Most people start their academic job search by using a search engine. If your job doesn’t rank well in the results, you’ll be behind your competitors right from the start. The process of increasing your page’s ranking in the search results (and consequently the amount of quality traffic your job ad gets) is called SEO or search engine optimization. In this article, we will highlight some of the most common SEO mistakes that negatively affect your recruitment. 

1. You don’t edit the meta description

A meta description is a short summary of your content that appears below the title in the search results list. Candidates decide whether to click or not based on the meta description so it’s crucial that the text is interesting and tempting to click on. If you don’t bother to customize your meta description, the search engine will just automatically take the first 155-160 characters of your job ad. Think about the opening sentence or two of the last few jobs you’ve published. Would they entice you to click the ad? Are you willing to take that risk and lose desirable candidates because you don’t edit the meta description?

2. You haven’t shared the content

Search engines use several parameters to evaluate your content from a relevance and reputational perspective. One aspect of reputation is popularity, meaning that the more people interact with your content, the higher it ranks. Now you understand why it’s a mistake to not share your content and increase the number of people who interact with it. Boost your SEO by sharing your content in paid or organic social media posts or on academic jobs boards.

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3. Your title is too long

Just like with books, a well written title is key to attracting readers. Your job advertisement needs a title that is eye-catching but also contains the words that you think people will search for. This isn’t the time to innovate. When it comes to academic job adverts especially, many people make the mistake of using titles that are too long. Search engines have a limit of 70 characters. If your title is too long it will be truncated and, as a result, potential candidates will miss out on key information that might encourage them to click.

4. You’re using too many keywords

Keywords were a hot topic in SEO a few years ago. But then people started to oversaturate their content with keywords so search engines changed their parameters. Now using too many keywords does not help your SEO. On the contrary, your content can actually be punished for it. Use your keywords sparingly and strategically. Remember, you are not writing your ad for a search engine, you are writing it for a human reader.

5. Your HTML is not Google-friendly

Most people think SEO applies only to your content and your page layout. Unless you work in programming or web development, you wouldn’t know that a big part of SEO is structuring your HTML in a Google-friendly way. HTML is the standard markup language used to create web pages and it tells your browser how to display a website’s words and images. In order to have a Google-friendly HTML you need to be sure you have all the important tags in place, like title tags, meta description tags, robot tags, header tags, alt tags in images, responsive site meta tags and more. 

Now that you know what SEO mistakes to avoid, download our SEO guide to go beyond the basics and learn more about how it really works. In the guide, you’ll find tips about how to structure your recruitment texts, use keywords, and work with links to improve your search result rankings. SEO best practices are constantly changing so make sure you’re subscribed to Recruiter Advice to stay up to date on the latest trends and guidelines.

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Publishing your job ad online means anyone can find it, right? Well, not exactly. Not all online content gets traffic and a great job ad won’t get any applications if no one finds it. The majority of web traffic comes from organic searches, making search engines the gatekeepers of which jobs get applications and which ones don’t.

For an online job ad to be effective, the site you advertise it on has to have good SEO. 

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and it refers to the process of increasing the amount of quality traffic your website gets from organic (i.e. not paid) search engine results. 

When you google “PhD positions in Europe,” you’re instantly shown a list of websites that the search engine thinks will best match your query. These results, also called rankings, are based on two things: relevance and popularity. The search engine looks at several different aspects of your website to determine how it should rank in the list of search results. These include things like website indexing, keyword optimization, page design, the content itself, and user experience. 

Let’s dig in a bit further.

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How do search engines determine if a site is relevant? 

To determine if a website or page is relevant to your search, the search engine first has to figure out what the website or page is about. There are several things the search engine looks at to do this. For example, it looks at the titles of the page and the URL to check what the keywords they contain. It looks at when the content was published. Search engines also look at what’s called the meta description, that’s the little snippet that comes up in the search results. Does the meta description contain relevant keywords for the search query? 

How do search engines determine if a site is popular?

When it comes to determining popularity, the search engine looks at how visitors have interacted with the site over time. For example, are the number of people visiting the page increasing over time? Is the content shared frequently on social media? How many other sites link to this content? When one website links to another it’s called backlinking. You can think of backlinks like citations. A high number of backlinks indicates to a search engine that the information on that page is valuable. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other factors that affect a site’s relevance and popularity and therefore how it ranks. SEO takes time to master which is why a website with good SEO is incredibly valuable–especially when you’re posting a job vacancy.

Want to learn more about SEO and how you can leverage it to optimize your talent attraction? Download our SEO for academics guide below. Next week, we’ll be covering the five most common SEO mistakes. Subscribe to Recruiter Advice so you don’t miss it!

