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Job Board Definitions III

(April 30, 2004) - Traffic acquisition is one of two variables that really distinguish one job board from another. (Sales and sales execution is the other.) Current measures of size boil down to "How much traffic did they acquire?" Without traffic acquisition, a job board is simply a refinery waiting for the next oil tanker.

Not surprisingly, the technical component of a job board gets a great deal of attention. No matter how good the server and processing, however, garbage in means garbage out. No traffic, no output. This is not to say that high volume operations are the only answer. Rather, the core technology pales in comparison to the importance of a focused flow of traffic that is sufficient to meet the needs of the recruiters using the system. It's clearly more important to have the right traffic than it is to have the right processing.

Typically, the technology vendors, who supply job boards to newspapers, corporations and other groups, rarely mention that traffic acquisition is critical. We cannot think of a single vendor in the market, who offers traffic acquisition planning or purchasing. While the elements of production and workforce planning that compose solid traffic plans are readily available, the market is still not mature enough to understand the requirements for flow. Imagine an oil industry with no method for keeping the supply of gasoline flowing.

As you would expect, traffic acquisition strategies vary widely. They range from Monster's branding approach and CareerBuilder's destination acquisition plan to a simple milking of traffic from the existing website as is the case in most company employment websites and local newspapers. Ultimately, the quality of a job board's output is directly related to the intention applied to the process of acquiring traffic.

To continue the oil industry analogy, traffic acquisition is a spot market purchasing problem. The options for purchase range from bulk deals to content swaps to processes that resemble market arbitrage. Always, the driving factor is the cost of acquisition per visitor. Huge budget operations can, as you would expect, be elephant-like. The real sophistication in the process emerges as job boards encounter increasing constraints.

The dawn of search driven ads (like those in Google and Yahoo search results) has placed a relative floor under the price of an individual visitor. After years of huge traffic surpluses, Google's efforts to open Internet advertising have created an accessible market. While the big guys still compete for placement on AOL and MSN, much of the rest of the world is now competing on an even footing, from a sheer opportunity perspective. Insight, tactics, and aggressiveness discriminate the players now. (While Boston Works owns the top search result for "Boston Jobs on Yahoo," eight other firms—nine counting HotJobs—have better placement on the page.)

Both Dice and Net-Temps have developed polished specialties in small ad buys and search engine results placement. Working in the shadows of far bigger players, these two long-term players have developed the equivalent of advertising SWAT Teams. The companies keep their traffic rankings solid through trench-level adjustment of traffic level flows using highly refined buying strategies.

Salary.com demonstrates a completely alternative market approach (that could be duplicated by any content-rich player.) In the process of licensing their salary wizards and calculators out to a large network of sites, Salary creates a flow of traffic that is "purchased" with content. Since that traffic identifies itself by profession and zip code, it is highly refined by the time it is available for resale. Bulk acquisition of Salary.com traffic is a current market bargain simply because it is so clearly focused.

The inverse of the Salary.com approach is demonstrated by content-rich players like CareerJournal, Boston Works and the New York Times. These operations attract specialty audiences to their sites with content that is either geographically or demographically rich. The massive archives at CareerJournal , always being refreshed, improved, and pruned for relevance, are a treasure trove for the high-level job seekers, who are drawn there. The NYT and Boston Globe operations use the same approach on a geographic level. They purchase traffic with rich, interesting content.

It's worth mentioning the USArmy, who uses cable television advertising to reach specific demographic and geographic targets. Driven by clear planning and a network of local recruiting requirements, spot targeting, based on need, is the essence of their acquisition operation.

Each of the players we have mentioned has learned the craft of traffic acquisition the hard way... a series of experiments, market changes, and mistakes. There is no easy-to-duplicate plan; traffic acquisition is a response to market conditions and can be solved in a variety of ways. A close look at traffic acquisition makes a couple of things clear:

  • On a significant level, the job board business is a reseller's game. Purchasing the right traffic at the right price is the key to longevity.
  • One way of judging a firm's effectiveness at traffic acquisition is to simply ask if you've ever heard of them. If you haven't, they are not all that good at advertising, yet. This should make you suspicious of their ability to acquire traffic.

John Sumser

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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