Apple Search Ads: Best Practices and Views of Experts on This Channel

Although Apple launched an ad platform a few years ago, mobile publishers and app marketers are still struggling to optimize Apple Search Ads, find best practices and make the most of this channel.

In case you are also looking for effective ways to use Apple Search Ads, seeking to fit it into your user acquisition and performance marketing strategy, we’ve brought together what app industry experts think of this channel, cannibalization and incrementality, optimization and scaling, along with valuable insights and actionable tips they shared during App Growth Talks.

Experts

Thomas Petit, a world-renowned Mobile Marketing Expert and independent App Growth Consultant. 

Nadir Garouche, expert on mobile gaming, ASO, user acquisition &  mobile analytics, Growth Marketing Manager at Oh Bibi.

Andrea Raggi, expert on mobile performance marketing, user acquisition, in particular Apple Search Ads, and Store Ads Team Lead at Phiture. 

Johannes von Cramon, expert on mobile marketing, Apple Search Ads, ASO, mobile analytics and retention, App Marketer and Co-founder of Growfirst.

Thomas Kriebernegg, app enthusiast, keynote speaker, expert on app store optimization, CEO and Co-founder of App Radar. 

Steve P. Young, expert on app store optimization and mobile marketing, Founder and CEO at App Masters.

Role of Apple Search Ads in the Mobile Marketing Mix

Thomas Petit

While I look at Apple Search Ads with a particular interest, I don’t think success can be solely built through that channel. It certainly holds a particular place in the marketing mix, being the only paid placement within the app store, and the only channel providing deep keyword & store behavioural data after Google unilaterally decided to start obfuscating that part. So you have to be there, smartly: less for scale, rather for the unique learnings no other activity can provide, and to avoid letting this high intent traffic on your competitors’ table.

Nadir Garouche

I use Apple Search Ads mostly for brand protection. I would say the share of spend allocated to Search Ads has increased over the years for everyone using this channel, but it’s still relatively small as it’s hard to scale with it because of their targeting limitations.

Apple Search Ads is still very useful for ASO. I usually gather a large amount of keywords that I then target in exact match to validate their relevance for ASO, after looking into CVR and ROAS. I also use Apple Search Ads for the purposes of ASO localization: for instance, to see if players in a non-English region use and convert better with English terms than ones in their native language.

For games: If you work on a game based on an IP, or a quite popular title, Apple Search Ads makes a lot of sense as you have a lot of potential quality users available, so make sure you occupy this spot rather than leaving it to your competitors.

Johannes von Cramon

Apple Search Ads is a little bit different than other paid marketing channels and since it is the only source of valid conversion rate, install rate & in-app event data on a keyword level we have right now, you can learn so much about your target group by analyzing MMP data, and use that for your ASO as well as for other marketing channels. 

It is very valuable to know which keywords drive active users, retention and revenue and other indicators besides solely installs.

I can recommend everyone who has an iOS app to spend at least a little amount of money on Apple Search Ads to gain insights for generic terms, defend their brand and learn about their target audience. And although Apple Search Ads can be a complex channel to manage if you are doing it at scale, it is a good channel to start with performance marketing

Thomas Kriebernegg

I think it’s a really great channel. Especially if you have an app or a game that is some kind of search-intent-driven. What I mean by that is when your app can be summarized in really good keywords, for example, like I’ve already mentioned, running tracking app or calorie counter app, or something like that – where people already have a very good understanding of what this app might be.

When they go to the app store and search for a keyword like this, I think Apple Search Ads is an amazing channel because there you can position yourself on position #1 on such relevant keywords, super-relevant for your app business.

Steve P. Young

People come to me and ask, “I’ve just launched an app, how can I get users?” One of my favorite ways of doing that is through Apple Search Ads. Spend a couple of hundred dollars, get a few hundred users, see what they are doing within the app, how they are converting and think how you can tweak your app.

I love Apple Search Ads as a way to get your early users to see what their conversion rate number is, what the retention numbers are.

