs the prior weeks and again, received no invites.

This is genuinely one of the features that I am most interested in exploring and testing more in the future as I am a huge fan of Upwork Invites. Traditionally, my best jobs have always come from Invites and it requires no Connects to apply – an instant money saver, in theory.

As a side note, I found the overall lack of invites during this experiment to be quite odd as I am used to receiving a handful of invites every month due to my Expert Vetted Status when I am usually much less active on the platform. But at the time of this writing, I consider this to be nothing more than a statistical anomaly. I cannot yet prove whether or not my activity on the platform impacted my chances of receiving a Job Invite.

Boosted Availability Badge & Boosted Profile

a chart of my boosted profile views
My profile views only experienced a slight increase when Profile and Availability Boosts were turned on.

My Findings

While I believe my small-scale study would drastically benefit from more data, which I plan to obtain, there’s quite a bit we can already glean from this limited experiment.

As an established 6-figure Expert Vetted freelancer on the platform, I think others often assume winning jobs and finding new clients is exceptionally “easy” for me. And while I am sure my stats help quite a bit, I would encourage those to consider the fact that it isn’t “easy” for any of us.

Out of 30 proposals sent throughout this experiment, on average I experienced:

  • 50% proposal view rates
  • 17% reply rates
  • 10% hire rates

It is also worth noting, that out of those 30 prospective clients, only 63% hired anyone on the platform at all. Which means 37% walked away without making any hires. Out of the 63% of candidates that hired someone, 16%, or roughly 1 in 4, hired me.

And out of all the paid features I tested the Boosted Proposal feature was by far the most effective with a whopping 80% proposal view rate overall – or a 100% proposal view rate if you only count those for which I secured one of the winning bids.

The most important variables in winning a job

But if you ask me, I still think two variables are more important than any of these paid features when it comes to winning jobs. And they are the same two variables that have ultimately determined whether or not I got the job now for the past seven years.

  1. The amount of time I put into crafting a unique, personal proposal.
  2. Whether or not I was genuinely the best fit for the job.

It’s possible, some things never change after all.

PS: If you’ve found this article helpful, and you feel so inclined – buy me a coffee (leave a tip) on Kofi!

What do you think about Upwork’s paid features? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.

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Morgan Overholt

Morgan has almost 20 years of professional experience in graphic design and a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Her successful freelance business has been featured in articles that have appeared on Upwork.com, Refinery29 and Business Insider Prime.

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