Sourcing Insights: SEO is Not Enough!

Search Engine Optimization seems to be on everyone lips. SEO seems to be on the tip of every consultant’s tongue. SEO is “all the craze” right now. The chief reason to “optimize” our jobs is because job seekers primarily use search engines to look for a job (as opposed to job boards). But if you think SEO will solve your challenges with talent identification and engagement (aka sourcing), you will be disappointed.

In her book The Truth About Search Engine Optimization Rebecca Lieb defines Search Engine Optimization as the art and science of making content attractive to the major search engines engines (there are over 300 million searches for jobs, careers, and employment on just Google each month) to look for a job (as opposed to job boards, which only get 10 million searches per month). So for recruiters, that would mean making our jobs or jobs related content “optimizable” by Google, Bing, and Yahoo. And I have to wholeheartedly reinforce that an SEO platform does a great job of targeting job specific keywords that are ranked by the major search engines.

For example, our partner Jobs2Web’s dynamic SEO platform has already accomplished its objective — getting our jobs content on the first page of Google (the search engine that enjoys a 70% market share for jobs searches). In the screen shot below, you will notice that 97% of our jobs (Microsoft Entertainment & Devices) are on the first page of Google.

And most of the jobs are listed “above the fold,” which is where the majority of eyeballs will notice your content and where 80% of search engine users click on links in the “organic results.” To see an example of this, search Google for “Seattle Developer Jobs” and you will see our site on the 1st page (#2 position). If you press on the link, it will take you to the landing page. We have similar landing pages for each keyword search that is performed.

And we are getting a significant increase in traffic to our respective jobs. But, it is still not enough. SEO alone will not allow you to source from all of the available talent pools. It is because (depending on your keyword targeting strategy) SEO primarily attracts job seekers who are active in their search and seeking “jobs”-related keywords. While that segment of our target talent audience is important, it actually is the smallest part of the job search cycle. The graph below reflects the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (circa 2006) overview of the talent supply in the United States. I think of this as a “job search cycle,” as it reflects where the respective segments of talent supply are with respect to changing jobs at any point in time.

Before you think that I am trashing our SEO partner Jobs2Web, I need to explain that our initial approach with the Jobs2Web platform focused on “jobs” and became the distribution system for our jobs and jobs-related content for search engines, as well as the leading social networking sites, blogs, and any relevant sites that we can connect with both active and passive talent. In an upcoming article, I discuss the idea of a Web 2.0 Recruitment Marketing Platform in greater detail.

If we relied on just SEO, our jobs-related content (per the above graph) would be seen by the active job seeker, as well as some of the casual looking talent (the ones who engage in web activities that mirror an active job seeker). And on a scale of easy to difficult, the active job seeker certainly is at the easiest level. And the most difficult (or nearly impossible) would comprise the part of the talent supply that is “not looking.” What I find interesting is that most organizations tend to work at both ends of the spectrum. We post jobs to attract the active job seeker and we engage in one-off sourcing projects to attract the part of the audience that is not looking. No wonder the ideal results are not being obtained: we are missing about 50% of the potential talent.

If you sat in on a Web 2.0 team meeting at Microsoft Entertainment & Devices, with my colleagues (John Phillips and Mira Aboulhoson) and myself, the conversation nearly always involves a discussion of the ramification of “human touch” vs. “technology touch.” We use both methods in our Web 2.0 Recruitment Marketing outreach to reach each segment of the target talent audience.

The current state of technology offers a prospect a choice that could be characterized as “apply or goodbye.” For the casual or passive candidates (which may not be ready to apply) we are offering an alternative to “goodbye.” We offer an array of choices that have built in some “human touch” and allow a prospect to choose how they want to engage with Microsoft.

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For example, we reach deep into the active, casual, and passive talent pools with a “technology touch.” We augment technology initiatives with a “human touch” in social networking sites, talent communities, and by direct outreaches to micro-segments of our target audience. It is at the intersection of human touch (art) and technology touch (science) that success is realized.