Budget

Johannes von Cramon

It depends on the category and on what your competitors are doing there because if you have higher bids, then you need to spend more money to get a decent volume of installs. But generally speaking, I would say $1.5-2K per month should do the trick to begin with.

The great advantage of Apple Search Ads is that you don’t need so much of a distinct volume that the algorithm really starts to work. You have this on Facebook with about 50 conversions per week and on Google with even fifty [conversions] per day, and that’s not that kind of problem with Apple Search Ads. So you can spend a little bit less to get started and see what your bids are and what the outcome is through the MMP data.

Also watch our interview with Michael Shubin, Independent Consultant on Apple Search Ads and Co-founder of Angle Connect, to find out what he thinks on the minimal budget you need to start with Apple Search Ads.

Results gained with Apple Search Ads

Thomas Petit

I’m not the one behind it, but I’d mention Pictarine as an incredible Apple Search Ads success story. I’ve seen their incredibly agile team manage to scale a single keyword in a single geo to 6-digits monthly, profitably.

Those are getting harder and rarer, due to high adoption, overall price level and some auction mechanics. Rather than aiming for such a moonshot, I believe another outstanding result is to learn from user reaction (on creatives, search terms, etc.), understand what makes them tick and exploit this outside Apple Search Ads.

Johannes von Cramon

Apple Search Ads was always the game changer if we discovered unexpected differences in user quality from specific keywords.

We had some clients who were sure that they knew what their most important keywords were in terms of retention and revenue, until we looked into the data after we had set up Apple Search Ads campaigns.

And we found that these keywords only generated downloads but not active revenue and users. I think in many categories there are prominent keywords which drive users to the product page and maybe also to the app but are a little bit too generic, so that you can’t build up a valuable user stream upon them.

And secondly, Apple Search Ads turned out to be a really scalable and profitable channel for some of our clients. Including those of them who had never known about this channel in the first place. This is especially true for very strong brands that can drain competitor traffic on a higher scale, because if you have a strong brand and people know your product, then you can build a very scalable competitor campaign with a decent amount of valuable traffic.

Thomas Kriebernegg

In total we have been working with a little bit over than 100 apps in the field of Apple Search Ads already. Full hand up, not all of the campaigns that we are running are super successful but luckily, most of them are. The thing is that it really depends on the use case, but it also strongly depends on the product itself as well, if a campaign is successful or not. I mean, there are also other values to play into this calculation, like the lifetime value of the users that you’re generating through the Apple Search Ads channel and all the stuff which comes into play.

Personally, for me, I really like working together with freemium games in the field of Apple Search Ads because there are the numbers that really, I would say, very easy to analyze. Because, you know how much money you are generating and you know how much you are paying for a new install. So it’s quite cool.

And I have to say for me personally, it’s satisfying when those campaigns are working out very well, because then you see that you’re doing a great job. But in the end, it’s really about a lot of testing, optimizing and trying to get the best out of it.

Andrea Raggi

Andrea Raggi

In our experience at Phiture, Apple Search Ads tends to be a satisfying channel in terms of ROAS achievement or even retention of users. One very successful example that I can share with you is Invoice Simple. As the name suggests, it is an app providing invoicing services via app.

The team at Invoice Simple approached us with the challenges in scaling the Apple Search Ads channel and improving overall performance by increasing the number of users purchasing a subscription (while, of course, lowering the customer acquisition costs).

To tackle the scale problem, we began carrying out extensive keyword research in several languages and organize them in a systematic campaign structure – with different semantic group campaigns and ad groups that are sorted by level of intent. With the help of Phiture’s Engineering Team we also created scripts to help automate keyword distribution and campaign management to ensure a constant flow of new search terms. As an example, newly discovered keywords were automatically tested for lower-funnel events such as subscription.

In regards to performance, we focused on optimizing CAC and ROAS by optimizing bids and acquisition goals. The engineering team also developed scripts that could pause keywords on non-performing days of the week. Moreover, thanks to a model developed with our data science team, we managed to estimate the best converting keywords for subscription, which helped management adjust their strategic decisions on user acquisition.

