Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

How Will An Increasingly Semantic Google Sell Advertising?

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 12, 2009

I went to Google's biennial Searchology event this morning. This is where top execs unveil their latest advances in search.

This year there was a lot of new stuff, and a lot of it revolved around understanding the semantics of search, to understand the meaning of what users want, rather than what they typed. If you misspelled something, or used a seemingly cryptic search term, GOOG execs said it was their responsibility to figure out what you meant by that.

For example, a search for "sfll playoffs" could mean a misspelling of "nfl playoffs" or, more likely, "San Francisco Little League playoffs." Google is using location data and other factors as part of what it calls "rocket science" search technology to try to determine what the user really meant -- not what they typed.

UdiManber.jpg Udi Manber, vice president of core search, spoke about how difficult it was to determine the semantics of user queries, how to understand what was meant.

The demos they showed were impressive. But, how will Google sell advertising against an increasingly semantic set of results? Currently, Google sells keywords to advertisers, and those keywords trigger advertising served up on the results page.

Keywords are very specific. How will this work when the results that people want, aren't related directly to a keyword they typed? Is there such a thing as a "semantic keyword?"

If Google tries to guess what the advertiser wants and what the user wants, it creates more opportunities for a mismatch. Since Google gets paid on clicks, that could be a problem if it misses the intentions of both user and advertiser.

How do you sell "semantic" advertising?

I did ask: as it becomes more semantic in trying to understand search queries, will Google sell semantic keywords? Mr Manber seemed puzzled by my question and said that "semantic" meant many things to different people. I noted the irony that "semantic" has many meanings, especially when Google had just presented technology that it said was good at guessing the intended meaning of a user query.

I asked Danny Sullivan, the search expert at SearchEngineLand, who was sitting right behind me, about this. He said I shouldn't expect Udi Manber to know anything about selling keywords, that he was focused on search. He also said that Google already tries to make some obvious guesses around keywords such as "travel."

Still, it's an interesting question, because there is a lot of chatter about the "semantic web" and "semantic search" in the industry. How would you sell "semantic advertising?" Can there be a "semantic keyword?" How much ambiguity can you quantify and sell to advertisers involved in search engine marketing programs?

It's all part of a larger question, how would you monetize a "semantic web?"

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Please see:

Live Blogging Google Searchology 2009

Live From Google: Searchology - washingtonpost.com

Live Tweets from #Searchology.

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