Writing a good job description optimised for the web – part 1/3
When advertsiing online, you can’t just copy the job description that you would have put in a newspaper or magazine.
People look for things differently these days. When they searched for a job in a newspaper they would tend to go through every job on the page and read each job title and its salary first, and if the job title looked relevant then they’d read the job description.
According to many sources, people read as much as 25% more slowly online than when reading print. This means your online advert needs to be more punchy and more attractive otherwise people will switch off before they get to read how to apply.
Furthermore, people’s searching behavior is different in the online world. Search engines and job boards make searching for relevant jobs so much easier. What used to be a half-day process (reading newspapers & industry magazines) a decade ago is now a half-hour process for job seekers. All job seekers have to do is type in a few keywords inside a search box and within a second a list of jobs matching their skills is displayed.
Now that job seekers’ searching behaviors have changed, hiring managers and recruiters need to change the way they advertise jobs too. The job title and job description is even more important than it ever was.
As an example, consider my best mate Dave who works as a project manager for a Sheffield company. He’s looking for a new job and has been using all sorts of job boards as well as doing general Google searches. I asked him what he typed into Google or other engines to find jobs and he said “all sorts of things”, but mainly he said things like:
- project manager jobs
- project manager jobs in sheffield
- project manager jobs near sheffield
- project manager jobs south yorkshire
- project co-ordinator jobs in sheffield
- project facilitator jobs in sheffield
This is quite telling. It shows that all of his searches included the term “project”. Also, he’d noticed that when he just typed in “project manager jobs”, he’d got loads of jobs in Scotland, London, or even America. That’s why he then added “Sheffield” to his search critiera.
What other patterns are there? Mostly his search criteria included the phrase “project manager”. That’s because he is a project manager and that is the industry recognised title for his role. Sounds obvious, but read on.
Understanding the way search engines work is key to you understanding how best to write your job adverts. However, the first lesson you need to learn is not how search engines work but how job seekers use search engines.
The rule is quite simple, Put yourself in their shoes – if you were someone looking for a project manager’s job then what question would you ask?
- “how can i find a project manager job in sheffield?”
- “where can i find a project manager job in sheffield?”
- “I’m looking for a project manager job sheffield”
Now, these are the questions they would ask a person but now – and most importantly – you have to translate that into how they might ask a search engine the same thing.
Many search engines ignore conjunctions and stop words and on top of that, many users type as little as they can get away with when using search engines – that’s why Dave wrote “project manager jobs in sheffield” instead of “how can i find a project manager job in sheffield?”.
What people type in search engines such as Google are termed “keywords” or “key phrases”. Anyone writing an article or advert that they want people to find using search engines must put themselves in the shoes of the user. What keywords would they use? It’s those keywords that must underpin your job advert – make sure you use them!
Don’t go overboard with keywords though – try to keep to as few as 10 – and make sure they are prioritised. The higher priority keywords should be used more frequently and in more strategic places in the advert – such as the job title. The lower priority ones can be mentioned fewer times and be less prominent.
In the example of project manager, most people won’t type in “lifecycle manager” (see below) – they’ll type in “project manager”. There you go, that’s your first high priority “key phrase”.
Then you saw Dave type “Sheffield”. That’s another keyword. You have to think carefully about that one though – are you only looking to attract people who want to work in Sheffield? The answer might be yes but it might be no. If it’s no then don’t mention Sheffield too many times (or at all) in your advert.
You have to build up your job title and job description using your keywords, however don’t go overboard – this is an advert for a human being not a search engine – first and foremost you should make the job advert human readable.
Now, you may only want “Agile Project Managers” to apply for the job, or you may only want “Prince 2 qualified project managers” to apply. In those two separate example, should Prince 2 or Agile be one of your keywords?
That’s not an easy question to answer. It comes down to the question we asked earlier – “what question would you ask if you were looking for the job?”.
If you think an Agile project manager would always search for “agile project manager” then the word “agile” would become a high priority keyword, otherwise focus on the phrase “project manager” and use the term agile as a secondary keyword.
