The Semantic Web: Creating a Web of Data and Relevant Marketing Messages

We’re all familiar with content tagging; it’s a way to categorize content based on the topics it relates to. For example, this post uses tags such as semantic web, content, content tagging, metadata, ontology, semantic tagging. Using tags in this basic way helps optimize your site for search engines and gives users an idea of what the content is about. Let’s say you were reading this post and you wanted more information about ’semantic tagging.’ Clicking on the content tag ’semantic tagging’ at the bottom of the post would bring you to a list of other articles on this blog that use the same tag, if available.

Semantic Tagging

Semantic tagging is the next step in our quest to give deeper meaning to our content by making it easier for machines to understand. Semantic tagging also represents a common format for tagging Web content. This is important because the benefits of content tagging to date have been limited. For example, if we wanted to tag an article about New York City, we might use multiple tags like nyc, newyork, and new_york_city.

But this could make it a hassle to organize similar content because, as the W3C puts it, “…the number of different tags meaning the same things but differing in spelling, lower or upper case, usage of space or underscore characters etc., may create major obstacles to them being used on a larger scale.” For example, the word “carrier” – does that mean the air conditioning manufacturer, a baby carrier, a bicycle carrier, a car carrier, or an aircraft carrier?

New Approaches

There are a number of initiatives under way that are focused on providing a common standard/format for semantic tagging. One recent effort is the Common Tag project. As adoption of semantic tagging progresses, I see a host of benefits for digital marketers as well as content consumers. One that immediately comes to mind is the use of semantic tagging to help display relevant, contextually appropriate marketing messages. With all of the talk about possible tighter government regulation around Internet privacy, cookies, behavioral targeting, and the like, this approach could help marketers achieve the same result or something close.

When content is properly tagged, we know exactly what the content consumer is looking at. Based on that knowledge (and no intimate knowledge of the content consumer at all), we can wrap content in contextually relevant messages that have a better chance of connecting with the viewer instead of randomly placed collateral that content consumers are conditioned to ignore.

How many times have you seen a relevant marketing message on a Web page or better yet, a pre-roll that’s relevant to the video played immediately after it? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen from time-to-time; I’m just saying it can happen in a more targeted and mutually beneficial (for the content consumer and the marketer) way, without getting privacy advocates in a snit.

I like the idea of semantic tagging and moving toward a more effective way of making content and marketing messages more relevant. What’s your take on this? I’d love to hear from you.

More info about the Semantic Web

A description at lays out the foundation for understanding the Semantic Web very nicely:

“The Semantic Web is a web of data. There is lots of data we all use every day, and it is not part of the web. I can see my bank statements on the web, and my photographs, and I can see my appointments in a calendar. But can I see my photos in a calendar to see what I was doing when I took them? Can I see bank statement lines in a calendar?

Why not? Because we don’t have a web of data. Because data is controlled by applications, and each application keeps it to itself.

The Semantic Web is about two things. It is about common formats for integration and combination of data drawn from diverse sources, where on the original Web mainly concentrated on the interchange of documents. It is also about language for recording how the data relates to real world objects. That allows a person, or a machine, to start off in one database, and then move through an unending set of databases which are connected not by wires but by being about the same thing.”

Here’s Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, discussing how the Semantic Web works and how it will transform how we use and understand data.

W3C Semantic Web page – info, specifications, publications, articles, interviews, and links.

W3C Semantic Web FAQ



Gene De Libero is the Director of Digital Technology at BBC Worldwide Americas. He has developed businesses and commercial products in the new media space since the mid-80’s and has served as a senior technology exec in public and private companies. Gene has founded several digital media startups, including Digital Mindshare Inc. (, a new media R&D think tank and consultancy, TxtEdge (, a mobile marketing startup, and Ambient Media Inc., a digital media venture that developed private digital out-of-home networks including the Ambient Patient Education Network. More at: