— 12 Sep 2019

How to Build Scalable and Profitable Apple Search Ads Account Structure?

Max Kamenkov

Picking the right keywords to bid on is definitely not enough for Apple Search Ads success. It also lies in the way you organize them into campaigns and groups. 

Keywords grouping can be done in many ways, for example, based on keywords semantics or on the value brought by the searchers who use these keywords. 

If you feel like diving into specific structuring approaches straight away, go for it: learn about Semantics-based or Value-based account structures described in our go-to downloadable lessons on Apple Search Ads.

build Apple Search Ads account

However, there are high-level ideas that you may want to know before delving into the specifics. Keep reading this article for the Apple Search Ads best practices in account structuring. 

Before we explore them, let’s see why building a proper account structure is that important? 

Firstly, the right account structure helps enhance the ad relevance. 

It goes without saying that users are more likely to interact with an ad if the banner content corresponds to their search queries. Better user experience results in a higher TTR and CVR. As you receive more taps and downloads per spend, your CPT and CPA decreases, hence, a bigger impression share and impression volume.      

Secondly, a well-structured Apple Search Ads account contributes to far more accurate performance assessment. 

It reduces the dilution of statistics and self-competition, giving a clearer picture of your performance. As a result, you can manage your account more efficiently, boost your performance by iterations, and optimize. By the way, some optimization techniques are simply impossible without a proper account structure. 

Thirdly, resulting from a proper account structure, all the above things lay the ground for successful scaling and bring about a bigger profit. Logically, failures in account structure configuration can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. That’s why proper account structuring is worth the effort.

Leverage the real-time Apple Search Ads Benchmark Dashboard  to access up-to-date insights on TTR, CVR, CPM, CPT, CPA for Apple Search Ads.

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How to Build Scalable and Profitable Apple Search Ads Account Structure?

Building an Apple Search Ads account structure: things to consider 

The more complex your account structure is, the more flexible you can be about managing it. Plus, it empowers you to apply advanced optimization techniques. But the coin has its flip side as well: it takes time to set up such a structure and much effort to monitor and manage it.    

Keep in mind that there are circumstances requiring no complex structure in the first place. If you spend no more than $1K/mo on advertising, there is no need for a complex structure that is required, for example, for a $1M/mo budget account. Moreover, it doesn’t make sense to apply advanced optimization methods to such a small budget account, they will not be helpful at all.      

As you scale in the course of time, the structure has to change accordingly. It’s not a once-and-for-all thing, you alter it as you grow. What is good now, won’t work for you in other conditions: company maturity, Apple Search Ads upgrades, time and budget availability – these are the things that matter. When they change, you adapt the account structure to the new situation.  

So, is there such a thing as an optimum account structure? The idea behind building one is to split an account into units to assess their performance separately and to optimize them while leaving other units untouched. And the way you slice up your Apple Search Ads account relies heavily on the following components of your advertising strategy: 

  1. Campaign goals 
  2. Countries and regions
  3. Ad relevance (alignment between keyword and ad creative)
  4. Past performance
  5. Budget management (allocation and capping)
  6. Audience segmentation 

Now let’s dwell on each dimension in particular.

1. Grouping Apple Search Ads keywords based on campaign goals 

There are several campaign goals that serve as a basis for grouping Apple Search Ads keywords. Let’s dig deeper into four of them:

Brand protection. This strategy is based on creating a separate Brand campaign with keywords that include your app or company name.

If you don’t bid on such keywords, your competitors probably will, and you run the risk of losing downloads to them. Our research on branded keywords reveals that bidding on them helps capture high-intent users that come to the App Store knowing exactly which app they’re looking for. 

Moreover, if your app is ranked #1 in organic search results (which is very likely for your branded keywords), your sponsored banner in Apple Search Ads will be text-based. In such a situation, users will opt for the organic result because it has an image. 

Brand offense. The essence of this strategy is opposite to that above. It’s about bidding on Apple Search Ads keywords relevant to your major competitors – the publisher’s name or the app title. How can it be useful?

If your competitors don’t protect their brand, you can win over the users who search by their brand names. App Store searchers look for a solution to their problem, and this solution can be you, if your app’s banner appears right above the competitor’s organic search result.

