Paper: A neural click model for web search at WWW 2016

A full paper on A neural click model for web search by Alexey Borisov, Ilya Markov, Maarten de Rijke, and Pavel Serdyukov was presented at the World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2016) in Montreal, Canada, and was published in the conference proceedings. The paper proposes a new user modeling paradigm, which uses neural networks to learn patterns of user click behavior automatically (instead of designing them manually as done in all previous studies).

Understanding user browsing behavior in web search is key to improving web search effectiveness. Many click models have been proposed to explain or predict user clicks on search engine results. They are based on the probabilistic graphical model (PGM) framework, in which user behavior is represented as a sequence of observable and hidden events. The PGM framework provides a mathematically solid way to reason about one set of events given some information about other events. But the structure of the dependencies between the events has to be set manually. Different click models use different hand-crafted sets of dependencies.

We propose an alternative based on the idea of distributed representations: to represent the user’s information need and the information available to the user with a vector state. The components of the vector state are learned to represent concepts that are useful for modeling user behavior. And user behavior is modeled as a sequence of vector states associated with one query session: the vector state is initialized with a query, and then iteratively updated based on information about interactions with the search engine results. This approach allows us to directly understand user browsing behavior from click-through data, i.e., without the need for a predefined set of rules as is customary for PGM-based click models.

We illustrate our approach using a set of neural click models. Our experimental results show that the neural click model that uses the same training data as traditional PGM-based click models, has better performance on the click prediction task (i.e., predicting user click on search engine results) and the relevance prediction task (i.e., ranking documents by their relevance to a query). An analysis of the best performing neural click model shows that it learns similar concepts to those used in traditional click models; and that it also learns other concepts that cannot be designed manually.