The results were extremely satisfying: we increased the budget from a 5 figure to a 6 figure monthly budget, with the overall spend increasing by 50%.

As a consequence of the higher scale, the number of subscriptions increased by 51%. Moreover, the Customer Acquisition Cost decreased by 6% over the first 60 days which helped increase the Return on Ad Spend for the client.

Finally, we discovered thanks to creative A/B testing that a new screenshots set was generating a 13.4% increase in conversion rate from impressions to the first invoice completed. After applying these new creatives in the organic search results, the search conversion rate to download increased by 15%.

Apple Search Ads Mistakes

Nadir Garouche

I would say relying too much on broad match, which then makes your game appear for so much irrelevant search terms and then bring down your ROAS. Another mistake I saw others make is to use CPA goals rather than tweaking their bids. It’s more complex but it helps you get more installs at the right cost faster than with CPA goals.

Also watch our interview with Michael Shubin to find out the most common mistakes publishers make working with Apple Search Ads.

Apple Search Ads Optimization and KPIs

Andrea Raggi

Constant analysis and optimization are the only way to make sure we maximize the results. This might sound obvious, but do not create a campaign, let it run and hope for results to come. I have seen it many times, as marketers are busy and do not always have much time to spend on Apple Search Ads. If that’s the case, spare your efforts from the beginning. Results will usually only come with time, effort and constant optimization.

In the end, after a countless number of optimizations, you may find an excellent bid – able to deliver excellent Return on Investment.

If that’s the case, don’t rest on your laurels and remember that status quo may change. This once again means constant analysis and optimization even after hitting or overachieving targets.

A special way with which you could, in my opinion, get excellent results is with the use of AI or some sort of rule-based bidding. These are the best ways to cope with changes in the environment (competitions’ bids being altered, change in demand, etc.) as bids will be changed as soon as certain conditions would be hit.

SearchAdsHQ provides you with rule-based bidding which I have used in many instances and that has helped us keep spend and KPIs under control.

These tools would be specifically helpful if some sort of ‘seasonality’ happened over the weekend. Let’s say that your gaming app always experiences a surge in downloads over the weekend, but you are not working on Saturdays and Sundays and therefore, you can’t track – and control – what’s happening. If you rely on these rules or machine-based tools, you would make sure to quickly adapt bids to a near-optimal state and ensure that your performance and KPIs are able to cope with the constant changes in the environment.

Johannes von Cramon

Of course this depends on the business model and the goals of our clients, but in most projects we’re optimizing for Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and / or retention. In-app events are also important, especially in the upper funnel – something like registration or the first transaction, which can happen really fast after the acquisition – to get an early understanding of the campaigns performance because, if speaking of ROAS or retention, it can take really long time to get a proper understanding of the campaigns.

As you can imagine, as an agency we have to deliver results really fast. So we’re looking mostly at the in-app events, and in some cases we even look at the share-of-voice data on certain keywords we’re getting from our sales representatives from time to time. But those are companies that are not really into performance marketing but rather looking for increasing the visibility inside the store mostly against other strong competitors.

One step deeper I’m looking at tap-through rates, conversion rates and cost per taps to control spendings and know what your key competitors are doing: if they’re spending a lot on certain keywords or they don’t. And the last but not the least: limit ad tracking is always important to monitor. We try not exclude those users entirely since it really can hurt the reach of the campaign, but we split them into different app groups, and then monitor the performance of those separately.

Thomas Kriebernegg

Thomas Kriebernegg

The first thing you want to identify is how many impressions you are getting. How many people out there are seeing your app as kind of the first step? And the next thing is from those people who see your app, how many of them are really going to end up installing your app. Which means that the tap-through rate is also very important in this regard between the impression, then the store page and then the install.

And if you have the possibilities on the technical side, if you’re using an MMP… IDFA – let’s have a look at how long the strategy will be working in the future. But if you can identify which keywords bring you the revenue, this is the end goal. You want to optimize for exactly those keywords because this is where the money is coming from. And I think in combination with Apple Search Ads, that’s the topic of app store optimization. So you’ll also want to monitor your organic rankings for those keywords that bring your installs and especially those keywords that bring revenue, because this might be also a really good growth accelerator.

