🎉NEW🎉 App Store Advertising (ASA)

Ultimate Guide to App Store Advertising 2021

What is app store advertising, and why is it necessary? We’re about to find out! This is your ultimate guide to app store advertising in 2021.

Where Do App Store Ads Appear?

Major mobile app stores, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, allow app developers and marketers to promote apps within the store. App store ads are a highly effective paid user acquisition strategy. You may have seen these while browsing your favorite app store. App ads usually appear at the top of search results. They are set apart from the organic results with an “ad” label.

App Store Advertising Example
Examples of app store advertising. Source: Apple App Store 

The Advantage of App Store Ads

App store ads give app developers and marketers a huge advantage over their competitors. Running an app store ad, whether in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, allows you to jump to the front of the line. Let me explain.

Jump to the Front of the Line

Both Apple App Store and Google Play Store rank their apps, similar to how websites are ranked. Better optimized apps that are also more relevant to the search term or keyword are ranked higher for that keyword. The higher ranked your app is for relevant keywords, the more people will find your app. The process of improving visibility and gaining users through organic search is called App Store Optimization, or ASO for short. Because ASO relies on people organically discovering your app, it brings steadily increasing growth when done right. Learn more about App Store Optimization with our ASO Academy.

Now, app store advertising supercharges your growth strategy. No matter how high you’re organically ranked in the app stores, an app ad will always take the #1 search result spot. And that’s exactly why you should be running app store ads. You’ll gain increased visibility immediately. As a result, you’ll also start to gain new users.

App Radar App Store Optimization Academy
Become an App Store Optimization pro with our ASO Academy. Source: App Radar

Help People Find What They’re Already Looking For

Another reason to engage in this type of paid user acquisition is that app store ads are the only promotion channel that lives within the app stores. Unlike with search engine ads, there is really only this one spot available. There is no other way to actively promote your app in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. People who are browsing through the app stores already have the intent to download an app. That’s one hurdle out of the way. Your ad is the final push. It’s an opportunity for you to help people find what they’re looking for. 

Keep Acquisition Costs Low

App store advertising is a cost-efficient way to earn new users. First, there is no required minimum budget. You can start with just $50 a month if you want to. (Although you should consider the impact a low budget might have on the impressions you’re getting - also app stores like big ad spenders.) Besides, Apple and Google both use elements of your app store listing or product page for the ad. If your app store listing is optimized for discoverability and conversion, you won’t have to do much work creating new copy, images, or videos for your ads. 

The Major App Store Advertising Platforms

We’ve been mentioning Apple and Google quite frequently. They are 2 of the biggest app stores available today. To run ads on the Apple App Store, you’ll use Apple Search Ads. To run ads on the Google Play Store, you’ll use Google App Campaign

Apple Search Ads

Want to promote your app within the Apple App Store? Well, Apple Search Ads is what you’ll have to learn to use. Having an average 50% conversion rate, Apple Search Ads are definitely a profitable paid user acquisition channel. They are the ads you see when you search in the Apple App Store. Since 70% of mobile users utilize search to find new apps, Apple Search Ads is going to be your best bet for exponential app growth.

Apple Search Ads Conversion Rate
Apple Search Ads have a high average conversion rate. Source: Apple

Apple Search Ads Basic vs. Advanced

Apple Search Ads are available in 2 different ways. You can choose to run Basic ads or Advanced ones. We’ll go through the difference now. 

Apple Search Ads Basic

Apple Search Ads Basic offers a quick and straightforward app advertising solution for those who are low on time or labor resources. The Basic system is set up so that Apple runs and optimizes your campaign for you. You only have to set up a budget and target demographics.

This option seems enticing at first, especially if you’re new to app store ads. But, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Yes, Apple Search Ads Basic takes a lot of the workload off of your shoulders. However, it also takes away much of the control you can have over your campaigns. For instance, you won’t be able to choose your target keywords. Apple will choose which keywords your ads are shown for using the keywords in your app store listing. This is important because keywords are a main influencing factor for your ads.

