I use search engines on a daily basis.  Actually more like every hour, sometimes every few minutes of the day whether it’s research, testing, fun, etc. I mean search is what I do!  And it really gets me thinking: what is the future of search?  How long will people rely on classical keyword search engines to find the information they’re looking for?  Are there other, fundamental areas of the web waiting to be discovered?  And how can we take advantage of the coming changes?

The Semantic Web

A while back I had a discussion about the future of the web and sine then I’ve done a bit more research to try and understand what the future of online marketing (and the web) will look like.

The semantic web is an extension to the existing world wide web (www) serving as a platform where people can define not only information but the meaning of information, through meta data.  You could say the current word wide web is a web of documents (web pages) and the semantic web will be a web of meaningful data (meta data).

For example, a person is able to fire up their favorite web browser and read the news on their favorite news site.  The person reading the web site understands the information they read but a machine isn’t yet able to autonomously comprehend the meaning of the text, etc on the page(s) without any pre-programming.

So the semantic web will allow people to define and store information in a meaningful way (rather than just dump text into a web page), and then machines can come through and make more intelligent decisions about what they encounter.

How the Semantic Web Might Change Marketing

Right now you can search the web by typing keywords into search engines.  With the semantic web the user could pontentially be presented with an array of options to select from before hitting the "search" button.

More Precise Product search

For example, if you were looking for a specific DVD to purcahse, you would of course give a title, but you’d also let your search agent know that you wanted a used copy, with shipping under $10, from a website that has been around for at least 5 years, that had a return policy of at least 30 days, etc. on and on getting very specific. 

But finding a product for sale is only scratching the surface.  The applications of semantic web search are increadibly rich and go dimensions beyond what we are able to experience today from simple keyword searches. 

Information Interoperability

One of the more exiting peices of the semantic web will be that because the meaning of information can be defined, machines will have a common language to traverse the web.  So let’s say you wanted to find the contact information of a book store who is within 10 miles of your current location that is also within 1 mile of a coffee shop that happens to sell vanilla flavored coffee bags for less than $5, oh and that has less than 3 grams of fat per serving.  Further you could specify that if no coffee bags were in stock then have your search agent check each day until available and remind you via text message, and also have the text message auto populate into your agenda calendar the next morning.

With information flowing between different applications, all owned by many different people and organizations, and with less human intervention needed to execute these processes, it would seem that monolithic corporations (even Google) will play a smaller and smaller role in connecting people to the information they desire – that is unless they provide the tools needed to connect people on the semantic web.

Better Ads

If you buy the "foot" keyword on Google you probably wouldn’t want your ad appearing on pages that have to do with severed feet.  With semantic ad targeting you could potentially weed out negative meanings you don’t want your ads associated with so that embarrassing mistakes happen less often.


Wouldn’t it be cool if you had a buzz monitoring tool that told you how often people of such and such demographics on a particular website (or the entire web) were talking about your brand (concept one) in a negative way (concept two)?  With semantic technologies, a social media website (or all websites) could define and store demographics of their users, then make that data available to the world (new business model idea?).  It would also be possible to measure the number of times, for example, two concepts are talked about with the vicinity of each other, making it easier for marketers to understand the success of individual marketing efforts.

What does this all boil down to?

I think that I’m just scratching the surface with all this semantic web stuff.  I also think there is a huge market just waiting to be discovered, enabled by the semantic web.  When the semantic web hits,

  • marketers will be further empowered with more precise tools for tracking and targeting ads as well as measuring conversation on the web.
  • this also means search engines will have new and better metrics to include into their relevancy algorithms for ranking websites – but by then will keyword search even matter as much as it does today?  Probably not.  At that time we’ll have new ways of searching information that further cuts through the noise and gets us right to the signal.

Aside from marketing, the semantic web could help empower a collective intelligence or a "global brain" which can potentially change human behavior, the way we think and live, hopefully for the better (but that’s another post).


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SEO training • 10 years ago

Wow.. what a great post. I was not aware of this perspective on search. I do agree that it appears as though search engine spiders have a long way to go when trying to understand the content that is being presented. And it's clear that things are moving in the direction you defined.

It's pretty clear to me that as engines get more sophisticated, they need to go one step further. This is not only integrating behavioral data but information related to how a users interprets info they are presented with.

Great post!

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