Apple Search Ads Scaling

Thomas Petit

I’d recommend those asking this question [how to scale Apple Search Ads] to explore your own blog extensively, as you’ve been very generous about providing a lot of content around this challenge. Another great resource to explore options is the ASA Stack from Phiture, which has actionable examples of what setting to change in order to scale up.

The simplified answer you might think about is raising bids, and while of course it can unlock a ton of inventory, there are many other levers you can pull to scale the channel. To mention a few: expanding geographies, adding keywords, exploring returning users targeting, splitting LAT OFF, etc.

Nadir Garouche

I don’t think it’s possible to scale with Apple Search Ads, unless you are a subscription app (meaning high LTV so you can afford to spend a lot for your CPIs). But if you’re struggling to spend more profitably, I recommend you pay close attention to your keyword selection and bids. Make sure to spend a lot of time building large lists of keywords (brand, competitors and generic ones) and that you tweak your bids based on Apple’s recommendations regularly.

Andrea Raggi

Our client portfolio is really diverse: we have and have had mobile games, financial services, fitness, business, kids and travel apps among others. For all these different verticals, the same recommendations apply as we are all playing according to Apple rules. Of course the strategies will vary and will need to be adapted according to the company objectives, but the levers that Apple Search Ads offer to scale or improve performance are the same for all advertisers.

The first tip that I strongly recommend to follow is to have a robust ASO strategy.

Having a well-thought ASO implementation will, firstly, influence your visibility in Apple Search Ads.

This can happen thanks to a proper research and selection of appropriate keywords for your metadata. The benefits coming from higher visibility are straightforward: appearing more often in front of App Store users. This higher visibility, in turn, can directly translate into winning a higher number of auctions if your ASO metadata is relevant and consistent to the keywords you are bidding on. If you want to promote a fitness app, it doesn’t make sense to include “cinema” in your title. Clearly, that was an extreme example, but I’d like to convey the message that you should select valuable (and pertinent) keywords aimed at converting users to download your app.

In sum, as Apple rewards relevancy, you have to make sure to strengthen the elements that are able to directly improve your Apple Search Ads efforts, i.e. metadata, screenshots, etc. – all of these components are aiming at increasing your conversion rate. If you take this approach for your app, you will be able to scale more quickly and efficiently by ensuring a solid conversion rate.

In regards to scaling tips which belong to the Apple Search Ads realm only, if you are looking for a quick launch to your Apple Search Ads campaigns, you could implement a Search Match ad group in one of your campaigns (preferably a discovery campaign). The Search Match setting in Apple Search Ads allows you to find new keywords thanks to Apple’s algorithm. These new search terms will be discovered by taking your metadata and similar apps in your category as a benchmark. If you opt for this option, I would recommend to keep a close eye on the search terms discovered as they sometimes tend to be broad.

Another tip to scale could be pushing your bids to a very high amount, enabling you to enter as many auctions as possible. Your user acquisition costs might actually increase as a consequence of this, but if you are aiming at volume at first, this could be a solution that enables you to achieve your scaling goals. This can be a risky approach, but it could also provide some valuable insights on competitions’ bidding strategies and performance.

A final recommendation to increase your scale could be considering targeting LAT on traffic. Limit ad tracking (LAT) is a feature that allows users to opt-out of having an ID for Advertisers. When LAT is enabled (LAT on) conversions from Mobile Measurement Partners (such as Adjust and Appsflyer) can not be tracked. While this feature can be a potential downside as advertisers would not be able to see which in-app actions users are performing, it can provide up to 30% more traffic in certain industries.

Cannibalization and Incrementality

Thomas Petit

Thomas Petit

I’ll quote Steve Jobs on this: “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will”. I’m not denying some cannibalization effect, especially if you hold high positions, but there’s definitely also incrementality to get, or loss to leave on the table.

