Career Sites: Lies. Damned Lies. And Statistics

statsIn Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick declared: “Mendacity is a system that we live in.”

It appears the same is true when it comes to online career sites.

I’ve been buying digital advertising from job boards and other media firms for the better part of the last two decades. In that time, my greatest challenge has been separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to actual traffic numbers for the media that sell to the recruitment ecosystem. I noticed the issue has become even more acute in the past few months as I worked with several customers to help them plan and negotiate their 2013 digital media buys.

Before I get to the innuendo at hand, I need to address the elephant in the room: Candidates are still using career sites. Whether it’s research from SilkRoad or CareerXroads,the data says career sites are still the No. 1 source of external hires. So while a growing share of digital employment advertising is shifting toward social media, job boards aren’t dead.

The problem is in determining which site has the greatest value to you and your business, because the claims and the headlines are all the same.

  • “… the largest online job site in the U.S.”
  • “… the #1 job site worldwide.”
  • “65 million monthly visitors”
  • “80 million monthly visitors”

[Full Disclosure: I have been an advisory board member for some of the companies mentioned in this post and have spoken at events on their behalf in the past. Also, I have done or currently do transact business with all of the companies mentioned in this post. When we buy media from job boards and interactive properties, Scanlon.Louis is often paid a fee from the media company as a part of a long-standing agency/media relationship. So, before I comment on any of them, I wanted to make sure that it’s clear that I know executives from all of these companies and that there’s a financial – and sometimes golf – relationship involved.]

For the truth when it comes to web traffic, marketers view comScore as the company with the most integrity. The firm captures more than 1.5 trillion web interactions monthly, which is about 40 percent of the monthly page views of the entire internet. If there’s a better source for data or analytic on web traffic, I haven’t seen it yet.

Recently, comScore announced year-over-year traffic comparisons for career sites and the results contradict conventional wisdom. The January 2013 traffic trends from comScore, according to a recent story in Barron’s:

  • Monster unique visitors are up 29 percent year-over-year
  • Dice unique visitors are up 22 percent year-over-year
  • LinkedIn unique visitors are up 18 percent year-over-year
  • CareerBuilder unique visitors are down 12 percent year-over-year

What’s most important about this trend data is that January is one of the most critical months of the year when it comes to career searches, driven by New Years’ resolutions and spousal complaints about how it’s time to search for a new job.

Publicly available data like the above is limited, unfortunately. This means that recruitment executives are forced to rely on weak sources like Reuters. Last May, for example, the news agency ranked CareerBuilder’s digital recruitment market share ahead of Monster and LinkedIn. Showing unique journalistic integrity, Reuters didn’t disclose its source for the market data. This, of course, makes me question the value of the story. And the data.

All of which means you need to crunch your own numbers to find the truth. My most recent analysis comes from data I viewed earlier this month in what comScore calls the Career Services and Development category. In January 2013, Monster had 25 million unique visitors in the US; Career Builder and Indeed both had 20.7 million. LinkedIn (40 million + unique) had higher numbers related to its overall site performance but not solely for job seekers. Dice has lower numbers for its core tech site, but given its niche spot in the market, that’s understandable. What’s even more interesting: Monster has led the category every month since July 2012. That’s certainly not the word you hear on the street.

The lesson in all of this is simple: Question everything when it comes to data. And make sure you have an impartial voice when it comes to reviewing claims made in the sales process to help you best understand demos, visitor trends and the value of visitor relationships. Especially how they relate to the customers you serve. The more granular the data the better.

In any case, take my advice and channel your inner Ronald Reagan. Trust, but verify.

Jim Lanzalotto
Jim Lanzalotto runs Scanlon.Louis, a strategy and marketing outsourcing firm that helps companies grow. He can be reached at jim (at) scanlonlouis (dot) com.

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