Human touch, or Guanxi, is a critical element that makes our approach more successful than just a successful than a technology touch solution. I believe that every recruiter (at least every out-of-work recruiter) knows that a conversation with a prospect is very important. If our target audiences are moving online to social networking sites, at the very least we can observe that people are seeking relationships. More than just relationships, Web 2.0 uses a place for user generated content and conversation. These online sites have become virtual third places where relationships are built. And as a tenet of recruiting dictates, recruiting is about building relationship with potential talent, so that when the time is right, you can discuss your opportunities with them.

The challenge for recruiting comes when we attempt to integrate that Web 2.0 human touch into our transactional recruiting processes. While we acknowledge that getting to know a prospect is important, we just do not want to engage in a conversation until a hiring manager is interested in a prospect. And yet, we realize that community and conversation is the cornerstone of how we develop prospects into candidates. And while we are stuck in the tension between what we are doing (filling jobs transactionally) and what we need to doing (building relationships), we miss about 50% of the potential talent pool (causal and passive target audiences). By offering an alternative to goodbye, we can convert a much higher level of visitors, increase the yield of our Web 2.0 marketing efforts, and reach into previously untapped talent pools.

I am going to pause this discussion at this point — thinking about the 50% of the potential talent pool that you might be missing out on — and insert a commercial. For those attending the ERE Conference in Florida, I will illustrate our approach of reaching that causal and passive target audience as an integral part of our Web 2.0 Recruitment Marketing platform. This topic will be discussed in the broader context of Web 2.0 Beyond the Social Recruiting Hype: Microsoft’s Approach to Building Talent Pipelines and Communities.

Marvin Smith is veteran talent acquisition practitioner who focuses on strategic talent sourcing, talent community building, social recruiting, employment branding, and the use of technology to drive talent identification and engagement strategies. He has been on teams that were at the forefront of resurgence of talent sourcing as a strategic weapon in talent acquisition. These teams piloted groundbreaking programs (ERE-Media-award-winning) work that used business intelligence, data, and technology to segment the target talent audiences and build talent pipelines and communities. His current role is a strategic talent sourcing consultant with Lockheed Martin, where he is responsible for talent pipeline building for critical skills talent; project management of a RMP (recruitment marketing platform); and driving corporate-wide, talent community initiatives. Previously, he served as senior research recruiter on an internal executive recruiting team with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; a strategic sourcing program manager with Blackberry (Research In Motion); and a talent sourcer/program manager for Microsoft. He is a writer and speaker on the topics of talent communities, strategic talent sourcing, Moneyball sourcing, and talent acquisition strategies. You can follow his blog or join a community that he created on talent community development or follow him on Twitter.


26 Comments on “Sourcing Insights: SEO is Not Enough!

  1. Marvin, great article. With the resources and capital Microsoft has, you must be like a kid in a candy shop! As you know, 99.999% of organizations don’t have either the resources or capital to pursue many of the initiatives you discuss, so I imagine you have to fend off some professional jealousy 🙂 In fact, I ran a quick search on LinkedIn and admit you’re one of the ONLY profiles showing the title of “Talent Community” (respective to your role). Comically, a result came up for someone at Zoo Atlanta as well 🙂 I guess with 99% of organizations leaning out their recruitment functions, we don’t see many Talent Community Evangelists, so seriously, kudos to you.

    What you’re describing here is extremely obvious – in large part, it’s the same people looking on Monster and CareerBuilder who are searching for jobs on Google. Sure, maybe you catch a few incremental active seekers (i.e. the Craigslist seeker) if you don’t advertise on all boards . . . but what about the passive candidate? It begs the question: *** Should we even try to market “jobs” to them? *** IMHO, no, we shouldn’t. Considering an opportunity (for a passive seeker) comes after a trust-building process . . . so throwing a job in their face through top ranking on Google is ineffective. However, there may be other content that leads them down the path . . . their personal “candidate warming”, if you will.