By choosing conservatively to stay away from Apple Search Ads, you leave a very strategic place to your direct competitors, who get a chance to steal high value traffic from you.

Search is different in this regard from social & display: you’re creating competitive opportunities for others in your market. From a strategic standpoint, I believe it’s a mistake, especially for those who can easily afford a small proportion of their budget to avoid this situation.

And that’s without even considering two more things. Firstly, there is cannibalization, but there’s also uplift to get from Apple Search Ads.

In a recent case I worked on, we built a complex media mix model to understand uplifts from different channels, and Apple was by far the channel which had the biggest impact on organic, 50% higher than Facebook Ads and over 3x versus Google Ads! And that’s from an account with a fairly high share of brand.

Secondly, beyond the results themselves, the unique insights you can get: given the opacity of organic search data, running ads provides some clarity you can’t get any other way. That’s especially true when you get activity spikes: think PR, influencer, social, OOH. For the datapoints alone, that trade off is worth it in my opinion.

Incrementality versus cannibalization has finally become a hot topic, especially on Apple Search Ads but not only. It’s always a challenge with new user acquisition as you can’t isolate control cohorts… I believe the only way to try and quantify these effects is by interrupting your usual ads pace to run both fully paused and stress test periods, the later with likely unprofitable bids, in order to assess which level is ideal for your app. Such testing doesn’t always provide as much clean data as I wish, and are rendered much harder when you run harder-to-track activities such as influencer marketing or TV, but that’s how I recommend to understand the full effect of Apple Search Ads. To avoid harming growth goals and confirm with several data points, I’d recommend to rotate such tests across locations.

Andrea Raggi

Cannibalization is certainly a hot topic everybody is talking about lately. I have carried out many tests with clients on it and the results were very different. Cannibalization can happen, but there are very different extents to which your app may experience that. I have seen almost no cannibalization to medium-high cannibalization.

I have also seen many benefits generated from Apple Search Ads, such as brand defense, higher visibility and, in some cases, a boost in organic traffic too thanks to higher category rankings.

If you are concerned about cannibalization and the resources invested in Apple Search Ads, I would certainly recommend testing its overall impact by, for instance, pausing your campaigns (or top ranking keywords) for a week and measuring the impact on organic traffic change.

If you decide to stop your Apple Search Ads efforts though, you should consider the possible trade-offs such as the complete loss of brand defense and the potential impact on visibility in the App Store.

Are you ready to give up your first line of defence and allow your competitors to appear in the App Store before you do? Are you ready to lose at least a good 20-30% of users to those competitors?

On top of that, Apple Search Ads can be extremely beneficial for small apps that do not rank high organically or for companies that rely on acquiring users with keywords that have a low organic rank. Losing that visibility could trigger a lower amount of downloads and a drop in category rankings.

While it can be difficult to answer questions on cannibalization on the spot and without evidence, I would certainly recommend evaluating the potential impact of it first and then base your decisions on the obtained data (and potential trade-offs) and decide on whether to opt out of your Apple Search Ads efforts.

Nadir Garouche

Nadir Garouche

Personally, I have not really seen big cases of cannibalization when running Apple Search Ads. But that may be different for other types of apps or games.

I think that because of the real estate that Search Ads listings occupy, if you stop advertising, other advertisers will take your spot and grab these ad clicks instead, so you don’t really cannibalize yourself.

I can share a number: after pausing Search Ads campaigns for a game, the number of organic installs increased by just 5%. So if there is cannibalization with Search Ads, it’s small and not much compared to UAC.

Thomas Kriebernegg

In a perfect world scenario, it would be great if we would not have to talk about the topic of cannibalization because then you would be ranking organically number one on your most important keywords and you would not have to pay for ads for it. But as I mentioned, this would be kind of the perfect world scenario.

Nowadays, you can be quite sure, especially if your app or if your mobile game is already a little bit bigger, that there will be competitors out there that want to rank on your brand keywords.

