A 'Position Paradox' in Sponsored Search Auctions
45 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2009 Last revised: 15 Oct 2010
Date Written: October 10, 2010
We study the bidding strategies of vertically differentiated firms that bid for sponsored search advertisement positions for a keyword at a search engine. We explicitly model how consumers navigate and click on sponsored links based on their knowledge and beliefs about firm qualities. Our model yields several interesting insights and a main counter-intuitive result we focus on is the position paradox." The paradox is that a superior firm may bid lower than an inferior firm and obtain a position below it, yet still obtain more clicks than the inferior firm. Under a pay-per- impression mechanism, the inferior firm wants to be at the top where more consumers click on its link, while the superior firm is better off by placing its link at a lower position as it pays a smaller advertising fee but some consumers will still reach it in the search of a higher-quality firm. Under a pay-per-click mechanism, the inferior firm has an even stronger incentive to be at the top since now it only has to pay for the consumers who do not know the firms' reputations and, therefore, can bid more aggressively. Interestingly, as the quality premium for the superior firm increases, and/or if more consumers know the identity of the superior firm, the incentive for the inferior firm to be at the top may increase. Contrary to conventional belief, we find that the search engine may have the incentive to over-weight the inferior firm's bid and strategically create the position paradox to increase overall clicks by consumers. To validate our model, we analyze a dataset from a popular Korean search engine firm and find that: (i) a large proportion of auction outcomes in the data show the position paradox, and (ii) sharp predictions from our model are validated in the data.
Keywords: sponsored search advertising, search cost, vertical differentiation, bidding strategy, pay-per-impression, pay-per-click
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