Let the Commoditization of the ATS Business Begin, Compliments of Google Hire

“And while Google Hire has been called a ‘game changer for job boards,’ SmartStart offers far more and for free,” read a recent pitch from SmartRecruiters‘ PR team. I thought the language was telling, and likely a sign of things to come. Google Hire is going to drive a race to the bottom in the applicant tracking business.

First, let’s get the news out of the way. SmartRecruiters, a well-known player in the field of ATS competition, has released a product called SmartStart. As the company explains in a release, the product is “a free version of the SmartRecruiters enterprise talent acquisition suite that is designed specifically to make hiring easy for teams and companies of up to 250 employees.”

“SmartRecruiters is on a mission to connect people to jobs,” said Jerome Ternynck, CEO and founder of SmartRecruiters. “We all know hiring is particularly difficult for smaller organizations. Yet, they are the ones which create the most jobs. We want to make sure they have access to the same technology as the big enterprises. This is our way to give back.”

It may be a way of “giving back,” but it’s also a sign that Hire, Google’s latest solution for small businesses to post jobs and manage candidates is forcing the competition to rethink pricing. The PR pitch went deeper into describing how SmartStart was a superior product for SMBs, adding the following:

SmartStart is different from Google Hire in four important ways:

  • SmartStart has a marketplace including access to 350+ pre-integrated vendors
    • Google Hire only gives you the ability to post to a few job boards and doesn’t have integrations with any of the assessment and reference vendors that SmartStart has. This means you can’t track everything in the platform and have to cobble together the different components to have engagement in the recruiting process. This is KEY to recruiter efficiency.
  • SmartStart has a mobile hiring app to allow for improved hiring team collaboration
    • Google Hire doesn’t exist as an app, only in desktop format
  • SmartStart offers a branded career site
    • Google Hire does not provide this as part of its offering. A branded career site is KEY to a good candidate experience because it can provide insights on the company as an employer, give case studies, or videos about what it’s like to be an employee
  • SmartStart offers one-click application
    • Google Hire does not offer an easy, one-click-to-apply option

Google clearly has the attention of the ATS market, as evident by this pitch that was sent to our editor. Oddly, Hire is not even mentioned in the company’s official release. The only reference is in the last sentence, which reads: “Unlike other commercial recruiting solutions, SmartStart is very easy to use and focused on candidate experience, and it allows you to get started in minutes and at no cost.”

Industry veterans will remember that SmartRecruiters launched as a free service. A screenshot of its site as recently as 2014 reveals a free option for employers with modest needs, saying “Start with Free – SmartRecruiters free recruiting software has everything you need to post jobs, manage candidates, and make the right hire. No time or volume limits. No hidden fees. Just free and easy.”

The decision to go from free to fee is not an easy one. Once you commit to charging customers, you don’t usually go back unless there’s an extreme circumstance. And in this case, all signs point to Google as the culprit. You could also point a finger at Indeed, which launched a lean ATS for small businesses back in July at no cost. The fact that Google Hire is not free says some ATS providers are really concerned about Google’s entry into the market.

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Twenty years ago, Craigslist modestly started the trend of job postings becoming commodities. A variety of forces about 10 years after that, Google and Indeed (mostly by leveraging free traffic from Google) in particular, started to drive the value of a job posting down significantly, very quickly.

Fast forward to today, and it’s fairly easy to argue that what happened to job postings will happen with applicant tracking solutions. And it’s no surprise that Google is leading that charge.

Joel Cheesman

Joel Cheesman has over 20 years experience in the online recruitment space. He worked for both international and local job boards in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. In 2005, Cheesman founded HRSEO, a search engine marketing company for HR, as well as launching an award-winning industry blog called Cheezhead. He has been featured in Fast Company and US News and World Report. He sold his company in 2009 to Jobing.com. He was employed by EmployeeScreenIQ, a background check company. He is the founder of Ratedly, an app that monitors anonymous employee reviews. He is married and the father of three children. He lives in Indianapolis.