Seek ramps up development as competition rises

Job ad website reveals overhauled search and new ways to connect

Seek managing director of product development and strategy, Michael Ilczynski. Credit: Seek

Seek managing director of product development and strategy, Michael Ilczynski. Credit: Seek

Seek has overhauled its job search functionality as part of a broader development push at the Melbourne-based Web company.

Seek has today replaced its underlying search technology with a customised version of CloudView by French developer Exalead, and has redesigned the user experience, according to Michael Ilczynski, managing director of product development and strategy.

The new search tool is meant to make it simpler for users to refine their search, Ilcynski told Computerworld Australia. For example, a user can do an initial search for “project manager” and then slim down the results to a specific industry and location.

The website previously used search technology developed by Fast Search and Transfer, he said. Fast was acquired by Microsoft in 2008.

“It was a good technology [but] Microsoft chose to take the technology in a slightly different direction rather than pure search, so it wasn’t quite going to meet our needs going forward.”

In addition to the new search tool, Seek announced new ways for job advertisers to connect with potential applicants.

Seek automatically suggests job seekers from its database to employers when they post a job. Previously, hirers could only choose to download these seekers’ CVs.

Now, Seek has added a button called Send Jobs that, when clicked, sends information about the job to the potential candidate. The feature launched two months ago, but Seek now plans to promote it more, said Ilczynski.

In about four weeks, Seek will add another option called “Message” that will allow hirers to add a personalised message when they send the job, he said.

“What we’re really focussed on is increasing the value that a job ad can bring to both candidate and hirers,” he said. “What we really want to do is increase the number of ways and options that candidates and hirers or advertisers have to find and connect with each other.”

The 16-year old company is rolling out the new features as a result of a renewed emphasis on technology development.

“We’re really trying to bring in some great talent, and we’re trying to find ways to really engage with our own people and give them ways to express their own creativity and impact our roadmap,” Ilczynski said.

In FY 2011, the company had about 60 people broadly working on product development, he said. Seek now has about 120 and by June will have about 150, he said.

“Within the space of three years, we will have tripled the number of people we have working on product development. It’s a huge investment for us.”

Last week, Seek held its first hack-a-thon event, a growing trend among tech companies.

“We had 100 ideas submitted to be hacked,” Ilczynski said. The company only has had time to do 15 of them at this year’s event, he said. “It’s been pretty exciting.”

In Seek’s earlier years, the company had placed a greater emphasis on sales and marketing, Ilczynski said. Now that its marketplace is better established, he said, “we really want to expand the product and services ... that we offer to our customers".

“We need to compete not only on sales and marketing, but also on product and technology.”

Seek is facing an increasing range of competitors, he said. They include traditional rivals like newspaper classifieds, as well as other Australian employment websites, international job aggregators and companies like LinkedIn that offer alternative business models for connecting with talent, he said.

“We focus as much on the potential competitive set as opposed as the actual competitive set today,” he said. “We put a lot of work putting ourselves in the shoes of potential competitors and saying, ‘What would they do?’ or ‘What need are they meeting?’”

Seek does not view as competitors freelance websites such as oDesk or Freelancer, Ilczynski said. “They play a really different role and appeal to a really different need. That’s very much more outsourcing of business functions as opposed to connections with individual talent.”

One Australian rival, CareerOne, has recently added casual, task-based work to its website through a partnership with Sydney startup Airtasker. But Ilczynski said Seek is more focused on core users who are more interested in permanent work than short-term tasks.

“Models like Airtasker [are] really interesting models [but] at the moment they are relatively small models within Australia,” Ilczynski said. “It’s very hard to get the scale to make those models work in a country like Australia.”

The growth of mobile has “really changed the business”, he said. Last month, nearly 45 per cent of traffic to Seek came from smartphones and tablets, and the company expects it to surpass 50 per cent by early to middle next year, he said.

In response, Seek has employed a combination of native apps and a mobile website. The app is currently only for Apple iOS devices, but an Android app is in the works, Ilczynski said. The company might do Windows Phone 8 but has no plans for a BlackBerry 10 app, he said.

“We don’t see very much traffic at all from BlackBerry.”

An Agile approach has been critical to technology development and other business units at Seek, he said. “As a philosophy it’s really made a difference to our organisation.”

A major benefit to Agile has been that it’s enabled Seek to get product to market much sooner and with less risk, he said. For example, Seek actually turned on its new search technology to 5 per cent of the audience about two weeks ago, he said.

“Because we can push product out faster and because we can turn it on to a small amount of the audience, it means that we can both learn quickly and if we do fail, fail fast and with a relatively small investment.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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