Branded Keywords in Apple Search Ads: Cannibalization or Brand Protection?

Branded Keywords in Apple Search Ads

Marketers voice many cons to running Apple Search Ads for branded keywords. Well-known companies usually say, “We have a recognizable brand and already rank #1 in the organic listing on the App Store. If we bid on the branded keywords, we simply buy the traffic we would get for free”.

Indeed, why should you bother paying for the brand keywords if they are already triggered by your organic listing? Especially if you have a well-known brand that people think of right away. You think about taxi – you search for Uber, you want to watch a new season of a show – you search for Netflix.

However, it’s not that straightforward as it might seem. Let’s figure out whether branded keywords in Apple Search Ads are budget wasters or brand protection guards.

When you google to find what experience do big brands have with PPC ads, you get contradicting results. Some say that their internal studies show an increase in total numbers when they run PPC ads while others state they did much better without app advertising.

We have done some research and testing as well to dig more into Apple Search Ads peculiarities rather than looking at all PPCs. Here are 5 facts to consider when you wonder whether bidding on your brand keywords is cannibalization or not. Some are underpinned by known facts, others – by internal research and experience with the App Store ads.

Branded Keywords Fact #1 – Over 50% of Searches on the App Store are Branded

This means that half of the users search specifically for brand/app names and have a high intent to install or buy the app they find. In fact, the initial findings of  AppsFlyer stated that 66% of all searches on the App Store consist of the name of an app or a competitor. Only 34% of the queries are discovery-centric and include keywords of a more general type.

Search Ads keyword distribution by type
Source: AppsFlyer

According to AppTweak, top 20 keywords in the US (Search Popularity > 80) are all brands, with the exception of “games”. This speaks to the fact that branded queries bring about the biggest increase in traffic. And we all know that branded keywords are the most converting ones.

Even in the ideal world, if neither you nor anybody else bid on your brand keywords, the fact is these keywords will still enter the search match auction. And an advertiser who actually bids on them with higher CPA goals and higher budgets will most likely get into the auction and win it as long as the keywords they use are relevant.

So if you do not bid simultaneously, you lose the war by not taking part in it.

Branded Keywords Fact #2 – User Experience Matters

Put yourself in your users’ shoes for a minute. They search for your brand and see you as #1 in the organic listing. That’s great!

Now imagine that they see a similar app above yours. And this Apple Search Ads banner of a similar app occupies ⅔ of the screen on their phones. I mean it’s huge! Let’s make things even worse – there’s a video in the ad and it starts playing automatically (even though nobody can control whether the App Store ads feature screens or videos, there’s still a big chance). In any case, it will be hard to miss or ignore your competitor, right?

Apple Search Ads brands competition

Let’s take another step to making the situation worse. Many competitors try to mimic each other. In some cases, even the names of the apps are similar, so it is very easy for your user to mistaken your competitor’s app for yours.

Apple Search Ads brands protection

It is no secret that we all tend to click or tap on the first thing we see (in most cases very quickly, before we even think about it). Here’s an example – a user is searching for Unicorn app and the App Store search result looks like this:

Apple Search Ads branded keywords

Thus, users have to scroll way down below the Daily List part to actually get to your application which is still the app with the highest organic ranking. And that’s when you actually rank #1 in the organic listing, imagine that you’re #11. Nobody has enough determination or patience to go and find your product unless you are really awesome.

Branded Keywords Fact #3 – Competition on the App Store is Real and Sneaky

Today many marketers realize that they should have a specific strategy to win the competition in the red ocean. So you can be sure if you don’t bid on your brand terms within your Apple Search Ads campaigns, somebody else will.

If a competitor bids on your branded keyword or app name and you don’t at the moment, their app will be shown above your organic listing. If you are a big brand, be sure someone else is bidding on your brand terms and you are constantly losing downloads to a competitor.

Apple App Store search results

Does this mean that if you run branded campaigns in Apple Search Ads, your brand protection game is on point and no competitors will show above your organic listing? Unfortunately, the answer is no, there is always a chance that someone will bid higher than you do.

For example, someone has a really good budget and they can afford the App Store ads bidding strategy where they raise the bids as high as possible and then gradually decrease them. And imagine that your strategy is opposite to that: you’ve started with the low bids and increase them if necessary. So it’s likely you won’t even get into the auction for your own brand keywords.

Branded Keywords Fact #4 – Brand Protection against Cannibalization

First of all, when your Apple Search Ads are displayed for a keyword, then your app listing is also automatically displayed at rank #8-10 even if you don’t rank for it. If you do rank for this keyword, it’s displayed at rank #8-10 or above. However, this doesn’t have a big effect on an increase in conversions.

Secondly, if your app has #1 place in organic search results (and in most cases you rank #1 because of your branded keywords) and you run Apple Search Ads ads for it, you don’t need to worry.

On the results your users see, your ads will probably take the form of a text banner (short version of App Store ads) above the organic search result. Your users are likely to click on the organic result because it has an image.

bidding brand in search Ads

We ran a small test with a health & fitness app (US storefront, 1M+ impressions) to check whether that’s true.

  • At first we evaluated non-brand keywords which users entered to search for the app. In most cases, Apple showed default image ad above the organic result for these keywords: 26% Default Text Ad vs. 74% Default Image Ad);
  • Then we evaluated the brand campaign keywords which users entered to search for the app. For these keywords, Apple showed Text Ads in most cases: 76.4% Default Text Ad vs. 23.6% Default Image Ad.
SearchAdsHQ branded keywords research

So it turns out that Apple tends to show text ad for brand keywords if your app is #1 in organic listing for these keywords.

Now let’s consider TTR rate for these two types of Apple Search Ads. Obviously, TTR for the Image Ad is higher. What’s interesting is that whereas it’s on average 2-3 times higher for non-brand keywords, it’s even more impressive for brand ones – usually 4-5 times higher than TTR for a Text Ad.

All of this proves that there’s a mechanism that protects your brand from cannibalization. Even if your App Store ads banner is shown above your organic listing, most likely it will be a Text Ad and users will be naturally more inclined to click on your organic result with images.

Branded Keywords Fact #5 – More Installs and Target Actions Running Apple Search Ads

It’s a fact that advertising campaigns contribute to an app’s discoverability in organic searches in the App Store. But do you really buy the traffic you could have had organically for free?

One of SearchAdsHQ clients, Flo decided to check this on US storefront and allowed us to share their results.  

Apple Search Ads campaign of Flo

On January 16th, Flo stopped running Apple Search Ads campaigns for their US storefront. They launched campaigns again on January 21.

Check the orange line on the graph above. Do you see how the line remains the same? There’s an increase there connected with Facebook campaign launch that brought more organic searches for the app, but there’s definitely no connection between running or stopping Search Ads campaigns and the change in organic results.

What about installs and target actions?

Look at the total installs (yellow line) and App Search Ads line (grey one). They have the same pattern. It is clear that stopping the App Store ads resulted in the total installs decline. At the same time, the campaigns relaunch resulted in total installs increase.

So you’re not buying your own traffic when you run Apple Search Ads. It’s the other way round – when you run Search Ads with your brand keywords, you get more installs and more target actions eventually.

Thus, our research showed that bidding on branded keywords is not an extravagance which cannibalizes your organic traffic but a wise brand protection move which should be a part of your Apple Search Ads strategy.

SearchAdsHQ is a platform to manage, optimize and automate your Apple Search Ads campaigns. Request a free demo at SearchAdsHQ.com.

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