How to build your job advert
I would say that the single mosrt important part of an online job advert is the job title. This is where you should place some of your high priority keywords.
Building on the example of the project manager, many organsiations have project managers but frequently they are not called “project managers”. They may be called something like “project co-ordinator” or “project liaison”, but I have even come across one called a “lifecycle manager”.
While it is understandable that organisations have different job titles, it makes finding (and understanding) your job advert much more difficult – and unlikely. Stick with industry recognised terminology. If it’s a project manager you want then call it a “project manager”.
A side tip is to captialise the first letter in each word of the job title – “Project Manager” will stand out more than “project manager” or “Project manager” – but do not type “PROJECT MANAGER” – that’s just shouting.
Be as specific as possible here. By stating “competitive” or “dependent on experience”, you stop a number of your job seekers reading any more. They want to know.
What do you think is gong to be more enticing to a job seeker, reading an advert that says:
- Job title: Lifecycle manager
- Salary: competitive
Or an advert that says this:
- Job title: Senior Project Manager
- Salary: £40,000 – £45,000
Not many people would book a holiday on a website if they didn’t know where they were going. Ensure the location is mentioned in your job advert, but place it after the salary as some people are more likely to travel for a job if the salary is good enough.
Now here’s the tricky bit – and one of the biggest differences with online and paper. A paper advert would traditionally have a good paragraph or two about the company before it even starts talking about the actual job.
Many search engines work out the relevance of your web page by looking at how the page is constructed and also what the first few words are in the body of the text. If your first few words are about your company then search engines might rank your advert page more highly on what your company does rather than what the job is advertising.
Ensure your first sentence has some of your high priority keywords in it. Such as:
- “Project Manager required for award-winning recruitment solutions companny”.
Snippet about the company:
Add a couple of sentences about what your company does and give people a reason to like the company, not just the job. For example, if you’ve won awards then say so; if you do something groundbreaking then say so. Remember, your advert is selling your brand as well as the job you want to fill. Give your job seekers something to connect with your brand.
Highlight the role first then the specific requirements of the person – and remember your keywords. Get them hooked!
E.g.“As a project manager in engineering, you will take on the co-ordination of large-scale software projects with a budget exceeding £1m. You will faciliate the communication and dependencies between multi-disciplinary teams, ranging from the marketing department to the live production teams.”
Highlight the “must haves” of the candidate here. What skills must they have to get the job? Here you can make use of your secondary keywords, such as Prince 2 for your project manager job.
For example, start with:
- “You must be a Prince 2 certified project manager, with experience of managing software and marketing projects to strict budgets and deadlines.”
You can’t be too greedy with your “must haves” – the more you have, the less likely your candidate actually exists. Consider the things that are less essential and you could train your best candidate up on.
Call to action:
Make it clear to the job seeker how they can apply for your job. Can they do it online, by phone, email, or snail mail? Make sure their options are clear. Don’t make the application process tortuous – if it is painful then it could make the job seeker believe your internal processes are just as painful and then they won’t bother applying.
The url for your advert:
This is an often overlooked, yet an oh-so-powerful search engine optimisation tool. It is also not often down to the recruiter to decide what the url should be. However, if you have any influence over this then make sure the url includes the job title – Google will love you for it, and so will your job seekers.
So, try not to have a url that reads “www.mycompany.com/job1.html” and try to have it say something “www.mycompany.com/project-manager-jobs” or something similar. Part 2 of this blog will delve more deeply in the technical side of SEO and how your developers need to mark up the web page with techie stuff, but keep this tip in mind.
Taking a step back
I’ve written about how you can write your job advert and how to optimise the text online users and search engines, but really it starts before that. I mentioned that your job title was the single-most important factor in your advert. I also said to use industry standard terminology. However, it’s all-too-easy to write a job title before you have written a job description.
Although it may feel counter-intuitive, I would recommend first writing the job description without the job title and then analysing it to work out what the (industry recognised) job title should really be.
In my next blog post I will touch on the more technical elements to search engine optimisation. These are the things that recruiters will not need to worry about but your technical teams should. After that, I’ll post my version of an ideal job description.