    For anyone that tells me this can’t be done with technology as a starting point, I can speak to how they’re incorrect because it happens every day with (non-recruiting related) marketing initiatives. For a distinction, I’m talking about wetting someone’s pallet prior to recruiting them. The intersection of where to begin the recruiting process itself (i.e. where to inject a human being into the courting process) is an important follow-up discussion to have prior to laying out a “candidate warming” strategy.

    P.S. SEO is interesting (at least to me) in terms of adoption because it’s rarely the individual recruiters themselves who are implementing these tactics. As such, the buzz and adoption curve we normally see in our space just isn’t there.

  2. Marvin,
    I usually do not post comments to these articles, however this time I am prompted to do so. You have written a great article and you are on target with everything you have said. Defining the maze of what has become the roadmap to successful talent acquisition and candidate relationship building is a difficult one. You have captured it. Probably why Microsoft typically leads the pack in this space. Thanks for the post.

    Stuart Collier
    Talent Acquisition Leader
    Fortune 500

  3. speaking of Talent, SEO, etc.

    Marvin – Did you see this yet?
    my page is

    Basically it’s:
    About Your PeoplePond Profile

    Your PeoplePond profile page is designed from the ground up to put you in control of training search engines about the best of your personal brand and online identity. It is full of tools and features for you to use. Click on the buttons for specific information about each.

    Haven’t reserved your username yet? It is free and easy.

  4. Joshua: I appreciate your feedback, kind words and insights. I like the kid in the candy store analogy—I think it a lot better than a “bull in a china shop (which I feel may be used at times).” Yes, I am blessed to be part of a team who serves a business that saw the value in investing in SEO. And I realize that not all companies can afford or even want an enterprise level solution. I believe there are affordable SEO solutions for companies of all sizes (or at least there should be). But the epiphany for me is that SEO by itself is not enough. If you want to pursue the 80% of the talent supply that is casual, passive or ultra passive (non-gettable), using some of the social networking sites and building community is a great method of engaging the largest sector of the potential talent supply. Granted we use technology (jobs2web) as a method of connecting all the moving parts and measuring the results , but I sincerely believe that great results can be achieved by identifying and engaging in the communities that contain the talent that you are seeking. And yes, try something other than throwing a job in their face as the conversation in this community.

    Stuart: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I work for an organization that is continually trying to meet the business needs of our internal customers. And if the business case is made, we can be on the cutting edge (although that can be a painful place to be)

    Jeremy: Speaking of cutting edges-thanks for the suggestion. I will check it out.

  5. Good stuff, Marvin. Jobs2Web does a great job, don’t they? I like your dual-pronged strategy here:
    1) Make sure you attract them in other ways than just “searching for jobs”. There’s between 66% and 86% of potential job seekers that won’t even SEE your jobs, no matter how optimized, because they’re simply not actively looking for them. At EnticeLabs, our tool works to help companies do that very thing–present opportunities to candidates who otherwise would NOT be looking.

    2) Engage them. I love the human touch vs. technology touch paradigm, and we need to be much nicer to people… these are HUMANS, and we’re asking them to trade their LIFE to come work for us… we should be more welcoming and more human… that’s why I got into recruiting in the first place, and I bet most HR people would say the same thing.

    You’re right that too many places are “apply or goodbye”… and the truth is that (we all know) top talent don’t even get THAT far into the process to be offended when we slap their hands for wanting to be Curious about our company but not Serious about us.

    Good luck.

  6. Marvin…Not following your Chinese word “gaunxi”. Must be either a typo or some dialect? Or maybe “guanxi” after it got run over by a tank?

    Mandarin for “relationship connection” is “guan xi” or “guanxi”.

  7. Marvin – very well articulated. I agree that SEO, while a strong marketing effort, is insufficient to attracting top talent. Unless that talent is currently looking for a job. Building communities and establishing relationships with talent is perhaps the most sustainable effort companies can invest in today, to ensure they have access to talent tomorrow. And it can be done affordably; but it doesn’t reflect the transactional nature of most recruiting, and therefore the skillset of most recruiters in the Western world today. With widespread adoption of social media, it will be interesting to see if and how recruiting adjusts from this reactive, transactional effort to something a little more planned and relationship-oriented.

