Advertise a Job: How Choosing the Wrong Job Site Could Cost You Thousands!
You’ll probably be familiar with online job sites that allow you to advertise a vacancy and start receiving applications directly into your inbox. Almost every applicant’s CV is automatically added to a database that can be searched for an additional charge.
Jobseekers are most active on job sites – more than 90% of applicants will look at a job site before anywhere else – and that’s why you should be using them. If you’re in any doubt about the importance of job sites, consider this: even well-known traditional recruitment agencies are closing their high-street offices because they get the majority of their applicants from job sites (then charge you a premium, of course!).
The problem is that the UK market is massive but highly fragmented. There are more than 2,000 job sites in the UK and the largest only has a 7% market share. This is very different from the impression most job sites like to give.
Unfortunately, you can’t even make an educated guess about where the best jobseekers will be because Google keeps changing search engine rankings and job sites keep changing their Applicant Attraction Channels (e.g. TV and radio advertising), so things never stand still. All this means that results are becoming less predictable.
Also, you can’t assume that an applicant won’t use a particular job site. I found one finance director through a job site more usually associated with blue-collar jobs – proof that you can’t blame an applicant for going to a job site you’re not advertising on.
As jobseekers can be anywhere, you need to advertise almost everywhere so you don’t risk missing relevant applicants. You shouldn’t be at the mercy of one job site and their possible lack of capability to deliver you relevant applicants.
As jobseekers can be anywhere, you need to advertise almost everywhere
For most roles, you can and should source jobseekers yourself using online job sites. With a little time, effort and relatively minimal cost, you can do yourself what you used to have to pay others a lot of money for. This is why I have provided a detailed step-by-step guide.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Note:</span> If you decide to use a flat-fee recruiter or a recruitment agency, feel free to skip this article. Although you may find it helpful to be a more informed purchaser to ask suppliers ‘tough’ questions such as “why aren’t you advertising on this job site?”</span>
Choose Enough Online Job Sites
The job site market is highly fragmented. With so much choice, applicants could be anywhere! Unfortunately, they often use an average of 3.4 job sites, and you can’t blame a relevant applicant for going to a site you haven’t chosen. Additionally, the job site market is fast moving, so a job site that’s relevant today may not be tomorrow.
Because applicants are almost anywhere, you must advertise almost everywhere.
Sadly, some hiring managers don’t do this, using only a few sites or sticking to company dogma – pitfalls which you must avoid.
Some hiring managers suggest they can’t afford to advertise on multiple sites. If this is the case, can you really afford to employ someone?
Another common mistake is deciding to advertise on one site, wait to see the response, then advertising on another site. But this just makes the recruitment process protracted, which you shouldn’t do if a job adds real value, you need to fill it quickly!
Avoid “Company Dogma”
The phrase “this is how we’ve always done it” has never rung more true than with these common errors:
“We always advertise on this job site/This is where we got our last member of staff from”
Jobseekers aren’t loyal to particular jobs sites and sites change their attraction strategies. Past experience is not a good indicator of future performance for these reasons:
- Most job sites get their candidates via Google, which constantly changes its search algorithm. Therefore, candidate traffic is never guaranteed, and it’s unwise to assume that you’ll get the same results again and again.
- Job sites buy applicants from a wholesale market of affiliates. This allows them to turn on (or off) the flow of applicants as budgets allow, even when you’re locked into a long-term contract! Unfortunately, it’s difficult to prove this has happened until it’s too late.
- Job sites may attract applicants from offline campaigns such as TV and radio adverts, which may cause a temporary spike in responses.
Job sites change and add new features. Some of these (such as CV writing services) frustrate jobseekers, causing some of them switch off or give up. Other features create usability issues. I’m often surprised how difficult it is for jobseekers to actually apply for jobs, when ease ought to be the prime goal of any job site.
“The job site was cheap/I got a good deal/I got a free trial”
Everyone likes a good deal, but this is only worth it if it helps you recruit the right candidate. A well-known national job site that once offered free trials reported that more than two-thirds of customers never returned because they didn’t have a successful trial.
Another renowned international job site only charges when an advert is viewed. This gives customers false confidence that they’re paying for results. But often the “views” are from bots that trawl the internet or from international applicants with little hope of securing a visa or relocating. There’s little incentive for job sites to screen out bots and ineligible international applicants when all views generate income, whether useful to an employer or not.
