In the context of marketing and advertising, we’ve heard more during the last year or so, in reference to the semantic web and semantic technology.  What does Semantic Advertising really mean?  One interpretation – the one we’re not talking about here – is the selling of something by calling it semantic, which some have done in order to ride momentum (which I call “meme-entum”) of the space to sell something based on a loose association with the concept of “meaning” or “intent”.  So what are we talking about?

The Art of Online AdvertisingImage by khawaja via Flickr

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New, Improved *Semantic* Web!Image by dullhunk via Flickr

The strategy in the space has long been driven by word association, and more and more-so on an automated basis.  At a time, placement was done on an entirely manual basis – and automation of keyword matching increasingly became the basis for new business models.  That is, after all, the basis of what we now think of as contextual advertising – the alignment of what the user is looking for with the other things they encounter on the page.

  • So to put it simply:  What is it that is new and different?  What is it about the inner workings of an advertising mechanism that makes an offering semantic or not.  What are the drivers and opportunities around these differences?  What is real?  These are some of the things we’re looking to learn about in detail at the panel discussion that I’ve been helping to organize for Internet Week in New York – the title of which is Semantic Advertising.We’ll leave it to our moderators to dig into the nuts and bolts of the subject with the experts that have been gathered.  Going into the discussion though, here are some of the questions I’m thinking about:

    • Since keyword matching is, well,  keyword matching: what are the main differences between straight-up contextual advertising that uses keyword lookups relative to its semantic brethren?
    • Does the addition of keyword frequency, and therefore the statistical analysis of the text, make the matching on a ranking basis qualify as semantic?
    • Going beyond simply enhancing alignment, predicated upon statistical assumptions, is it the further use of NLP to not just extract concepts to be matched, but to determine the intent by the terms used – to better tune matches when words have multiple potential meanings?  Many of us have encountered the unintentionally matched ads – which can be disastrous for a brand.  What can really be done now, and how?
    • Further on the NLP side, there is the potential for sentiment detection – so even when the correct meaning of a term is understood, determining whether its use is appropriate for matching would be based on the positive or negative connotation of its use (think here in terms of whether you would want your airline advertised next to a story about an aviation mishap, for example).
    • Going at the question from the “semantic-web” side, is embedding (and detection of) metadata on the page just a different flavor of Semantic Advertising – or should we be calling that Semantic Web Advertising instead?  This seems less prone to interpretation errors, but the approach relies upon metadata which is largely not yet there.  (Because of the markup related aspects of this point, I wanted to call this post “Mark(up)eting and (RDF)ertising”, but was talked out of doing so).
    • Is there a difference in strategy and/or scalability when considering whether a semantic approach is more viable when done within the search process, as opposed to on the content of the page being viewed?
    • If ads to be served are stored in semantically compliant architecture, does that itself provide any advantages for the service provider?  And would doing so give rise to the service being referred to as Semantic Advertising?  Does this even enter into the eqaution at this point?
    • Would increases in the amount of embedded metadata shift the balance of systematically enhanced ad selection and presentation of sponsored content – from one web-interaction phase to another?

    I’m looking forward to the panel – to open my mind regarding these and other factors that come into play – and what elements and trends will be necessary for the viability of the various possible directions here.

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