Monday, April 14, 2008

How to Search Engine Optimize Job Listings

The goal of this post is to help our clients understand how to create job postings on their iApplicants™ careers site that will be “optimized” or rank well in the search engines for specific keyword phrases. These same techniques are valuable for posting jobs to online job boards as well since many of them use some type of search technology for showing job postings to potential job seekers.

NOTE: The ideas discussed below will work if you have your own careers page that was built by your internal web team or with some other ATS system vendor as long as the careers site itself was built to be search engine friendly. In my experience, few ATS careers sites are built in a way to allow the search engines to properly index them, and so using proper keyword targeting in your job listings will do little to overcome those shortcomings. If you would like us to take a look at your current careers site or ATS and let you know if it will work, just drop us a note.

There are two main parts to increasing the number of qualified applicants you receive for a job. First, get as many qualified applicants as possible to view your job ad and second, make sure your ad gets those applicants exited about applying. The following information will target how to improve both of these areas.

Profile the Job

Generally, most employers use job board ads and descriptions for each of their positions, often created long in the past. When the job comes open, they simply pull them out and dust them off to use again. I guess this process works great if you like the results that you have been getting, but if you are looking to improve the quality and quantity of applicants you receive, it might be time to rework the ad and description.

When you pull out the ad and description you used last time, it is important to review it and make sure it is still valid. You might be able to adjust it to ensure you are attracting the most qualified applicants. One way to do this would be to review the Ad with the manager over the position, or more importantly talk to the actual top performers currently doing the job. Find out what attracted them to the company and that specific position. Even more important, why do they like the job now that they have been doing it for a while. I’m not just talking about why they like being a programmer or machinist, but why do they enjoy doing it for your company. Is there something about your company culture, environment, pay, benefits, etc. that is especially appealing to them and keeps them around?

Research the Keywords to Target

Now that you have a clear idea of what the ad and description needs to say, we need to ensure that the vocabulary we use produces the best results. Often, companies are stuck in their own vocabulary. They use internal terminology for posting jobs on their careers site or to the job board, such as “Programmer – Level 2”. This might make perfect sense to the HR person, as that is the actual title of the job, but it means absolutely nothing to the job seeker. Even more important, the job may not even show up on the searches being used by your dream applicants. Not many job seekers are looking specifically for a “level 2 programmer job”, so it’s probably not a phrase they will perform a search on. With the switch from newspaper ads to job board and search engines, the way job seekers look for positions is very different than it was, even five years ago. It isn’t just that they are now sitting in front of a computer, but instead of browsing or skimming over every ad in the paper, they are now running searches to allow them to jump to a short list of jobs that fit their criteria. This means that it is extremely important that you and your potential applicants use the same words to describe your job in the search. So, we need to do some research to see what keywords are being frequently searched. Find a keyword research tool, such as the one below:

Using this tool, you can type in a word that pertains to the job and see how many people are searching for that word or keyword phrases that include that word. This is valuable information to know when posting a job. Here is an example: We have a client who is hiring a CNA. They post a position with the job title “CNA”. Nice, short, and sweet, and typically costs less when placing a newsprint ad. The problem is that many potential job seekers aren’t searching for “CNA” online. If we go and look at what is being searched for, we see that there are 399 people a day searching for “CNA” but another 136 people a day who are searching for “Certified Nursing Assistant” that would never find our job. So, we would want to include both listings. There are even more people who are searching for “Nursing Jobs”. Sure, not all of them fit this specific position, but it is also a good phrase to target. Out of this research we want to come up with 2 or 3 phrases to target with the ad. Don’t go crazy here and try to target 10 different phrases with one ad, it simply won’t work.

Write the Job Title & Description with Keywords in Mind

So, we are now armed with our previous posting, information from our top employees about why they like the job, and keyword information about what phrases are being search for the most. We can now use this to write an excellent job title, job description (for the careers site), and job ad (for the job board). We want to be sure that the title and description of the ad use our keyword phrases, but it still has to sound right to a normal person and get them excited about applying for the job.

The job title should be very focused on the keywords we are targeting, so using the example from above, we will change the job title of “CNA” to “CNA – Certified Nursing Assistant – Nurse Job”. If you want one shorter, maybe “CNA Certified Nursing Assistant Job”. You normally wouldn’t think to include the word job in your title, but since that is a main keyword for someone searching Google for the page, it can’t hurt to include it.

The job description is a bit tricky. You need to write an ad that will be appealing to your job seekers and call them to action (apply for the job), and at the same time be sure to use your target keyword phrases. We don’t just want to focus on the minimum requirements for applicants and what the job requires, but also talk about why this job is so great and why they will love it. Many times we write the ad or job description in a way to tell the applicants what they must have to apply, and to try to get unqualified applicants to not apply. Although this is a start, we need to remember that we are trying to sell this job to the job seeker, especially in a tight labor pool. We no longer live in a world where ads have to be controlled by the number of lines, bold typeface or boxes around it to control advertising costs. Many job boards today are no charge, and virtually none charge by the length of the ad.

The longer the description the better, since search engines love websites with text on them, just make sure you aren’t mentioning the same keyword phrase more than 3% of the time, so if your description is 200 words, don’t mention the phrase more then 5 or 6 times. (Note: if you need to know how many words the description is, in MS Word just click on “tools” and “word count”.)

The following is an example of a typical ad you might see in the local newspaper, or online:

Title: Staff Accountant
Job Description: CPA required, competitive salary and benefits, good working environment. Send resume to

Now, to dress up that ad, to pique the job seekers’ interest, and make the search engines love it… consider the following job ad:

Title: Staff Accountant – CPA - Accounting Job
Job Description:We’re gonna miss Charlie, our best staff accountant/CPA! Charlie worked as a staff accountant for us for the past 6 years, and has just opened his own accounting practice in Maui. He used our accounting firm’s excellent continuing education program, supportive environment, competitive salary and benefits, and great co-workers to build his expertise, bank account, and family, and we wish him well—but we need to find his replacement, who will be a CPA with a sense of humor, a drive to improve, and a desire to work in one of the world’s best accounting settings. If you can replace Charlie, click on the link below to begin your new career.

Text Links to your Job Listing Page

If you want to get really crazy, you can increase the rankings of your job listing page by creating text links pointing to that job listing on your company website, blog, or on the online job boards that you post to. If you have a job ad that includes the keyword phrase nursing job, then replace that text on the job board listing with <a href = “[job url]”>nursing job</a>. Be sure to replace the [job URL] with the actual URL where your job description is on your iApplicants™ careers site including the http://. This same type of link could be used on your company blog or website. Blogs are a great, overlooked recruiting tool. Many of the people reading your company blog may be potential job seekers. Just make sure that you use the same html link setup as above to boost your rankings. You might also research some local bloggers whose subject matter is similar to the job opening you have and submit the job posting to them and ask them to blog about it. Some of your employees might have their own blogs and could do this for you as well. Our goal for these types of posts is to not only get potential job seekers to read about the job and visit our careers site, but also for the search engines to see the link to our job listing with the targeted keyword phrases in order to boost our rankings.

Measure your Results

As the old saying goes, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I say it, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure”. Now that you have made these changes, it is important to use the source reports and Google Analytics from your iApplicants™ careers site to compare the number of job seekers who visited the job description, applied to the job, and were interviewed for the position. You don’t want to rely on your gut to know if your changes are working, be sure to look at the real data on what is actually happening. .

Ryan Kohler, CEO

More about Ryan

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