Catching candidates

Websites are a bit like super-tankers,” says John Russell, marketing manager of recruitment consultancy Martin Ward Ander

Websites are a bit like super-tankers,” says John Russell, marketing manager of recruitment consultancy Martin Ward Anderson (MWA), which specialises in finance professionals. “They take a little while to get going, you put a lot of resource into them and then they really start performing. The minute you stop putting resources in, your site will start to drop down the rankings, being replaced by those competitor sites that are putting the effort in.”

The effort is paying off though. MWA’s site, developed by web design and development company HotLizard, which specialises in the recruitment sector, has managed to triple its traffic since its launch in January this year. Others with a similar devoted approach to their web strategy agree. “I could spend all day every day on the website,” says Hannah Goodyear, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) marketing manager in charge of the site at information security and risk management recruitment consultancy Acumin. “Google loves new content, so at the moment I’m writing a glossary and I’d like to get a day-in-the-life of a consultant posted soon.”

It would be pretty rare to find a recruitment business that didn’t have a website these days but not everyone has been as quick to maximise its potential benefits. Clearly though, it takes time, effort and money, and if the person charged with looking after the site is weighed down by other work, it is easy to let it languish. After all, it’s up there, it says what you do and there’s a contact phone number on it — somewhere — so where’s the harm?

Sadly, such neglect can do a lot of harm. To a journalist, for instance, checking out a press section which hasn’t featured any fresh news since 2006 sends out an extremely poor message about the state of your business.

Bruce Stander, managing director of online recruitment specialist Optimal Internet, says that this year he has seen more people than ever come to them because they’ve realised the shortfalls of not investing in their website — and therefore their brand — sooner. “Their website has traditionally been more of a brochure and they want something more up-to-date which will allow them to compete with other businesses in the internet marketplace,” he says. “What we’re seeing is the website becoming more of a business-critical tool than just a face on the web.”

So if you know you’ve woefully neglected your site and have managed to persuade the directors that it is time for a revamp, what are the current recruitment site must-haves and how can you exploit the site to get competitive edge at a time when everyone is fighting for business? With all of the interactive Web 2.0 features and wizardry on offer, it is both easy to feel overwhelmed and to get carried away. So it is important to consider what you want to achieve with the website.

Whatever else, recruiters’ sites should have a good vacancy search, candidate application, jobs by email and RSS (really simple syndication) job feed. These features alone can offer a compelling reason for people to come to your site and as David Johnston, business development manager at HotLizard says, it can also give you a potential head start when it comes to the search engines. “Recruiters have got it going for them because search engines like relevant content and changing content, and so love jobs,” he says, adding that if recruiters learn how to use key words effectively, they won’t have to spend tens of thousands of pounds on search engine ad word campaigns.

“List the words which you think the candidate will be using and make sure these are used as often as possible in the advert. If you want to attract professionally qualified accountants, don’t try to be overly eloquent and write ‘human capital in the accountancy sector’. Think about the words the candidate will use — it’s about being very precise and getting the basics right.” Any relevant content will help your organic search engine listings if it’s written effectively, and market reports, salary surveys and white papers are all good fodder. For instance, recruiters report that salary surveys rank among the most popular pieces of content.

But content isn’t just there to elevate you in the Google rankings. In a competitive marketplace it should also ensure that the candidate has a reason to keep coming back to the site, even when they are not job hunting. James Saunders, managing director of 4MAT, which develops websites for the recruitment industry,

believes that recruiters shouldn’t be seduced by some of the more gimmicky Web 2.0 devices when it comes to content and look instead at what will mark them out in their sector. “If you’re looking for a USP [unique selling proposition] for your recruitment site, do you give candidates a widget or do you give them a white paper on an area of interest to them that is going to make your site far more authoritative?” he says. “As the market turns, recruiters will need only quality candidates and self-selection will be very important. I don’t mean via online tests but candidates deciding whether it is the right agency for them. More sophisticated content such as this becomes very important.”

Goodyear says that engaging candidates at whatever stage they are at in their careers was always the intention of Acumin’s site, which was designed by marketing, design and technology agency Aedis. It takes a news feed about the sector from online news provider Adfero. Goodyear is looking into ways of extending the company’s monthly ‘Rant’ industry events online. “We’re known for our events and we’re currently talking to an information security magazine who is interested in working with us to put up a portal that would enable people to continue the discussion online,” she says.

