Allegis Trumps Rivals with All-Search Marketing

These days, big brands are turning their attention—and their ad budgets, in growing numbers– to the power of search marketing, until now a traditional direct-response marketing tool. But staffing-services provider Allegis Group is reversing that trend. In a business category where its prime competitors rely heavily on branding advertising, Allegis is not only marketing exclusively on the Web but is using search marketing to build its own brand awareness among customers while blowing the doors off the competition.

And the strategy is performing well for Allegis, a privately-held company that encompasses staffing and recruiting subsidiaries in fields including information technology, aviation and aerospace, financial services and electronics in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Allegis is looking at net revenue of more than $4 billion in 2006, according to John Middlebrook, the director of Web and creative solutions for Allegis.

Middlebrook says Allegis first began to focus on search marketing about three or four years ago to market its Thingamajob.com online job board. Allegis operates by sending a sales force out to employers, many of them Fortune 1000 companies, and digging up exclusive job postings. Those jobs are listed on Thingamajob, where they’re seen by registered Allegis job-seekers. When the job is filled, employers pay Allegis, and Allegis pays the salary and benefits of the staffer; that makes Allegis different from a Monster.com or CareerBuilder, from which clients hire applicants directly.

The original Web design for Thingamajob did not lend itself easily to indexing by search engines. “Our jobs were in a drop-down menu, so you had to choose ‘IT jobs in Maryland’ to see those,” says Middlebrook. “It wasn’t conducive for search engines. So we started working with [search marketing firm] iProspect to incorporate static URLs and other changes that would let search engines browse for our jobs.” The benefits to Thingamajob’s organic search results, he says, were “phenomenal”—good enough to drive the optimization effort into the Web sites of Allegis’ other operating subsidiaries, primarily TEKsystems and Aerotek, which handle staffing for IT positions and light industrial or commercial fields.

Those operating company sites had a number of design problems that kept them from being properly indexed and ranked by search engines. For one thing, they used JavaScript for navigation, something the engines don’t pick up on. They also contained text that was heavy on marketing-speak (“talent acquisition specialist”) rather than engine-friendly keywords (“careers”, “looking for jobs”), Middlebrook says.

“We had the copy rewritten by third-party copywriters that know how to write for the Web using keywords, using the right tags, and employing the right links with keywords embedded in the links,” he says. “So we started to see tremendous success with our Web redesigns also. We’ve now gotten to a point where all our sites are optimized organically and doing really well.”

Organic improvement has occurred at different rates because the optimized sites were relaunched on different timetables; the Aerotek Web site was relaunched at the beginning of 2005, for example, while TEKsystems’ new site went out at the end of last year. For that subsidiary, the company has bulked up its branded keywords from 16 to 79, and has increased its top-30 organic rankings 103%.

“We’re a company that does not really believe in the typical marketing venues,” says Middlebrook. “So I feel it’s important to beat our competitors online around non-branded terms. When you search for ‘staffing company’, you’ll see Aerotek at number one. When you put in ‘telecommunications jobs’, you’ll see TEKsystems number one.

Allegis has traditionally been a company that focused on deepening relationships with existing employer clients, but its weak spot had been finding new business. “Now we’re seeing this new clients come to us for the first time online,” he says.

On the job seeker side, one of Allegis’ online problems had been a disconnect between the subsidiary Web sites where seekers would start their job search and the Thingamajob main listing site. “When they clicked on a TEKsystems.com job link, they would be taken to our job board, which would have a completely new look and feel,” Middlebrook says. The company was experiencing a lot of fall-off from seekers who were not familiar with Thingamajob and were suspicious about submitting their resume to an entirely different site than they had entered.

So TEKsystems worked to integrate Thingamajob as a seamless application of the main Web site, with a TEKsystems look and feel. The result was a 125% increase in TEKsystems applications in the first two months. “We’re now forcing more resumes and more applications than ever before,” he says. “Those numbers are through the roof.”

Now Middlebrook is concentrating on cranking up the search marketing program for five of Allegis Group’s 20 Web sites, with the help of iProspect. Funding for the pay-per-click campaigns has come from increased leads generated by the improved organic rankings. Allegis tracks by keyword the sales leads that come in to the Web sites and can tell how much profit the company is making off the Internet on a daily basis.

Allegis managed its sponsored-listing campaigns in-house until about a year ago, but has been turning more of those duties over to iProspect since the optimization campaigns began producing results. The company lists 17,000 jobs and runs 280 regional offices, so compiling and managing keyword lists for that kind of inventory is a daunting task.

“It’s a painstaking process, and we realized we weren’t doing it well,” Middlebrook says. The hand-off has been a gradual one, he says, because Allegis still knows its own business best and must contribute input to the pay-per-click (PPC) management process.

“We looked for a partner that would help us determine what the proper keywords were,” he says. “For example, our marketing team wanted to call one of their service lines ‘staff augmentation’. I had iProspect help us look at the market, and we realized that nobody looks for ‘staff augmentation.’ By a five-to-one ratio they look for ‘staffing services.’ So [marketing] decided to change the name of that whole division around the data I gave them from search data.”

Allegis is currently working on specific “job pages” for TEKsystems that go out and pull up-to-the-minute national listings from popular Thingamajob categories such as “Java architect” and feed those to specific landing pages on the TEKsystems.com site. That has helped to increase the visibility of those pages for search engine spiders and elevated TEKsystems’ organic listings. In time, that effort will also feed into PPC campaigns built around those categories, Middlebrook says.

TEKsystems’ 100 locations around the country are getting the same page-specific treatment—and in fact will get a more intensive version. “We’ve created pages around every single major city in America,” he says. “If we service it, we have a page. For example, we don’t have an office in Boca Raton FL, but we have one in Fort Lauderdale FL that serves it. So we have a link and a page around Boca Raton jobs, and have keywords around it too.”

That landing-page approach offers Allegis another competitive edge over its rivals, who rely on ZIP code entries to show job seekers the listings in their areas.

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