Apple Search Ads Basic Dashboard
Apple Search Ads Basic gives you a quick start option for app store ads. Source: Apple

Let’s see why Apple Search Ads Advanced is the better choice.

Apple Search Ads Advanced

The second option you have is Apple Search Ads Advanced. With Advanced, unlike with Basic, you are in full control of your campaigns. You will determine the budget, target demographics, target keywords, scheduling, and more.

Afraid you won’t have the time or expertise to utilize Apple Search Ads Advanced? We’re here to help! Our app marketing consultants can walk you through the process or take it over entirely.

Keywords are crucial to having a winning Apple Search Ads strategy. Imagine you are searching the Apple App Store for a fitness app. You search the keyword “fitness.” Now for some reason, the app ad that shows up at the top of the screen is an app for money saving. You are now probably annoyed and definitely won’t download the app. It’s not what you’re looking for.

Apple Search Ads Advanced Dashboard
Apple Search Ads Advanced gives you full control of your campaign - Source: Apple 

As an app advertiser, you must be intentional and strategic with keywords. Remember, you want to help mobile users find what they want. So imagine that you search the keyword “fitness” again, and this time, the app ad that appears is an at-home workout app that is free to use. Bingo! You will probably click on the ad to learn more about the app, and then if the store listing is enticing, you’ll download it. This is why keywords are so important. 

Dive Deeper:
Apple Search Ads Basic vs. Advanced. What’s the Difference? 

Keyword Match Types

Apple Search Ads Advanced offers 3 different keyword match types: 

  1. Exact Match
  2. Board Match
  3. Search Match

Exact Match helps you to narrow your ad bid spread. By selecting Exact Match, you’re telling Apple that you want to place bids for your chosen keyword exactly as it is typed in. (We have noticed, however, that in some languages, very close variations are applied as well).

Broad Match is the default keyword match type. By selecting Broad Match, you’re telling Apple that you want to place bids for your selected keyword and other keywords that are broadly related to it. Misspellings, plurals, closely related words, synonyms, related searches, related phrases, and translations are included in Broad Match.

Search Match is best used for keyword discovery. By selecting Search Match, you’re allowing Apple to automatically match your app, using its metadata, to relevant keywords and search terms.

The goal is to be the top bidder for your most important keywords, the keywords that bring in the most valuable users or the best ROAS. Use App Radar’s Apple Search Ads Intelligence to see if you are the top bidder for priority keywords.

App Radar Apple Search Ads Intelligence Tool
Check if you’re the top bidder with Apple Search Ads Intelligence. Source: App Radar 

For Search Match to be effective and get a better conversion, your app’s metadata needs to be up-to-date and optimized. That means App Store Optimization has already been done and recently updated. This way, Apple can easily pull information about your app and produce the best and most relevant keywords.

You’ll learn more about these keyword match types and Apple Search Ads campaign structures in Apple Search Ads: Learning the Basics.

We’re moving onto Google ads.

Google App Campaign

Google App Campaign is another great option when it comes to app advertising. Google owns several channels where your app ads can be placed. The good news is that you only have to set up your ads in one place. Google will distribute and optimize them across Google Search, Google Play, YouTube, the Google Display Network, AdMob, Discover on Google Search, and their search partners, and publishers who host app ads. 

Optimizing Your Google App Campaign

The make or break factor for Google App Campaign is really your creatives, meaning the visuals in your ad. Google will pull images, like your app icon, feature graphic, and demo videos, from your existing app store listing and automatically populate them into the ad that you want to run. As a result, you should continuously optimize your app store listing through App Store Optimization to keep the listing relevant, current, and appealing. 

Screenshot 20210310 165459 Google Play Store
Google Play store listing example - Source: Google Play 

Aside from your existing creatives, Google allows you to upload several more base assets, images, and videos. 

