Job Board Benchmarking Study Points to a Changing Industry

So often pronounced dying, dead, and all but useless for job seekers and employers alike that it’s passing into legend, job boards somehow manage to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of their pyres to successfully deliver candidates and hires to employers worldwide.

For being so out of fashion, so yesterday, job boards manage to come out on top or top-adjacent on nearly every source of hire study. In a Bersin & Associates survey this fall job boards tied for first with internal transfers as the leading source of all hires. CareerXroads says job boards produced 24.9 percent of all external hires in 2010, second only to employee referrals (27.5 percent).

The latest survey comes from tech vendor Talent Technology, which reports that job boards are the leading source of candidates, according to the 1,100 North American HR professionals who participated. Job boards account for 17 percent of the candidates, followed by employee referrals, which provide 15.8 percent.

What’s remarkable about the evidence is how few accept it. Even after reporting that “job boards remain popular and are used to fill 19 percent of open positions – making job boards the No. 1 source for candidates,” Bersin titled that section of the report “Job Boards: Not Dead, but Dying.”

Even more remarkable is how little the job board industry has done to promote itself. The major boards have their own, proprietary data, guarded more carefully than the U.S. does its diplomatic messages. Second tier and certainly mom-and-pop operations have little data beyond gross traffic counts. So for all practical purposes employers do their own market surveillance.

Now, finally, seven years after it’s founding by Peter Weddle, the International Association of Employment Web Sites has bestirred itself to do some serious research about the industry.

Financed by Jobg8, the job board industry’s candidate marketplace, 100 sites participated last summer in the first benchmarking survey of commercial employment sites. Before you get too hopeful about the prospects, know that none of the biggest job boards participated, the survey was designed for the benefit of the industry, and most of the results aren’t being shared publicly. Those that are may be helpful to some buyers; they’re certainly interesting. More important is that it gives individual sites a yardstick against which to measure their own results.

“It was,” confessed Matt Hoffner, president of Jobg8?s Americas operation (the company is HQd in the UK), “a lot harder than we thought … Just getting all the terms right was quite a challenge.”

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Still, after struggling through some 65 questions and their accompanying 22 footnotes, the industry found:

  • Three-quarters of a job board’s visitors are “window shoppers” who neither apply for a job nor register. That suggests there’s a high degree of self-selection that occurs, as the next point demonstrates.
  • Job postings that direct to a company’s ATS get five applicants on average. Those with only an email address get 3.3 applications. Niche sites and those in business more than three years have slightly higher apply rates.
  • Job aggregators (the Indeeds and SimplyHireds) provide about 22.8 percent of a U.S. site’s traffic and only 11.6 percent in Canada. Depending on the region, sizable percentages also came from the job board’s own search optimization efforts and their pay-per-click campaigns.
  • The average site has 3.5 employees; 22 percent have one or less; 9 percent have 30 or more.
  • Individual marketing expenses varied widely, ranging from 1 to 14 percent. The average is 6.7 percent of revenues spent marketing the site.

Hoffner observed that the industry is increasingly aware it needs to do a better job telling its story. From the survey discussions that took place at meetings in Ft. Lauderdale, during the IAEWS Congress in September, and in London, Hoffner said there was a “clear understanding that we can’t sit still.” The public part of the report says, “Job board owners are looking for new sales and marketing models and resources but expect that promotion and sales efforts will increase in 2012 and beyond.”

One powerful motivator for putting more effort into promotion, besides simply to stand out from the huge number of job boards in the world, is that organic traffic produces better results than that from aggregators. Says the published report: “Many participants stated that aggregator traffic was expensive and may not yield the same rate of applications or registered users as traffic from other sources.”

Board operators are also looking at a changing pricing model. Most sites still charge a fee to post a job; a few charge employers for each click. Hoffner says a “pay per applicant model came in for discussion. It’s an evolving pricing model that has the operator share risk with the customer. That’s a direction they seem to be heading toward.”

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


8 Comments on “Job Board Benchmarking Study Points to a Changing Industry

  1. participated in the study and found it to be VERY helpful but it was quite amazing how many different business models existed amongst the 100 participants. Some generated most of their revenue from candidate subscriptions, others from employers on a pay-for-performance basis such as pay-per-click, others from employers buying traditional postings and resume searching.

    Part of the industry’s problem is that “job boards” amongst recruiters often means Monster and Careerbuilder so when recruiters are surveyed about job boards they’re often only talking about those two sites. Surveys which ask recruiters about niche job boards tend to get very different responses. Not necessarily better or worse, but very different.

  2. John, actually, I’ve been publishing research on the industry since 2010. The IAEWS data lines up with my results in many key respects. But it’s certainly true that the industry as a whole has done a poor job of making its case to the HR world – and thus the social media evangelists have been somewhat successful as painting the industry in doom and gloom.
    You can find my research at:

  3. Thanks for shedding light on this subject. We in the job board industry have known for a long time the effectiveness of our sites. Job boards are very good at driving quality, targeted traffic to a job posting. Just as the newspaper classifieds have been around for 100 years, so will job boards. Saying that ‘job boards are dying’ is akin to saying classifieds are dying. And we know that just isn’t true.

  4. On the fly response – so this is hardly comprehensive. But the self selection that occurs from ‘window shoppers’ on job boards is hardly a negative when hiring managers can face a glut of applicants anyways. Also, I think, even with the social options and behavioral targeting that can be tied to career exposure, the SEO/SEM layers, mobile, content/inbound marketing, etc – basic job seeker behavior (outside of pure WOM like referrals, networking, etc which can be integrated into technology but aren’t by their nature a mass-scale exposure method) is still ‘find a position that fits my skills and location needs’ – until there is a game changer to that basic activity or a paradigm shift technology that has wide user adoption AND use – job boards are going to be relevant. Maybe not sexy, but a reliable job seeker ‘known’. 

  5. It is very interesting how the scene changes from year to year as we Recruiters keep trying to find the next big thing that will make our jobs more effective and easier (somehow, I think that we’ll be chasing that forever). When I did my source analysis for 2011, I found that employee referrals were way up and our #1 source (a pat on my own back for developing a new program), LinkedIn was unchanged, Indeed was way down and the oldest-of-the-old, Craig’s List, was way up. That may be unique to the Bay Area but that sure was a surprise.

  6. @ Tom: I think that’s part of the problem. There really ISN’T a “next big thing” which will solve all our problems.
    IMHO, we should:

    1) Trust our eyes and ears, and those of the people down in trenches doing the recruiting to know what does and doesn’t work. Don’t listen to the “hype-meisters” and “snake oil peddlers”.

    2) No-source (eliminate), through-source (automate), or out-source (send away) as many tasks as possible for $6.25/hr or less that aren’t worth paying $50+/hr to do, so we can concentrate on the high-value add (and interesting) recruiting tasks.

    3) Go after the people we want as quickly, proactively, and directly as possible- don’t try and have them come to you or waste your time “developing relationships”, “building communities” or “improving employment branding” with “tire kickers” unless that’s what our job is and we have a long hire-cycle.


    Keith “Recruiters Are Here to Get Quality Butts in Chairs Quickly and Within Budget. PERIOD” Halperin

  7. The nature of job boards is changing as are many recruiting firms. For the past several years, I have seen recruiting companies use job boards as a way to pull in applicants for their searches. Check for one example that comes to mind.

    I began my own experiment a couple of years back, then joined Ivy Exec, which has an existing platform ready made for integration with a recruiting organization. We now create additional value on top of normal job board services.

    We have our own take on the field, but we are not alone. Keep your eyes open for more job boards offering value-added services to both hiring companies as well as job seekers.

    Jason Sanders

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