Exploration via design and the cost of uncertainty in keyword auctions

Sudhir Kumar Singh, Vwani P. Roychowdhury, Milan Bradonjić, Behnam A. Rezaei

We present a deterministic exploration mechanism for sponsored search auctions, which enables the auctioneer to learn the relevance scores of advertisers, and allows advertisers to estimate the true value of clicks generated at the auction site. This exploratory mechanism deviates only minimally from the mechanism being currently used by Google and Yahoo! in the sense that it retains the same pricing rule, similar ranking scheme, as well as, similar mathematical structure of payoffs. In particular, the estimations of the relevance scores and true-values are achieved by providing a chance to lower ranked advertisers to obtain better slots. This allows the search engine to potentially test a new pool of advertisers, and correspondingly, enables new advertisers to estimate the value of clicks/leads generated via the auction. Both these quantities are unknown a priori, and their knowledge is necessary for the auction to operate efficiently. We show that such an exploration policy can be incorporated without any significant loss in revenue for the auctioneer. We compare the revenue of the new mechanism to that of the standard mechanism at their corresponding symmetric Nash equilibria and compute the cost of uncertainty, which is defined as the relative loss in expected revenue per impression. We also bound the loss in efficiency, as well as, in user experience due to exploration, under the same solution concept (i.e. SNE). Thus the proposed exploration mechanism learns the relevance scores while incorporating the incentive constraints from the advertisers who are selfish and are trying to maximize their own profits, and therefore, the exploration is essentially achieved via mechanism design. We also discuss variations of the new mechanism such as truthful implementations.

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