In a nutshell, brand offense is a great way to attract new users. Given the fact that around 2/3 of all App Store searches are branded, using such keywords implies a huge traffic volume. 

Prospecting. This strategy is about building campaigns with Apple Search Ads keywords other than branded. They are also called generic. Users enter general search terms to describe the app’s features, services, functionalities or problems that an app can solve. Such search terms make up around 34% of all queries on the App Store. 

The campaign goal here is to attract relevant users in search of your app or an app similar to yours, as well as to raise your brand awareness. 

Discovery. An Apple Search Ads discovery campaign is aimed at finding new relevant keywords that you’ve probably missed bidding on. These keywords should be not just popular, but meet the three criteria: high search volume, competitiveness and high relevance score. 

As a rule, in order to discover them, they use match types with the widest reach – broad match and Search Match. Discovery campaigns also work well to cover traffic for low search volume (LSV) keywords. It’s usually pointless to add too specific keywords to separate exact match groups and optimize them for a few installs. Instead, you can allow Search Match to do all the work for you and match your ads to specific search queries.

In the table below, we summarize the goals of four major campaign types: 

Campaign goalBrand protectionBrand offenseProspectingDiscovery
Goal descriptionProtecting brand from losing your relevant audience to competitorsBidding on competitor’s keywords to win over their audienceBuilding brand awareness and attracting relevant users in search of a solution to their problemMining keywords that you probably don’t bid on yet
Campaign TypesBrandCompetitorsGenericDiscovery

This is probably the most widely used and easy-to-build account structure type. By the way, it’s recommended by the Apple Search Ads creators for simple accounts that only start using the ad network.   

In addition to brand protection, brand offense, prospecting and discovery, there are more specific goals, such as re-engagement, ASO enablement, etc. Apple Search Ads managers are advised to create a separate campaign (or a few campaigns) for each individual goal.  

2.  Apple Search Ads account structuring: countries and regions

Built your account minding the characteristics of the region where you market your app. Each country requires a separate campaign. At the moment, Apple Search Ads allows to reach out to potential users in 59 countries and regions

When you set up an account structure, take into consideration the language of a targeted location. It makes sense to adjust Apple Search Ads keywords to different countries and regions. Obviously, keywords that work well for the US won’t do for South Korea. Even the popularity of one and the same keyword will differ across multiple countries.     

In addition to the language, cultural characteristics matter a lot too. It’s vital to localize and adjust your app’s metadata to specific countries and regions. This improves the relevance of your ads to users, which increases Conversion Rate and brings CPT down.

Check Apple Search Ads benchmarks Q2-Q4 2020 by categories and countries.

How to Build Scalable and Profitable Apple Search Ads Account Structure?

Mentality differs from country to country. Keep this in mind when you design your visuals or write App Store page descriptions. For example, Zimad optimized their App Store product page screenshots to resonate with their Japanese audience. Their optimization was so successful that it brought in a 36% conversion rate increase.

3. Apple Search Ads account structuring: ad relevance 

Another thing to consider when you build your account is ad relevance. In App Store Search Ads, the measure of relevance is TTR or CTR. Users are inclined to interact with an ad if it’s relevant to their search query. And the greater the relevance, the smaller CPT and the bigger your impressions share.     

Mind that Apple Search Ads limits customization of ads for an ad group and there is no relevance score within an ad group whatsoever.

There are two Apple Search Ads keywords relevance types: 

1) Technical relevance: it represents how closely related a keyword is to your sponsored ad. The Apple Search Ads algorithm determines technical relevance based on your app category and metadata — title, subtitle and keywords, in other words, outside your account. 

As we know, Apple Search Ads functions on an auction basis. For your bid to enter the auction, the keyword should be considered “relevant”. If its technical relevance is below a certain threshold, your banner won’t be shown for the keyword, regardless of a high bid. 

Look at the image below. Let’s say, four apps compete for the keyword [e-signature]. The two apps below have a low technical relevance score, thus Apple Search Ads doesn’t take them into account. App 1 and App 2 have a high score, and App 2 wins as the one with the higher bid:

How to Build Scalable and Profitable Apple Search Ads Account Structure?

2) Actual keyword relevance: how the meaning of a keyword is related to the ad banner (Creative Set) that the user sees upon entering a query. In order to improve the actual relevance, you have to find the winning combination of Apple Search Ads keywords, Creative Sets and audience for a search term with the biggest possible CTR. In Apple Search Ads, you can manage this alignment at the ad group level.  