When thinking about price, remember that every day that a vacancy remains unfilled is a day when a new employee isn’t adding value to your organisation. So a “good” price is not always good value.
“I’ve heard of their job site”
Familiarity with a brand makes us feel comfortable and secure. However, that’s irrelevant if your ideal candidate isn’t using the site. You can’t blame jobseekers for going to a site you’ve never heard of. Do your research to ensure good market awareness.
There’s another reason why people perhaps subconsciously choose well-known but unsuitable sites: they feel that no one will be able to blame them if things don’t work out. In effect, they’re taking a negative and defensive decision in case of failure.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that you may only have heard of the job site because of a temporary advertising campaign. When the site stops advertising, their jobseeker traffic may slow. This is another reason why it’s not always advisable to sign up to long-term contracts.
“The job site is a specialist in our sector”
Time and again, the idea that professionals gravitate to particular job sites is shown to be a myth. Teacher recruitment used to be dominated by a specialist publication. But today new teachers aren’t as aware of the old-school (pun intended) specialist publications, so I often find it easier and cheaper to find them through generic national job sites.
“The job site is part of an industry-leading publication”
Many industry publications have seen their audience disappear, along with their advertising revenues. To remedy this, many have bolted job sites onto their main sites. While they may know how to write great editorial, do they know how to attract quality jobseekers and convert them to applicants?
Some industry sites suggest that those reading their content may spot a job advert of interest. They may mention using retargeting techniques to re-engage their audience. However, analysing such sites using tools like Similarweb.com reveals that these job sites typically receive little referral traffic from their editorial content. People go to their site to read content, rarely to job hunt.
Use “Applicant Logic” Instead
Now you’re aware of the common pitfalls, try to see the world through applicants’ eyes, where relevance is key. This can be difficult to do, as you may not have looked for a job yourself for a while. Fortunately, I have tried and tested the following steps:
Step 1: Search for Job Sites
Around 93% of jobseekers start looking for a job online using a search engine such as Google. The phrases used have evolved over time as jobseekers have become more sophisticated: where once they used simple “head” phrases (e.g. “sales jobs”), they increasingly use “long-tail” phrases such as “B2B media sales jobs”.
Despite the rise of remote working, approximately 70% of searches include a geographical location (e.g. “B2B media sales jobs in Birmingham”). If a jobseeker doesn’t provide a location, most search engines use their geolocation or IP address to provide tailored search results.
When search results are displayed, around 99% of users will only visit the first page (Backlinko 2022).
Try it for yourself. Do a search using keywords and phrases that you believe a jobseeker might use and notice how the results fall into three categories:
- National job sites which cover every sector.
- National job sites focused on specialist sectors.
- Local job sites which cover every sector.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Important:</span> Search engines like Google aren’t endorsing job sites shown in the search results; they’re only suggesting that they may be appropriate based on factors such as keyword relevance and density, links, expertise and topical authority.</span>
From the first page of search results, prepare to research each job site.
Step 2: Research Job Sites for Common Issues
Search on each job site to see if they advertise jobs similar to the one you’re advertising. Remember to use keywords that jobseekers actually use, and avoid the company buzzwords that are prevalent in job descriptions.
Was it easy to find relevant jobs? If not, consider ruling out the job site.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Important:</span> Some job sites appear to have a large number of jobs, but actually back-fill jobs from other job sites in exchange for money. These ad-exchanges (aka aggregators) can frustrate jobseekers because they’re redirected to different sites. A quick way to find this out is to click the “Apply” button on several jobs to ensure you’re not redirected to another job site.</span>
Next, proceed through the job site. Identify any “friction points”, such as complex application and registration processes, or constantly being hounded to give your email address. These often cause jobseekers to leave the site.
I recommend you also look for distractions that could compete for attention. For example, some job sites display related jobs or “other people applied to” alongside job search results and job adverts. Some may try to sell training courses, CV reviews or even unrelated products and services like mobile phone contracts. These all serve to distract jobseekers from finding and applying to jobs.
Because most jobseekers will search and apply for jobs using their mobile device, visit the website on your tablet and phone. Do you get a good experience, or are there problems such as intrusive banners and overlays and other layout problems? Importantly, as many jobseekers won’t have their CV saved to their phone, can they apply by uploading their CV from cloud-based, file-sharing services such as Dropbox?