Several agency sites are bringing an interactive dimension via blogs or even their own social network. A year or so ago, Saunders says it might have been seen as a death sentence to let candidates give feedback because people worried they would get a lot of negative feedback. “But a blog or forum is a really effective way to engage with candidates on this level and hear what’s important to them,” he says. “The feedback can often be positive. Generation Y are doing this all the time in other areas [of life] and expect it.”

Log-in areas which offer candidates a personal space within a recruiter’s site are also proving popular. Technical recruiter Advanced Resource Managers (ARM) has candidate log-in areas which let the individual apply for jobs, track applications, save job searches and subscribe to email alerts and RSS feeds. Such tools have also helped to bring a high-level of personalisation to the site, says Mike Gawthorne, managing director. “We’ve always wanted to give a personal service but with large company feel so we didn’t just want a corporate site.”

ARM is likely to be among those to take advantage of more client-orientated tools in Optimal Internet’s next software release (it currently uses SEO services from the company). These will offer proprietary services such as candidates by email (a sort of jobs by email in reverse) and Stander says that other tools could include timesheet software and temporary and contractor log-ins so contractors could be managed through their site.

Without doubt, recruitment sites can also be a tool to reduce the burden of administration and streamline processes associated with the recruitment process. Integrating sites with recruitment management software as well as multi-posters such as Broadbean, Conkers and Idibu can really pay off.

Johnston says that MWA’s website has been set up to enhance workflow and uses advanced SEO (search engine optimisation) technology to maximise responses. This has worked to such an extent that vacancies on a client microsite were indexed by Google within hours of being posted. “Websites are not just for advertising and marketing, they can bring business efficiencies,” he says. Russell adds that the use of Broadbean’s Aplitrak software in connection with the site also means it can track where applications come from and monitor performance and return for each team and job board.

SEO creeps into every area of discussion regarding website design because it can be influenced by so many factors on the site. Recruiters have certainly grasped its significance over the past 12 months but there is still a lot to learn. Stander believes they still need education in how best to approach it. “They tend to want to focus their site on high volume searches rather than quality search results.”

Saunders adds it may be controversial to say so but he doesn’t believe SEO is the be-all and end-all. While he admits it can drive huge amounts of traffic if done correctly, it’s “not a magic bullet” on its own and should be combined with other methods such as pay-per-click and good quality email marketing. And with the latter, it doesn’t just mean emailing everyone on your database and saying ‘here are the jobs’ but doing a sustained email campaign to half a dozen or so targeted candidates.

“Real digital marketing is not just about traffic, it’s about getting traffic and converting it into CVs,” he says. “In a tipping market, the ideal situation is that you engage someone who isn’t looking for a job and has never heard of your agency; you then keep their interest, court them over a period of time and eventually they convert into a CV. It’s a very subtle process.”

If you only have time to read this:

John Russell, marketing manager, Martin Ward Anderson

“It’s about doing the simple things really well that don’t necessarily cost a lot of money — so with SEO [search engine optimisation], for instance, it’s about using the correct key words, meta tags and page titles and making sure they are consistent. You could spend unlimited amounts on promoting a site but you have to be targeted with your approach, ensuring a balance between pay-per-click campaigns, SEO, relevant and fresh content generation, and building link equity [the volume of links in and out of your site, and how relevant/valuable they are]. A sophisticated links strategy should be focused on generating inbound links. Job boards can be valuable inbound link generators — ensure you have an up-to-date URL linking back to your site — and your web address is listed on industry association and industry body sites, as well as those of publishers in your sector. Rather than publish files or content in attachments, try to break it up so you can put it directly as text on the webpage so search engines can find it easily.”

Hannah Goodyear, EMEA marketing manager, Acumin

“The website takes up a large amount of my time but also linked to this is email marketing as we don’t do any direct mail any more. It is all done via email and is much cheaper.”

Mike Gawthorne, managing director, Advanced Resource Managers

“One of the ways we draw people to the site is via our quarterly newsletters that we send out. It’s about drawing people to the site and then capturing their interest when they are there. We have three dedicated marketeers who work on the site.”

James Saunders, managing director, 4MAT

“People should look at spending less with other job boards and investing it in their own website as a source of candidate attraction.”

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