Using different keywords, you can play around with messages that describe your app: they can be shaped from the perspective of features or problem solving, etc.

Apple Search Ads account: keywords relevance

Creative Sets enable to create ad variations to align with keywords themes or audiences. It’s vital that the ad banner matches with the user query. If it does, the user enjoys better experience from an ad which is highly relevant to his or her query. 

Your audience can be segmented as well. The grounds for segmentation is a user type (new users or returning users) or demographics (age, gender or device). It may turn out that one of the segments performs better, or that tailoring the positioning for different audience segments is just what you need.    

4. Past performance of Apple Search Ads keywords

Keyword value is one of the most effective approaches to structuring your Apple Search Ads account. In a nutshell, you group keywords into different campaigns based on the LTV of users who search using these keywords.

Value is driven by bid and budget. And they, in turn, are controlled at three different Apple Search Ads account levels – campaign (budget management), ad group (CPA goal and targeting management) and keywords (CPT bid management).

There are two ways to manage bids in Apple Search Ads: 

  1. Adjustment to target metrics. This is a standard optimization technique, which has to be applied to each individual keyword. It implies keeping your target performance metrics top of mind and modifying your CPT bid accordingly.  
  2. Combining CPA Goal and Max CPT Bid. This is an advanced optimization method suggested by Gabe Kwakyi of Incipia. It implies blending CPA Goal at the ad group level with a high CPT Bid at the keyword level. By this means, Apple Search Ads will pick out users who are most likely to convert with a target CPA. 

Keep in mind that by including keywords of different performance into one ad group, you are sure to get blended stats. The results will be diluted by low-performing keywords. For this strategy to work efficiently, it makes sense to categorize keywords based on their performance. 

5. Budget management: Apple Search Ads best practices 

Budget management has a direct impact on how successfully you promote your app on the App Store. One of the strategies consists in prioritizing your budget by the performance of Apple Search Ads keywords. 

The key idea behind this strategy is to assign your budget to top-performing keywords first, while waterfalling the remaining portion across keywords performing less efficiently. 

Budget in Apple Search Ads is set at the campaign level, which can complicate watefalling. The way out is to build separate campaigns for keywords of different performance. Thus, it will be possible to spread the budget in accordance with the watefalling approach.

To manage budget for a semantics-based account structure, create theme-based ad groups and move them up to the campaign level. Thus, you’ll be able to set the budget per each theme and manage it inside a theme by using CPA Goals. This will help achieve budget management flexibility while avoiding the risk of account over-optimization.   

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How to Build Scalable and Profitable Apple Search Ads Account Structure?

6. Proper audience segmentation  

Another factor you have to consider when structuring your account is audience. Apple Search Ads offers two major user types to target – new users and returning users. 

New users are those that have never installed your app. As for returning ones, it’s a bit more complicated: these can be either users who currently have your app installed, or those who deleted and downloaded it once again. Although these two categories of returning users are different, for now Apple Search Ads doesn’t allow to target them independently. 

Obviously, users can perform differently as some are more relevant to your app. Core audience generates the biggest value and that’s why it’s sensible to set higher bids for them. Users outside your core audience, or general audience, are less relevant to the app, thus can be less performant. 

Let’s say, you’ve got an entertainment app whose core audience are teenagers. Naturally, the audience aged 45+ will perform poorly. However, for apps with a tight core audience group, general audience can be helpful in boosting their impressions volume.

That’s it for the Apple Search Ads best practices in account structuring. In addition to the 6 ad strategy components above, there are another two factors that matters – keywords semantics and the value generated by users who search using those keywords. 

Semantics-based and value-based are two popular approaches to structuring accounts in Apple Search Ads. Find out how to configure such structured, spread keywords across ad groups, and handle budget and targeting for them. 

Find the lesson on the structure of your interest in our free Apple Search Ads Course.

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Max Kamenkov
Max Kamenkov
CEO at SplitMetrics
SplitMetrics own success story began with Max’s idea to make app marketers successful with mobile A/B testing tool. In a shortwhile Max was the first to come up with the idea of Apple Search ads optimization solution. With above 7 years in the industry Max is the go-to source for app growth wisdom.
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