Just a decade ago the e-commerce industry was starting to gain steam, and many retailers lacked the inclination to invest in selling online, or lacked the know-how to take create and maintain an online presence. But the retailers that figured it out have seen enormous success in the intervening years. Amazon, the standard-bearer for the online shopping world, now has a higher market capitalization than Wal-Mart, Costco, and Target combined. And while the big box stores’ revenues still dwarf Amazon’s, investors are making a bet on the future, and the economics are in their favor.
Amazon’s ascendancy in retail is just one particularly prominent example of the growing importance of a digital sensibility in markets of all types. The hiring market is no exception. Reporting by ERE on a study by the Talent Board earlier this year had a straightforward message: recruiters need to be paying attention to their company websites, because candidates already are. Like a 2015 study that found two-thirds of consumers report that they shop online “regularly,” two-thirds of respondents in the Talent Board study indicated that company websites were among their most valuable resources — nearly twice the share that mentioned any other resource.
It is no great mystery that talent acquisition is becoming increasingly digital, but what might remain a mystery for corporate recruiters is how to adapt to this new world. To that end, this article is intended to serve as an introduction to some of the high-level concepts and terminology of the digital marketing world. Hopefully, it will provide a framework for assessing and updating your digital marketing strategy to ensure that you are making the most of your online presence.
Discoverability: How Do They Find You?
Here’s a simple exercise to see how well your careers site is capturing potential recruiting leads: choose an open position you are promoting, and imagine the ideal candidate for that role; jot down a few search queries that this ideal candidate might use when starting employer research; and then see where your firm ends up in each set of results. Your position in the results is known as your search engine ranking, and it is critical to the success of your digital marketing strategy. For any high-priority search string, you should hope to show up at or near the top of the results, and anything outside the top five is less than ideal; outside the top 10 is worrisome; and if takes more than 30 results (or 15 seconds) to find a link to your careers site then you are likely not attracting any traffic at all from the search you’re testing.
For employers, the implications of weak digital discoverability are dire. Put simply, if two-thirds of job candidates use company websites to conduct critical research and most of them can’t find your website easily, change your approach. And while the Google exercise given above is one example of discoverability, there are (or should be) a multitude of different ways that candidates encounter and engage with your employer brand online. Social media, digital advertising, social professional networks, and job boards can all draw in potential hires, and a well-designed digital marketing strategy will look for to emphasize these different channels in proportion to their relevance for your target audience.
Fortunately, as either a retailer or a recruiter, it’s not difficult to find out what people are searching for and whether those people are finding your website when they should. Google makes it easy to figure out what people are entering into their search engine (see Google Trends), and if your firm doesn’t already have internal analytics engine to track web traffic there are plenty of third-party services available that can provide valuable information about where your visitors come from.
These tools will tell you which digital channels — social media, email campaigns, organic search, digital advertising, etc. — are generating the most traffic to your site, and can provide details about the specific URLs, keywords, and other criteria that brought someone in contact with your employer brand. This is the top of your digital recruiting funnel; with proper maintenance it can ensure a steady supply of qualified recruiting leads, but without attention it can fail to capture enough candidates for you to realize the economies of scale that digital sourcing facilitates.
A healthy pipeline will depend on a variety of tools to maintain a healthy flow of visitors: search engine optimization to ensure your site shows up near the top of important search results; social media advertising to attract targeted visitors; content creation and earned media to gain inbound traffic; and mailing list management services to drive and track engagement with email blasts.
Content: What Do Visitors Want to See?
Digital marketers manage their web content in the form of “landing pages,” each of which is a single web page designed to provide visitors with the information and motivation they need to take an action. Potential applicants from any digital source will first encounter your employer brand through a landing page; if your digital marketing strategy is optimized, that landing page should speak directly to the needs and interests of the visitor. For instance, college students — whether they are arriving from Google or Facebook or any other digital source — should see your campus recruiting landing page before they see anything else. But how should you construct your landing pages, and what are those visitors actually looking for when they come to your website for the first time?
If there has been an overarching theme to digital marketing over the last decade, it has been: content is king. Google has spent years updating its algorithm to combat underhanded tactics and focus on the “usefulness” of search results, with particular focus paid to accessibility (and, more recently, mobile-friendliness). The upshot of all these changes has been that the top search results are those to which visitors respond most positively.
