Apple Search Ads: All You Need to Know for Successful Start

There are about 2 million apps published on the App Store and the number is growing, and it’s getting harder to become visible there. Still, if you promote your iOS app via Apple Search Ads, your chances of being discovered by users are so much higher as your ads are placed above the organic search results. 

However, we know that fewer than 20% of app marketers run ads on the App Store. As of today, Apple Search Ads is less competitive than Facebook and Google Ads, but more and more publishers are adopting it as they see it pay off.   

If you are also thinking of adding Apple Search Ads to your user acquisition mix (before your competitors did), we’ve gathered everything you need to know before setting up your first successful ad campaign.

1. Why use Apple Search Ads?

As of today, app marketers can run Apple Search Ads campaigns to reach out to potential users in 60 countries and regions. Below is a list of reasons why many publishers decided to go with this user acquisition channel. 

1. The average Conversion Rate (CR) in Apple Search Ads is about 50%, which is unprecedented compared to other ad networks. Why? The reason is a high level of the motivation behind user search queries. On the App Store, 65% of overall downloads come from the search, with over 50% of users searching for a particular app name.

2. Premium ad placement. Apple Search Ads shows ads at the top of the search results on the App Store. 65% of downloads coming from search coupled with the premium placement create the best-performing ad placement available for a mobile app marketer.

3. Reaching highly motivated users. Apple Search Ads reaches users at the bottom of the buying funnel.  A user who enters the “cooking app” query on the App Store is almost ready to install one, they need no further persuasion and your only job is to show them a relevant ad.

4. Organic boost. When you run Apple Search Ads campaigns, you can expect an increase in your organic traffic and downloads as well. Moreover, the TTR and conversion rate of a keyword in Apple Search Ads can be the basis of ASO decisions – if the performance of a keyword in paid campaigns is good, you might consider including it into your app’s title, subtitle or the most visible screenshot.

5. Empowering your brand. With about 66% of App Store search queries being branded (AppsFlyer), competition for them is severe. Big publishers know that if they don’t run ads for their brand name, competitors will. Thus, the brand defense strategy is what many publishers should implement.

“But what if I’m already №1 in search? Won’t I waste my money on ads and cannibalize my organic traffic?” 

The thing is there are 2 types of ads in Apple Search Ads – image-based and text-based ones, and in the situation above users will see a text-based Apple Search Ads ad above your organic listing with images. How does it help you?

Our research shows that the tap-through rate (TTR) of image-based ads for branded keywords is 4-5 times higher than the TTR of text-only ads, meaning that users will be more likely to tap on your organic listing.

Apple Search Ads_Brand protection
Source: SearchAdsHQ

6. Easy to start. There are a few built-in instruments to get your ads up and running quickly: Apple Search Ads Basic that requires only minimal ad management, Search Match – a keyword discovery tool in Apple Search Ads Advanced, etc.

2. Apple Search Ads Basic vs Advanced

Apple Search Ads offers mobile app marketers two ways of managing their ad campaigns – Apple Search Ads Basic and Apple Search Ads Advanced. Below is a brief overview of each:

Apple Search Ads Basic

  • How it works: keywords and targeting management is unavailable. Your ad will automatically be matched to relevant search queries and performance will automatically be optimized.
  • Payment: pay for app downloads at the cost that you specify.
  • Management: minimal management is required, limited flexibility. You can adjust your cost-per-install (CPI) based on ad performance.
  • Reporting: a dashboard with basic ad performance metrics.
  • Monthly budget: max budget is $10,000 per app monthly.
  • Number of apps: up to 50 apps can be promoted.

Apple Search Ads Advanced

  • How it works: manual and flexible ad campaign management. You specify Apple Search Ads targeting, keywords and maximum cost-per-tap (CPT) bids based on your own target KPIs. Ad spend is controlled at the campaign level.
  • Payment: pay when a user taps on your ad. The amount you pay won’t exceed your specified max CPT bid and will be equal to what your closest auction competitor bids plus 1 cent (a second-price auction). 
  • Management: flexible, you can influence each of the available performance parameters to control your Apple Search Ads campaigns.
  • Reporting: detailed exportable reports for key metrics.
  • Monthly budget: unlimited.
  • Number of apps: unlimited.