And so I think that cannibalization is a topic but what would be the alternative that you don’t do it? But then chances would be that your competitors are sneaking in and stealing a lot of your valuable traffic. Therefore, in my opinion, yes, it’s a topic that somehow needs to be done, no matter if you like it or not.

Creative Sets

Andrea Raggi

I like Creative Sets testing because they are a potential way to increase not only your Apple Search Ads conversion rate but also your organic conversion down the line.

I believe it could be a helpful resource to help you discover whether a different combination of screenshots or different assets might be converting users to download better than your current ones.

If you decide to run Creative Sets tests in Apple Search Ads I would recommend to run A versus B variants. I would not recommend running an A/B/C test as that would slow down the testing process since you will need lots of additional downloads. The approach we follow at Phiture is always starting with a hypothesis: that gives us an idea on what and where to start testing. Another tip on where to start is choosing very different value propositions or selecting assets that are very different in nature (portrait vs. landscape assets or app preview vs. no app preview).

Once you have chosen what to test, to evaluate the winners I would suggest to pay attention to the tap-through rate (TTR) since that signals users interest as well as ad relevance. However, I recommend you to identify the winning version based on the conversion rate from Impressions to Downloads because that’s how you are actually acquiring users.

Finally, when measuring the results of the test, it is important to:

  • make sure that you have an industry standard 95% confidence interval or higher;
  • have at least 1,000 downloads per variant to validate your experiment and ensure your test has enough data in its sample, hence giving it enough reliability.

Thomas Petit

Creative Sets are a powerful but fairly wild beast. They can really enlighten about which creatives tick to which users, but they’re also hard to handle. My recommendation would be to use it, but carefully.

Among not so documented caveats, be especially careful about language bias (default goes to all languages while creative sets are language specific), custom exports (which bundle image & text default sets, ruining the whole measurement), post-install data (not always aligned with what you can observe otherwise).

Nadir Garouche

Using Creative Sets in Apple Search Ads also helps us to see which screenshots and videos perform best in terms of CTR and CVR. After that we apply these learnings for organic users.

Johannes von Cramon

Yes, we tried it when Apple released the feature at first, but had a little bit of a hard time interpreting the results of those tests. Phiture released a calculator some months ago, which helped us to do more statistical research.

But at the end of the day, Creative Sets suite wasn’t built to do A/B tests. And because you’re forced just to test one or maybe few keywords where you expect similar TTRs or CRs, as the algorithm otherwise will continue to show creative sets where it considers the best performance will be achieved, they will not be evenly distributed like you would want in a reliant test environment. And that’s a little bit of a problem.

However, I find it very useful for testing videos, since the video test you have on Google Play is available just on the product page and not on search because there don’t exist any graphical assets within Google Play. And you have this mechanic on the iOS App Store. So it’s very good to test your app preview as well against a screenshot set in order to see what kind of leverage you have inside search with app video ad. This can be huge due to the autoplay feature.

Future of Apple Search Ads

Thomas Petit

I see it growing way further what we currently know it as. My bet is that Apple will build on top of it, for the long term, and at a much larger scale.

I revealed in a workshop in April new beta placements in News and Stocks apps, I think there are many more of those to come which will convert “Apple Search Ads” into “Apple Ads”, one of the very few networks able to dispute the tightly controlled duopoly.

Nadir Garouche

As many people know already, Apple has been testing ads in their News and Stocks apps. Also “Search Ads” has been replaced by “Services” in the latest terms of services. What’s coming is clear: more inventory and more ad sources available. Apple wants to resuscitate their iAD platform.

We will soon be able to buy ads in apps, and maybe also in the form of device notifications.

Johannes von Cramon

Johannes von Cramon

I think it’s quite clear that Apple will expand their inventory and ad formats, so maybe they will roll out ads in their News and Stock apps.

Personally I would prefer further placements inside the App Store, like with UAC, to get with the first three tabs where featurings are now, since it’s very difficult for some apps to get featured because there’re so many submissions every day. And to get a little bit of a visibility in those first three tabs would be great. But not with UAC analytics and targeting options, we don’t need any of them. So a display component on Apple Search Ads could do a lot for businesses that have a hard time scaling their campaigns with search only, because obviously, there are apps that are not that search-driven. This is important for Apple Search Ads right now. So this way would be good but depends on the placements and the value of traffic and analytics marketers can get out of this.

