Semantic Advertising - A practical example of the semantic web

The Semantic Web has been coming for years. However, as with all technologies it has needed something to push it over the edge into becoming a requirement rather than a nice to have. Advertising is frequently a catalyst for change and this time Semantic Advertising is the catalyst that we have been waiting for.

This blog is not highly technical or long, but I think that it gives a real world example of why 2010 will be the year of the semantic web and the year that semantic technologies really take off.

To give us some context for the blog, which of the following two answers do you think was the reason why Google announced support for RDFa (a semantic web technology)?

  • A) Because they want everyone to be able to mine the web in the way they do
  • B) Because Advertisers are sick of crap PPC Advertisement placement and insisted that they start supporting a technology that massively improves Ad placement

The practical problem it solves- Ad placement

Ad placement in the physical world and on traditional media has always been upper most in the minds of advertisers, and initially on the web it was not such a big deal until we got serious critical mass and we had some examples of real problems (see below).

The problem placement examples:

A technical perspective :

The problem from a technical perspective is that the text on the page has no context from which the Ad server (google adsense, yahoo etc) can tell which is the right Advertisement to display so they guess.

A simple example

Below is a snippet without any semantic data to help the Ad server know what to display.

For those that don't know, Danger Mouse is both the :

World's Greatest secret agent

and an artist and producer

Can you figure out which one I am talking about in the following bit of text?

What the users see :

I was watching Danger Mouse last night on TV, awesome show.

What the Advertisement Server see's :

I was watching Danger Mouse last night on TV, awesome show.

In short the Ad server sees what a user sees with a paragraph <p> marker, how can we blame it for guessing wrongly when it would be difficult for a human to get it right. The solutions to-date have been to invent all sorts of weird, wonderful and inaccurate methods of stopping the problem.

The solution with RDFa

What the users see :

I was watching Danger Mouse last night on TV, awesome show.

What the Advertisement Server see's :

I was watching <span about="" property="foaf:name">Danger Mouse </span>last night on TV, awesome show.

In this example you can see that the Advertisement Server is provided semantic information and knows exactly which Advertisement to display and shows an advert that has a hope of converting into a sale. Obviously this is something that massively helps the site owner (gets paid on clicks), marketeer (has more control) and advertiser (gets more sales).


So in short, what the semantic web does for advertisers is:

  • Increases conversion
  • Reduces Risk
  • Ensures better Targeting
  • Gives more options to fine-tune placements

A bit of fun

And if you want to cry laughing have a look at these: First Series, Second Series