Niche Job Boards a Thorn in the Side of Mass Market Internet Job Sites

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As recruitment activity in the UK continues to soar and the market for top-talent tightens, niche job boards such as are increasingly proving to be a thorn in the side of mass market job sites.

As recruitment activity in the UK continues to soar and the market for top-talent tightens, niche job boards such as are increasingly proving to be a thorn in the side of mass market job sites. In a broad range of professions, niche job boards now attract more relevant candidates – and more client advertisers – than the major branded job sites. This article explores the secrets to niche job boards’ success, explains why the mass-market boards continue to thrive and suggests there will be a wave of acquisitions in the sector within the next 12-24 months.

It is widely acknowledged that the UK recruitment market for professional staff has been picking up considerable momentum since late 2003. Recruitment agencies are reporting both higher placement volumes and greater difficulties in sourcing high-calibre candidates, whilst job boards are reporting soaring levels of online job advertisements – in many cases up 50% compared to a year previously.

Within this growing internet recruitment market a fascinating David vs Goliath battle has emerged, with a raft of sector-specific niche job sites pitted against the mass-market job boards. Whilst in most internet sectors it is the major brands that have come to dominate, in internet recruitment there are fundamental sales, marketing and retention issues that prevent mass-market sites from dominating as they do in areas such as online travel and shopping.

Niche job boards thrive by building up a loyal readership of relevant candidates who return to that site of their own free will – and who go on to recommend that colleagues visit the site too. This combination of high repeat visit levels and word-of-mouth referral traffic means that niche sites can grow and prosper on a relatively modest advertising spend. The market rate for generating valuable candidate traffic is around £1 per visitor. So a niche job board whose site traffic is self-sustaining and runs at 50,000+ visitors a month enjoys a significant cost advantage over a major site that needs to pay to attract tens of thousands of visitors per month to each market segment they serve.

“We now have over 150,000 people using the Top-Consultant website each month and the major consulting firms have come to regard us as the number one site for attracting management consulting candidates. The same is true of websites in other niche markets such as the accountancy sector or the market for Board-level appointees. Readers return to our site every two weeks because we provide market insights and content which are highly relevant to management consultants. It would be hugely expensive for a mass-market site to provide such a tailored user experience to every sector they serve; yet the alternative for these mass-market sites is to spend tens of thousands of pounds in advertising so as to attract a comparable audience. Either way the niche site has a significant cost advantage.”

Low cost is one notable advantage derived by niche firms from their traffic generation strategies; just as valuable, though, is the quality of candidates delivered to recruitment advertisers – which ultimately determines repeat business rates.

Job boards, by definition, attract only “active candidates” – candidates that are actively looking at new career opportunities with a view to changing job. Yet for the “hardest-to-fill” roles, recruiters often need to reach “passive candidates” – candidates who are perfect for the role but who are not actively looking for a new job.

By providing content that appeals to all professionals – rather than just active candidates – niche sites can attract the more valuable passive candidates that generate successful hires for many of their advertisers. Restell points to resources on Top-Consultant such as the daily consulting news updates, the management consultants’ toolbar, ongoing salary surveys and the consultants’ forum as just some of the anchors that secure large volumes of repeat visits from both active and passive candidates.

“When repeat traffic translates into higher success rates for advertisers than they have ever achieved elsewhere, this establishes client loyalty that is then very hard for any competitor to undermine” adds Restell.

So if niche sites are thriving in a wide range of specialist areas (accounting, consulting, secretarial roles, CEO roles…), does that mean the mass-market sites are struggling? Not so according to Bryan Hickson, Senior Customer Accounts Manager at Hickson suggests that the major sites are also thriving by signing “mega-deals” that they are uniquely positioned to win:

“FTSE companies and global corporations very often sign deals that address the full spectrum of their recruitment needs – and these are contracts niche job boards simply cannot win. Take a major accounting firm that needs to hire secretaries, accountants, marketing & PR staff and business consultants. By definition this business can only be won by one of the largest mass-market job sites rather than a sector-specific site like Top-Consultant. We may be the best place for such a firm to advertise their business consulting requirements, but we cannot help with the rest of their recruitment requirements. Very often such large firms will strike a deal with one of the major job boards to meet all the firm’s needs and in such instances the niche job boards lose large chunks of business to their bigger rivals. Niche job boards are then left to win work on an assignment-by-assignment basis where the major job board has failed to deliver on a particular recruitment need.”

Niche job boards have undoubtedly been one of the success stories of the dot-com boom. Those that have weathered the recruitment doldrums of 2002 and 2003 have in many cases emerged with more impressive client lists and stronger price points than their major job board competitors. The size and loyalty of their readerships are a significant asset that many in the industry feel are being under-exploited. With niche job boards now achieving annual revenues of £1m or more, they are a source of competition that mass-market sites cannot ignore. Restell confirms the major branded job sites are taking an interest in niche sites:

“It is clear from the expressions of interest we have been receiving that major job boards now see the acquisition of a portfolio of niche sites as critical to their expansion plans. Combining the sales channels of a major site with the readerships of several niche sites is seen as hugely value-adding for both the acquirer and the niche sites being acquired. While there is value in the separate web identities being maintained, we foresee a considerable amount of consolidation in our sector within the next 12-24 months.”

The upshot of all this is that internet recruitment appears to have thrown up one of the first examples of an internet industry that is best served by thousands of niche brands rather than a handful of giant mass-market sites. Whether the ownership of these brands will remain so fragmented is a matter for hot debate.

For additional information contact :

Tony Restell


Tel: +44 (0)207 667 6880

About is a careers website for management consultants, whose clients include: Accenture, A.T. Kearney, Atos KPMG Consulting, Capgemini, Capco, Ernst & Young, IBM Business Consulting, PA Consulting and Unisys. The founders are consulting alumni of Mercer Management Consulting, PA Consulting and Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

Further information and Top-Consultant resources can be found using the following links:

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Tony Restell
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