A view from Chris Whitelaw

Snapchat's Vurb acquisition could usher in a new era of search

A contextual and experience-led approach to targeting is very much where search is moving, says Chris Whitelaw, EMEA president at iProspect.

Yesterday, news broke of Snapchat's intention to acquire Vurb, a mobile search app that claims to bring together "information from apps and recommendations from people".

The aim of this is to make search easier, enabling its users to discover new places to eat, things to do or films to watch, for example, whilst moving seamlessly between a host of other apps to help organise their social lives.

The $110m (£85.3m) acquisition by Snapchat could see the technology being harnessed to make the platform more user-friendly and ultimately more competitive within the relatively crowded social media market.

Despite stories of teenagers being shocked by their parents joining Snapchat earlier this year, data shows that usage falls off a relatively sharp cliff face with consumers over 35. In fact, where over two-thirds of 18-24 year olds in the US use the app, this falls by almost half for those over 24, and then again for over 35s.

The reason being it’s actually pretty tricky to use. There’s a host of motions and navigations that enable users to get the most out of the app but that aren’t common in other apps – and I’d imagine this alienation of older users is one of the key selling points for teens.

Vurb has the potential to really change this as it would put discovery at the heart of the app, making it more purposeful by ensuring that new users are instantly directed towards finding people and things they might like. After all, following the right accounts on Snapchat is crucial to the user’s enjoyment of it.

Integrated effectively, Vurb could see Snapchat becoming a hub for its users to connect with a whole host of other services, whether that’s restaurants via Yelp, taxis via Uber or new content on Netflix. It will also offer new opportunities for brands to connect with consumers with relevant interests – especially using location features.

This kind of contextual and experience-led approach to targeting is very much where search is moving. It feels very similar to what Google has been doing by integrating a host of booking services and peak time information to its search page for example, or what Facebook is trying to do with Messenger with access to services, recommendations and content through a central messaging platform.

I can’t help thinking that this focus on apps is how search would be approached if started from scratch today.

However, the combination of Vurb and Snapchat is unlikely to knock the traditional search engine off, being the top choice for finding the services and content we need online. Having said that, I’ll be closely monitoring the impact that this acquisition has on the market.

Search giants and social networks alike will surely be looking to this partnership and wondering how they can put their platforms at the heart of the cluttered app-based market to deliver greater value to both consumers and brands.

Chris Whitelaw is EMEA president at iProspect.