66% of all transportation is trucking. Of the many ways carriers, shippers, and brokers work to secure those truckloads, load boards are the most undervalued. Although valuable, load boards often rely on outdated technology, which leads to workflow disruptions and inefficiencies. For example, many only list lanes and leave the transaction itself to be completed outside of the board.
This ultimate guide to freight load boards has everything you need to master load boards and match pending freight with carrier capacity.
What is a Load Board
A load board is a web-based service used by brokers and carriers to match available freight with trucking capacity. Much like a bulletin board, shippers and brokers can “post” their available loads to the load board, wherein carriers can search for and book loads that match their available capacity. It works like this:
- A shipper or broker posts a load to the freight load board, including all the pertinent information (i.e., ship-from and ship-to location, weight, commodity, etc.).
- A carrier with available capacity logs into the load board and conducts a search for loads that match their available capacity in a specific market area.
- Assuming the broker's available load matches the carrier's available capacity, the carrier (or broker) then books the load or offers a rate at which they will move the load using the load board's built-in functionality.
At the end of this process, both the carrier and the shipper get what they want. The carrier fills their empty truck, and the shipper moves their freight. As with any web-based service, the process is far more complicated than it sounds, and you still have to secure a fair rate and a reliable carrier. Let's take a look at the different types of load boards to see which is best for your business.
What are the Different Types of Load Boards
There are as many load boards on the market as there are customers to use them. Most are designed with brokers and carriers in mind, while shippers tend to create their own, private portals. Though every load board is different, most charge a subscription fee to customers, with more expensive plans offering greater functionality.
Some load boards are "free" for carriers to use but include integrated Freight Bill Factoring for loads booked through the platform. Like most web-based services, each load board offers a different membership plan, with various tools, logins, and passwords.
Many users employ more than one load board to book freight. This strategy can cause confusion and is inefficient as users waste time searching through multiple sources and still not guaranteeing that their trucks will get covered.
The best way to determine which load board is best for your business is to examine the different types of load boards, tools, and the various benefits they offer carriers, brokers, and shippers alike.
What is a Public Load Board
The majority of load boards are public, meaning any carrier, shipper, or broker in the country can sign up and begin posting and/or bidding on freight. According to FreightWaves, there are over 227K for-hire companies making up 1.57M trucks.
That’s a lot of carriers. With so many shippers and carriers using the same marketplace, competition for loads on public load boards can be fierce. As a result, public load boards' rates are typically lower than those on private load boards. Public load boards also allow brokers to see other brokers' loads and rates.
On the other hand, public load boards are never short on freight and are an excellent place for carriers to find backhauls and shippers to move "hard-to-book" loads and "out-of-network" freight.
Truckload - The vast majority of load boards are built with Truckload shippers and carriers in mind. As such, many load boards also provide insight into the Dry Van, Reefer, and Flatbed markets. That insight enables carriers to bid more effectively and gives shippers the market data they need to maximize profit on every load.
LTL - Unless you specialize in LTL (Less Than Truckload) freight, LTL loads can be difficult to find. But the right LTL load board can help shippers and carriers match challenging Partial, Hot Shot, and Less Than Truckload freight with available LTL capacity.
Specialized - Specialized load boards include hoopers, dump trucks, curtain sides, open deck loads (other than flatbed, i.e., Conestoga, double drops). These load boards typically connect carriers and shippers in the bulk loads industry.
What is a Private Load Board
Unlike a public load board, which is visible to any user with a subscription, private load boards
have restricted access to a shipper's freight, with the shipper deciding which carriers can see available loads. Those shippers then decide which carriers will have access to their board.
By limiting access to their load board, a shipper ensures their freight-only ships with preferred carriers. Private load boards also enhance pre-existing relationships that are built around trust–the vital variable missing from public load boards.
Another advantage of a private load board is shippers know the service level the carrier will have since they have worked with them in the past. Carriers do not have to fill out countless carrier packets from all the brokers they have to onboard with through public load boards. Carriers also know the facilities and can make informed decisions on the loads they take.
What are Freight Marketplaces
A digital freight marketplace, or “digital load board”, is a web-based platform that serves as an intermediary between freight carriers and their shipper and broker customers. They are primarily designed to enable carriers to search, find and book a shipment with a user interface similar to that of the online shopping check-out experience.
In other words, a freight marketplace enables a carrier to simply log in, enter their search parameters and book the load with no paperwork or time wasted on the phone or shopping for rates.
The result to the shipper or broker is a fully digitized, cheaper process with the exact same outcome.
In addition to rate quotes, freight marketplaces typically offer customers useful tools and functionality, like freight tracking, volume calculators, and advanced market data. Like load boards, access to a freight marketplace is typically subscription-based or available for a fee of any load booked using the platform.
Pros and Cons of Public and Private Load Boards
Logistics and transportation is a volatile industry. For your business to succeed, you need to seize every advantage you can over the competition. One way to do that is to use a load board to find available loads when your trucks are empty or source carriers for your freight when other shippers can't.
But what type of load board is best for your business? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of public and private load boards to find out.
Vetted Carriers for Shippers/Brokers
One of the more significant drawbacks of using certain load boards is the carrier vetting process as a broker. Though the carrier vetting process varies from load board to load board, most require a broker to do their own diligence on carriers, resulting in additional inefficiencies and more manual work.
Reduce Liability for Shippers, Carriers, and Brokers
Despite the ups and downs in the freight market, there is one thing that every shipper and carrier should be sure of: the quality and reliability of their freight partners. As stated, utilizing a load board that vets carriers are one way to ensure only quality carriers book your freight.
