It’s a rare group of businesses that are so integral to the fabric of society that their names become commonly-used verbs. For a time, Xerox managed it. FedEx is still used as a verb from time to time. But since the dawn of the modern web, Google has been the most obvious example. It’s not just a powerful web platform, it’s an activity.
Of course, Google is also an extremely integral part of the recruitment landscape. Nowadays, when businesses worry about SEO (search engine optimization), they’re almost always worrying about Google in particular. When you optimize your career site or your job landing page for web searches, you’re essentially trying to keep up with Google’s efforts to deliver relevant content to its users. Given that, it’s a little strange that more recruiters don’t utilize Google Ads to attract potential job candidates.
To run a recruitment campaign with Google Ads, you first have to know what it is and how to use it. So, what is Google Ads? Essentially, Google Ads is Google’s advertising platform, through which businesses can place two distinct types of ads. Actually, it’s three if you count YouTube ads, which are run through Google’s system, but we’ll leave those alone for now. The first type, for our purposes, is sponsored posts within Google search results. If you’ve ever performed a Google search (and we know you have!), you’ve probably seen these sponsored results at the top and bottom of the list. Except for the “Sponsored” icon that appears alongside them, they look like normal posts, featuring a headline, a URL, and link description that gives users a sense of what they can expect if they click.
Given all the talk about maximizing SEO out there, the value of appearing in a Google search should be basically self-evident from a business perspective. It increases the likelihood that users will find your site, utilize whatever resources you provide, and engage with your brand in a meaningful way. With any luck, this will result in more people buying your products or (more relevantly for us) entering your recruitment funnel. Most businesses try to accomplish this through SEO best-practices, but Google Ads’ search ads offer you a chance to “skip the line,” so to speak.
The second option available to Google Ads users is the Google Display Network (GDN). This refers to all of the sites across the web that manage their advertising through Google, most of which will feature a rotation of banner ads placed by advertisers like yourself. These, too, you’ve no doubt seen as you’ve browsed your favorite websites. Unlike search ads, GDN offers you the opportunity to utilize images as well as text, meaning that you can show off your employer brand in a unique, dynamic way that catches the attention of your future applicants. While the process of targeting, budgeting, and tracking is fundamentally similar to what it is in search ads, the differences in format mean that these display ads require a wholly distinct mindset and approach.
Because these two options are so different, we’ll be covering the ins and outs of each one in separate sections below. In this way, you should be able to gain a holistic overview of the options that this platform affords to recruitment marketers.
To start with, let’s tackle Google’s sponsored search ads. Again, these are more or less what they sound like: for appropriate search queries, Google will display a result from your company at the top (or bottom) of the page. How does this work in a practical sense? Essentially, you choose a set of search keywords that reflect your recruiting goals (more on this in a minute), and then you set a budget that includes the amount you’re willing to “bid” for each click. When someone searches for one of your terms, Google picks a few ads to display at the top of the search based on the bids and relevance scores (more on that in a minute) of the various advertisers who list that search term. These ads are structured to look just like normal search results, except that they are labeled as sponsored posts. Notably, though you’re constantly “bidding” for individual searches, Google doesn’t actual charge you until someone interacts with your ad.
Now, we know what you’re thinking. “Sponsored ads in Google search results? No one clicks on those!” This is a common misconception. In point of fact, these sponsored posts often receive a lot of attention. For searches relating to online retail, for instance, people are actually more likely to click on the sponsored results than the organic ones. This is an extreme example, but it should give some indication that people are, in fact, willing to click on these results. The trick, then, is to make sure that your post is high quality and highly relevant to your target audience.
Crucially, active and passive job seekers will likely encounter you on this platform through fairly different search terms. Thus, if you’re hiring developers who are fluent in Haskell, you might expect active job seekers to search for something like “developer jobs Haskell,” while your passive job candidates might be searching more generally to resolve questions they encounter using that particular language (“Haskell type errors,” e.g.). Since Google determines which ads to show in large part based on the relevance of your ad to the search term (also known as your Google Quality Score, or GQS), it may be easier to reach active job candidates with posts linking straight to job ads. Passive candidates, on the other hand, might be more inclined to click on a link that sends them to some educational content, like a blog post or a whitepaper.
Once you’ve sat down and thought about your employee personas and their search habits, it’s time to narrow down some actual search terms. Again, you’ll want to research the relative search volumes of the terms you’re picking, to make sure that you’re setting yourself up to reach a sufficiently broad audience (while also making sure that your bids aren’t competing with those of too many other companies for the same space). You’ll also have to decide whether you want to bid on “broad matches” (i.e. search terms that Google identifies as fulfilling the same intention on the users' part as the search terms you’ve designated), or “phrase matches” (in which you bid only on searches that utilize the exact phrases you designate). Broad matches can help you to get in front of a wider audience, but they contain a higher risk that you’ll pay for ads that don’t reach your target personas.