You have the option to add up to 20 of each of the following assets:

  • Video
    • Must be hosted on YouTube;
    • Orientation can be landscape (16:9 ratio, e.g. 1920x1080), portrait (2:3 ratio, e.g. 1080x1620), or square (1:1 ratio, 1080x1080;)
    • If you don’t have videos to add, Google Ads may make a video ad for you using assets from your app store listing. 
  • Image
    • Static or animated;
    • Upload images as .jpg, .gif, or .png with a maximum size of 150KB for landscape;
    • For native ads, landscape images are the most valuable format;
    • For interstitial ads, portrait images are the most valuable format;
    • The preferable ratio is 2:3. Other valuable formats include: 1200x628, 300x250, 336x280, 728x90, 300x600x 320x100pixels.
  • HTML5
    • Upload HTML5 as .zip with a maximum size of 1MB and no more than 40 files;
    • To validate your HTML5 assets before uploading, run your .zip file through the HTML5 Validator tool;
    • HTML5 sizes currently accepted include:
      • 480x320 (landscape interstitial, variable size)
      • 320x480 (portrait interstitial, variable size)
      • 300x250 (fixed size)
      • 320x50 (fixed size)

Google will use all the assets you’ve uploaded and the text elements of your app store listing to create ads that fit each channel’s native format. Here you can already see 3 different formats just within YouTube.

Google App Campaign Youtube Ad Example
Google App Campaign YouTube ad example. Source: Youtube

Google App Campaign is definitely a more hands off platform than Apple Search Ads is. After you’ve set your budget and uploaded your assets, you can turn your ads on. From there, Google will take the wheel. They’ll optimize where and in what form your app ads are run with the goal of getting you the best ROAS. Because of this, you don’t want to mess with the budget too much. Of course, you should keep an eye on your budget and adjust accordingly. However, changes that are too big will throw off Google’s optimization, and its machine learning algorithms will have to relearn all over again. In the end, you’ll lose time and money. It’s safer to stick to conservative adjustments. You should also plan for at least a 2 week buffer time for Google to learn and optimize your campaign before making any changes.

We’ll go into more detail in Google App Campaign here with Learning the Basics. 

Mobile Ad Networks

Aside from these 2 platforms, there are other ways to run app ads. In-app ads (not app store ads) come in various shapes and sizes and are executed using mobile ad networks. These are the ads that you see when you’re using an app. Below are some examples.

In App Ads Examples
In-app ad examples. Source: Inshot app

Mobile ad networks allow you to buy and sell ad placements, making them both a promotions and monetization platform. Those who aim to buy ad placements are called advertisers, and those who monetize by selling ad space are called publishers.

Who are Mobile Ad Publishers?

Publishers, as stated above, are mainly app developers. You’re a publisher if you’re looking to monetize your app by allowing advertisers to place ads within your app. In-app ads are most commonly seen within games. For example, a paywall or a playable. However, you’ll see them across many different niches. 

Mobile ad networks that cater to publishers are supply-side platforms (SSP).

Publishers optimize for eCPM, which is effective cost per mille or cost per 1000 impressions. An ad impression means the ad was shown to a user.

Who are Mobile Ad Advertisers?

Advertisers, as stated above, are marketers looking to acquire new users and customers. You’re an advertiser if you’re looking to place ads within other people’s apps. In-app ads are available in varying formats depending on what an ad publisher offers. Learn more about in-app ad formats here.

Mobile ad networks that cater to advertisers are demand-side platforms (DSP).

Advertisers optimize for ROAS, which is the return on ad spend. Calculate ROAS by dividing the amount of revenue generated by an ad campaign by the amount spent on that ad campaign.

Dive Deeper:
Measuring App Ad Performance

Mobile Ad Mediation Platforms

In addition to a single SSP or DSP, there's also mediation platforms.