  8. I totally agree that SEO targets a small group. In fact, I looked up your keyword example in Google Tools and it is apparently not typed in enough to get any traffic…so there you go.

    Funny that your screen shot of Google shows your company in organic search results but Google themselves is using PPC on the right hand side for the same position. It seems that Google disagrees with your SEO strategy. So which one will the developer click on? I typed in your keyword and went to both. I can tell you I had a better experience on Google’s career site because it was their authentic site; a better landing page. The Jobs2Web landing pages bug me – and they all look the same except for the logo at the top. SEO should be optimized within your own site in my opinion (if you have the resources of course).

  9. Robert Merrill: Thanks for your comments. Obviously, your “secret sauce” is getting passive folks to apply to opportunities—if it works, you are in the driver’s seat in this new economy.

    Gregg: that for catching the error. No tanks or new dialects

    JP: Great to hear from you. You are absolutely correct—it is going to be interesting to see if recruiters move away from transactions. If sourcing is marketing, then the experience of social media experts suggest that it is not a matter of if, but when.

  10. Marvin,

    Another “great article” comment here! Too many firms pushing the magic bullets – this is why in marketing, we talk about “integrated” marketing as an entire tactical basket dedicated to attracting and moving the sale along. Not much difference in recruiting – many different tactics are needed in a personalized fashion to attract the right candidates for jobs.

    I will add a story here that drives the points mentioned home. Recently, I started working with a small company doing electronics recycling, very commodity business, lots of competition. The owner was skeptical of sales, it failed many times before. He was relying on SEO, invested in building multiple websites, optimizing search results, and he got leads and business, but needed more. I convinced him to try me out and try the email/cold-calling. We started with customers, then branched out to new businesses. This week we closed 3 deals for the new service and had 3 more deals generated in a different area.

    Those folks weren’t looking, they accumulated stuff or “were waiting” til the right time. With the human touch, we got there first.

    Also, consider that if your job is posted for all to see, all will see it – maybe those who you don’t want have reviewing.

    I have talked to staffing agencies that did very well with no website and no public effort, they did the “old school” networking and phone calls and made out just fine. Sometimes flying under the radar can yield more fruit than letting it all hang out…it is about quality, not quantity after all.

    Thanks for a very illustrative article!

  11. Eric: Thanks for the observations. I appreciate all perspectives.

    Rachel: Thanks for your insight. I also am a big believer in old school. I have found that some prehistoric tactics integrate well in Web 2.0

  12. Marvin, it looks like you have done your homework on both sides of the fence here. Just a little about me before I jump in. I have been in the SEO/SEM space doing this work in recruitment since 2003. I hold a patent pending in PPC and have been a Citrix dual category award finalist. I have been doing this longer than most companies or products that are on the market today. Let me begin by saying that companies that are telling/selling you the notion that you can SEO your jobs is completely untrue. Eric is completely right that your keyword phrase that is getting a #2 ranking doesn’t have any search volume and doesn’t get searched by anyone and is useless. You can learn more about why I’m saying this by reading the blog I posted entitled Are Vendors Giving You Truthful Information about HR SEO. Here are just a couple of reasons why jobs won’t show up high in ranking.

    1. Jobs have a short life span 30-60 days
    2. Jobs have no meta tags
    3. Jobs have no linking strategy
    4. Jobs content aren’t relative enough for search engines

    You can also download our HR-SEO white paper here.

    The piece that your talking about with passive candidates is more strategy than it is tools. Companies seem to want to be just focused on tools to get the job done when it’s strategy first and tools second that will help them solve their problems. Companies that are now using SEM/PPC are doing so with active keywords, jobs, job, career, careers etc, however this is never going to reach a passive candidate. The strategy should be to use general keywords like if your looking for a java developer use struts, java beans, j2ee and so on. This is only one part of the strategy as if you do get a passive candidate to click on the ad and send them to an ATS they will never give you their information. You also mentioned a big piece of the story which is communication. The passive person will take more communication, and time to close than someone looking for a job so it’s an on-going relationship that requires multiple factors. Our industry wants quick fixes to big problems and I’m sorry to say that’s not the case, it’s the companies like Microsoft and the clients I work with that will invest the time and energy into strategies that will win in the end.