Google’s default is to charge you for broad matches, and, again, it does have its advantages. But if you don’t want to rely on phrase matches, we recommend using “broad match modifier” to gain more control over what search terms you’re bidding on. In this way, you can be sure that you’re content is being shown primarily to your target personas.
At this point, the only thing left to do is construct the ad itself. This is an especially crucial part of the process because the way your ad is put together will have a big impact on its GQR, and therefore on your ability to reach your desired candidates. Much like a normal search result, your ad will include a link and a short link description. This description is one of the first things Google uses to determine the relevance of your post. If your metadescription actually uses the search term that you’re bidding on, it’s more likely to rise to the top of the pile (and, thus, to the top of the search results).
For your this kind of post, you’ll have space for up to three 30 character headlines and two 90 character descriptions, in addition to your display link and some 15 character “paths” (non-URL links to specific parts of your website). Use this space to give your prospective applicants a quick idea of your EVP and employer brand, and give them a direct call-to-action so that they know what steps to take next. Because of the severe space constraints, full sentences might not be your friends. Consider using short phrases will little in the way of cliche or filler, so that your ad stands out enough to paint a quick picture of your business as a place of employment. Again, make sure there is alignment between your chosen keywords and the text of your ad. This way, you’ll get your employer brand in front of more potential applicants, and hopefully build up your talent pipeline in the process.
As to the links themselves: they should redirect to a landing page that’s specific to whatever you’re posting on. Google will crawl the text of this page as well, so the better optimized it is for the search term the higher your quality score will be. Since this is where Google makes its money off of you, there’s also a real incentive to make this page as impactful as possible. Just like the text of the ad, your landing page should have a clear call-to-action, whether for an online job application, a recruitment newsletter signup, or anything else that will help you meet your recruitment goals. There are a handful of formatting options available for these ads (in some cases, for instance, you can add a phone number to the listing), but the general rule of providing relevant, easy-to-navigate content at each level will continue to apply in all cases. By following this general rule, you can set yourself up for continued success in attracting candidates on Google.
Google search ads already have the potential to expose your brand to a large audience, but they are far from being the final word on Google’s advertising possibilities. Search ads can be powerful, but, simply put, Google display ads are ubiquitous. They appear on more than 2 million sites across the web, and an estimated 90% of internet users are likely to encounter at least some display ads as they go about their daily business. Since these ads are often displayed as banners on other people's websites, you might worry that they will go largely unnoticed. And while it’s true that they’re not always as visible as other types of ads, this is actually an advantage in some ways. Because advertisers pay by the click, rather than by the impression, it’s possible to spread awareness of your employer brand in a cost effective way. After all, clicks may be the goal, but even those who don’t click are seeing your messaging and encountering your employer brand—meaning that they might be more inclined to engage next time they see an advertisement of yours.
Okay, let’s get reoriented. From a design perspective, and even from a strategic perspective, GDN ads are fairly dissimilar from sponsored search results. From a logistical perspective, however, they’re not too different. You’ll still use the Google Ads platform to set a budget and designate a target audience. These things will still reflect the realities of your recruitment advertising budget and the nature of your candidate personas, respectively. You’ll be able to track your metrics and KPIs in more or less the same way using the same portal as you would use for search ads. More than that, the mindset (you might even say the philosophy) for these two distinct types of ads will remain fairly similar: try to reach your candidate personas where they already spend their time. The goal and platform are the same, but the specifics are different. Different how? We’re glad you asked.
One of the major practical differences between Google’s sponsored search ads and its display network ads is that instead of conveying your message and embodying your employer brand with nothing but text, you’re able to use visual content in addition to text and links. What does this mean for you as a recruiter? It means that it’s time to get creative! Ads with attractive or eye-catching visuals tend to perform better than ads that rely solely on text—so think of these ads as a chance to express your visual brand in its most vibrant and interesting form. Remember, your visual content should be reflective of the story you’re trying to tell about your company as a place of employment. This might mean showing pictures of your team engaged in their daily work, or an image of one of your employees being presented with an award (if your EVP is partially based around gaining recognition in your field). This content should reflect what you know about your candidate personas, but it should also be a clear manifestation of your EVP.
Just as Display Network ads have their own format that’s distinct from that of the search ads, they also offer you a different set of options for targeting your audience and placing your ads. Here, Google gives you the option of either targeting users by specified topics and interests, or managing your ad placement by specifying which particular web domains you’d like your ads to appear on. This second option might sound like it’s a lot more work, but it gives you a level of control over how you’re spending your ad budget that can be crucial to recruiting success. Once you’ve gotten a handle on your candidate personas (both active and passive), spend some time researching their web habits and picking out five to 10 websites where either group would be likely to spend their time, then concentrate your efforts on those sites. As you track your progress, you can determine which, if any, sites are not yielding the desired results and switch them out.