Mobile ad mediation increases revenue while decreasing workload for mobile ad publishers. It enables app developers to access multiple mobile ad networks with a single SDK. Like the ones offered by Fyber, Ironsource, Inmobi, and Smaato, these mediation platforms are self-service software coupled with added agency support.

Mediation Ironsrc
How mobile ad mediation works - Source: Ironsource 

Mediation works like this. Instead of you searching through all the mobile ad networks trying to find the placements that will bring you the highest eCPMs, the software does it for you. It can also use a combination of ad buying methods. These include waterfall models, direct deals, cross-promo, and DSPs.

App Store Optimization is Required for Successful App Store Advertising

One of the most crucial steps in running successful paid user acquisition campaigns is to have a strong App Store Optimization strategy. Every time a person clicks on one of your app ads, whether in the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, or another app, the person will inevitably land on your app store listing or the product page. This is where your app name, icon, screenshots, description, etc., is shown. More importantly, this is what people will use to decide if they want to download your app. You’ve already got them interested in the ad, don’t lose them at the very last moment!

Oak App Optimized Screenshots
Apple App Store product page example from Oak app. Source: Oak app on the Apple App Store 

To avoid abandonment at this stage of user acquisition, App Store Optimization is an absolute must. Here are the best ways you can ensure an install conversion after a tap through on your ad. 

Optimizing Keywords in Your App Store Listing

App Store Optimization, as well as app store advertising, involves app keyword optimization. The same keywords you place in your app store listing should also be the ones you’re targeting in your app ads. This ensures that you’re attracting the right audience and offering them what they’re looking for. 

Keywords should always be relevant to your app, its features, and its category. Using trendy terms that are completely unrelated to your app will result in a decrease and stagnation of downloads, bad ratings and reviews, and a slew of uninstalls. 

Optimize your app store listing by placing traffic driving and relevant keywords in the most important text fields:

  1. App Name/Title 
  2. App Subtitle/Short Description
  3. Long Description

Use App Radar’s Keyword Finder and Tracking tools to discover the best keywords for your app.

App Radar Keyword Tracking Tool
Use an app keyword tracking tool to ensure you are choosing the best keywords for your app. Source: App Radar

With App Radar, you will be able to see each keyword’s…

  • Search Volume: how often the term is searched in the app stores
  • Difficulty: how challenging it is to rank organically for the term

A keyword with a high search volume will offer more organic visibility for your app, but that also means it will probably be more expensive to place a bid for app ads. Make sure to analyze both the search volume and difficulty values to determine which keywords are most valuable to your growth strategy.

Need help understanding how to choose the right keywords? Get in touch with our app marketing consultants! 

Designing Appealing App Screenshots and Preview Videos

App Store Optimization also involves the visuals you have on your app store listing. People rely heavily on visual rather than text elements to make their final download decision. Consequently, your app screenshots and preview or demo video is key to securing the conversion. Your visuals should match your app brand and be instantly recognizable to anyone already familiar with your app. Highlight the greatest features that your app offers. You can even brag a little, showcasing any awards your app may have won. Lastly, fill up as many screenshots slots as you can. Apple allows 10, and Google lets you have 8. Mobile users are more likely to download your app if they know how your app will benefit them.

Oak App Optimized Screenshots 1
The Oak app has designed appealing screenshots that showcase their top features. Source: Oak app on the Apple App Store

You’ll learn more about how to harmonize your app store optimization and app store advertising strategy in How App Advertising and App Store Optimization Work Together. 

App Store Advertising in 2021

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. App store advertising is a strategy that you’ll definitely want to utilize when striving for exponential app growth. The industry is saturated with mobile apps and games, all fighting for mobile users’ attention. App ads get your app seen. 

To dive deeper into app advertising, check out the following lessons: 

Elisa Mourao App Radar
Elisa was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, and since the beginning of her career, she's working with digital marketing. In 2017, she discovered the app marketing universe and fell in love with it. In App Radar, she takes care of delivering enriching and relevant content for app professionals across the globe.