If your experience of the site isn’t easy, quick and relevant, jobseekers will find the same and may go elsewhere.
Important: Apps for mobile devices may sound impressive, but jobseekers who use them are reportedly more “promiscuous”, applying to jobs without much thought because it’s so easy. A few well-known job sites have actually removed their apps to attract higher quality applicants. This underlines the importance of using a well-designed, mobile-responsive job site.
Step 3: Review the Type of Adverts Offered
There are three common types of adverts that you may be offered:
- Duration-based. These are the most common and recommended. They often advertise a job for 28 days but don’t allow any changes.
- Slots. You commit to a number of job “slots” per month and can change the adverts as often as you want. In reality, you often end up buying too many slots.
- Performance-based. These adverts charge you when a jobseeker clicks, views or applies to your advert. An initial low cost can quickly escalate to be far higher than other types of adverts, so you need to be careful managing your bidding and budget. For this reason, these are only recommended for buyers with ongoing hiring requirements and with the time needed to proactively manage them.
Let’s look at these three common advert types in more detail.
Most of the time you’ll only be able to purchase this type of advert, which is great because they’re often the best value.
As the name implies, duration-based adverts last for a specific length of time, typically 28 days. When used on multiple job sites, they often generate sufficient Applicant Flow.
Advertisements tend to be automatically “refreshed” each week to make them appear new, therefore generating more applications. This should happen as standard so don’t be fooled by a sales person suggesting it’s being done as a favour!
Even with refreshing adverts, you tend to get the best response in the first four days. After this, response rates usually decline because newer, competing job advertisements rank higher in search results.
A downside of duration-based adverts is that job sites don’t typically allow changes to be made. This is to prevent companies trying to fill multiple vacancies using the same advert. If this is your motivation and you consistently advertise, consider slot-based adverts.
Slot-based adverts are best for employers with a continual hiring requirement. You purchase one or more slots for a specific duration and you can change the adverts, so when you fill one vacancy you can advertise another. As you might have guessed, slots usually cost more than duration-based adverts.
Though slots sound more flexible, many organisations find that they have too many jobs and not enough slots, or too many slots and too few jobs. Because of this, demand for them is low and you’ll struggle to find many providers.
Here you pay when the job site delivers some “performance”. This can seem attractive because it’s easier to justify doing business based on performance. But there are many potentially confusing ways of calculating performance:
- Cost per view (CPV). You pay every time your advert is viewed in the search results. You’ll probably get very little value from a view.
- Cost per click (CPC). You pay every time your advert is clicked on in the search results. Once again, you may get very little value from a click and the cost per click increased 54% in 2022 (Appcast 2022)
- Cost per quality application (CPQA). You pay every time that you receive a “quality” application. An application is often considered poor quality if it is dismissed as irrelevant within a short time period. Very few job sites offer this, which is a pity as this is a more convincing measurement, despite the quality of applicants being subjective. However, it’s something of a challenge for job sites because advertisers have little incentive to optimise their adverts when they aren’t paying for all the wasted views and clicks. Job sites may also find market conditions create an uneven distribution of views, clicks and applications. For example, our research in 2020 found just 6% of adverts get more than half the applications and 32% of job adverts get loads of clicks and views but don’t generate any applications at all. Similarly Appcast (2022) found the cost of generating an application has skyrocketed by 43% making it a very expensive option. Overall, there’s a lot outside the job site’s control, and they’re fundamentally acting as an advertising service.
- Cost per hire (CPH). This is just like a recruitment agency, but it’s not gaining much traction because once a job site has delivered an applicant they often have no control over shortlisting, interviewing and hiring.
<div class="grey-callout"><p><span class="text-color-purple">Warning:</span> A few job sites providing a CPQA model give you 72 hours to report a problem with an application before you’re charged. This means you really have to be proactive, looking at the CVs and contacting applicants almost hourly to avoid potentially huge bills! This is a particular problem when you return from a weekend or bank holiday, and is especially frustrating when applicants won’t reply to your communication (aka ghosting).</p><p>Constantly checking applications and trying to contact candidates can sometimes feel like you are working for the job board! Indeed, I’ve seen some hiring managers become quite anxious, as one explained to me “I’m constantly worried, it’s always on my mind [checking applications]. I can’t deal with it anymore… I’m so relieved to work on my own terms.” </p><p>The response I’ve received from job sites offering a CPQA model was quite unrealistic and unhelpful, paraphrased as “If you can’t review and respond to applicants within 72 hours, then you should pause your advert.”<p/><p>Additionally you need to look at whether it is really cost-effective. In the Summer of 2023 a customer explained they were paying £58 per application for a heating engineer. If they get 10 applications that’s £580. That may seem obvious, but very few employers have the foresight to recognise it quickly adds up to an incredible amount of money. It may be better value using a flat-fee recruiter.</p><p>You may find performance-based adverts confusing, and they may only give you the illusion of performance and control. Compounding this are three fundamental issues:</p><p><ol><li>Most jobseekers use mobile devices which generate lots of views and clicks, but our research found 70%-90% fewer applications. To put it another way, mobile applications cost almost 242% more!</li><li>Sometimes, more than 40% of traffic on job sites doesn’t come from human jobseekers but bots scanning the website for various reasons.</li><li>Job sites are available to international audiences. Despite the fact that many overseas jobseekers have no hope of relocating or getting a work visa, they can still view, click and apply for jobs at an employer’s expense.</li></ol></div>
Ad budgets can get expensive
An enticing element of performance-based advertising is a daily or weekly cap. However, even with a cap the cost can quickly spiral out of control. For example, a recommended daily budget of £6 sounds trivial, but adds up to around £42 a week and £180 a month. Additionally, the daily budget will keep on running, and I’ve seen some employers who forgot to turn it off – but they never forget the huge bill!
Often, you’ll see a “recommended budget”. It isn’t always clear what you’re going to get for a particular amount. How much would the volume of applications go up by if you increased the budget from £6 to £8 per day? How will your budget be affected by market conditions? It’s best to start off low and increase the budget if you need to and if you can afford it.
For these reasons, many advertisers prefer the certainty of paying for duration-based adverts because the fixed price really is fixed.
However, there’s another solution to the budgeting conundrum for the minority of sophisticated buyers with persistent hiring requirements: programmatic buying.
Programmatic advert buying is for pros
Though not relevant to that many small firms, programmatic advert buying software helps to manage budgeting complexity and to buy more effectively. In essence, it’s an algorithm that makes five types of data-driven decisions:
- Site performance. Using large data sets, the software predicts which job sites are best for specific sectors, seniority levels and locations. It assigns a greater share of the budget to the best-performing job sites.
- Job performance. Every type of job is different. For example, a retail job requires different bidding compared to a nurse or driver.
- Over-deliverers. When an advert leads to a decent number of applications, the budget is reallocated to other adverts.
- Performers. When an advert is performing well and generating lots of applications, budget for this particular advert may be decreased to save money.
- Non-converters. When an advert isn’t performing well (e.g. receiving lots of views but no applications) then the budget is reallocated.
- Challengers. When an advert isn’t getting enough views there’s almost nothing that can be done except changing the advert.
It’s relatively expensive to purchase or develop this technology, and for many it’s an overly complex solution to an already complex challenge. But if you’re willing to make the investment, here are some tips:
- Review and improve non-convertor and challenger adverts. Often, changing the job title or location is enough.
- Ensure your “feed” of job adverts is upgraded hourly so you aren’t paying for traffic to out-of-date adverts.
- Be aware (or beware) if you include a tracking pixel on your career pages to help job sites calculate conversions: you may be sharing sensitive data that could be used against you when negotiating a new contract.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> Many job sites selling duration-based adverts purchase applicant traffic using programmatic buying of performance-based adverts. So the real question is: do you want to manage it yourself or let someone else take care of it for you, such as a flat-fee recruiter?</span>
Step 4: Purchase Job Adverts, but Prepare for a Sales Pitch
If you have small or infrequent advertising requirements, it’s fairly easy to purchase job adverts. Job sites have a dedicated recruiters’ section that explains packages and prices, many of which can be purchased online. For larger, ongoing hiring requirements you may need to call a job site to negotiate a contract. (This comes as a surprise to hiring managers, who often assume that everything is automated.) Even when you purchase online, expect to receive a sales call offering a “great deal” because they’ll want to upsell. In this section, I’m going to give you lots of tips to help you prepare for this conversation.