Andrea Raggi

Apple is increasingly seeing an increase in revenue coming from this side of their business. As such, we have to expect Apple Search Ads expanding and developing into something that goes beyond the App Store listings. For instance, recent updates to the APIs possibly suggest that the next forefronts of the new ad placements will be “News” and “Maps”.

Here users will be able to find, on the one hand, editorial content which can be promoted among ‘normal’ news articles. On the other hand, I expect certain shops, restaurants, etc. to be able to promote themselves on a map.

In sum, I see the potential for Apple to grow in the ads business. This revenue stream will probably increase and become more important for Apple’s future and diversification of its portfolio of products and services. As such, I believe that they are just preparing the groundwork to expand to something bigger.

Thomas Kriebernegg

With IDFA, one of the side effects that Apple is pushing is also to make their own ad network, and in this case also Apple Search Ads is more attractive to the audience. So, therefore, I think that this might be also quite a massive push that we might be seeing for this channel over the next couple of weeks and months.

Also, keeping on the Apple side, I’m interested to see where the ads of Apple within the Apple News are going as a topic. Also, Apple has the possibility to place ads on content, and they know what this content is about and also have understanding who is the reader of this content. So, for example, if you think of news about the stock market, when someone is reading such news, chances that those people are also interested in trading apps are quite high, so this is a good match there. Really interested to see where it is going as a topic in combination with IDFA.

Bonus: Experts Take On the Post-IDFA World

Thomas Petit

Apple isn’t doing it to build the walls higher around its moats like its competitors, but to follow its stance on privacy which I believe is good for everyone in the long term.

Of course the marketer in me wants granular and deep data, but I’m also a citizen with concerns over Google business model fundamental conflict with consumers & competing businesses interests. We’ve gone way too far in data harvesting and exploitation without regulation. At the end of the day, I believe giving people a real option to limit ad tracking is good.

There’s a long due earthquake happening in the near future, as Apple is about to go much deeper in this direction, with a mandatory consent on iOS14 that will affect many players way beyond Apple Search Ads. The exact consequences remain to be seen, but the impact of this change will affect the whole industry. Definitely something to monitor, and personally I’m welcoming such a change even though it will bring limitations to mobile measurement as we’ve known it so far.

As of how this will affect Apple Search Ads, it’s also to be determined, but I believe measurement will be aligned to other channels, resolving the difference in approach we need today.

Thomas Kriebernegg

I think this is really one of the hottest topics that is going on within our industry. And I think the summary of it is that 2020 probably wasn’t the year of good news because it started off with coronavirus and then, you know, IDFA and a lot of other topics as well that occurred. So, I think that this is the kind of the stage that we have there, but nevertheless, with IDFA there will be a lot of changes happening to the industry. I think right at the moment it’s really hard to predict what exactly those changes will be. Also, the people that I’m talking to, most of them, are waiting. They’re checking the news more or less every second and see if there is something new happening, trying to be prepared once it is happening to really switch their tactics in terms of user acquisition, optimizing their strategies.

So personally, I think that it will have a massive impact on our industry in the kind of craziest, wildest version. It can really also go to into the direction to running ads for mobile apps more compared to running ads on television, which means that you have the possibility to identify which kind of TV channels do you think that your target audience is, if you can then also identify which time of the day you think that those people are watching TV, and then you can run ads there.

From my point of view, with the information at the current stage that I have, this scenario might be also quite comparable to what is happening to advertising apps on other networks as well. Think of running ads on Facebook. You can set the target audience and you want to run ads for, you can set the time where you want to run your ads, but it’s going to be super hard to analyze your efforts in detail. So you have to take what you’re getting on the quite high level.

Nadir Garouche

Well, actually, I’m not sure why everyone’s first question with this update was: “What is the future of MMPs?” It should rather be: “What’s the future of UA and retargeting?” There are far more economical consequences for advertisers and ad networks than there are for MMPs.

