Intelligent Web: Where Search & Display Advertising Meet

This past Tuesday at SMX Advanced in Seattle, I presented my ideas and work relating to how the Intelligent Web will fundamentally change and realize the promise of digital marketing. In this post I expand the points and provide my presentation.


Since the inception of online display advertising it has been mismatched with the web. It is fundamentally old media in pricing, form, strategies and executions — passive persuasion and technology in an active medium. This is why display performance and ROI sucks. Yet, half of all online ad dollars are spent on display advertising.

As Google and SEM have shown, advertising in a user-controlled medium requires something much different. There is no debate that the web is a user-controlled medium and little argument that search is the application that drives the medium.

Search is user controlled. That is why it works so well for people. The experience of providing control over the query, results and refinement of content (and the subsequent back-end ability to deliver it) are much more important to digital marketing success than what you know about people. The simple fact is that consumers know more about what they want than you ever will.

Q: How powerful is this?
A: User control and the user experience it delivers make it possible to build a brand like Google with no advertising.

It’s also important for marketers of all stripes to realize about search that it is not a marketing channel. It is an essential human behavior. Search is both a means to discover and recover information, products, services, etc. and an essential part of social interactions. Search takes place offline all the time. The web just makes it much easier and does it insanely better (for more of this thinking I would refer you to Gord Hotchkiss excellent blog series on MediaPost).

Q: So where does Intelligent Web (APIs, RIAs, JavaScript, & Semantic Markup) fit with Display and Search?
A:It blurs the lines between the two.

At the core of Intelligent Web is a database with an amazing ability to query, mashup, return, present and optimize relevant information in ways not possible prior. Advertising applications built on top of this can be distributed with third-party serving across millions of impressions. This effectively takes your site data & functionality and distributes it in a scale never possible before. Best of all, Marketers can retain control over the delivery, targeting & placement of the ads but consumers retain the ability to define their experience. This changes all the rules and the results.

These advertising applications (or adplications) also do another really cool thing. They flip the consumer search funnel. Here’s the general search hierarchy:

1. Tools – Start with a query
2. Intelligence – Deliver content based on the keyword
3. Context – Select a (perceived) relevant link
4. Content – Go to a web page

Here’s how this it is flipped with adplications.

1. Content – Reach people at the page they’re on
2. Context – Serve ad when/where contextually relevant
3. Intelligence – Deliver content based on a rule
4. Tools – Allow people to query the DB

The most important piece of success with this 180 is the first piece, creating intent. I’ve written extensively about creating intent in digital as the key strategy to marketing success and how these digital strategies differ to what has been done in the past. This is the creative part of this process. Technology handles the rest!

Intelligent Web, APIs and the ability to distribute applications or “widgetize” the web are for the first time changing the idea of search as a destination and distributing that power in an effective and meaningful way that becomes part of the holistic experience of the web for people. This is a sea change that requires new ways to market.

Instead of waiting for people to come to your site we can now take your site to people and present the ability to query and consume it in a helpful and useful way. As Google has shown this allows for great experiences to be created that build brand value. In many respects it also provides a consumer detour around Google while retaining advertiser controls over ad serving not present in SEM.

So…here is my presentation from Tuesday. It’s very simple and most of it was talking to the points I covered in this post.

Sorry, but I’m not linking to the demos at the present time. Check back soon. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Intelligent Web: Where Search & Display Advertising Meet

  1. Jonathan,
    Your presentation was very eye opening. One of the best I attended.
    I am curious, the technology that the client you demoed was using was RDF markup?
    I am not an expert with all things coding but essentially, as I understand it, the client marked up all their content with RDF, thus allowing on the fly widgetization of it. Which in effect was the AD you demoed?
    Keep up the great posts! Big fan of the semantic web, and enjoy your thoughtful insights.


  2. Thanks Brian!
    Yes, RDF is a W3C compliant semantic markup language that allows a higher level of content understanding and the ability to be queried using SPARQL, the query language for RDF. The ad application is the front end control piece of this.
    The technology I demoed has a number of proprietary components to it but essentially works in the manner described above.


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