Most sales people at job sites won’t even discuss price until they’ve spent time building up a value proposition. You may be quoted figures designed to establish credibility, but they could well be meaningless. These may include:
- Number of hits. Every image on a web page counts as a “hit”, so a single view of a page containing 100 images equals 100 hits. If a visitor views 10 pages with those same 100 images on each one, that’s 1,000 hits! It may sound amazing, but it’s a ridiculous statistic that some sales people use on naive buyers.
- Number of unique users. Visitors to job sites aren’t only jobseekers. They may be employers, sales people, bots and search-engine spiders. A better metric would be the number of unique jobseekers, but this is hard to determine.
- Number of applications. Unless you’re getting these figures from a sector-specific job site, this could be another meaningless figure. A generic national job site may have 500,000 applications, but how many of those are for jobs in your sector and location?
- Number of jobs. This might also give you little information. If you find that a job site doesn’t have sufficient jobs in your sector and location, then jobseekers will find the same and will be unlikely to return. Also, beware of job sites that advertise other job sites’ jobs (ad-exchanges and aggregators) because the number of jobs is artificially inflated.
- Number of CVs. Job sites may try to sell you a CV database search facility (which I’ll touch on in a moment). Often databases contain millions of CVs, which when you think about it is almost the entire working population. It could only be this large if it contained old applicants, who may no longer be looking for a new job. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how many “active” applicants are in a CV database. There’s no clear definition of active applicants. I generally consider them to be those who have searched for or applied to a job advert in the last 60 days.
Choose the right package for you, not the sales person
The right package is one that allows you to test the suitability of a job site and, if this goes well, to then make a short-term commitment.
Be careful of committing to long-term contracts. The job site could change their Applicant Attraction Strategy to your detriment while you’re tied into a contract. Additionally, you might feel under pressure to agree a long-term contract if a salesperson only earns commission on the initial sale before your account is passed to an “account manager” who takes all the future commission. Exercise caution and make clear that you’ll only discuss a long-term contract once they’ve demonstrated that they can fill your current job vacancy.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> You’re likely to be asked by a sales person if you’re willing or able to purchase more now or in the future. “Of course!” you should reply, “I’ll consider that once you’ve shown you can fill my vacancy.” This tends to move the conversation along, and you might even get a discount.</span>
Everyone negotiates a deal
You should negotiate a discount if you can – you have nothing to lose by trying! Deals are there to be done, particularly in December, towards the end of half-terms and at end of the month because sales people want to hit their targets. Think of the “rate card” as the top price, then pitch a lower opening bid. The money saved on one or more job sites may be enough to fund that all-important extra one.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> More than 90% of job sites in the UK are powered by the same off-the-shelf software (it’s written in the footer “Powered by …”). Ask the sales person how they’re different to other job sites when they use the same software. If they can’t provide a convincing answer, you might negotiate a better deal.</span>
You may be offered “enhancements”
Expect a sales person to offer enhancements. Some may be included to close the deal, others may come with an extra charge. Common ones are:
- Job alerts. These are like an email newsletter and sent to subscribed jobseekers. They’re vital because they drive a lot of jobseeker traffic. They’re almost always included in the price of a job advert so don’t be misled into thinking they’re an extra.
- Enhanced/featured/premium adverts. These are given a more prominent style, size or colour and are often “sticky” in job search results. However, they may not lead to more applicants. Claimed high figures are often because of well-known brands that naturally get a better response. Proceed with caution and try to negotiate this for free.
- Screening questions. These allow you to ask applicants a series of questions that require a short written response or a yes/no. Screening questions can be used to auto-reject applicants who don’t provide the desired response, though some desperate applicants may be able to guess the answer you’re looking for. This feature is often included in the price of a job advert. If you use performance-based adverts, you’ll still need to pay for applicants who don’t meet your criteria.
- CV database access. These are a back catalogue of applicants who have applied through the job site and whose CVs you can pay to review. I will cover this in more depth in the next section.
- Video job adverts. These are short videos you can make to showcase the job and your company. Very few job sites offer them because employers find the video production costs very high compared to written text. In addition job seekers can find them a hassle to watch as it is difficult to skim through a video to understand what the company wants, and they generally dislike cliched footage of smiling employees gleefully shaking hands! Unless you’re a video production company, generally avoid video job adverts.