— 24 Dec 2020

Protect Your Brand on the App Store with Apple Search Ads

Lina Danilchik

Some publishers say that they already have a strong brand and rank high, maybe even number one, in the App Store organic search results. They have a lot of organic installs. They also say that if they run Apple Search Ads campaigns with the branded keywords, they’d just waste money on the installs they could get without spending a dime. But this channel is full of opportunities, and these opportunities you may use including for brand defense have always outweighed its shortcomings, and we already covered this topic in 2018.

But things have changed since then. So what exactly has changed, how does this change affect the way users see your ads on the App Store and do we have the same response to the question “should I run Apple Search Ads for branded keywords” today? Find the answers below.

What has changed

Previously if your app ranked the first on the App Store and you also ran Apple Search Ads for that particular keyword (let’s say, brand name), Apple showed users a text ad. This text ad version was less attractive than the one with screenshots or video, heading up organic search results. In a situation like that users were more inclined to tap on the organic results.

Now most ads on the App Store are image ads: Apple Search Ads implemented the change: they are showing screenshots 1, 2 and 3 for the ad and screenshots 4, 5 and 6 for the organic search result of the same app. So, yes, there is a risk that users might tap on your ad instead of the organic result.

Why you still need to protect your brand on the app store search

Reason #1: Competitors are in the game

But there is also a risk that some of your installs might be “stolen” by your competitors. Even if your app ranks #1, you have an impressive number of organic installs and a strong brand, competitors still might lure part of your audience away if you don’t protect your brand with Apple Search Ads.

Imagine that a user – let’s call him Bill – searches for your app or game typing your brand name on the App Store. And suddenly, the first search result on the App Store product page is your competitor. Even if yesterday no one ran campaigns for your brand name, today it may become a reality. One app on the search page takes almost half of the smartphone screen and your competitors might have visual assets similar to yours, so Bill’s attention will be diverted and he will install your competitor’s app.
And even more users than you can imagine, just like Bill, will tap on the ad they see first in search results.

Are you ready to share a piece of your traffic with rivals?

Or instead, you may take this sweet spot on top of the App Store search, making sure that your brand is protected and users looking for your app will download exactly your app.

Reason #2: Boost to your organic traffic

This is not related directly to branded campaigns, but we’re talking here about paid vs. organic to some extent, so the thing is: Apple Search Ads campaigns can bring you organic uplift and have a positive side effect for your ASO strategy.

While on Google Play, organic search results are separated from paid traffic, the App Store algorithm takes into account paid traffic as well. So when you get downloads for a specific keyword, the algorithm gets a positive relevance signal and you get better organic search results. This strategy works particularly well for branded campaigns in Apple Search Ads.

Reason #3: Share of Voice

One more thing: Share of Voice (SoV) is currently one of the main reference points when it comes to brand campaigns assessment on the App Store. This term means a share your brand owns on the App Store compared to your competitors. Instead of looking at CPA metrics, mobile publishers today tend to track SoV and strive to own at least 80% of traffic for their branded keywords.
It doesn’t matter if your app ranks #1 in the organic results or not, in case you are not bidding on your branded keywords, while your competitors are, you are losing a share of voice.

What is more, if you run branded Apple Search Ads campaigns, you may learn the exact share of your ad exposure when people search for an app using your brand name. You may find out the search volume of branded keywords with the help of Apple Search Ads. What is more, there is a free Google Chrome extension, Search Ads Keyword Popularity Checker by SearchAdsHQ, which makes the whole process even more convenient and informative: it allows you to see numeric values and max possible impressions per keyword. Also, you may check the popularity of a particular keyword across various storefronts.

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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Protect Your Brand on the App Store with Apple Search Ads

Reason #4: Impact on brand awareness

In addition to affecting the number of your app installs and Share of Voice, Apple Search Ads (just as any other ads) contribute to brand awareness. So if you are still working on building a strong brand or have strong competitors, Apple Search Ads may support you in these endeavours. 

