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Q&A with iProspect CEO Chris Whitelaw: search innovation, internet of things and wearables' impact on search

The latest of The Drum UK Search Awards judges, Chris Whitelaw, chief executive of iProspect, answers our questions on the search marketing sector.

How did you get into working in search?

My first foray into search was as an entrepreneur in the 1980s. From an emotional standpoint, what was going on with digital was as radical to our way of life as the industrial revolution. I did not want to be on the side-lines watching as this new world unfolded. Search marketing really screamed out to me. It was a relatively new industry that fitted with my love of innovation and data-driven background, which led me to found I Spy Marketing, the agency which was then acquired by Aegis (Dentsu Aegis Network) in 2012 to become part of iProspect UK.

Search has quickly become a crucial component to every marketer's brand strategy – but where do you feel it is still falling down generally?

Developing an understanding of each consumer, how they behave online and using this to predict how they might behave in future, needs to be central to any search campaign. A brand might have over half a million likes on its Facebook page, but how many of the consumers who view content and daily news updates are actually likely to buy, and if so, where and when are they likely to make that decision?

A core area of focus for iProspect is data driven insight; building a picture of the consumer and the behaviour behind online searches. This insight helps brands to better personalise the online customer journey to each individual and in turn, leads to better results be that conversion, a purchase or brand engagement. It’s this data driven consumer insight that the next big developments will come from.

Are we near an end to seeing people attempting to game the system in SEO?

There is a need for a greater emphasis on high quality, relevant and timely content, giving consumers and search engines what they want. This increases the likelihood of the consumer sharing and interacting that in turn leads to an organic growth in search engine rankings. Most importantly, it increases brand reputation and traffic to the brand’s owned channels.

Google dominates the search landscape – in your opinion, how does this affect the sector?

Google’s reach and dominance is undeniable. But the digital landscape is becoming an increasingly complex ecosystem. Smartphones, iPads, laptops, wearables and connected devices are all saturating consumers’ lives, meaning greater connectivity across a richly diverse number of channels. Search fulfils an important function within this, but it’s not the only one, and it’s a case of brands considering the wider digital experience, as well as what that means for consumer behaviour and intention online.

How will wearables or the internet of things impact the search sector?

The biggest breakthrough comes with the rich data that wearables generate, allowing marketers to understand and pinpoint intent or a need behind a search query to contextualise the results accordingly.

Through access to data about your environment, a wearable device can anticipate and interpret intent. For example, in the near future your wearable will know that you are hungry on your way home and that your fridge is out of food, so search will suggest a local takeaway. The device might even know your favourite food based on past searches or purchases. By gaining a deeper and richer insight into the customers’ environment and state of mind, it’s possible for a brand to meet the immediate needs and desires of consumers.

What will you be looking for while judging The Drum Search Awards?

Innovation will be important, but I also want to look beyond this. More than anything, I will be looking for a dynamic and ambitious team who reflect a dedication to forward thinking and client collaboration. I also want to see campaigns that demonstrate an understanding of the target consumer and have carried this through into the delivery of measurable success.