Whether it’s all about lowering your overall talent budget or seeking higher quality candidiates, Google and SEO still matter. A lot.

Here it is, 2014, and you’d think we’d be done talking about SEO and its value to talent acquisition strategies. And as much as some would like to call the era of SEO over, it’s not. Not by a long shot.

First, a quick primer on what SEO is and what it isn’t. SEO is the process of understanding how Google finds, reads and rates each web page and then using that understanding to increase your page rankings amongst your competitors. If you were in a bake-off, and you knew the judges loved lemon, you probably would skip making your famous peanut butter pie and switch to something more citrusy instead, right?

SEO is the same way. It’s about understanding how to align what you’re doing to the systems that have the most impact on them.

And Google still has a lot of impact on your website. A quick glance at your budget will show that you probably spend a lot of money placing ads and buying highlighted slots on job boards. Then you’d look at your analytics and see that most of your traffic is coming from those ads and those job boards. Even if you aren’t spending big bucks promoting your jobs on job boards like Indeed, Indeed (and its compatriots) drive a lot of traffic to your site.

With so much money being spent, and so much traffic coming to your site, why would you worry about SEO? Because after all these years, Google still has a huge impact on your audience:

  • 93% of all online experiences start with a search [source]
  • Every day, 11.94 billion searches happen on Google (that’s 138,000 a second) [source]
  • 70-80% of the links that Google searchers click are organic (not ads) [source]

But from a talent acquisition standpoint, let’s start with the obvious one first: Cost Per Hire. All those ads aren’t free, obviously. And just because someone clicks on the ad doesn’t mean they stay for more than ten seconds on your site, let alone apply. Consequently, while an ad might cost $10 per click (insert your own data here), that ad is really driving a CPH in the hundreds of dollars. You need to get 20, 50 or 100 clicks to get one application.

Your ad publishers, who charge for each click, have no problem with this system. They are not obliged to push your ad to people who are likely to be interested in your jobs or likely to apply. So long as they get clicks, they charge you, and all is happy in their world. (Note: The latest generation of ad publishers and ad providers are doing a much better job making each click more efficient, which is why they can charge more per click. Talk to your media planner for more info.)

You’d love to see a system in which the cost per click is so low, it doesn’t matter how many clicks occur per application. Or better yet, a cost that isn’t incurred at the click, so that once you invest in it, you can get all the clicks you want without an increase in cost.

Well, that sounds like SEO. Depending on how you look at it, the cost of an SEO-focused site can be budgeted per annum (so there are no surprises), or you can take the number of clicks you did get and divide it by that annual cost. Either way, if your SEO solution is well executed, you can see your calculated cost per click measured in pennies, not dollars.

But who cares about cost per click? You don’t really want to buy clicks – you want to buy applications. Better yet, you want to buy new hires. In our experience, cost per application and cost per hire ends up being far, far lower than an SEM, ad or job board strategy. In some cases, you can see a CPH that’s 20% of the average CPH or 10% of an ad’s CPH.

So SEO really works for your budget. But what if you are one of those lucky talent acquisition managers who don’t really have to worry about budget? (Shush! Just play along!)

If budget isn’t your concern, your concern must be in drawing the best possible talent, right? You need to find that highly talented needle in a haystack of second-rate talent.

In this case, your CPH is astronomical, so you end up doing some very interesting things to draw the attention of that superstar. Billboards on buses, ads on Pandora or on niche sites like Github (if your needle is of the programmer variety) or PracticeFusion (if your needle is a health care professional), conference sponsorship, and invitation-only gifts are all terrific ways of reaching those rare birds, even if they are quite expensive.

“For some roles, I’ve seen CPHs so high it might have been more cost effective for the recruiter to buy a plane ticket and swing by the recruit’s house with a cake that read, ‘Have you thought about other employment opportunities?’ written in frosting.”

For some roles, I’ve seen CPHs so high it might have been more cost effective for the recruiter to buy a plane ticket and swing by the recruit’s house with a cake that read, “Have you thought about other employment opportunities?” written in frosting.

So rather than start by busting the budget, understanding who the needle was, what they liked to do online and what they searched for would have let that same company draw the awareness and interest of needles without the expense. In fact, by targeting by behavior (what someone searches for), you can draw interest by like-minded people, who might also make excellent recruits. All for the same cost as targeting that single needle.

In reality, most talent acquisition professionals have to balance their budgetary limitations with their desire to hire the best possible people.

But what if your primary strategy is job board based? Let’s say you are comfortable placing a big bet on one (or many) of the big-name job boards to draw recruits. Let me ask this: how do you think your candidate found your job posting on the job board? I’d bet ten bucks that they didn’t go to the job board and start searching. I’d bet they started at Google and the job board posting came up.

Now, this raises some issues to consider. For one, go look at your job description on that job board. If you candidate is interested but wants more information about the job, the company or the location, how are they going to find it? It’s not going to be on the job description on the job board. What are they going to do? Oh yeah. Google you. They’ll search for you until they learn more about you.

But can you trust a vaguely interested prospect to leave the job board, remember the name of the company and job title, search for it in Google, and track the information down without getting lost, bored or distracted? I wouldn’t. If you expected the prospect to get more information by Googling you, why not cut out the middleman and invest in a Google-based SEO strategy?

This strategy makes even more sense if you end up spending money to get the job description on the board. Are you really going to pay to get the posting up, only to have it show up higher in Google searches than your actual site?

The final argument for SEO is focused on your elite, executive, technical and selective prospects. Our data indicates that the more selective the candidate, the less searching they do for “openings.” What they do spend their time doing is Googling you to learn about you. If you’re hiring a new Senior VP for Business Development, you know that the best candidates won’t be found on a job board. They will be applying once they’ve read your web site, once they’ve read about you on Glassdoor, once they’ve read all the latest news about you (not just the good PR stuff you host), and once they see what people they know say about you. All of that starts or happens on Google. Not having an SEO strategy in place means that you are leaving that VP’s research up to fate.

Clearly, Google remains the 800 lb. gorilla in the digital talent acquisition space. And without an effective SEO strategy – one that is executed well and measured and adjusted on a regular basis – you are hoping the gorilla in the room is nice to you, instead of figuring out how to make that gorilla work for you.


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Thanks to artist Curt Swan who drew the original image and lets the internet use it for our own common amusement.