How to Succeed in a Crowded Space? Maintain a Narrow Focus–TheLadders Shines in the Job-Search Niche

TheLadders’ Michael McCurdy tells SSI about thriving in a saturated market, predictability models, and why “Bill Me Later” didn’t work for them.

Quick Overview

TheLadders has proven that you can sell job-seekers subscriptions to see employment ads, even though the web is rife with freely available job listings sites and lists, as long as you strictly focus on a particular type of job seeker. Here, in our exclusive interview, Michael McCurdy, former director of subscription services, reveals which marketing tactics work best for the site and why TheLadders dropped “Bill Me Later” offers. We interviewed McCurdy in July 2009; he has since left the company.

Target Market

TheLadders targets U.S.-based professionals seeking jobs paying a minimum of $100,000 per year, as well as the HR professionals trying to recruit them. The site actively discourages people who earned less than $75,000 in the previous year from becoming members by using that as its lowest salary level on the required registration form. The highest amount is $500,000+. The Company also operates a site for similar demographic in Britain.

Content Model

At any one time the site lists tens of thousands of open positions. Recruiters pay to post their listings, but that doesn’t mean they can post anything they’d like. Human staff members screen job listings for quality. “We do a lot of the legwork for job seekers,” said McCurdy. The site has expanded its content scope to include career advice on topics such as interviewing, networking, personal branding, resumes, and salary negotiations in an effort to give members more reasons to visit, ultimately increasing account lifetimes.

As McCurdy explained, “We’re implementing a lot of programs, more content to get people engaged in the site. We want to monetize the years that people aren’t looking for a job. We’re trying to give people insights on becoming their own career managers.” The site also offers resume critiques and rewriting services to members. Beyond the content, the site’s relations with recruiters are also a critical member benefit.

Revenue Streams

The company has three major revenue streams:

1. Job seeker membership. Memberships are available in a variety of terms including month-to-month, quarterly, and annual. Prices in the U.S. range from $35 per month for month-to-month, to $15 per month for annual memberships in the form of a single $180 payment. The site does a lot of price, term, and offer-wording testing for best results. According to Time magazine, the site had 1.4 million members, representing $30 million in annual income in 2008–however McCurdy could not confirm this data, and we suspect the member number may have been inflated with free registrants and the revenue number may have included job posting sales to recruiters.

2. Resume writing services. Every member is offered a free critique of their resume and is then offered a paid resume-rewriting service. The cost is “personalized depending on your resume’s needs,” said McCurdy.

3. Recruiter job posting accounts. Recruiters pay $500 per post or can buy a multiple-post discount bundle such as five posts for $2,000. Larger accounts can presumably negotiate special rates and ongoing contracts with the site’s sales team. The key benefit the site promises recruiters is that using it will “shorten time to hire,” according to McCurdy.

Marketing Tactics


“Very successful when targeted,” said McCurdy. The marketing team runs ads on job boards as well as display ads on Forbes, Fortune, and Social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook are also good places to run targeted ads. “Job seeking can be actually kind of lonely. It’s a highly emotionally charged period in someone’s life,” he added. “We’re all about testing new venues. We’re always willing to retest two years later, as our brand becomes better known. It’s getting easier because people have seen commercials, or heard about us from friends or family members,” McCurdy noted. The site has also been trying television ads. “Whenever we do a campaign with offline media we see a dramatic increase in online media response rates.”

Niche Landing Pages

Last year, McCurdy’s team launched eight new doorways into the site–landing pages and membership conversion offer pages–each dedicated to a particular profession: FinanceLadder, HRLadder, LawLadder, MktgLadder, OpsLadder, SalesLadder, TechnologyLadder, and UpLadder, which targets medical and health professionals. They hope this targeted approach will help conversions for pay-per-click campaigns and other efforts in these segments.


In 2009, McCurdy’s team launched a free webinar series on the site as a lead-generation and membership-conversion tool. Topics are career-oriented. “People who register and don’t show up to webinars still convert higher than people who don’t register. People who register and do show up convert at a higher rate,” McCurdy explained.

Email Segmentation

The free membership sign-up form asks, “How soon are you looking to change jobs?” and gives four response options, from “immediately” to “within 6 months or longer.” McCurdy noted that, “This is probably one of the most interesting tests I’ve launched. People looking to change jobs convert at a rate that’s through the roof. I didn’t know how drastic the variances would be when I launched it, but the results were drastic.” Now the team will use this data to tweak email autoresponder timing and hopefully improve conversion rates in all categories. “Our messaging should be different for the different buckets: for some people 20 emails a day are not enough; for others getting one a week is too much,” McCurdy said.

Bill Me Later

McCurdy’s team tried using a “Bill Me Later” offer, but has dropped it. “We tried Bill Me Later but we ended up discontinuing the service. We saw very limited success and wasn’t the best user experience,” he said.


In addition to expanding site content to more general career advice, “We’re talking about trying to do something to celebrate the winners,” said McCurdy. “If you get a job through the site, people need to hear that. If you see that other people are successful, it can get you through any speed bumps in your own search. Our job is to show people there are many success stories out there.”

Technology and Vendors Used

Fallon: Television Ad Agency

About Michael McCurdy

TheLadder’s CEO Marc Cenedella has said, “Since they day I met Michael, it was clear he is the best emailer on the planet. McCurdy earned an MBA from the University of Dallas and previously worked for, which is headquartered in Texas. There, as director of CRM, he was responsible for customer communications across the core brand and offshoot, where email was a heavy part of his team’s messaging mix. Aside from membership sites, McCurdy’s also held Texas-based management positions with Sabre Holdings, ADP, Volvo Finance North America, and TIG Insurance. Since the date of our interview for this Case Study, McCurdy joined Rent the Runway as vice president of consumer marketing.

Subscription Site Insider’s Analysis

The marketing team at TheLadders is balancing brand awareness marketing together with a rigorous direct response disciplines in a manner that more subscription sites would do well to emulate. The recession has been fairly kind to TheLadders because their demographic on both sides are willing to spend money to get the right fit. We suspect the site will come out of the economic downturn with a major brand footprint.


Up Next

Register Now For Email Subscription News Updates!

Search this site

You May Be Interested in:

Log In

Join Subscription Insider!

Get unlimited access to info, strategy, how-to content, trends, training webinars, and 10 years of archives on growing a profitable subscription business. We cover the unique aspects of running a subscription business including compliance, payments, marketing, retention, market strategy and even choosing the right tech.

Already a Subscription Insider member? 

Access these premium-exclusive features

(Normally $57)

Perfect To Try A Membership!
$ 35

(Normally $395)

$16.25 Per Month, Paid Annually
$ 195

(10 Members)

Normally Five Members
$ 997

Interested in a team license? For up to 5 team members, order here.
Need more seats? Please contact us here.