Would you take a fishing rod into the woods to hunt a bear? Or would you load a slingshot with tootsie rolls to go deep-sea fishing? Of course not! Yet most landscapers use the wrong “bait” to attract the right “critter.” To make matters worse, there are more “hunters” out there trying to catch those good employees than ever before, while the pool of qualified applicants continues to be bombarded with more and more “lures.”

Let’s face it, people don’t have the attention span they used to have. To say they’re continually distracted and unfocused would be a gigantic understatement. Research now tells us that the typical American’s attention span is around eight seconds. That’s similar to the attention span of a gold fish. Compare this number to that of Americans in the early 1900s—around 20 minutes. That’s a huge difference.

Today there is a tsunami of e-this and e-that, social media, i-this and i-that clamoring for attention. So much so that the average American’s attention span is shot. Advertising, marketing and electronic gadgets are all eating into that eight seconds. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email, iPhones, texting… on and on and on. Combine this with being exposed to, on average, 5,000 or more marketing messages daily, and we’re just getting started.

This is the perfect storm of fractured attention span, topped off with an overload of stuff begging for potential job applicants’ attention. If your help-wanted ads are weak, untargeted or look and sound the same as the rest, it’s doubtful they will get noticed. What this means is you have to be different, out of the ordinary and oftentimes over the top just to be seen. Finding exceptional employees starts with applicants responding to your ads.

Big net vs. small net ads

There are two basic types of ads.

  1. General “big net” ads: These ads drive more, yet generally less-qualified numbers of applicants. These cast a big net. They are usually better at generating a higher volume of applicants.

    Example: “General laborers needed for landscaping company in Dallas-Fort Worth area.” This ad is broadly applicable to many people.

  2. Targeted “small net” ads: These ads drive fewer, yet generally more qualified applicants because you are adding more qualifiers for applicants to respond to.

    There are two sub-types of targeted small net ads:

    • Specific: Very specific ads attract even fewer but more qualified applicants, for example: “Landscape company needs employees who can work weekdays Monday through Friday in Fayetteville, North Carolina.”

    • Micro: By adding even more qualifiers, you cast an even smaller net. “Leading landscape maintenance company needs non-smoking employees Monday through Friday in southwest Atlanta, Georgia, who have a minimum of 1 year of experience with zero-turn mowers.”

These ads drive the fewest, yet most qualified applicants, since you’re uber-descriptive about the requirements. General and targeted ads each have their own place in the grander scheme of things. Yet specifics and details are better allies in grabbing attention than generalities. Specificity in and of itself gets more eyes.

Headlines that Grab Eyeballs

The following are some of the top help-wanted ad headlines that we’ve used over the years. Just mix and match the job titles to create ads that work for your company.

  1. Good News, Irrigation Techs!
  2. Landscapers: Is The Daily Grind Wearing You Out?
  3. Arborists – – – Are You Ready For A CHANGE?
  4. Horticulturalists: Are You Looking For F-l-e-x-i-b-l-e Hours?”
  5. Are You a Tree Climber Who’s Willing to Take a Chance?
  6. Lazy Bums: Do Not Call!
  7. Are You A “Get It Done” Turf Technician?
  8. Are You A SERIOUS Pest Control Operator?
  9. Small Engine Mechanics – Just want a job? We’re NOT your place.
  10. Snow Plow Operators…This Opportunity Ends At Midnight Tonight.
  11. GOOD News for Sod Installers
  12. Can You Make The 3% Cut?
  13. Diesel Mechanic: Job In (your town) Needs YOUR skills M-F
  14. Arborists Needed With NINJA Skills!
  15. The World is Full of “Average” Landscapers. Are You Exceptional?
  16. Are You Passionate About Beautiful Landscapes?

Ensure that your ads get noticed

The first part of differentiating your ads (so they get noticed) begins with your headline. All you have is a few brief seconds to make the first impression or your readers will bounce to the next ad. Readers make a choice on whether to continue reading your ad or skip to the next ad based on what your headline promises. Put items of interest or concern to the typical employee in your headline.

Remember, your headline needs to speak to the hot-buttons and pains of the reader. What hot-button issues do you think your typical employee may be facing when they’re looking through the help-wanted ads? Put those pains and hot-buttons in your headlines to get more attention.

To stand out, your headlines need to look and read differently than others. How can you make your headlines unique? Think about how the words are written. Think about the use of capitalization, unusual punctuation and unusual wording. Ninety-nine percent of all companies use the same wording, phrase and structure in ads – yours shouldn’t. While Craigslist and other mediums can limit your ability to make a visual impact with your headlines, you can still be very creative with the options you’re given. Either way, your headlines need to jump out and yell “look at me!” They need to grab the reader’s attention.

To stand out, you’ve got two options: peacock or precision. Peacock headlines are over the top. This method mixes a large dose of visual effects and relevant content to get attention. These headlines stand out in the crowd and boldly grab the reader. They are different, but have a sufficient amount of relevant material to increase their appeal. They beg to be seen and read and are proud of it. The world is hungry for and pays attention to things that are different and unique.