Users who will see your app’s ad on top of all search results, will subconsciously remember your brand name. And even if they don’t download your app or game at once, they might do that later if they see it again. This is due to the fact that high processing fluency brings people a sense of liking – and users will be more inclined to tap on your app, which they have already seen before. So Apple Search Ads not only will help you increase your brand awareness, but also bring you installs later on.

Interesting fact: If there are 5 or less screenshots in your app store listing and it ranks #1 organically, then Apple Search Ads will show a text ad. This is a win-win situation where you protect your brand from competitors and at the same time don’t “lose” organic installs.

Note: we don’t encourage you to decrease the number of screenshots on your app store product page, since this might decrease your conversion rate.

I would also like to quote Thomas Petit, prominent Mobile Growth Consultant and the author of MADV, with a thought he shared during our App Growth Talk,

Protect Your Brand on the App Store with Apple Search Ads

Regardless of your position in your subcategory, I believe Apple Search Ads is a key channel to defend and complete your positions, bringing unparalleled insights on users intent, creative performance and more.

Cannibalization or Incrementality?

We’ve discussed potential cannibalization of your organic traffic during branded campaigns on Apple Search Ads. But if there is cannibalization, there also could be a positive effect, uplift, from branded Apple Search Ads campaigns. I’m talking about incrementality.

Incrementality is the measurement of the overall value from ad spend. By measuring incrementality, you may figure out the impact of your Apple Search Ads campaigns and the correlation between Apple Search Ads and organic installs.

Here again, I cannot but quote Thomas Petit who has a point.

Protect Your Brand on the App Store with Apple Search Ads

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.”

If there is incrementality, with branded ads you get more downloads than you would get just organically. So if there is incrementality, branded Apple Search Ads campaigns are a must. But how can you find out if there is cannibalization or incrementality?

How to measure incrementality

If you’re already familiar with A/B testing, the answer won’t surprise you. Run tests – as simple as that. 

Just put on and off Apple Search Ads campaigns for your brand keywords for a week, compare week by week results without changing other things and see if there is any uplift in organic traffic. If there is an uplift, there is actually cannibalization and you see the installs that you were cannibalizing before. But if there is no uplift, then there is no cannibalization. If there is a drop in organic traffic, then you have incrementality with Apple Search Ads.

Additionally, you may calculate the daily installs average and compare periods with and without branded campaigns to each other. Then you will see how it increases organically after starting campaigns for brand keywords or increasing the budget.

In simple terms, measuring incrementality helps you identify how much organic uplift your paid efforts, namely Apple Search Ads, are bringing.

What mobile industry experts think of brand ad cannibalization, incrementality and ways to assess it

Nadir Garouche

I think that because of the real estate that  Apple 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 Apple Search Ads, it’s small and not much compared to UAC.

Thomas Kriebernegg

Nowadays, you can be quite sure, especially if your mobile app or 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 in case you don’t run Apple Search Ads? Then chances would be that your competitors are sneaking in and stealing a lot of your valuable traffic. Therefore, in my opinion, it [running Apple Search Ads] is something that needs to be done, no matter you like it or not.

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Protect Your Brand on the App Store with Apple Search Ads

Thomas Petit

Incrementality vs. cannibalization has finally become a hot topic, especially on Apple Search Ads… 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.

Protect Your Brand on the App Store with Apple Search Ads

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?

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.

Tip: Apple Search Ads allows you to legally run ads on your competitors branded keywords.

Remember that with Apple Search Ads, not only can you protect your brand on the App Store, but also bite off a piece of your competitor’s traffic.

In case you are looking to optimize and automate your Apple Search Ads campaigns, SearchAdsHQ has got you covered.

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Lina Danilchik
Lina Danilchik
Content Marketing Lead & App Growth Evangelist at SplitMetrics
Lina is Content Marketing Lead at SplitMetrics. She provides mobile marketers with best practices and tips on app growth, ASO, user acquisition and Apple Search Ads. Lina is also the host of App Growth Talks.
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