More semantic links

April 12, 2008

The buzz around semantic web keeps on growing. Here’s a really good article from Scientific American titled ‘The Semantic Web in Action‘, first published in December ’07. Also worth a read is the latest post on the Nodalities blog ‘Semantic What?‘.

According to SEMPO (the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) it does.

Apparently money is shifting into search and away from print and classified at an increasing rate. The reason for this I’d surmise is that search is being seen as a way to follow consumers rather than just trying to put an ad in front of them. It’s now widely accepted that most markets have a need to be active in search so it’s natural for spend to shift towards it.

Key findings from the SEMPO study are:

  • The North American SEM industry grew from $9.4 billion in 2006 to $12.2 billion in 2007, exceeding earlier projections of $11.5 billion for 2007.
  • North American SEM spending is now projected to grow to $25.2 billion in 2011, up significantly from the $18.6 billion forecast a year ago.
  • Marketers are finding more search dollars by poaching budget from print magazine spending, website development, direct mail and other marketing programs
  • Paid placement captures 87.4 percent of 2007 spending; organic SEO, 10.5 percent; paid inclusion, 0.07 percent, and technology investment, 1.4 percent.
  • Google AdWords remains the most popular search advertising program, but both Google and Yahoo sponsored search spending has decreased from a year ago

Here’s how the spend is shifting:

Shifting to search is great for all the SEO agencies out there but is also going to make their jobs a lot harder as they have to work for their money to get clients to the top of the listings. As competition grows, so it becomes more difficult to get dramatic improvements in position, some SEO agencies have had an easy ride in recent years and that’s going to get harder.

Other developments will also affect SEO such as the introduction of semantic search technology (as announced by Yahoo recently). Developments such as this could change the rankings entirely and again will mean the agencies have to stay ahead of the game and work hard (not a bad thing).

So says Tim Berners-Lee in this article on the future of the web, search and semantic technologies over on the Times website.

I tend to agree with him unless Google move into the semantic search space pretty quickly. With Yahoo announcing support for semantic mark-up within their search index Google will surely not want to be left behind.

I’d like to think the future of Google will embrace semantic technologies and make it a real ‘discovery engine’, surfacing links of high relevance to searchers through much stronger understanding of the content within.

As an aside; one thing I’ve been thinking would be a nice app would be a semantic web robot which you could set off to scour the web for content and with the added semantic features (rather than the more usual boolean profile based robot) it could learn as it went by allowing you to score results for relevance to you. The first really intelligent agent?

So Yahoo recently announced their Open Search platform. Now more details are emerging and Yahoo have announced they will be supporting semantic mark-up and making use of the structured, meaningful data that can be applied to web pages to help them index better and serve up more relevant results.

This is a big step forwards and if released into the main Yahoo Search will surely help them in their fight for users with Google and Microsoft.

Relevance is king in the search engine world, being able to interpret results by more than just standard search algorithms of content density and link equity has the potential to deliver a much more relevant results set to every search. As semantic mark-up and web standards increase in usage this could give Yahoo and edge they badly need.

There hasn’t been a major move to optimise relevance in search results for years, this could give SEO’s something to keep them busy. Rather than following the usual tactics of copy optimisation and ensuring pages are well formed, developers will now need to ensure they use the relevant semantic tags to add meaning to their pages.

The one thing that will bring the users flooding in is if an engine finds a way to deliver highly relevant results. Returning three truly relevant links is far more useful than delivering one thousand arbitrarily ordered links. I for one would immediately switch to using an engine who gets semantic search right.

I hope to see this implemented asap if Yahoo have any chance of capitalising on this move. Google will be hot on their heels otherwise…

Great comparison of the two online office suites here from ReadWriteWeb.

Certainly going to be an interesting battle as this arena hots up. I still side with Google for ease of use and true collaboration features, just want to see better integration with GMail and the arrival of a ‘real GDrive’ now!

Although having said that; some semantic understanding of my documents wouldn’t go amiss…

Fantastic article from Richard Waters of the Financial Times here talking about the coming semantic web!

Quote: Imagine, for instance, being able to ask a computer, “Where should I go on holiday?” and receiving an answer that is as suitable as anything you could have come up with yourself. That level of computer-generated reasoning is on the horizon, says Nova Spivack, one of the entrepreneurs involved. It may still take 15 years or more to be fully realised, but between now and then lies a series of breakthroughs that will revolutionise the way we draw information from the web, he adds.

Perhaps this is where the efforts of the online travel industry should be placed, the benefits of being first to market with an intelligent holiday finder (a kind of online concierge/travel agent experience) will be huge…

On the subject of semantic web, here’s some more great reading from Ian Davis over at Nodalities.

Very interesting podcast featuring Tim Berners-Lee available here (thanks to ReadWriteWeb for the heads-up. There’s also a full transcript available for those who prefer reading to listening.

Some really good insight in it!