The Semantic Web: Business Models from a Marketing Perspective


The Semantic Web: Business Models from a Marketing Perspective

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All marketers will be familiar with the yellow stars in Google, a result of marking up specific data within a website. Making use of structured data is often a point of discussion, especially considering it can be a lot of work structuring and marking up complete internal databases. The idea behind Structured & Linked Open Data is to create a web of things instead of strings. The business oriented description:

” … an extension of the current Web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation”

The awareness of this next step of the internet, has grown massively during the past years because of the introduction of rich and structured snippets by the search engines. Availability of data and specifically web content is increasing at an incredible rate and is getting more complex.

Increased Performance Best Buy

Best Buy results as shared by Jay Myers – Practical Applications of Semantic Web in Retail

Current semantic web cases are mostly focused on scientific research and internal process optimization. There are a few commercial examples, that show the potential of linked data. BBC is making use of linked data to optimize user experience and Best Buy has invested heavily in Semantic Web technologies to approach internal data problems to optimize suggestions, longtail and conversion. Jay Myers believes that “Every store has valuable data that should be exposed”. So what is the commercial value of Linked Data besides search engines are using it to enrich search engine result pages?

Interacting with other platforms like Apps

Structuring and sharing data makes it possible to build two-way processes. Google is innovating its structured data by integrating so called Actions in their Gmail and Inbox platforms. By marking up your e-mails for example, you can add certain actions to e-mails:

Google Actions

Currently Google mainly supports one-click actions like confirming requests, adding items to a queue or RSVP-ing invitations. Within your inbox the coherent information is automatically rendered which will optimize user experience. One of the more complex actions currently available are the so called “Go-To actions”. Airlines can include Check-in buttons, up sell through seat upgrades, all directly from the e-mail platform being used.

These actions can not only be used within Gmail, but in every application or web service that processes structured data. It is just a matter of including JSON-LD or Microdata markup. At this point, Google has use cases showing examples of Event, Flight, Hotel, Rental Car and Restaurant reservations. All these information cards can trigger Google Now, which makes integration with all the other services simple. An example of this is the integration with Google Search:

Hotel Reservations in the search engine result pages

This shows that structured data is not only about sharing and using data, but also creates opportunities for interaction between different types of platforms. The next step will be complete e-commerce integration in Google Search: search for a product, which has a “Buy Now” button directly in the search engine result pages which will send user to the checkout page in your webshop. One of the examples of such an integration is the new Sitelink Search box which makes it possible to interact with your internal search engine from within Google Search:

Site search in the SERPs

If you don’t want Google to use their own engine for internal searches, put the required markup on your homepage and Google will redirect users to your website automatically. If there is no markup of the internal search function, Google will show their own results, including ads that could be from your competitors. Check Google’s guide for implementation help: Sitelinks Search Box  – How do you set it up?

Optimizing internal processes

As you can imagine, most internal databases are a big mess. Structuring the available data will create new opportunities in the field of automation, statistical analysis, machine learning and information retrieval. Optimizing for internal search, product suggestions or personal content will also be easier. Customers are sensitive about product suggestions, especially as the number of products (where the only difference is price) is increasing. Myers: “We saw a pretty big SEO jump when we started using semantic descriptions, way more than we could get using clever keyword strategies.”

Product value proposition, variety, descriptions and details that make up product pages, are lacking in many ecommerce sites. By giving meaning and value to product selection by customers, Best Buy was able to decrease product returns and unsatisfied customers.  By optimizing and combining data semantically, they were able to present more data on product pages and product suggestions. Best Buy was able to increase their website performance up to 11x compared to by optimizing product relationships and data flows between their platforms.

The main advantage of structuring databases, is the ability to re-purpose content in different contexts easier than before. It allows the data to be linked with one another in a better way. For example, in 2011 Volkswagen UK organised their database. This resulted in a  sophisticated search service, used for the internal website search. Due to a standardised interface to data and content, different services and programmers within the company where able to easily built new services. One of the example queries that the new search engine could deal with was: “Find me all the cars priced between X and Y that have an engine power greater than Z and come in red.” Do you see the similarity with Google’s Hummingbird?

Subscription models

Ensure users pay for access to your data. Your data will always be valuable to someone else, especially if the data is more easy to consume since it is structured. This is an interesting model, considering this is completely the opposite to the open data movement that is behind the Semantic Web organisation. is offering tools based on semantic technology and software as a service . is monitoring sentiments and compiling trends of everything that is said about hotels, restaurants and several other types of business that are getting feedback on external platforms. By connecting to their APIs, social media monitoring across multiple languages is simplified and requires less effort from internal teams.

Advertising in data

The whole idea behind the semantic web is sharing your data publicly. Like with RSS feeds, you could insert advertisements in your data feeds for example. The Guardian requires users of their content via it’s Open Platform to display advertisement from its own advertising network when publishing the data:

“As a condition of your licence to publish OP Content, you must display on Your Website any advertisement that we supply to you with the OP Content. The position, form and size of any such advertisement must be retained as embedded in the OP Content.”