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University of Cologne is one of the oldest and largest universities in Germany with over 48,000 students. We spoke to Dr. Maria Schmitz-Hüser, Project Manager, Strategic Personnel Management at the University of Cologne to learn more about how the university uses data in its recruitment. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you think it’s important to take a data-driven approach to talent attraction?

Data is especially important for positions that need to be filled within a short period of time or that are difficult to fill.  It’s also very important in the cases in which we are very under pressure to find someone, for example, not just in the academic staff but also apprentice (Auszubildende) positions. We have a lot of these positions, like 12 in a year, and they’re not always easy to fill. But we can use our data to look for a strategy and see where the right place to advertise them is. 

Are there certain metrics that you found to be most crucial in determining if a recruitment is successful?


Dr. Maria Schmitz-Hüser

Yes, time to hire is the key metric actually. Sometimes we have to distribute the same position one more time, and another time, and even another time. If a position is not running that well, then it’s a position where we have to change our strategy and start a campaign or something to be more visible. 

So you keep track of your past recruitments and the different providers you’ve used to see which perform well which helps you then when you end up in a situation like that. Can you give an example of how you have adapted your strategy  in response to data?

Not every provider gives us data. This is a problem because then we can only judge a position by the applications we get and the number of clicks the job gets.  Academics Positions, for example, you support us with frequent reporting and this helps us because  we can see which jobs get many clicks and which jobs don’t. When many people click on the job but only a few of those people then click on apply, we’ve noticed that this is an effect of giving the position too broad of a title. When the title is very general, everyone clicks on “read more” and then realizes that it’s not what they’re looking for. So based on your data, we have changed the way we name our positions.

If an organization is new to using data in their recruitment decisions, what advice would you give them? What do you think should be the first step to a more data-driven recruitment approach?

The first step is to see how many positions you have to fill and then to determine how quickly you need to fill these positions. How many runs do you think you will need to fill them? How many applications do you generally receive per position? Based on that, you can identify the positions that are running well that you can just let run. But if you have a position that you know will need more runs and it isn’t getting a lot of applications, these are the KPIs which help you see what you have to change. Then if you change something in the next run, these KPIs will show what the effect was.  

Another thing is the quality of the applications. In an applicant tracking system, you can also track how the candidates perform and rank them based on how they really fit the position. Then you can track, for each position, how many applicants really fit the position which tells you that you managed to attract exactly the group of people that you were looking for. 

When it comes to academic recruitment, storytelling is a fantastic way to engage potential candidates and start to build a relationship with them already before they apply to your institution. In order to be most effective, you have to start telling your institution’s story long before you’re looking to fill a particular vacancy. Here’s why:

Change your strategy

As we explained previously, not all potential candidates are actively looking for a new job. Up to 70% of all job seekers are passive, meaning they’re not actively seeking out new opportunities. They don’t visit job boards or check university career pages, the two most common academic recruitment channels. The more desirable a potential candidate is, the more likely they are to already be employed and not actively looking for a new job. If you want to get top candidates applying for your vacancies, you have to change your strategy and use new channels to reach out to them. 

Tell your story

Here’s where storytelling comes in. While traditional job ads won’t reach passive candidates, exciting stories will. Everyone likes to read inspiring stories about ground breaking-research, and researchers are no different. These kinds of stories capture their interest and are a great way to build awareness of your institution. What makes the story even better is if you share how your institution helped support the researcher and made it possible for them to thrive. This kind of information helps potential candidates see your institution as an attractive employer. 

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Build your pipeline 

Storytelling is a powerful way to build a candidate pipeline because it creates an emotional response in your audience and motivates them to take action towards your organization. That’s why storytelling should be integrated into every stage of your long-term talent attraction strategy. You can use a story to first get on a candidate’s radar and then another one to offer more insights and deepen their consideration of you as an employer. By doing this, you’re priming candidates so that when they do come across a job ad from your institution, they have a positive picture of your institution as an employer and are excited to click the apply button. Effective storytelling can also inspire candidates to visit your careers page and actively seek out a job at your institution.

Continually sharing interesting and relevant stories is a proactive approach to employer branding that will get candidates interested in your institution long before you publish the job that’s perfect for them. 

By making storytelling a part of your long-term academic talent attraction strategy, your institution can engage top candidates you wouldn’t otherwise reach. You’ll stand out from your competitors with this proactive approach to employer branding and start building your candidate pipeline. To learn more how to incorporate storytelling and content marketing into your talent attraction strategy, download our talent attraction guide. 

Want to get more insights into academic recruitment? Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about SEO and attracting academic talent. Make sure you’re subscribed to Recruiter Advice so you don’t miss it.

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