Best of 2014: No 9: The Semantic Web: Business Models from a Marketing Perspective

Best of 2014: No 9: The Semantic Web: Business Models from a Marketing Perspective

5th January 2015

This week we are showing you the 10 most popular posts of 2014 on State of Digital. The top 10 is based on a combination of reading numbers, shares and comments.

This is number 9, by Jan-Willem Bobbink, about the semantic web.
Originally posted: December 8, 2014, 11:59


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?

Written By
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 and he shares his cycling adventures at CATW!
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