Buying Words in Google Searches to Gain an Edge in Recruiting

article by Dr. John Sullivan and Master Burnett One of the best-kept secrets in recruiting is that you can capture some extraordinary potential candidates by luring professionals to your site via sponsored links displayed in-line with search results on major search engines. While most commissioned advertising hits a broad audience, this approach allows you to only display your link to professionals who have included specific words in their search strings. This type of sponsored advertising is available on all of the major search engines, including Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and Ask, but this article will focus primarily on Google as it is the only major search engine that has seen a rise in market share over the past year and now serves up more than 60.2% of all Internet searches according to Hitwise. Think about it: Millions of individuals every day search the Internet to find information relevant to their jobs. While some individuals use Google to find a job (at any one time, about 18% of the population is looking), most professionals use Google searches to find answers to professional problems or to improve themselves as professionals. In fact, top performers who are currently employed seldom actively seek out a new job but routinely search for benchmark best practices and new tools and approaches. As a result, by buying the right key words (known as AdWords in Google-speak) you will become visible to top performers from around the world. People Do Click! It’s no secret that Google books most of its revenue from selling advertising that appears at the very top and in the right-hand margin alongside search results. When searches are entered, Google servers look at the key words that are being searched for and then matches those key words to specific advertisers who are interested in reaching people searching on those terms. If, for example, you were to search using the terms “consumer,” “product,” and “management,” Google would provide, alongside your search results, four sponsored links that, when clicked, connect you to three consulting organizations and one training organization that specializes in product management. So many people clicked on such sponsored links that in 2005, Google derived more than $1 billion in revenue from this product alone. Now let’s look at the practice as it relates to recruiting. An Example to Illustrate the Concept Let’s say you’re a recruiter looking for a great nurse in the metropolitan Los Angeles area. If you were to purchase the search phrase “nursing jobs in LA,” your sponsored ad would appear every time someone enters that search string. This phrase will, for the most part, link you to active jobs seekers and agents who represent them. Today, that search string would return sponsored links to more than 25 organizations attempting to hire nurses in Los Angeles, including three specific hospitals. Unless you are a well-branded hospital, appearing in such a flurry of links offers little value. However, there is a better approach that doesn’t focus on the job per say, but rather on capturing searches searching for domain expertise or on-the-job related assistance. Getting in front of the passive job seeker relies on approaches that sidestep many of the barriers such professionals have erected to avoid annoying recruiters. One way to slip past those barriers is to display non-job-focused links in responses to searches that have little or nothing to do with searching for a job. Examples of search strings related to nursing that do not focus on finding a job might include “discount scrub stores Los Angeles” or “Marfan Syndrome treatment.” Each of these searches could reach actively employed nurses searching for information relevant to their current job. The first phrase could link to a page on your career site providing information on your uniform policy and vendors with which you have negotiated special discounts. The second phrase could link to treatment protocols and patient statistics for persons suffering from Marfan Syndrome or any disease/condition for that matter. The first phrase on scrubs generates 10 sponsored links on Google, none of which is a specific hospital. The latter phrase on Marfan Syndrome generates three sponsored links, one of which belongs to the Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Institute. More generic phrases such as “best practices in nursing” may link you to your audience, but will occur with significantly less frequency. The very best way to get your hospital into the consciousness of the employed relies on two approaches: Become the best-practice hospital that is routinely featured in top search results based on content, or buy the relevant key words related to searches that nursing professionals routinely perform. Is Buying Words a New Concept in Recruiting? The buying of words on search engines is a common practice in business and sales, but not so in recruiting. Its lack of application is primarily due to the fact that most recruiters are straight-line thinkers who seldom try new approaches that require any significant effort or learning curve. However, there are a few firms (particularly in health care) that use this concept for recruiting but buy words related to “jobs” and “finding a job.” A small number of the very smartest recruiters who are well-versed in marketing and sales have jumped ahead of the field because they see the value of using key words, not to identify nontraditional job seekers, but instead as a tool to find the very best in their field who are continuously trying to get better. What Types of Key Word Strings Should I Use? Remember, the basic premise here is that if you want the very best, do not focus on the words related to jobs and job searches, and instead, focus on phrases that someone seeking out new answers or approaches will likely use. There’s no magic here; it takes some trial and error, but I recommend that you start by seeking out your current top performers and just ask them directly to give you the search strings that they routinely use in their everyday attempts to do their jobs better. Some of the search strings you should consider include:

  • “Best practices in…” Buying words related to best practices can help you identify individuals who are obviously looking for best practices. Since the very best become and remain the very best by maintaining an awareness of the benchmark standard, using words related to best practices in a functional area or industry is a great place to begin.
  • “New tools and approaches in…” Here you can use this generic phrase or you can substitute a particular new tool or approach by name. By appearing in front of individuals seeking out the latest tools or approaches, you’re likely to come across those knowledgeable in or interested in these new approaches.
  • Issues and problems. Because the very best are constantly trying to solve the hottest problems and biggest issues facing an industry or function, purchasing phrases related to these major unsolved problems means you’ll have an opportunity to attract individuals who are or who want to be on the cutting edge. Any individual who has an early awareness of an emerging problem is someone you want to “get in front of.”
  • Buzzwords. By selecting search strings that include the latest hot words or phrases, you’re likely to have your ad displayed in front of those who are trying to learn more about these new buzzwords.
  • Key authors, practitioners, and experts. By selecting search strings that include the specific names of leading functional experts, consultants, and authors, you also likely to get individuals who are trying to learn by reading the work of the very best in the field.
  • Award winners. Those seeking out award opportunities, competitive contest opportunities, or individuals who are award winners are almost without exception the kind of people you want to target.
  • Best-practices companies. By focusing on search strings that include the names of the top-performing organizations or functional departments, you’ll generally capture the individuals who are seeking to learn how the very best operate or have solved emerging problems. If you’re really bold, you could attempt to buy your key competitor’s firm names, and you would then appear on the same page with them.
  • Training or learning opportunities. The very best individuals are continually trying to improve, and as a result, they often seek out professional training and learning opportunities. Thus, individuals who use search terms related to advanced training, certification, and professional seminars, or who even look up the knowledge base of a professional association should be considered prime targets.
  • New technology. Individuals who are seeking out information related to new technology are likely to be on the leading edge, and as a result, they should be targeted.
  • Forecasts and predictions. Search strings that seek to identify forecasts and predictions of upcoming problems and opportunities are likely to identify individuals who are future-focused.
  • Book and article titles. The very best seek out leading-edge books, journals, and articles in order to learn. As a result, if you include them in the word you purchase, you are likely to come across the eyes of individuals who are well-read and are constantly seeking out the best publications.

It’s also important to note that in addition to buying words, you should supplement the strategy with similar approaches. For example, you should also attempt to get your company’s job-search link placed on key learning/knowledge or what I call “answer guy” websites that are frequently visited by top performers. Start by asking your top performers what “learning sites” they visit on a regular basis, and then see if the owner of those sites will allow you to add a link to your own knowledge/learning or job site. 5 Steps to Take to Begin Search String Recruiting This example covers the Google process, but it’s important to note that other search engines have similar processes and opportunities. Google calls the key words that advertisers purchase access to “AdWords.” Using the AdWords system is very easy and consists of five basic steps outlined here: Register (for first-timers only). On your initial sign-up, you’ll actually complete all of the subsequent steps before you give them your contact and billing information. This process allows customers to see what they will be getting into before they actually register! Determine your geographic target. One of the first key pieces of information you will need to provide pertains to where, geographically, you want your ad to show up. Google lets you target countries and territories, regions and cities, or locations within a certain distance from an address. Say, for example, you wanted to display ads regarding internships to individuals who live in or around your targeted recruiting schools; you could define your target as being within 25 miles of each school address. Select your AdWords. After you’ve defined the geographic target of your ad or sponsored link, it’s time to start selecting what key words will trigger your ad to appear. (Note: Specific key words for recruiting were covered in the previous section within this article.) Google makes available several tools to help you, including one tool that scans your website and suggests key words based upon what it found. We recommend against relying exclusively on this feature. Instead, we suggest you conduct some market research to identify what types of routine searches your target audience conducts, and what key words they use in them. Don’t assume you already know; actually do the research. Using this approach will ensure that your ads get in front of the right audience. You can select as many as you like, but we would suggest no more than 20 words. Craft your ad or sponsored link. Once your key words are selected, the next step is to actually design and then enter your ad. Google Ads are text-based, and do not include any images (you can see a sample by doing an actual Google search and then looking at the current sponsored links for some ideas). These links consist of the following:

Item How it Appears
Headline (25 Characters Max) Your Headline Here
Description Line 1 (35 Characters Max) First line of your pitch!
Description Line 2 (35 Characters Max) Second line of your pitch!
Display URL (35 Characters Max)
Destination URL (1024 Characters)

