PPC Disrupts Recruitment Advertising

Do you remember getting calls in 2006 from a sales rep about a site called Indeed.com selling super cheap recruitment advertising campaigns for $0.10 per click? Remember telling them no because it would mean stealing budget from the six-figure major job board contract you negotiated down to $275/posting with top-of-page “Now Hiring links”… in BOLD!

Almost overnight, Indeed, Simply Hired and other aggregators disrupted the recruitment advertising industry with a pay-per-click model that Google introduced to the B2C and B2B worlds years before. They were so low-cost back then that it was easy to test-drive them as tertiary media buys just to see if a few hundred bucks could really-out perform a traditional recruitment advert, especially since they did not require any commitments through an annual contract like other well-known job boards. Experimenting with small media trials turned into regular investments, which over time turned into a go-to nonstop torrent of PPC campaigns like a bad drug addiction.  In just a few years of their existence, PPC job boards took over large shares of recruitment advertising budgets as they proved to provide a huge pipeline of candidate traffic for a lower cost. When hiring came to a standstill in 2008, they proved to be even more valuable to employers because they could reduce or even stop all spend with one simple email that said, “Please pause my campaign until further notice.”

Indeed and Simply Hired were the top two job aggregators to gain attention early on, but today there are several dozen PPC job boards competing for your business: Jobs2Careers, ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, LinkUp, JuJu, Careerbliss, and Startwire are just a few you might recognize. And now even the likes of LinkedIn, Monster and Dice.com are starting to roll out PPC models of their own. Why? It’s debatable, but I believe it comes down to User Experience (UX) as much as it comes down to making a profit. Being able to sponsor a few open positions from an aggregate of all reqs gives a job board an opportunity to be a one-stop shop and not just a destination for 10% of all job opportunities across the country.

PPC has come a long way, indeed (see what I did there). It has not only impacted the way companies connect with candidates, but it has forced other job boards to rethink their own products that meet the needs of employers while creating a better UX for job seekers.

When PPC Sucks

PPC is not as easy you may think it is, and this is where this post takes a turn. PPC is so easy that there is a good chance your investments are being wasted.  Don’t let a $0.58 average cost-per-click or a large number of clicks fool you into believing your PPC recruitment media campaigns are performing out of this world. Quantity is only half the battle, or in some cases not an issue at all. Quality is often overlooked in PPC campaigns because of tracking issues; therefore the default benchmark is an average and total click count.

What if you found out only one job received all the clicks? What if you saw a massive uptick in traffic to your site but applications remained flat? What if your click to app ratio (i.e. 30 clicks to get 1 completed app) quadrupled? This is the land of sucking at PPC, a land where the PPC model is actually wasting your investments. I only ask these questions because we see it happen all the time.

In the world of recruitment advertising, a completed application is the immediate conversion goal that should be used to measure performance. Companies often  measure application numbers, but do it at the end of the month and not in real time. A job that might need 50 apps is now going to get 250 apps because no one thought to remove it from the list of sponsored jobs in your PPC campaign until it was too late. This means the 1,000 clicks or so to get those extra 200 apps soaked up precious dollars that could have been used on other jobs that desperately need candidates. These are the finite details that have evolved into major issues for the average PPC media buyer where high-level data looks good, but the distinctive performance details for each job gets an F.

The chart below is an example of how two campaigns could end up with the same high-level data, which is a total of 365 applications and an average of 52 apps per job. However, when digging deeper – one campaign (Sucking) over-helped three jobs and left 4 other jobs starving for apps. The other campaign (Not Sucking) was able to give every job equal visibility and distributed performance to all jobs.


While PPC in job advertising has created a performance-based model for talent acquisition, it has also created a new problem in being able to easily manage which jobs are rotated into sponsorship.

How to Not Suck At PPC

There are two ways to solve this problem. You can either take a manual approach and micro-manage the crap out of your campaigns (or hire an agency like us to do it for you), or you can leverage yet another adoption the recruitment industry learned from the product world called programmatic media buying.

You might be asking yourself, “What in the world is programmatic media?” I will write another post in a few weeks that dives further into the unique details of how programmatic media is innovating performance media and adding tremendous value to your existing PPC investments. Here is a brief explanation:

Programmatic media is advertising that uses set rules (such as maximum applications per job) that can rapidly adjust campaign performance to achieve the desired outcome (such as advertising on job boards that prove to produce completed apps).

Now let’s take a look at these two options in detail to not suck.

  1. Manually set up micro-campaigns for small to medium sized groups of jobs with their own budgets.

This is a huge task, which is why I recommend option 2; however, let me explain this one first.

  • Group jobs that you want to sponsor on PPC job boards into small sub-sets. This can be done in numerous ways, but I don’t recommend hand selecting jobs every week. Selecting a job family or flagging jobs in your ATS with an abbreviation of some kind is best. This somewhat automates job selection and reduces additional manual work.
  • Give each group their own budget. This will prevent one group from hogging budget and preventing other jobs from receiving apps.
  • Remove jobs from your ATS once you receive an app threshold (30, 40, 50 or more apps is typically what we see). Removing the job in your ATS will automatically remove it from any feed or scrape used for your campaigns.
  • Repeat this process for every PPC job board you invest with.

Pros: Segmenting job groups with their own budget will reduce wasted clicks and improve your ROI.

Cons: Micro-managing PPC campaigns for one to two boards is hard enough, adding more will create a monster and never be perfect.

  1. Make the move to a programmatic media-buying strategy.
  • Leveraging a programmatic tool to buy and manage PPC media will do everything in the first option, except it will do it all with a few automated rules set by you, hence removing and adding jobs in real time without lifting a finger… for all PPC boards simultaneously.

Pros: Automating PPC campaigns with a programmatic tool will make it easier to correctly manage your PPC campaigns.

Cons: Additional tags are required in your ATS, which means you have to ask your HRIS team for another favor.

Stay tuned for more details on what programmatic media is doing to sustain innovation in the PPC world and improve your existing investments.

So, is there anything you can do to keep your PPC campaigns from sucking? Sure, you can ask your PPC job board rep to give you a click by job title report every day or access your performance User Interface (UI) for each board and browse the app by job title in real time. Too bad neither one of these options exists. Until PPC Job Boards can innovate their own reporting, each and every campaign you set up will either need to be micro-managed or coupled with a programmatic tool to truly optimize your dollars and not suck.