Niche vs General Job Sites: Is There a Rivalry?

Despite rumors of their demise for the past decade, niche recruitment sites are far from dead. But do they threaten giants such as Indeed, Glassdoor, or Monster? Or can everyone live together harmoniously?

Size of the Niche Market

Steven Rothberg, president and founder of College Recruiter, thinks 75% of the estimated 100,000 job sites globally are niche sites. To be sure, most are small, often a “side project” of a website providing broader content for its niche — although some dedicated job boards, like EnergyJobline (for gas, oil and renewable energy positions), MediaBistro (for journalism jobs), CoolWorks (for outdoor gigs), and College Recruiter (for new graduates), have hundreds of thousands of monthly visits. A few, such as Dice.com, FlexJobs, EFinancialCareers, and USAJobs, even have millions.

Still, when looking at traffic numbers, the major sites have little to fear. “We don’t see external niche sites as a threat,” says Matthew Moore of U.K.-based recruitment generalist site CV-Library, which has launched a few niche sites of its own (including JobsRetail.co.uk and EngineeringJobs.co.uk). “We can usually partner with them, which we couldn’t do with other generalist job boards.”

Niches and Generals Serve Different Needs

The reality is that niche and general sites serve very different functions and, in many ways, complement each other. 

“Niche sites have always talked about having a focused and very specific candidate audience. Generalist sites talk about traffic and big numbers,” remarks Jeff Dickey-Chasins, a job-board consultant. “Niche sites will never have the traffic of the generalist sites and the generalist sites will never have the focus of the niche sites.”

Stephen Oldroyd, general manager of niche site Work in Startups, explains how a business like his offers job-seekers content that a broader site can’t: “Candidates coming through [generalist sites] don’t understand the startup appeal with a salary that’s often lower.” Job-seekers coming to Work in Startups, on the other hand, are “100% clear that these are startup roles, so it saves HR teams the hassle of having to explain to people why packages are different.” 

Then, too, job-seekers in the digital age are not particularly brand loyal. “The typical job-seeker uses a number of job-search sites, both niche ones like College Recruiter and general sites like Google or Indeed, often without thinking of the differences between them,” Rotherberg says. “All job-seekers really care about is that they’re searching for jobs, find some they like, and can easily apply. Job boards that think that their brand is worth spending a fortune on are mistaken; searching for a job is not the same as buying toothpaste.”

General recruitment sites nevertheless watch carefully what the niche sites are doing. “The general, larger sites look to the niche sites for ideas for how to improve,” Rothberg adds. “It’s a lot easier for a niche site to experiment than it is for a site like Indeed or LinkedIn. If a small, niche site implements an effective new feature, then it greatly reduces the risk of the general, large site to mimic that feature or even acquire the niche site and then roll out that feature across the buyer’s existing site.”

Some of the more recent acquisitions Rothberg is referring to include:

  • Nursing job site Nursefly, acquired by IAC (reportedly for $15 million) in 2019
  • U.K.-based WorkInStartups, acquired by Adzuna in 2018
  • IT job board Net-Temps, which was acquired by the parent company of general site TopUSAJobs

Tech, Medical, and Financial Niches

Although niche job sites can be found across all types of categories — from Nannyfy, which helps parents in Spain find nannies, to huge hourly sites such as SnagAJob — several categories dominate, with tech, financial, and medical niches at the top.

“Niche sites, like all businesses, tend to congregate where the money is,” Rothberg explains. “Industries where candidates are hard to hire but available through job-search sites are going to attract more new, niche sites than industries where candidates are easy to hire, readily available, or both.”

Meanwhile, tech sites are frequently attached to larger content providers. For instance, TechCrunch has its CrunchBoard job list, while Mashable and yCombinator have their own job boards. Industry associations are another source of both content and listings. Such “hybrid sites are probably the most common mid-tier ($5-$50 million) job sites,” Dickey-Chasins explains.

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Three leading tech-centric community sites — GitHub, StackOverflow, and Kaggle — that have job boards also have a nifty extra feature: They will evaluate a candidate’s work by digging into their past coding efforts, using a combination of peer review and automation.

Keys to Success

A successful niche site must “go beyond simply being a job-listing site, usually by providing in-depth content to candidates and specific ways for employers to reach those candidates,” Dickey-Chasins points out. “It really boils down to whether or not the job-seekers are aware of particular sites or sources. Most job searches still start with Google.”

Sure enough, Google’s job-search functions have changed how niche sites operate for the better, according to the sites that AIM Group spoke to. “It’s been helpful for us as we have plenty of unique content, and it’s stopped traffic from being eaten up by Indeed,” Oldroyd says.

Google’s move into job-search, which set it in direct competition with Indeed (which does not to share listings with Google), has increased overall traffic for most niche sites by about 4-7%, according to Dickey-Chasins.

Business Models

Small niche sites have tended to focus on a classic pay-per-post business model (the resources for expanding to a broader advertising approach simply aren’t there for the most part). Migration to performance-based pricing (which includes pay-per-click and pay-per-application) is happening with niche boards but it can be difficult, lengthy, stressful, and expensive. Whereas College Recruiter made the transition during the last several years, Rothberg says, “Quite frankly, I don’t think that most niche boards globally are up to the challenge.”

Whatever the business model, niche job boards aren’t going away. “The generalist job boards are still the market leaders, but this isn’t necessarily at the expense of niche sites,” says Moore. “They can definitely coexist and work together to help drive traffic to each other’s platforms.” When it comes to the question of niche sites vs. the generalists, it’s far from a binary calculation.

This article is adapted from the AIM Group’s comprehensive 2020 Recruitment Marketplaces Annual. ©2020, Advanced Interactive Media Group LLC. Reprinted with permission.

Brian Blum covers the U.S., Canada, and Israel for Classified Intelligence Report, and contributes to its special reports and research projects. Originally from San Francisco and now based in Jerusalem, he has been with the AIM Group since 2004. He is the president of Blum Interactive Media, specializing in writing and multimedia content development for online, print, video, and audio. His clients include newspapers, universities, and non-profits. He is currently working on a book about the billion-dollar bankruptcy of a once high-flying Israeli startup.

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