SimplyHired Imposes $500 Monthly Ad Spend as it Cracks Down On Errant Job Publishers

Apr 21, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

SimplyHired is cracking down on sites, especially job boards, it believes are gaming the system by posting phony listings, repackaging listings from other sites as their own, or which use so-called black hat tricks to improve the organic positioning of their jobs and thus increase their clickthrough traffic.

“We are trying to make sure the jobs in our index are as high quality as possible,” explains Gautam Godhwani, co-founder and CEO of SimplyHired, a search engine for job listings. “People are actively gaming the system,” he says, telling us that those who refuse to change are being removed from the search engine’s index.

That means that a job which previously would have been found by searching SimplyHired will now no longer appear there. For a small job board which depends on the visibility provided by the search engines, being excluded may not be quite a death sentence, but it can mean a huge drop in traffic, which can translate into an equally big drop in revenue.

The site’s FAQs do spell out the requirements, among them: “Provide unique and relevant content that adds value to the job seeker experience.” Black hat tricks are specifically prohibited: “Do not provide job content loaded with extraneous or artificially modified content (i.e. keyword stuffing, etc).” And the jobseeker who clicks through on a job ad can’t be required to register to see the full ad.

The crackdown on alleged bad practices (which can also include uncorrected, though innocent, technical flaws such as broken links), has gotten mixed up with a new, and surprising business practice requiring new advertisers to commit to a minimum $500 monthly spend.

We say surprising because as far as we can tell, SimplyHired is now the only jobs search engine with a minimum ad spend, and the highest overall minimums of any search engine., SimplyHired’s rival and the leader in traffic between them, has no advertising minimum. Search giant Google also has no minimums for its Adwords program.

Meanwhile, SimplyHired also instituted a new flagging system that lets jobseekers report a particular listing.

All this has caused enough confusion to prompt a couple of job board owners to suggest SimplyHired was now charging $500 a month to have listings included in the index.

“We are not charging to have listings included in the organic search results,” Godhwani insists. What’s happened, he says, is that two different company teams have been in touch with some job board operators. One team, apparently, is scolding the operator for the quality of the listings, and threatening to remove the listings from the index, while the other is detailing the new advertising minimums.

Simone Emmons, owner of three job boards that have now been delisted by SimplyHired, was the first to post about the advertising minimum. She tells us SimplyHired had issues with some of the listings on one of her sites, but claims that even though she made adjustments, listings from her sites no longer appear in the SimplyHired search results. She suspects it’s because she decided against meeting the new ad spending minimums.

There are a few things interesting here, all of which should matter to recruiters who place job postings on commercial services.

First off, the fracas over the delisting of some job boards amounts to the airing of some of the industry’s dirty linen. Know that old saw about which came first? In the job board business, that’s no mere intellectual puzzle. To attract jobseekers, you have to have jobs. To get employers to pay, you have to deliver candidates. (Ignore the candidate quality issue just now.) So for years startup job boards (and even a few with some maturity) have been copying listings from other sites, and passing them off as their own.

There’s nothing new about this practice. When print was the advertising medium of choice, small newspapers and free advertising papers routinely copied the classifieds from the big dailies. Today, it’s just a whole lot easier to do digitally.

Ironically, that’s pretty much how the job search sites — SimplyHired included — operate. The difference is that they send the jobseeker back to the originating site. Because the search sites now attract millions of jobseekers a month, job boards and employers actively work to get included in the index. Even a small job board can now claim access to those millions, thanks to Indeed, SimplyHired, Google, and others.

Godhwani says it’s when the job boards purloin listings that SimplyHired draws the line.

“We have received complaints from employers that clicks (jobseekers) are going to sites where they never posted a job,” he says, describing one way SimplyHired has of finding out. Another is when the job boards themselves complain. “We’ve actually had job boards complain to us,” he notes. And then there are other, technical ways of inferring that jobs are being repackaged, but he didn’t get into those.

Sites that refuse to stop the practice are being removed from SimplyHired’s index, says Godhwani. There are also other reasons for being delisted as we noted in the beginning. These include popular job descriptions for real or more often fictitious jobs that have been written in such a way that they rise to the top of search results. (Legitimately done, this is merely search engine optimization.) The idea is to get candidates to click through to the job board site where they can then be pitched for a resume or forced through a series of pop-up ads.

If there is a real job at the end of the road, the employer’s brand can be hurt by the association with the job board.

Posting a job ad to get click throughs to a site where, says Godhwani, “they are going to milk the jobseeker” will get the offending site banned.

While monitoring has been going on since SimplyHired was launched back in 2005, it is curious that the crackdown and the flagging system were introduced at the same time as the new advertising minimums. Incidentally, the minimums don’t apply only to new advertisers; some existing customers — like Emmons, for instance, if she hadn’t been 86ed entirely — also are subject to the $500 monthly requirement.

What’s the criteria? It applies, Godhwani says, “to problem accounts.” These, he defined for us, as publishers and ad buyers who “overwhelmed” the sales team with too many service requests.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.