Search engine optimisation for recruitment adverts

You may have only just got the hang of placing your recruitment ads on online jobs boards and your own website, hoping to access the growing online jobseeker audience, which now numbers 12 million people, based on figures from the 2006 National Online Recruitment Audience Survey (Noras).

But the internet has moved on again. If you really want to stay ahead of the game and evolve your recruitment practices in line with candidates’ changing internet habits, then you need to embrace search engine optimisation (SEO).

What is SEO?

SEO is one of the techniques used to directly target people as they search the web using search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

It is all about making your website visible and accessible to these search engines. It’s about understanding how search engines work, what they look for, and how best to show them the information they need to present their users with relevant results – without compromising the look and content of your website.

There are more than 100 million websites in the world today, so ensuring that a search engine picks yours up when someone makes a relevant search is quite a craft.

The use of search engines to find everything from a local hairdresser to a new car is rising meteorically. While most candidates still use jobs boards as one of their main ports of call, search engines are now the main route for finding a jobs board in the first place, according to Noras, and many candidates are now looking for jobs directly through search engines. More than 30 million of us now have internet access at home, and with the rise of broadband, this trend will only continue to rise.

Bear in mind that the internet is not just about reaching young people. The Noras survey also shows that the online jobseeker is maturing. The average candidate online is now 34, with 13 years’ work experience and a salary of £34,000. Many people now search the web for work, from first-jobbers through to senior management and directors.

SEO and recruitment

SEO and other search marketing techniques, including Pay Per Click (PPC – in other words, paid searches), sponsored links and affiliate marketing (putting an e-commerce link on your site), are quickly becoming one of the largest areas of online spend. But these techniques are mainly used by marketing specialists trying to attract potential customers who are searching the web for their products or services. The value of these techniques for recruitment is only just beginning to emerge.

The job sites, unsurprisingly, have been among the first to catch on. They quickly realised that Google and other search engines would bring them the lion’s share of their visitors. You can see for yourself who’s on top if you type in searches such as ‘IT job’ or ‘sales job’ – pages and pages of jobs boards and some recruitment agencies appear.

But what if your own careers pages were the first to come up? Wouldn’t it be great if, by carrying out some dedicated activity to improve your recruitment web pages, you could reach those candidates before they registered with agencies or clicked through to job sites? SEO for recruitment is about making your recruitment pages the easiest to find when candidates search the web for their next career move.

Larger companies that rely on their website to bring them customers and revenue have at least started to master effective search marketing, including SEO. But most HR managers and recruiters haven’t yet realised its potential for recruitment.

Some have mastered PPC. You can see those companies when you search on specific job terms, appearing in the highlighted boxes above and to the side of Google results pages. PPC can be highly effective and is a good place to start, particularly if you can get results from using specific, and ideally unusual, search terms.

Terms such as ‘job’ are understandably popular, and hence expensive. But as people increasingly look for specific job titles, employers have the opportunity to reach these jobseekers if they sponsor terms such as ‘programme manager’, or ‘structural engineer’.

But bear in mind that PPC is much more expensive than SEO, and there is a natural suspicion of the paid-for results. ‘Organic’ listings – results that have not been paid for – have more credibility in the eyes of the web user, and figures released last year from AOL show that the first four organic listings typically yield 68% of the clicks.

Even those companies that have addressed search marketing from a corporate perspective have not, in most cases, applied the technique to help their HR colleagues reap the rewards.


Branding is a key benefit of SEO, positioning you as the prominent recruiter in specific areas. It raises your online profile and demonstrates to candidates that you are leading the field in online recruitment techniques.

There are also monetary savings, as candidates coming directly to your website cost you nothing extra. Jobs boards are naturally becoming more expensive as the number of sites reduces and their traffic increases. According to Yahoo, the cost per hire for search is 33% of the average cost per hire of jobs boards.

There are also time savings, since there are fewer clicks for the candidates. They like coming to employer websites anyway, and they are finding jobsites through search engines too – you just made their lives easier.

And don’t forget the strategic benefit – this is an ongoing, proactive, long-term way of recruiting, by getting people to come to you, register an interest, sign up for alerts, and build loyalty.


One of the biggest advantages of search engine marketing is its measurability. Analytical tools can pinpoint exactly the phrases for which you rank highly, and the increase in traffic. For the most part, you can check yourself by performing a few searches online. And then from your own website you should easily be able to measure the increase in candidates registering on your site, and which of those came from which search engines. This gives you the chance to properly measure and assess the effectiveness of your activity and your return on investment in terms of candidates – an expensive commodity in a competitive market.

Just think how much you currently spend to generate one candidate, or one successful appointment.


SEO is a new topic in relation to recruitment, and many HR teams may be left out in the cold. But some HR departments will be a key driver for the adoption of search engine marketing in their company.

Because the results are so tangible, there is a great opportunity for forward-thinking HR professionals to raise their profile and gain a reputation for innovation. And as with all new things, the richest pickings will be there for the early adopters. As the rest of the world catches up, there will be increased competition for the top spots in all careers-related search terms.

A guide to search engine optimisation in 7 steps

  1. Step into your candidates’ shoes. Try to find your site/jobs on search engines such as Google or Yahoo. Did your site come up? Whose did?

  2. Make a list of key words relevant to your company and jobs. Think like a candidate. Ask colleagues to help. Include words you use in your advertising.

  3. Talk to your marketing and web people. What are they doing already? Can they help?

  4. Update your site pages to include your keywords, without going over the top (you’ll be seen as ‘keyword spamming’, and may be removed from listings).

  5. Make your site easy to find. Avoid building it entirely using ‘Flash’, as people will not be able to link to specific content. Make it easy to navigate. Include keywords in page titles.

  6. Add links – the more links you have into your site from other reputable websites, the higher the internet search engines will rank it. Submit PR to relevant sites. Consider contributing to blogs.

  7. Keep content fresh. Search engines love updated content, so consider news feeds, changing employee profiles, or adding a blog to keep things moving.

Facts and figures

  • UK online ad spend is now greater than ad spend on radio and in newspapers.

  • UK spending on search-related advertising is £516m.

  • UK users make more than 1 billion searches each month.

  • 70% of all online registrations and transactions originate from search enquiries.

  • 31% of internet users have browsed a job or recruitment site in the past three months.*

  • 30% of online ad spend has been attributed to recruitment advertising.***

  • 40% of companies intend to increase their spend on commercial recruitment websites.

  • 13.2% of the population look at job ads on the internet.***

Sources: IAB/PWC Report & Forrester Research. * Mintel Online Recruitment Market Intelligence. ** IAB, WARC, PWC . *** TGI

By Sarah Asprey

Sarah Asprey is client services director at RAA Sprague Gibbons, a specialist recruitment advertising and communications agency. RAA has formed a strategic partnership with search marketing specialist Altogether Digital (formerly Eyefall) to offer a tailored service to HR.

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