You may have already gotten a sense in the preceding paragraphs of why this particular ad format might be useful for going after passive candidates (namely that you don’t have to pay for what could prove to be valuable impressions). Again, these passive job seekers might not click on your content the first time they see it, but if you’re successfully conveying your employer brand and your employee value proposition (EVP) with your ads, even these candidates will begin to associate your brand with your business' unique culture, mission, and values. The key here is to make sure that your messaging for these two groups is properly segmented. For active job seekers, you’ll want your ads to link directly to landing pages for individual job postings; for passive job seekers, you might be better off linking to a blog, or a newsletter signup—something that entices them into the top level of your recruitment funnel.
Now that we’ve covered the two different types of Google Ads advertisements, it’s time to give a quick rundown of some of the strategies and best practices that you might employ in order to maximize the exposure and impact of your employer brand across the web. Some of these will be more relevant to one form of advertisement than the other, but all should help guide you as you get deeper into the weeds with this unique platform. As you go through, you might find that we’re really just expanding on ideas that have already appeared throughout this guide, but in each case we think the specifics bear a little extra elaboration.
Google Ads sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s perceived as being too expensive, but if you’re cautious about managing your cost per click that doesn’t have to be the case. Now, because Google Ads is already used by a number of large companies (who are able to leverage large recruitment advertising budgets), some of the more popular keywords can cost several dollars per click, which many smaller businesses may not be able to afford. One way to circumvent this issue is to choose less competitive keywords, but sometimes there’s only so much wiggle room for your search terms. To determine how much you can really afford to spend per click, you’ll need to consider the expected ROI of each visitor to your landing page. Again, this is a little more complex in recruitment than it would be in traditional sales, but if you have a sense of how much each hire is worth to you, compared with how many applicants per hire you usually get and how many applications you get per click, then you can determine the maximum price you can pay per click before your expected ROI turns negative. Once you’ve got this number in mind, it’s time to start taking additional steps to keep your cost per click down while still reaching an impactful number of users. What steps, exactly? Taking extreme care with how you’re defining your search terms and targeting your audience; and making sure your content is as relevant to the search terms (and the needs of the searchers) as possible. Speaking of which:
Getting a handle on your optimum cost per click is a good way to make sure that your budget and your recruitment goals are appropriately aligned. But, again, the amount that you bid on each search or display ad is not the only determining factor in who sees your ads. Google is also interested in showing people content that they’re likely to find helpful. How do they do that? By checking the relevance not just of the contents of your ad, but of the landing page that the ad redirects to. This means that even if your bid for a particular search term is relatively high, Google can still penalize you for linking to a landing page that’s not relevant to the search term. How do you avoid this fate? First of all, you should make sure that the text of the landing page includes the appropriate keywords, and that, in general, it speaks to the search term. This means that if you’re targeting active job seekers (with, say, “developer jobs Python” as your search term), your landing page should include the words “developer,” “job,” and “Python,” in addition to being fairly explicit about the fact that you are, in fact, offering a job for developers working in Python. Not only will this help Google to show your ads to more people, it will help prospective recruits to orient themselves after they’ve been redirected, so that they don’t get confused about what steps to take next and drop out of the application process. For passive job seekers, who might, for instance, be trying to find information to solve a coding problem, make sure that your landing page contains the information that they need—plus a way to enter your recruitment funnel!
In addition to offering you fairly granular options about where your content is being displayed, Google also offers a robust set of targeting options for delineating the audience to which your content will be shown. One of the most powerful tools that Google Ads offers for targeting is remarketing, in which your ads are only shown users who have already visited your website or interacted with your brand in some way. Because these people have already displayed the first signs of interest in your brand, they’re much more likely to be receptive to your messaging in the future. Again, if you adopt this strategy you can tailor your content accordingly: if you’re a tech startup, for instance, your second touch recruitment campaign might assume some familiarity with your employer brand and leverage that familiarity into something bold, like a link to a coding challenge or an invitation to contribute to a piece of open source software.
So far, the power of Google shows no signs of diminishing. And the more powerful Google is as a means of connecting people to the content they need and want, the more powerful Google Ads can be as a tool for getting impressions, leads, and conversions at all stages of the recruitment process. We know that recruitment marketing campaigns often center on social media, but Google Ads can be an important complement to those efforts, and thus an important part of any employer branding strategy. Hopefully, this quick overview has given you the tools and know-how to dive into Google’s platform, and the confidence to do so with creativity, inspiration, and style!