September 17, 2020

How to Choose A Programmatic Recruitment Advertising Platform

Chris Forman
September 17, 2020

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Programmatic recruitment advertising platforms are all the rage. They use sophisticated bidding algorithms to efficiently advertise your open jobs across the Web, finding the best sites and destinations for your job advertising dollars to attract quality candidates at the lowest possible cost.   

If you are thinking about joining the ‘wave’, here’s a quick primer on the two major categories of programmatic technologies, the value of each, and some key considerations to consider in evaluating a vendor.

[And yes, I get it that as the CEO of Appcast, writing on this subject may seem a bit self-serving since my organization is a leader in this space, but I’m gonna try and play this straight.]

So here we go.

There are two major types of programmatic technologies: a Job Ad Exchange and a Demand Side Platform (or DSP in the lingo of the ad tech crowd). In the recruitment context, here’s what each does:

  • Job Ad Exchange: A platform where your jobs are advertised across a network of job sites, aggregators, and search & social platforms. You, as the recruiter, don’t choose the sites where your ads are placed…the software makes the decision. Typically, you don’t pay a software fee to use this software. You pay per job (a flat fee), per click, or per application.
  • Demand Side Platform: A platform that allows you (or your ad agency) to decide where your jobs are advertised AND enables the sophisticated management of those ads to improve ‘spend’ efficiency, candidate quality, application volume…or all 3. DSPs can manage job ads on most job sites, aggregators, and Ad Exchanges. Typically, you pay a software fee to use this software (or you pay an agency that uses a DSP to do so on your behalf).   

Each technology offers different value. To explain why a forward-thinking recruiting organization would use each I’m gonna turn to the metaphor of investing for retirement.

  • Job Ad Exchanges are like an index fund in your 401K. With an index fund, fees are low and with a single ‘buy’ you can ensure that you have full market coverage. But rather than ensuring you have part of your retirement ‘nest egg’ matching the performance of the Russel 2000 or S&P 500, with a Job Ad Exchange you are ensuring that part of your recruitment job ad budget is smartly invested in the ‘long tail’ of the job site ecosystem.  There are more than 10,000 places online where you can discover job listings. With an Ad Exchange, you don’t have to search them all down. Make one ‘buy’ and the software ensures your jobs are put in front of job seekers where they live, work, and play online.
  • A Job Ad DSP is like a stock trading platform. While not for the casual investor, these powerful platforms use massive amounts of data and sophisticated algorithms to find market opportunities for your nest egg. Often compared to chain saws (since they are super powerful….but also in the wrong hands…super dangerous), these tools are used by professional money managers and sophisticated private investors. A Job Ad DSP is the same thing. In the hands of an experienced recruitment marketer, these tools can optimize your entire job ad budget materially…and give you a comprehensive, real-time view of all of your online job ad campaigns. But beware, their power can cut both ways.  


So which should you use?

To be honest, I think every company with more than 5,000 employees should use both…and any organization with a dedicated recruiting function (ie…a recruiter) should use an Ad Exchange. More than 20% of all job advertising in the US is now bought and managed by the tools I outline above…and it is growing every month.  

If you decide you are in the market for either one of them, here’s how I would evaluate each offering.

How to Buy a Job Ad Exchange

Selecting and evaluating a Job Ad Exchange is fairly simple…it’s just like the decision to try a new site for job postings. Listen to the pitch and see if you like the approach the company is taking (pricing, candidate reach, analytics, recruiter tools) and if they have a reputation for good service. If so, give them a trial budget and try it out.

How big should the budget be? Think $50 per job. Give them 50 to 100 jobs for the test…and not just the ‘stinky’ super hard-to-fill positions. If you want to compare an Ad Exchange to your key ‘major sites’, you need to treat them the same. If you advertise a mix of jobs on Indeed, LinkedIn, or ZipRecruiter…you should do the same with your Job Ad Exchange.

Moreover, sponsor NEW jobs during your test. Research shows that recruiters typically hire people who apply in the first week a job is advertised. If you give the Ad Exchange jobs that have been posted for 3 weeks, you will probably find you don’t get a hire.

After that if the Ad Exchange works for you…keep spending. If not, try another. All of them operate on month-to-month budgets. You don’t need to get tied down in long term contracts.