For example, if you look at Facebook, a large part of successful ad campaigns are based on lookalikes and custom audiences (for retargeting), which are (for the most part) populated thanks to users’ IDFAs. Remove that and you have billions of ad dollars gone for Facebook and billions of income loss for advertisers, and for Apple themselves in the meantime, which, actually, are kind of shooting themselves in the foot here. Unless they hope that more advertisers will turn to their growing ad inventory: Apple now offers ads in News and Stock apps, and what’s coming are also in-app ads.

I think install measurement is not so at risk, because Apple has configured SKAdNetwork so that it can validate any network installs. Although it will be quite limited and will not share any creative, ad set or device/user details. There is also a possibility that advertisers and MMPs can still validate installs with the IDFA if it stays on the device and is hashed, like Adjust is trying to do. 

I also believe that the number of users who will give their consent will not be that small. I see here an analogy with the analytics and cookie consent that happened on the web with GDPR. Many people are still accepting tracking.

Going back to MMPs, based on what I mentioned above, I don’t think they will be hit so much, as they will still be needed by large advertisers to store large amounts of campaign data, and they are now doing more than just measurement, for instance, they also provide UA automation and bid management features.

Johannes von Cramon

I have very mixed feelings to be honest. As an Apple user myself, I like that they are the only ones who take privacy seriously and act constantly to protect their users. But as a data-driven marketer, I think this is probably one of the worst things that can happen.

Without MMP data, we would be sent back to the dark ages of analytics. But at this point I’m quite confident that the MMPs will develop some kind of workaround. Probably with a new SKAdNetwork API, I don’t know. I’m not a fan of this death-of-something culture, if you know what I mean, because I heard this too often in the last years, and it was never true: for apps, and for some marketing channels and so on. But it’s very likely that our industry will change in the next few years due to this [IDFA removal]. And I think if Apple enforces this (and I don’t see any reasons why they shouldn’t), then Google will come under pressure and maybe have to do the same thing because users will demand it.

Andrea Raggi

Apple’s iOS 14 and the willingness of Apple to only allow collecting IDFAs with explicit consent will represent major changes to the mobile industry.

One major implication could be a shift from deterministic user-level ROAS optimization to a probabilistic campaign optimization based on an expected outcome.

Is mobile marketing and its measurement of performance going to become more similar to TV advertising, where we are not able to precisely determine the amount of revenue we are generating?

Another major shift could possibly involve moving away from being media buyer optimizers to becoming marketing strategists, or even placing even more attention on the topic of incrementality. In regards to the former, as we won’t be able to directly track events (and revenue) for many users, we will possibly need to shift our focus even more on strategy and execution. In terms of the latter, we could increasingly focus on a probabilistic guidance on where money should be spent (how do I allocate it to network A, B or C?) and how that could potentially help companies get incremental results.

While many things are still uncertain, we know for sure that the deprecation of IDFA will result in the reinforcement of user privacy. People will have control to decide whether to allow their behaviour to be tracked or not within the apps.

I believe that this is certainly a good step to be taken and it gives power to users to decide what to do with their privacy.

Moreover, since the IDFA has been around for some time, it has established itself as the main source for advertisers to track data and identify users’ behavior within one app. As a matter of fact, thanks to its convenience and insights it can provide, the whole mobile advertising industry has been building on IDFAs since it is the most effective and precise way to track mobile advertising performance on iOS. For instance, Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) utilize IDFAs as one of their main building blocks to attribute installs.

Many companies will have to rethink themselves (and possibly their business model too!). For instance, will Google follow cope with the pressure that they are facing on increasing users’ privacy?

We’re about to witness a revolution in the industry and this is very exciting, in my opinion.

Editor’s note: On behalf of the SplitMetrics and SearchAdsHQ Team I would like to say thank you to the experts for sharing their thoughts, tips and eye-opening insights on Apple Search Ads, app store optimization, user acquisition and mobile growth.