Applying a Samurai code of honour to updating search strategy

Gavin Dickinson
By Gavin Dickinson | 18 October 2021
Gavin Dickinson.

Hagakure was an ancient code to guide the samurai, but it’s also being applied to a shift in search that means greater simplicity and greater outcomes, explains Gavin Dickinson, Neo Associate Director.

Paid Search commentators have long speculated when changes to Paid Search management will happen. A move away from optimising granular keywords lists and a gargantuan account structure towards a simple account structure underpinned by the correct signals and automation is the new normal. In terms of the product update roadmap, this has been gradual since the rebuild of the Dynamic Search Ad (DSA), six years ago.

Hagakure (葉隠れ) is the term being used in the industry to describe the new approach to account structures and associated management. Hagakure has its origin in Japanese tradition roughly translating to “hidden by leaves”. It is the title of a piece that the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote in the 18th century. In it, he explained to his apprentices the bushido or “warrior’s path,” the code of honour by which the samurai should be guided.

Transferring this over to Paid Search management, it is indicative of a mentality whereby results are maximised and growth realised thanks to machine learning algorithms, for example, Smart Bidding strategies and DSA. This is important for marketers, as there is no longer a reason to miss an opportunity due to the lag human intervention creates, instead these changes are made in real time.


“If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way.”

This is a quote from the book, Hagakure. Applying this to Paid Search, having put the correct data signals in place over the years, teaching the algorithms what a result is, have now gained freedom.

The role of the keyword in Paid Search has changed - keywords are no longer about qualifying relevancy to a user, but rather a segue to reach an audience at scale. Google have expanded the close variants definition to include semantic variations, and with further changes such as Broad Match Modify being deprecated in favour of Phrase Match, we are preparing for the next dawn of search and discovery, leaning into environments beyond the results page and into smart speakers.

Paid Search accounts that are super-granular, using match types to ensure traffic is funnelled towards campaigns, ad groups and creatives with the largest budgets and conversions, are now limiting growth opportunities.

Rather than trying to ‘optimise’ accounts for a small increase in click through rate (CTR) or incremental impression share (usually obtained by getting less impressions, ergo relevancy) the focus should be on reaching audiences beyond the existing keyword in the account. This makes sense, given that everyday ~15% of search queries are completely new and have never been searched before. This is great for marketing teams, realising more conversions for your budget (lower CPA) and serving to an audience you wouldn’t get through a traditional approach (tapping into that ~15% unknown searches).

Smart bidding and associated goals should now be a staple of all Paid Search activity. This should be a welcome change from the previous best practice frameworks, where accounts could become complex and unwieldly in a bid to squeeze out the last ounce of efficiency. The point here being that the traditional way is now inefficient and giving the correct data signals to business outcomes and having a simplified account structure leads to better business outcomes.

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Instead of setting up different ad groups for different keywords e.g. “sneakers” and “trainers”, set up one ad group for both terms and give the Responsive Search Ad (RSA) in that ad group both strings of copy. Testing will be conducted in the background, and overtime, the optimum ad copy will show that it drives business outcomes.

With business outcomes in mind, focus efforts on the intent and the real world outcome the Google Ads account is supposed to deliver, rather than a specific keyword. This helps to maximise the performance of Smart Bidding, by having the ability to generate a high volume of impressions and clicks. This allows the bidding strategies to be “trained” more quickly on signal data to start making the best decisions at speed and scale.

Simplified account structures are a great solution for driving greater reach, opposed to generating impressions and clicks through hundreds, if not thousands of individual keywords.

A simplified account structure using smart bidding solves a lot of challenges from day-to-day account management, contrary to popular belief though – it doesn’t mean all decisions are made by the machines.

Rather the onus is now on giving the algorithms improved signals through audience segmentation, changes to business goals, changes to user behaviour and demographics. Remember search is not the be all and end all, this data is invaluable to informing marketing intelligence on other channels for a robust media-marketing mix.

The hardest part? Changing how you now report on Paid Search. And that’s another story.


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