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SMART IDEAS #20: Using PPC ads to recruit

Weekly inspiration for the staffing industry

ISSUE #20  |  February 24, 2024

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• Can you use PPC ads to recruit?

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SMART IDEA #20: Can you use PPC ads to recruit?

David Searns | Co-CEO

This week on ASA Central there was a question about using paid ads (PPC) on LinkedIn or Google for recruiting.

Can you make it work?

Now, before I answer, I have a confession.


We have four incredibly talented women on our team who are PPC experts, and ladies, I hope I don’t embarrass you! (And feel free to tell me I am an idiot if you don’t like this article!)

Beyond our PPC team, we also have a rather brilliant recruitment marketing team who may also tell me I’m an idiot. Have at it boys!

Okay, so with my disclaimer out of the way, here goes.

Can you use PPC ads for recruiting? 

100% yes.

But will it be more cost-effective than placing a job post on LinkedIn or a job site like Indeed?

This is the real challenge.

In pure dollars and cents, your cost per apply is likely to be lower when you post a job on a job site.

Why? It’s all about intent.

On a job site, 100% of the people on the site are looking for work.

They’ve come to find your jobs. In a market like we have right now, if you post something even remotely close to what people think they can do, people will apply.

Case in point. Our last two hires. An SEO specialist. And an automation specialist.

In a tight labor market, we might get a handful of replies to these jobs. But this year, we received 161 applies for the automation job (and still counting) and a mind-blowing 283 for the SEO role.

And that was just with a free post on Indeed (thank you Indeed!).

But here’s the weakness of the job boards: quality.

While we have received some outstanding candidates, 95% were unqualified. Had we been paying for every click, our cost per qualified candidate would have been extremely high.

Now, let’s get back to PPC. The key to making it work is to understand intent.

Why are people coming to these sites? And what is their intent at the time your ad pops up?

In the ASA Central post, the author asked about two kinds of posts: LinkedIn and Google.

For simplicity’s sake, I am going to assume that Google meant Google Search Ads. (In case you did not know, there are LOTS of different ways to advertise with Google: search, display, local, video, app campaigns, retargeting, and now Performance Max – an AI solution that targets all channels).

Let’s start with LinkedIn ads. 

The beauty of LinkedIn is that we can VERY accurately target people. We can advertise to individuals by job experience, education, interests, group membership, traits, and more. 

This could be an ideal way to target PASSIVE talent.

But LinkedIn ads are expensive. The CPC (cost-per-click) is typically $2 - $3 and can be much higher.

The challenge with LinkedIn ads is the conversion rate. What percentage of the people who click actually apply for the job?

Let’s say you get a 2% conversion rate (which would be pretty good). If your cost per click is $5 and 2% convert (i.e., apply to the job), your cost per application is $250. Ouch!

Would you pay $250 to get one apply?

To make LinkedIn ads work, you need to do one of the following:

  • Get your ad to chase people away! Design your ad so that it DISCOURAGES unqualified people from clicking.
  • Optimize your landing page for conversions. Your LinkedIn ad needs to drive people to a specific web page -- a landing page. You can test different offers, copy, and design to maximize your conversion rate. The more people who convert, the lower your cost per apply.
  • Don’t just advertise one job. Instead of recruiting for a job, use LinkedIn ads to build a talent community. Design your ad to attract people interested in improving their career in a specific industry or skill discipline. Then work with those people to help them find new job opportunities. If your cost is $250 per qualified job seeker that you then place, then that cost probably works quite well!
  • Add retargeting ads. Retargeting ads are PPC ads that “follow” people after they have been to your website. Essentially, if your first ad doesn’t get people to convert, you retarget them to bring them back. A returning candidate is 2x as likely to apply for a job!

Let’s wrap-up LinkedIn PPC. 

Does it work? Yes, it will get people to click.

Will it be cost-effective? It depends on your strategy…and your conversions.

Is it worth doing? Maybe. If you can build a talent community and place the people you attract, then the cost per candidate you place will likely be affordable.

If you are just trying to recruit people for one specific job, LinkedIn PPC is likely to be cost-prohibitive.

Now on to Google.

Again, we are only looking at search ads.

These are ads that target the words and phrases people type into the Google Search Bar.

Let’s go back to intent.

If we target people looking for a specific job, and you limit your ad targeting to people searching for that job, your ads will be most likely to appear for active job seekers.

This is a HIGH intent audience.

With search ads, we can only write text for the ads, and we only get a limited amount of copy. So, the key with Google ads is to write headlines that capture attention, and short copy that gets people (the right people to click).

With search ads, Google will ask you to create multiple variations of your headlines and multiple variations of your ad copy. Google will then run different combinations of your copy to see what gets the highest clicks. Google wants to maximize what you spend!

Typically, Google search ads cost $1 - $2 per click. But prices can be MUCH higher for popular search terms. Want to recruit a physician? Expect to pay much, much more per click.

Just like LinkedIn, the key to success is conversion rate.

If you are advertising a job, you’ll probably want to drive people right to that job on your website. Because the search intent was a high match to your job, you’re likely to get a better conversion rate, but it will still probably be less than 10%.

So, if your cost per click is $1 and 10% convert, then your cost per apply will be $10.

If 5% convert, it will be $20.

And just like we discussed with LinkedIn, you can use the same strategies to maximize your advertising ROI.

Let’s repeat:

  • Use ad copy to DISQUALIFY the people you do not want.
  • Optimize your landing page to increase conversion.
  • Don’t just advertise one job, build a talent community of people you can represent.
  • Use retargeting to bring people back.

Let’s wrap this up.

Can you use PPC ads for recruiting? Of course. But if you are just promoting specific jobs, your odds of a lower cost per qualified candidate than job sites is VERY low.

However, if you use PPC as part of a strategy to build your talent community, attract talent you can proactively skill market, and build your referral network, then your cost of PPC per placed candidate may prove to be VERY affordable.

It all comes down to thinking about the intent of the person who sees your ads, and how you can align what you want with what they want.

Now, if you want really good advice from people who know a lot more about this than me, please reach out and ask to speak with our PPC team.

They are brilliant!


What do you think of this issue of SMART IDEAS Weekly? Love it? Hate it? Either way, we’d love to hear. Just click reply and tell us your thoughts.

Have a topic (or challenge) you want us to address? Tell us that too! We’d be happy to provide specific tips for you in future issues of our SMART IDEAS Weekly.

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