Analytics Strategist

April 5, 2013

Bid quality score: the missing piece in the programmatic exchange puzzle

Filed under: Ad Exchange, Game Theory, Matching game, misc, Technology — Huayin Wang @ 7:45 pm

On the eve of the Programmatic IO and Ad Tech conferences in SF, I want to share my idea for a new design feature of Exchange/SSP, a feature that has the potential of significantly impacting our industry. This feature is the bid auction rule.

Bid auction rule is known to be central to Search Engine Marketing.  Google’s success story underscores how important a role it can play in shaping the process and dynamics of the marketplace. There is reason to believe that it has the similar potential for the RTB Exchange industry.

The current auction model implemented in Ad Exchanges and SSPs are commonly known as Vickrey auction, or the second price auction. It goes like this:  upon receiving a set of bids, exchanges will decide on a winner based on the highest bid amount, and set the price to the second highest bid amount.  In the RTB Bid Process diagram below, this auction rule is indicated by the green arrow #7:

RTB bidding process

RTB bidding process

(I am simplifying the process a lot by removing non-essential details from the actual process for our purpose, e.g Ad Servers)

The new auction I’d like to propose is a familiar one: it is a modified Vickrey auction with quality score!  Here, the bid quality score is defined as the quality of an ad to the publisher, aside from the bid price.  It essentially captures all things that a publisher may care about the ad. I can think of a few factors:

  1. Ad transparency and related data availability
  2. Ad quality (adware, design)
  3. Ad content relevancy
  4. Advertiser and product brand reputation
  5. User response

Certainly, the bid quality scores are going to be publisher specific.  In fact, it can be made site-section specific or page specific.  For example, a publisher may have a reason to treat Home Page of their site differently than other pages.  It can also vary by user attributes if the publisher like to.

Given that, the Exchange/SSP will no longer be able to carry out the auction all by itself – as the rule no longer depends only on bid amounts.  We need a new processing component, as shown in the diagram below.

new-design

Now, #7 is replaced with this new component, called Publisher Decider.  Owned by the publisher, the decider works through the following steps:

  1. it takes in multiple bids
  2. calculates the bid quality scores
  3. for each bid, calculates the Total Bid Score (TBS), by multiplying bid amount and quality score
  4. ranks the set of bids by the TBS
  5. makes the bid with highest TBS the winner
  6. sets the bid price based on a formula below, as made famous by Google

p3

Here, P1 is the price set for the winner bid. Q1 is the bid quality score. B2 is the bid amount for the bid with second highest TBS. Q2 is the bid quality score for the bid with the second highest TBS.

This is not a surprise and it’s not much of a change. So, why is this so important?

Well, with the implementation of this new auction rule, we can guess some natural impacts coming out:

  • Named Brands will have an advantage on bid price, because they tend to have better quality scores. A premium publisher may be willing to take $1 CPM from apple than $5 CPM from a potential adware.  This will be achieved via Apple having a quality score 5 times or more higher than that of the other crappy ad.
  • Advertisers will have an incentive to be more transparent. Named brands will be better off with being transparent, to distinguish themselves from others. This will drive the quality score from non-transparent ads lower, therefore starting a good cycle.
  • DSPs or biddes will have no reason to not submit multiple bids, for they won’t be able to know which ad will be the winner before hand.
  • Premium Publishers will have more incentive to put their inventory into now that they have transparency and finer level of control.
  • The Ad Tach eco-system will respond with new players, such as ad-centric data companies serving the publisher needs, similar to the contextual companies serving advertisers

You may see missing links in the process I described here.  It is expected, because a complete picture is not the focus of this writing.  I hope you will be convinced that bid quality score / Publisher Decider is interesting, and potentially has significant impact by pushing the Ad Tech space in the direction of more unified technologies and consistent framework.

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