How to Buy a Job Ad DSP

Buying a DSP is a bit more difficult and should be approached with the care of selecting any new piece of software. That said, don’t be scared. A DSP offers such strategic value to the efficiency of your recruiting operation, the ‘juice is worth the squeeze’ of evaluating the technology.

Here are a series of questions you should ask each vendor to ensure you are getting the right solution for your needs.

  • Does the platform have access to all job sites and aggregators?
    WHY ASK THIS QUESTION: There are thousands of job sites in the United States. One of the values of programmatic technology is its ability to cast a wide net with minimal effort to capture all these sites. Best-in-class platforms allow you to distribute your ads to all the major sites (Indeed, Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, Craigslist), as well as the thousands of niche and up-and-coming sites that deliver massive amounts of high quality job seeker traffic (Facebook, LatPro,, Snagajob, Jobcase).
  • Is the platform agnostic and source neutral?
    WHY ASK THIS QUESTION: One of the goals of programmatic technology is to let data and performance dictate where your job advertising dollars are spent. If a platform is designed to spend your budget with a specific site or group of sites first, or as a default, you will lose out on one of the key capabilities of the technology. Best-in-class platforms allow performance to dictate how the advertising dollars are spent. Moreover, they allow the user to define budgets for each source…so you can ensure that sources with the best track record of delivering actual hires get an appropriate budget.
  • Does the platform integrate with your ATS to optimize for quality applicants and hires?
    WHY ASK THIS QUESTION: To optimize your recruitment advertising budget for your particular needs, programmatic platforms must understand if the clicks being purchased for you convert to applicants, qualified candidates, and hires. Best-in-class platforms integrate with all the major applicant tracking systems and CRMs to automate down-funnel data integration. These integrations ensure that your programmatic platform is optimizing your campaigns for the lowest cost HIRE . . . rather than the lowest cost CLICK. NOTE:  The devil is in the details on this point. Ask if your platform does job site level tracking to the hire…or treats all traffic from the platform as a single source. If the latter, you won’t know which source(s) are driving the best results.
  • Does the platform have an emergency brake for inefficient spending?
    WHY ASK THIS QUESTION? Knowing when and where to stop spending is one of the most important ways to improve the ROI of your job advertising budget. Some programmatic platforms are designed to spend a monthly budget, regardless of performance, by increasing bids. While spending a budget may be in the best interest of a job site or vendor, it may not be the best decision for you. Best-in-class platforms ensure spend efficiency with sophisticated controls that stop spending if 1) a job has enough applications to logically result in a hire, 2) a job has a material conversion problem (lots of clicks, no or few applies), or 3) the cost of an application exceeds a rational limit. [Note: When measuring if a job has enough applications, the best programmatic platforms use total applies (all applies on a job from all sources), not just the publishers being managed by the platform. This data ensures that you don’t spend job advertising money if a job is being supported by other marketing channels.]
  • Does the platform provide market data for intelligent decision-making?
    WHY ASK THIS QUESTION? Programmatic platforms do the math and the heavy lifting of job ad distribution and optimization. That said, they need inputs to understand what you are willing to pay for a specific recruiting outcome (application, qualified candidate, etc.). Best-in-class platforms provide market data in the platform for the expected cost of an application given your applicant tracking system, job function, and geography. 
  • BONUS QUESTION: Does the platform support A/B testing, job expansions, and waterfalling?
    WHY ASK THIS QUESTION?  If you perform high-volume, single-profile hiring (retail, warehouse, healthcare, trucking, delivery, gig, customer service, childcare), you will need specialized tools to ensure you hit your volume and cost goals. The ability to test different job ads in the market, create different iterations of job ads for different talent segments, and automatically move jobs between campaigns based on hiring needs are only a few of these requirements. Best-in-class platforms provide these tools and have referenceable accounts that will attest to their efficacy.

So, if you are intrigued by this idea of programmatic solutions to your recruitment challenges, I hope this ‘buyer’s guide’ helps. We have tons more information on Appcast’s Resources page if you want to learn more about the role that programmatic tools are playing in the evolution of recruitment marketing. In terms of Appcast, we offer a Job Ad Exchange (Xcelerate) and a DSP (Clickcast), as well as a full suite of managed services. If you would like us to help bring programmatic to your recruiting efforts, we’d love to hear from you.

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