Success in digital marketing, then, starts with having great landing pages; those visitors have certain standards for web design and ease of navigation and will leave in an instant if those standards are not met. In fact, one of the most important metrics for your careers site or other landing pages is the “bounce rate,” which measures the number of visitors who immediately “bounce” back to the previous page upon your page loading. An unusually high bounce rate (more than 70 percent) could be a sign of serious deficiencies in site design or functionality.
Beyond ensuring that your site doesn’t immediately send visitors running in the opposite direction, your content strategy should focus on making it easy for visitors to find and access the information they are seeking. This is your digital employer brand, and the ERE article mentioned above should make it clear how critical it is to optimize this user experience. For starters, make sure that you are answering the questions that candidates really care about. Again, from the article:
What do candidates want to find when they visit your career site? The Talent Board asked them, finding their top five are:
- Values (41.8 percent)
- Products and services (36.6 percent)
- Employee testimonials (34.9 percent)
- Answers to why people work there … (30.8 percent)
- … why they stay (23. percent)
There are a couple of insights to glean from this list: first, candidates want to know what you do, but are much more interested in why you do it; second, they want to hear from your employees, with three of the top five responses above entailing employee-generated content.
This is great news for recruiting teams stressing over what content to feature on their corporate careers site. Borrow a decent camera from the marketing department, set up a nice backdrop, and record some charismatic employees explaining what their job is and why they like it. The tone should be informative, conversational, and (most of all) honest; millennials (the most digitally engaged demographic) are genuinely and profoundly interested in authenticity, which is a complicated way of saying that they want to know what is really going on at your company and will be able to tell when you’re faking it.
A note here on job postings, a critical but often misused asset in the digital recruiting process: with their “walls of text,” imprecise formatting, and formulaic content, job postings are one of the worst ways for a candidate to first encounter your employer brand. All job descriptions are equally boring — company overview, role overview, qualifications, requirements, etc. — and they have an unfortunate way of making all employers look equally boring as well (imagine if every online dating profile was just a paragraph of text describing their expectations of a potential partner).
The most effective digital content takes advantage of the dynamic, interactive nature of the medium (thinks pictures, videos, and buttons); job postings, if they are worthwhile at all in an increasingly digital world, should serve as a perfunctory final step (or filter) for candidates in your digital recruiting pipeline.
Conversion: What Do You Want Visitors to Do?
Remember that candidates enter the digital recruiting pipeline by discovering your landing pages through search engines, social networks, and the like; depending upon the strength and usefulness of your digital content, some percentage of those visitors will stick around long enough to engage with your content and even seek out additional content beyond that initial landing page. The final stages of the digital sourcing pipeline focus on what is called conversion, when a visitor takes some sort of proactive step to indicate their interest. In the e-commerce world, a conversion could be defined as a successful checkout; on a digital recruiting platform, it could be anything from a resume submission to an ATS profile creation.
What will qualify as a conversion for your team, of course, depends on your current organizational goals with regards to digital recruiting, as well as what your technology allows. Depending upon these and other factors, you will develop a “call to action” (e.g. an “apply here” button) that features prominently on each landing page. Simpler calls to action are better — the more complicated a form or profile-creation process, the less likely a visitor will be to complete the conversion.
On the other hand, there are visitors you may not want to convert — because, for instance, they’re completely unqualified and not worth the time spent reviewing their profiles. Fortunately, you can use your landing page design, branding content, and call to action language to cater to specific audiences and avoid clogging your digital recruiting pipeline with unqualified leads. This sort of landing page customization and targeting can be difficult to accomplish at scale with company career websites, but a more customized user experience (MBAs seeing only MBA-specific content, for example) not only leads to more conversions but also filters out more of the noise.
The Bottom Line: Get Discovered, Engage With Content, Target, and Convert
Digital marketing is still, more than 20 years after widespread adoption of the internet, a relatively new field. Consumers — and job candidates — on the web have a lot of options available to them, and they will judge quickly whether you are worthy of their time. Your brand needs to be discoverable, your content needs to be engaging, and your path to conversion needs to be clear. Recruiters are already living in a candidate-driven market, and the crowded nature of the online marketplace makes this even more true there. However, with proper maintenance and targeting, your digital recruiting pipeline can be an invaluable resource.