Here are some examples:

  • “Landscapers: ARE You Ready 4 A F-l-e-x-i-b-l-e Schedule?”
  • “Outdoorsy, tree-loving folks needed to do MANLY things in nature”

The point with this model is to run creative ads that stand out from the rest. But don’t write ads with no relevant content for the reader, ads that are only trying to shock people into reading. Be sure to provide relevant keywords and content in your headline.

On the other hand, precision ads hit readers squarely between the eyes with accuracy. These ads use a heavy dose of relevant keywords and specificity. These are usually small net ads. The point is for the reader to see the ad and say, “That’s me,” or “That one sounds perfect for my schedule.” These ads are designed to speak directly to the reader. Precision ads are a little quieter, usually a little subtler but still very effective in generating a higher response rate. Here is an example: “Tree and shrub experts needed to maintain high-end residences in Biloxi, MS, M-Th, 8-6PM.”

Peacock and precision are not mutually exclusive. They can and should be combined to maximize the effect.

The two most important words in your help-wanted headlines

If you look at most of the help-wanted ads, you’ll notice there is no specific call out, a hook or anything that is speaking directly to the reader.

Most headlines simply start with something along the lines of “Landscapers Needed” or “We Need Landscapers Part-Time.”

The problem with those headlines is the ad is speaking from the company’s point of view. There’s nothing there to pique the reader’s interest. Remember, all that matters is what you can offer the reader to get them interested and then respond. It must connect with the reader. The best way to get your reader’s attention is to have a call out, a question that you ask the reader, to immediately engage them.

The best call out we’ve found that produces higher response rates are these two simple words: “are you …”

Here are some examples:

  • Are you a horticulturist looking for a new challenge?
  • Are you a landscaper looking for flexible hours?
  • Are you an arborist climber looking to grow your expertise?

Instead of framing the ad from the perspective of what you want, it needs to be framed from the perspective of what the reader wants. “Are you” immediately places the emphasis on the reader, making the ad more likely to engage, connect and get a response.

Go ahead and show ’em the money

Something we’ve found that has yielded better ad response is showing your full pay range – your minimums up to your maximums, right there in the ad. Even though pay is not necessarily a top priority for all job seekers, it will come up in the conversation. So go ahead and address it and get it out of the way right upfront. We ran multiple tests and found that ads that show a full range of pay scored more replies. Again, specificity and details drives more replies.

As long as applicants know that your pay is in their range, that’s usually enough to ease concerns and move the relationship along. There’s always going to be the percentage that’s only after the top pay. Thankfully, those are usually the ones you don’t want.

Copy that results in action

Your headlines should use creativity and precision to get noticed. Now the rest of the copy – the body – must be engaging enough to keep them reading.

With the fruit-fly attention span we’re dealing with, shorter is typically better. Yet it’s a balancing act. You want to give readers enough information to set the hooks firmly in their mouths but not bore them. The purpose of your copy is to pique the reader’s interest just enough to inspire response. You’re not trying to sell them or tell them your life’s story – you just want them to take action and respond to your ad.

Once they click on the headline or continue to read your ad, the copy needs to hold their attention and continue to speak to their wants and needs. Short, punchy, relevant copy works best. Give readers with the skills and attitude you are seeking enough clear, concise details about the opportunities open to them to attract their interest.

Make it a no-brainer to respond

Now that your headline grabs attention and your body copy engages applicants, you need a definite, clear, easy-to-follow call to action.

With so many employers begging for employees, you don’t want to be the company that makes applicants jump through too many hoops to apply. Make your toll-free number prominent, give them an easy hyperlink “click-here-to-apply” button. Make your online application thorough but not too long. You’ll lose applicants if you make it complicated or make job prospects take too many steps to apply. While many companies expect prospects to respond to their phone number or via email address, you will get a better response by telling them what to do.

The National Adult Literacy Survey shows that the average adult in the U.S. reads at the seventh grade level, with nearly 50 percent below the sixth grade level and more than 80 percent below the 10th grade level.

This means your call to action must be clear and easy to understand. You can’t afford to assume prospects are going to follow vague directions. Read your ads with the eyes of a third, fourth or fifth grader. Are you crystal clear about what you want an applicant to do? Is it elementary school easy?

Example: “Pick up your phone and call xxx-xxx-xxxx RIGHT NOW or click HERE to get your online application completed.”

It is your job to give the applicant easy-to-follow directions so they don’t hesitate to apply to your company.

Your best chance at attracting and hiring good people is cutting through the noise and ensuring that your ads stand out from your competition. And don’t forget that your “competition” isn’t just other landscapers, it’s anybody looking to hire people for physically demanding jobs. You are competing against manufacturers, municipalities, construction companies and many other industries.

Use bold headlines, interesting copy and unconventional grammar to stand out. Make the ads about the applicant, not about your company. Make it easy for them to take action and respond. Combine all these techniques and watch the number and quality of your applicants soar.

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