Obviously, your ad must closely coincide with the theme of the key word search you purchased. For example, if you bought the words “best practices,” your link must mention that your organization is known for its best practices. When individuals clicks on the link, they must find prominent and compelling descriptions of your best practices, as well as job opportunities. The key is to first get them excited about your firm’s best practices (or whatever is your focus) and then make it easy for them to make the mental jump from seeking out best practices to shifting their thinking toward wanting to work at a place that has so many best practices! Set your budget parameters. The last step (prior to giving Google your contact and billing information) has to do with setting up parameters that limit your costs. Google will ask you how much you’re willing to pay each day, and how much each click-through is worth to you (you are essentially “bidding” on key words). The more you pay, the higher your ad will appear on the list of sponsored links (obviously being below the entries that are visible on the first page will dramatically reduce your ability to be noticed). During this step, Google will help you to determine your likely response rate. The system will tell you how many clicks each set of selected key words is likely to generate, what rank order on the page that your cost-per-click choice will place your ad in, and your estimated daily liability. When using AdWords, you only get charged if someone actually clicks on your ad/link. Sample costs of using this approach include:

Article Continues Below
Term/Phrase Geography Cost per Click
Nursing continuing education U.S. $0.97
Forensic nursing U.S. $0.82
Lang win32process Germany $0.05
English phonetics China $0.42
Business English China $1.38
Telephoning American Poland $0.57

Some final things to remember are:

  • If you’re looking for employed people who aren’t necessarily looking for a job, use key words related to learning and the latest hot tools in your field rather than job-related words.
  • Don’t assume you know what will get an ad in front of the right people; extensively profile the type of individuals who you need to reach.
  • Test your ad. Is it creative, compelling, etc.?
  • Remember to continually update the key words you purchase and the words in your sponsored link because buzzwords, approaches, tools, and problems are always evolving.
  • Don’t bring them to your “door” and drop them. Whatever webpage you bring them to must be exciting enough to excite and keep them.

That’s it. You’re ready to start a new and exciting form of recruitment advertising that will give your firm a competitive advantage because it’s designed not for active job seekers, but instead, to attract individuals who are trying to improve themselves. This is the only approach that will successfully attract the A players or game-changers who can really make a difference in your organization.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



9 Comments on “Buying Words in Google Searches to Gain an Edge in Recruiting

  1. The authors of the 8/14/06 ERE Daily column say that they picked Google as their only search engine example to illustrate the keyword-purchase recruiting concept because it is the largest and the only one to have a market share gain in the past year. I’m sure it also has a bit to do with their firm’s consulting relationship with Google, but that’s not my main problem with only focusing on Google.

    It is precisely because the other major search engines are not as popular (at the moment) that it may make economic sense to use them instead: If I am paying per click, but I have to compete against a greater number of potential purchasers of my desired keywords, then I will have to bid MORE per click in order to appear among the top ad links on the page, which are much more likely to be seen than the ones that appear further down the page. So my ad is less likely to be clicked even in the cases where it appears on a search result page for a relevant searcher — and I have to pay more per click for it!

    On the other hand, if I buy a keyword on a less-popular search engine, then I’m not competing with as many advertisers, which means I can bid LESS per click to appear among the top ad links on the page, and thus are more likely to be seen, and more likely to be clicked. So, Master and Dr. John, if you disagree, maybe you’d be willing to put up a little of your Google money to compare campaign results between the search engines to see if Google indeed merits the exclusive attention you gave it in your article?

    P.S. Is Joel Cheesman upset with himself that he didn’t write an ERE piece on the topic of this column first, as Mr. HRSEO?

  2. Great article!

    As a Google Publisher (I host Google Ads on several websites), I’d like to throw in some thoughts.

    1. Do not forget that your ads will also be appearing on many, many websites that are related to your subject words.

    2. You can search for websites that are related to your terms and specifically request your ads to appear on them.

    3. Really, fully research your keywords. 50 keywords with small search volumes, that cost you 5 cents per click, can be a lot more effective than a single keyword that costs you $1.50 per click.

    4. Here is a great Google Tool to use in researching Keyword values and frequency of searches:

    I’m always happy to help people who are directly connected to me on LinkedIn with ideas on Search Engine traffic. I don’t do SEO for others on a paid basis.


    Jon Williamson IT Manager, Webmaster, Candidate Recruiting

    Williamson Employment Services, Inc.
    213 Hilltop Rd.
    St. Joseph, MI 49085

    Are you LinkedIn? If so, send me a connection request!
    If not, visit my profile at for information.

    My Main Phone: 269-353-4735
    Fax: 269-983-8955
    Cell Phone: 269-325-5559
    Corporate Office: 269-983-0142 or 800-226-6801
    Skype: williamson_jon
    Gtalk: williamsonjon

    Other IM contact information available on request

  3. Hi,

    A good way to work out which keywords will be most effective is to use the tools within Usually, this site is used to create a sponsored ad that will appear when a search engine user uses certain keywords (and this is highly recommended as a very effective way of getting well-targeted sales leads to your Web site, if used correctly). However, I tend to use it simply to find out which keywords I should use in my research, without ever buying a sponsored ad.


