Jobs Hot, Vertical Search Hotter

Even if you're not looking for a job, you should be looking at job sites, as they're collectively emerging as a petri dish for search innovation and a battleground for search market share.

Yahoo! hogged the press limelight last week, but I think the media missed the boat on the more important development. Its searchable mobile text messages gained far more attention than HotJobs turning into a vertical search site, but I'll argue the former was inevitable while the latter was unprecedented.

In speaking with The Kelsey Group's Greg Sterling on the subject, who is closely following how Yahoo! is putting all of its pieces together, he noted that the HotJobs story wasn't as hot with the press because it's far more complicated than the mobile search angle. The more I researched this story, including engaging in a lengthy chat with Sterling, a brief exchange with Gary Stein of JupiterResearch, and a brainstorming session with my colleague Erik Mednis, the more I came to appreciate just how convoluted the story is.



There are a number of angles to look at; several are summarized below, and each merit lengthier analysis. Let's get our feet wet and see what the HotJobs news means for us and the industry.

1) Vertical job search, meet the 800-pound gorilla. scours job sites, as do, Oodle, and WorkZoo. This is a bustling marketplace. HotJobs is a major rival to them all, with Yahoo! behind it. Yet the HotJobs entry gives the entire concept more credibility, potentially lifting all boats.

2) Glasnost wins. HotJobs isn't just relying on its own listings anymore, even though its own are featured most prominently. It's using comprehensiveness as a differentiator. Given that it can rely on Yahoo!'s natural search algorithms, it has a running start in crawling job listings that start-ups would likely have a hard time finding.

3) Offense or defense? Here's a semantic point where Sterling and I differ. I credit Yahoo! with this game-changing move that I can't find a parallel to in any industry. Sterling sees it in part as a survival tactic as the aggregators prepare to eat the job giants' lunch.

4) Can you be proprietary and vertical? There's a reason that perhaps no other company in any vertical has made the switch from offering proprietary content to becoming a vertical search, metasearch, or aggregation site: It's really tough to pull off. With tests that I ran on HotJobs, including searching for nursing jobs in San Francisco and construction jobs in Chicago (much to the confusion of my IT team, no doubt), there were pages of HotJobs listings before listings from other sites appeared. If someone wants a vertical search site, why would they scroll through so many listings from one provider? It still feels more like HotJobs than vertical search, so the true job aggregators maintain an edge. Granted, it takes a pretty sharp edge to cut down Yahoo!.

5) Everything can be optimized. Everyone who posts content online that they want to be found will need to pay attention to optimizing it. This doesn't just include retailers and content sites. This expands to jobs, real estate listings, dating profiles, press releases, and any type of content out there. Some content categories have a short shelf life, while others are more and wouldn't want the listing public. Yet anyone who wants content to be found needs to think in terms of optimization. A site needs to see which engines are aggregating its content and try to make its listings accessible, whether via feed submission or algorithmic search optimization. Posters, meanwhile, will want to explicitly include relevant keywords and give their listings the best odds of getting picked up.

6) The aggregated strike back. There's a flipside to this. Some sites will want to opt out of their listings getting aggregated. HotJobs offers a great example of why. When clicking a job listing that's not listed on HotJobs, the job description opens in a new window with a URL still displaying and a note saying, "Tell this employer you were sent by Yahoo! HotJobs." Now that's chutzpah.

7) The advertisers strike back. In the previous scenario, the site whose content is aggregated loses out, as HotJobs one-ups the other site's brand. But Greg Sterling describes an opposing situation. If the advertiser with HotJobs finds that HotJobs picks up lower-cost listings from other sites, the advertiser could just go with the better deal and still appear on HotJobs. Here, the aggregator loses and the other site wins out. Refer to the third point; it's a tricky business for HotJobs to navigate.

Sterling noted, "Not everyone's clear on what the repercussions of this are." Even more to the point, no one has yet figured out all of the implications - not Yahoo!, nor the esteemed Kelsey Group analyst, nor this humble columnist.

What's clear is that Yahoo! made one big, fat, bold move, leaving content sites, search engines, and advertisers many questions to answer.

Who's ready to tackle this one? Applicants wanted.

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