But load boards are also a great way to ensure your freight partners are registered, licensed, and bonded, have the required insurance, meet federal safety standards, and are not identified with fraudulent business practices.
Avoid Dishonest Brokers
Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for motor carrier operators to fall victim to dishonest behavior from freight brokers resulting in financial fraud. Scams like "double-brokering,” "fuel advance" and cargo theft are half the reason so many shippers and carriers are hesitant to use a load board.
Fortunately, there are quality load boards that systematically vet brokers against rigorous compliance standards. Many include additional reporting services that allow freight partners to submit reports of bad behavior.
Inviting Carriers to a Load Board or Marketplace
Now that you understand what load boards are and how they work, we can move on to how to use them to your advantage. Like most things in logistics, the faster you can access your chosen load board and book loads, the better.
Integrating with your TMS
Speed and efficiency are everything in logistics. That’s why the most popular load boards offer integration with your transportation management system (TMS). By integrating a load board into your TMS, you enable users to post and search loads without leaving the system or adding another step to the already complicated booking process.
Negotiating and Booking Loads on a Load Board
Now that the carrier has found a shipment, they can finally move on to negotiating and booking loads with that shipper or broker. You could fill a library with books on the U.S. freight markets and freight cost per mile negotiation, but the process is really quite simple in the context of freight rates.
For example, let's say that you find a load (or carrier for your load) on a load board, but you're not sure that the posted rate is the best rate available. You could settle on that rate, or you could utilize the load boards built-in tools to check freight costs in specific markets; compare how freight rates vary in and out of a peak season, and use historical reference data to see if the rate really is as good as it looks.
Armed with that information, you could return to your freight partner and negotiate with great confidence and a higher likelihood of landing the rate you want. Never be afraid to ask for a better freight rate, especially if it makes good business sense.
What to Avoid
As a carrier, you have many options when choosing a load board. Shippers typically have a narrow few options, and brokers often have 2-5 options. If money is a top priority, there are free load boards available. However, if trying to work with only trusted groups, then a private load board is better. Either way, it's best to avoid the following mistakes if you want to get the most out of your load board.
Stale Data and Lower Rates on Traditional Boards
One of the primary issues with load boards is the lack of real-time data. Though trucking data is becoming more reliable and useful, it still takes time for a load to be posted with the correct information and processed. By the time you see a load or truck posted to a load board, it may already be booked by another freight partner. Often, the posting was fake from the start. Brokers often leverage “bait and switch” tactics, which gives boards a lack of integrity.
There's also the ever-increasing problem of market cannibalization. Exasperated by the high number of load boards on the market, rates on traditional load boards are generally lower than elsewhere because there are so many carriers bidding on the same freight. Like any industry, the more competition there is in the marketplace, the lower your rates need to be to survive in it.
Consulting Multiple Sites Takes Time
Consulting multiple websites takes time. If you’ve ever shopped online for a hotel or made travel arrangements through a web-based service, then you know how long it can take to find the travel-package you want for the price you need.
That’s why websites like Expedia are so successful. They aggregate mountains of data from across the internet to simplify the hotel shopping process and create a seamless user experience. The best load boards take the same approach, aggregating millions of loads from sources across the internet into a seamless, time-saving user experience, relaying on freight matching to bring demand and supply together efficiently.
Filter Out Nonsense of DAT, Truck Stop
You can't talk about load boards without mentioning DAT and Internet Truck Stop, but they're not the end-all-be-all when it comes to load boards and the wealth of available market data.
Services like DAT are, first and foremost, a subscription service. Their goal is to sell more subscriptions. Far from simplifying the load booking process, transactional services like DAT flood the market with stale data, adding confusion to an already complicated process.
Broker Spam Due To AI Data Scrapers
Load boards are web-based services. Like any web-based service, load boards are susceptible to AI data scrapers, who “scrape” them for email addresses, phone numbers, and account information.
The result is a voicemail full of automated messages asking for freight and/or an inbox full of broker spam offering low paying loads to the middle of nowhere. High-quality load boards invest in security measures to prevent AI data scrapers from harassing their users and adding to the industry's proverbial noise.
What to Look for When Choosing a Load Board
So far, we've learned what load boards are, how to use them, and what to avoid. Now it's time to determine which one is the best choice for your business. Here's what you need to look for when choosing a load board.
Modern Way for Double-Sided Platform - Complete Transaction in One Place
If you’ve learned anything from this ultimate guide to load boards, it should be that load boards, for all their benefits, are not perfect in themselves. They need help from TMS integrations and tools that provide increased functionality.
Unfortunately, no load board offers everything you need in one package. Instead, users must regularly switch between multiple load boards to benefit from the array of available tools.
That switching process is not only inefficient, but it’s also costly and confusing, especially considering the number of passwords and usernames that accumulate when using more than one online service.
Automation Tools & Integrations
By partnering with your TMS provider, quality load boards automatically share your available loads with your hand-selected carrier list, enabling efficient bookings with quality carriers. That means less time on the phone and more time spent on revenue-generating activities.
There are only so many driving hours in a day. The faster you get a truck under a load, the faster it can deliver. That’s why, in addition to automation tools and TMS integrations, the best load boards provide real-time data and updates.
You could search for all of these features in a single load board, but you will be searching for a long time. You could employ multiple load boards, but, as stated above, that is bound to add confusion to an already over-complicated process.