  4. John, we have been doing this exact form of advertising with our Patent Pending Product called Push Posting. The technology extracts keywords from jobs and then inserts them into search engine marketing. Some words of wisdom, even though you outlined how to create a new ppc account and insert keywords and bids it’s not that easy and that’s what the search engines want you to believe. Having spent thousands of dollars with Google with little to results I learned this the hard way. You see they are a pay per click engine, they are not a pay per applicant, nor a pay per sale engine. So a lot of landing page analytics, ad copy creation and keyword selection go into the right mix that will capture a passive candidate. Another thing to consider is when you push these ads out, people aren’t ready for them so maybe they don’t have a resume handy or have one created at all, and this is another problem we have solved as well. Other than that great article and thanks for reinforcing our model.

  5. I’m so happy someone of Sullivan’s stature picked this as a topic (and yes, it was about time!)

    I don’t want to complicate this issue too much and scare anyone from starting an AdWords account, but a key ingredient to PPC advertising is tracking. Know what you’re getting for your money, or you might be throwing it down the drain.

    Hire a professional if you’re unsure about how to proceed with a competent strategy encompassing major search engines.

    – j

    P.S. Glenn, I’m not a featured article contributor for ERE, so writing such an article wasn’t in the cards. However, Cheezhead covers these topics regularly.

  6. While I realize that only a minor portion of the previous post pertains to editorial influence for sale, for the record, Dr. John Sullivan & Associates in not now nor has it ever been a vendor to Google. While we the authors personally know a number of people who work at Google including former students, we count among our friends an equal number of people who work for both Yahoo and MSN parent Microsoft. Dr. John Sullivan accepts relatively few advisory services clients each year, and as many former clients would attest, simply paying professional service fees does not always ensure positive press from Dr. John Sullivan. Editorial influence is not now, nor has it ever been for sale!

    Now, with regards to the rest of the previous post, making decisions based purely on economics is a common practice in antiquated HR functions world-wide, and not one any strategic marketing professional worth their weight in salt would advise in this case. Professional marketers understand the concept of yield modeling and demographic profiling, each of which should be used to help determine potential recruiting channels.

    Yield modeling is a forecasting method that can be used to predict what percentage of inputs into any conversion process will survive as outputs. In this case, it would be used to forecast the number of clicks required to generate a single hire. Like all conversion processes, the larger the initial inflow, the greater the probability of desired outflow. With more than 60% of the search market, it MIGHT be true that other channels would not generate sufficient traffic to drive a complete conversion cycle. It is also probable that decrease initial volume of clicks would increase the cycle time required to complete a conversion. Since we know that vacancies, particularly those in key positions, cost organizations thousands of dollars, I doubt paying an extra $0.10 per click would make a huge impact!

    The other marketing concept you must understand with regards to this article is a topic that would have generated a much different response to this post, that being demographic profiling. Had Glenn stated that professional recruiters should evaluate and match the demographic profile of the typical search engine user to the type of search being conducted, I would have applauded his post. Sites like AOL and Ask account for less than 6% of the total search market. It is entirely possible that they service a very specific slice of the general population, and therefore would be capable of generating a much more targeted campaign assuming you needed to reach that slice.

  7. General search engines like Google offer just one avenue for pay-per-click recruitment advertising. Specialized (or vertical) search engines for jobs provide another avenue.

    On, for example, you can either buy keywords just like you can on general search engines, or you can sponsor your jobs which means you don’t have to pick keywords or write advertising copy. Indeed’s ad system automatically generates the PPC ads directly from your job descriptions and the ads then appear above the organic search results whenever the job matches users’ job search queries. (disclosure: I’m the CEO & co-founder of Indeed.)

    Other vertical search engines for jobs – including Google Base – are almost certain to introduce specialized advertising services geared to classifieds. Get in early and benefit from great PPC prices on these new services before they are bid up!

  8. Lot of information written here on the subject, so fortunately I do not need to go into the details thanks to John.

    What I thought I would say, is to let you all know I have tried this aproach a few months ago to find welders, just to see what happened.

    I couldnt believe it, it was one of my most successfull campaigns. I wouldnt use it exclusively but you should seriously consider. The great thing is that you do not need to spend much to see a result.

  9. I am thinking of starting a paid jobs board. I need advise and recomendations for off-the-shelf software for this board. Must be able to bill the job poster (credit cards) and free to the candidate. I understand this is not a lot of information,sorry. I am a 25 year Executive Search owner have owned two search firms in the USA and not based in China.

    Tom Malooly
    CEO, Managing Consultant
    RightPeopleHR International
    Offices in Hong Kong SAR & Guangzhou China

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