Subsidized research

In the case of BBC, the government has invested a fair amount of money in development. Many subsidies have been given to organisations investigating the possibilities of linked data solutions, both businesses and research organisations have benefited from this. Since research into optimizing processes, scientific research and business related tasks can be used for everyone, governments are willing to spend research funding to commercial organisations.


One of the main reasons the New York Times invests in their Linked Open Data platform is branding. By doing this, they are showing they are on top of the latest web developments, creating authority in the media business. Sharing your data publicly as the first in your niche, will always create attention. Have a look at the link profile of the NYT platform:


Considering the speed in which search engines, social platforms and business suites are developing and implementing structured data, this is the time to start thinking about optimizing and exploiting the possibilities the Semantic Web will offer your business. Will you make use of these possibilities or is sharing data still a discussion about the possible benefits?


Jan-Willem Bobbink got addicted with online marketing in 2004, since he build his first international webshop when he was 16. He is currently working as Freelance SEO for global clients and is ambassador for Majestic. His blog can be found at

State of Digital


Will Semantic Search Predict Future Buyer Behavior?


This post is the third and final of a multi-part series about the future of marketing and the role that semantic, context and intent will have on how we experience the internet.

It’s becoming eerily apparent that the Internet knows a lot about us. Due to our lust for free applications and our complete oversight of the privacy we relinquish for access, there are cookies and bots that have endless insights about what we are interested in.

Don’t believe me? Recall your past few conversations online and then look at the ads that appear on your Facebook page.

However, this is the results of big brother and big data, not some type of ESP that the internet has about our needs wants and desires.

However, the internet is getting smarter and this growing intelligence and insights is populating a new kind of semantic web that is providing more than just the most relevant results for people searching, but also some key data to marketers that may just tell us about intent.

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For movie fans out there, you may remember the movie Minority Report. In this Tom Cruise feature film the star would go out and stop crimes before they would happen as intelligence reached a point where it could see a crime that was about to be committed. At the time the concept seemed pretty far fetched, but really this type of intelligence is very similar to how the semantic web may be able to tell you who may be your next big customer.

Marketers, what if you didn’t have to wonder where your future business was coming from? What if the Internet could tell you through the application of insights supported by data visualization?

Well, this future isn’t so far away. Let me explain further.

Will Semantic Search Predict Future Buyer Behavior? image Magic 8 Ball Semantic Web 600x401

The Semantic Web Is Creating Clarity On Intent

By is very definition; the idea of “Semantic” is to find meaning and or intent in someone’s words. But as of today through knowledge graphs, socially validated search and modified SEO, most of the intent is to bring clarity as to what is being searched for today.

Revisiting one more time the example of the “Chicago Steak” query in the first two parts of this series, it was about knowing that the person searching sought to go out for steak in downtown Chicago at a high quality restaurant even though very few of those words actually appeared in the search.

This same type of ability to extract meaning from search could also be a powerful tools for marketers to better understand what a consumer may intend to do. The question comes down to how marketers can collect, sort and utilize this to connect with a consumer at the exact right time to drive an inevitable purchase their way.

An Example On Future Purchase Intent

One of my favorite examples of a consumer driven purchase that can take place almost entirely online is the purchase of a car.

What may have been driven early on by a disdain for slimy car salesmen, has evolved through a consumer driven purchase experience that puts the buyers at the controls when it comes to gathering information that is critical to their purchase.
Will Semantic Search Predict Future Buyer Behavior? image trans
But for a marketer, by the time the buyer shows up at the dealership it may be too late for them to drive the purchase one way or another. But through the potential of the semantic web this could be possible.

If a marketer could acquire information on a buyer that was searching for information, pricing and reviews on three different car models, they could likely gather that they have an interested buyer, however at this point they are undecided as to which of the three most interests them.

However, the time spent researches shows clear intent that the shopper is interested in purchasing one of these cars. Now that the intent is clear, their next clicks on features or lease options could show more about the exact vehicle they want and how they may be looking to pay for it.

Using other semantic queues like social data from public posts, data visualization could pull out the buyers in a geography that are asking their networks about a certain type of car. The responses could be graphed to better understand how their network may have influenced them providing the marketer with a clear picture of just how interested the buyer may be.

Knowing the buyer is looking for a lease and a certain type of car with a subset of known features, a marketer could potentially target that consumer acutely by packaging the entire deal based upon their intent. If delivered at just the right time the marketer could steer them to one particular model over another all while really using the intent data that was provided by the consumer.

Semantic Web Means Better Understanding For Marketers

In the end it is going to be the marriage of Big Data, Semantic Search and User Generated Content that will tell the story of intent for consumers.

The web is smarter, but mostly because we incessantly use tools that allow data to extract meaning. For consumers that leads to some better content to be driven our way, but for marketers this is a goldmine for understanding current behavior and how that may lead to a purchase in the near future.

This trend is in motion and irreversible. The marketers that maximize it first, will have the chance to cash in by taking the benefits of mass customization and driving it into a 1:1 marketing experience.

This post was first featured on Forbes and can be found here. Image: Creative Commons

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