  13. Rachel, you’re describing the power of actually picking up the phone, a skill central to recruiting (not to mention sales):

    “I convinced him to try me out and try the email/cold-calling. We started with customers, then branched out to new businesses. This week we closed 3 deals for the new service and had 3 more deals generated in a different area.”

    Headhunters direct source every day – they pick up the phone. The creme de la creme Internal Recruiters direct source (aka ‘headhunt’) as well, meaning they also actually pick up the phone instead of assuming someone will apply to a job or drop their resume off at the general careers site.

    Marketing can build awareness, generate interest, etc. . . . however in the words of IBM’s founder, Tom Watson: “Nothing happens until a sale is made.” It would appear your mentioned Client was relying on marketing with little to no sales reinforcement.

    It’s interesting that actual phone contact, the bread and butter of what makes a Good Recruiter a Great Recruiter, is now mentioned as “prehistoric”.

    I guess I’ll go get my club and hop on the back of my pet Brontosaurus 🙂 I heard Trog (our resident cave techie) was giving a webinar tonight on how to make fire 🙂

  14. Jason/Eric – I want to offer some clarification to your opinions regarding the Microsoft SEO/SEM strategy. If you look at Microsoft’s strategy, they are not just optimizing their job content, but instead have hundreds of highly targeted keywords and matching landing pages that they are 1st page ranked with on Google, Bing and other engines.

    Jason is correct that a “job optimization strategy” alone won’t work – which unfortunately is what most of the other “job seo” companies and services provide, and his reasons are spot-on accurate. This is why Jobs2Web developed our patent pending keyword targeted landing page strategy that works dynamically with any ATS to automatically launch networks of pages that get (and stay) ranked, along with cycling the active jobs within these pages, or capturing candidates who enter their email to hear about future jobs if there aren’t any active for that keyword.

    Also, Microsoft has over 100 “Seattle” keywords that target searches – and while it’s unfortunate that the exact term Marvin shared has zero (n/a) as the Google keyword tool, there are other keywords like “Developer jobs in Seattle” or “Development jobs in Seattle” that get hundreds of searches monthly – and they are 1st page ranked, and are getting thousands of visitors to their site monthly from.

    Also, to correct Eric’s statement about how all the landing pages are the same, not true. Here’s some quick links on their site which show some great work that they’ve done, and deserve credit for tailoring to their different business units.

    We also provide a comprehensive free white paper that anyone can download that will help anyone to get up to speed on this area of their recruiting strategy.

  15. Doug, thanks for the insight and clarification. You mention patent pending keyword targeted landing technology can you point me to where the patent is for this on the USPTO?

  16. Doug
    Before challenging your “patent pending” technology comment, I would also like to congratulate you and the Microsoft team on fine work.

    From the well-written landing pages to the entertaining video clips to the refreshingly simple use of searchable database feeds, it all generates the warm and fuzzies for the prospective candidate to subscribe. Good stuff.

    Here’s my challenge to “patent pending”. All of the technology you describe has been freely available in open-source platforms for years, and a crackerjack web coder could implement it on any given Sunday. Recipe:

    1. Download and install free, open-source content management system. I recommend Umbraco available at (disclosure: I have no commercial interest in Umbraco but believe it to be the best CMS out there)

    2. Create a template for hiring managers to write up their career/job descriptions. Add in video clips and other goodies.

    3. Add a control that queries the ATS and formats matching jobs. Add another control to grab the candidate’s email for further lead-nurturing actities.

    4. Auto-generate a set of keywords and corresponding pages for adwords and other indexing/SEO/SEM activities.

    In the end its not patents or any technology that can sustain differentiation. Instead it’s the hard work of building teams that understand markets and constantly evolve processes – things no doubt you do well based on the Microsoft work shown here.

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