3. Apple Search Ads use cases

There are 4 main ways to use Apple Search Ads:

  1. Brand protection: bidding on your branded keywords to make sure your brand is safe from losing downloads to other app publishers.
  2. Competitive bidding: the opposite of brand protection – bidding on your competitors’ branded keywords to win a share of their potential users.
  3. Prospecting (via discovery-centric keywords): prospecting for new users who haven’t chosen a particular app or game yet and are hesitating.
  4. Discovery (researching new keywords for ASO and Apple Search Ads): using Apple Search Ads as a source of finding top-performing keywords to bid on in your Apple Search Ads campaigns or include in your App Store product page metadata for better organic performance.

4. Apple Search Ads pricing model

Apple Search Ads operates on a second-price auction basis, which means you pay what your closest competitor is willing to pay plus 1 cent, but no more than the maximum CPT bid you’ve specified.

You pay only when the user taps on your ad. This is called a cost-per-tap (CPT) pricing model.

Before you are eligible for the auction, Apple Search Ads checks your relevance score – whether your ad and app page metadata are relevant to the keyword you’re running the ad for. 

The mechanics of estimating the ad relevance score are not disclosed by Apple Search Ads. However, a good rule of thumb here is to be frank with yourself when deciding whether or not your ad is really relevant to the keyword you’re trying to show it for.

The right blend of relevance and a keyword bid will help your app hit the ad spot. Here’s the summary:

Apple Search Ads auction

5. Apple Search Ads keywords

There are a few things specific to Apple Search Ads keywords.  To begin with, based on the user’s motivation there are two types of search queries on the App Store:

  1. Discovery-centric (“racing games”, “cooking app”, “match 3 game”, etc.). The main goal of the user entering a discovery-centric query is to find a new app relevant to the broad search term.
  2. Utility-centric (“amazon”, “instagram”, “gmail”, etc.). Users who enter utility-centric search queries are aimed at finding an app of a particular brand they are interested in. 

Apple Search Ads has a built-in solution that enables app marketers to see the amount of traffic per particular search term. This is called a search term popularity index.

The index indicates the share of users who entered a particular search query in a particular country and region. On the Apple Search Ads dashboard, you will see popularity scores represented as dots, but with our Extension for Chrome – Keyword Popularity Checker – you can view them represented as real numbers from 5 to 100. 

Mind that the value isn’t absolute and depends on the overall amount of traffic in a particular country and region: 50% in the US and 50% in the UK storefronts will differ in absolute terms.

The bigger the search popularity of a keyword, the more search traffic it gets. Such keywords are limited in number, hence competition for them is intense.

Apple Search Ads keywords popularity
Source: Apptweak

Keywords with the search popularity index under 5 can be ignored, as they have little to contribute to the number of impressions. The top 10% of keywords with the highest popularity are the most interesting trafficwise. However, winning an auction for them is not the easiest task as competition is severe.

Apple Search Ads match types

Broad match is a default match type for a keyword. It will match your ads to the search queries that are partial or close words, related phrases, rare misspellings, synonyms, etc.

If you set exact match for a keyword, your ad will only be shown to users whose search query exactly matches the keyword, as well as for the most popular misspellings and plurals.

There’s also Search Match – an Apple Search Ads match type that facilitates keyword discovery

With Search Match turned on, Apple Search Ads will automatically link your ad to the search inquiries considered relevant to your app. It means that you don’t have to figure out the potential of keywords and actively bid on them prior to campaign launching. 

Which factors are taken into account while assessing the relevance?

As per Apple Search Ads, “Search Match uses multiple resources to match your ad to relevant searches on the App Store, including the metadata from your App Store listing, information about similar apps in the same genre, and other search data.”

In addition to Search Match, Apple’s Keyword Suggestion is a great tool that recommends relevant keywords, based on the keywords in your ad groups that already perform well.

Wrapping up

Apple Search Ads offers stunning opportunities for mobile marketers to make their apps visible. This is the ultimate way to advertise your iOS app right on the App Store, where users come to search and get apps. 

How effective is Apple Search Ads:  

  • The best place to make your app visible to possible users as you catch them when they are most interested;
  • Apple Search Ads helps reach out to potential users in 60 countries and regions;
  • Easy to set up;
  • Immediate influx of high-converting traffic;
  • Using the relative search term popularity index, you can see how often people enter a particular query in the App Store search;
  • Using the Search Match option, you do not need to peak each keyword manually;
  • Low user acquisition costs make Apple Search Ads a cost-efficient way to raise your brand awareness;
  • The ability to bid on brand searches, or competitors’ names, for running ad campaigns and winning your competitors’ potential users.  

This is an overview of Apple Search Ads as a UA channel. If you feel like digging deeper into the specifics, try “The Complete Apple Search Ads Course” by SearchAdsHQ.

Apple Search Ads: All You Need to Know for Successful Start