App Store Advertising (ASA)

Apple Search Ads: Learning the Basics

Teaser Apple search ads

So you’ve decided to level up the promotion of your iOS app. Good news - Apple Search Ads is going to be your secret weapon to increase visibility, downloads, and growth.

Apple Search Ads is the only advertising channel that runs campaigns directly within the Apple App Store. In essence, it allows your app to skip to the front of the line. Your app ad will appear to interested audiences as the first search result, above any organically ranking competitor. Since 70% of people use search to find new apps, you’ll definitely want to utilize Apple Search Ads to widen your user base, boost revenue, and achieve success.

Let’s jump right into the 2 different types of Apple Search Ads: 

  1. Apple Search Ads Basic
  2. Apple Search Ads Advanced
Apple Search Ads App Store Example
Apple Search Ads example. Source: Apple App Store

What is Apple Search Ads Basic?

Apple Search Ads Basic was set up to make advertising in the Apple App Store easy. However, I’ll have to say it has more disadvantages than advantages. You’ll see what I mean. We’ll talk about the advantages first.

Advantages of Apple Search Ads Basic

Choosing Apple Search Ads Basic as an advertiser means that you let Apple make most, if not all, of the campaign decisions. For anyone short on time or stretched for resources, Apple Search Ads Basic takes much of the workload off your shoulders.

To set up an Apple Search Ads Basic campaign, all you have to do is: 

  1. Set your campaign goal 
  2. Set your campaign budget

For the campaign goal, you’ll be asked which countries you want the ads to run in. Basically, you’re telling Apple which countries you want installs to be coming from. If your budget is small, you can set up your ads only for one country as well.

The campaign budget includes 2 parts: max monthly budget and max CPI (cost-per-install). Apple Search Ads Basic operates on a CPI model, meaning you’ll only pay for the installs you receive. You can tell Apple the maximum amount of money you’re willing to spend on a single install by setting a max CPI. The monthly budget informs Apple of the maximum amount of money you want to spend each month. Putting caps on each value ensures that you stay within your financial budget.

Apple Search Ads Basic Interface
Apple Search Ads Basic. Source: Apple 

Once you’re ready, Apple will start running the campaign and continuously optimize as their algorithm sees fit.

As you can see, this method of executing Apple Search Ads requires minimal effort on your part. So what can be so disadvantageous about Basic? We’re about to find out. 

Disadvantages of Apple Search Ads Basic

Although Apple Search Ads Basic seems inviting and relatively easy at first glance, it can ultimately be the downfall of your entire advertising and app growth strategy. Because you give Apple complete control of your campaign, the campaign optimization is no longer transparent, and you are also not in control of where and how your money is spent.

As a result, Apple Search Ads Basic is full of disadvantages for any iOS app developer or marketer. 

Firstly, the ads could bring in an audience that is not in line with your target market. Remember, Apple makes the optimization decisions. They’ll show the ads to users they think will download your app while trying to get you the best ROAS (return on ad sales). Often, this strategy ends up gathering low-quality users who are less likely to spend or engage in your app. 

Secondly, transparency is a huge issue. You cannot know how Apple is optimizing your campaign, and you are left powerless to make any changes. For example, you won’t be able to pause your app ads on the weekends or during holidays due to low activity within your app’s niche. 

Altogether you may not get the best results with Apple Search Ads Basic. I’d recommend veering more towards Apple Search Ads Advanced, an undoubtedly powerful mobile advertising channel. 

What is Apple Search Ads Advanced?

Unlike the Basic system, Apple Search Ads Advanced leaves you in total control of your entire app advertising campaign. The biggest difference is that with Advanced, you can determine not only your target audience but also your target keywords.

Disadvantages of Apple Search Ads Advanced

The disadvantage of Apple Search Ads Advanced is that it takes time and knowledge to run a successful campaign. If you’ve been struggling with your Apple App Store ads, or it’s your first time running a campaign, our expert app marketing team can walk you through the process and ensure sustainable app growth. 

That being said, Apple Search Ads Advanced has many advantages for anyone looking to boost their app promotion efforts. 

Advantages of Apple Search Ads Advanced

Apple Search Ads Advanced puts you in the driver’s seat. You have full control of how your campaign is run.

Apple Search Ads Advanced Interface
Apple Search Ads Advanced. Source: Apple

With Advanced, you are able to set up: 

  • Ad groups
  • Keywords
  • Targeting
  • Budget
  • Schedule
  • Creatives
  • Custom Reporting

We’ll go over how to set up an Advanced campaign in the next section, and you’ll become more familiar with these terms. Also, there is no minimum spend, making Apple Search Ads Advanced friendly to all ad budgets.

How to Set Up Apple Search Ads Advanced Campaigns in the Apple App Store

Apple Search Ads Advanced may seem daunting at first; however, there is nothing to fear! We’re about to go over step-by-step how to start a successful campaign.

Tip: Also check out 6 common Apple Search Ads mistakes.

Apple Search Ads - Campaign Structure

Apple Search Ads Campaign Types & Structure

Apple Search Ads Advanced operates on a CPT (cost-per-tap) model. To get the most bang for your buck, ensure that people who tap on the ad actually download your app. You can do so by getting your campaign structure just right.

The most effective method to categorize keywords is to separate them and their match types by campaign goals.

Discovery Campaigns

Discovery Campaigns are executed with Search Match and Broad Match keywords. The goal is to find new useful keywords and target popular search terms that your app is relevant to. You’ll be reaching a much wider audience, and as a result, you’ll likely to see high impressions. You should add all keywords you are targeting as negatives to nudge the algorithm towards finding new relevant search terms.

Generic Campaigns

Generic Campaigns are executed with Exact keywords. The goal here is to reach a relevant audience who is already searching for your app or an app similar to yours. You’ll still be pushing ads out to a wide audience, and because of that, there’s likely to be high impressions.

Brand Campaigns

Brand Campaigns are executed with Exact Match keywords. The main goal here is to protect your brand. As you’ll be in general ranking high for your exact brand terms, they are a major source of installs. Therefore the probability is very high that competitors are running campaigns on your brand keywords and trying to steal your audience. Brand campaigns also target App Store visitors who are already searching for your brand and app. These are high-intent visitors, meaning they’ve come to the App Store knowing exactly what they’re looking for instead of browsing. So, you may see lower impressions but higher TTRs and conversion rates (CVR).

Competitor Campaigns

Competitor Campaigns are also executed with Exact Match keywords. The goal here is to be on offense. You’re trying to get App Store visitors who are searching for your competitors to switch it up and install your app instead. 

Targeting Options

Targeting can be done on two levels: ad group by specifying who sees your ad and by selecting the appropriate keywords, the search terms you want to be shown for. 

Ad Groups

Ad groups are the groups of people you want your ad to be shown to. Apple Search Ads Advanced allows you to be extremely specific when identifying your ad groups and audience. At the same time, utilizing these options to narrow the target group excludes users that do not allow ad tracking. Depending on the market, this can be up to 20% of the users. The options and demographics available are:  

  • Device (iPhone or iPad) 
  • Customer type (Have they downloaded your app before?) 
  • Gender 
  • Age 
  • Location 
  • Schedule (When should they see your ad?)
Apple Search Ads Advanced Ad Groups
Determining your target audience for Apple Search Ads Advanced. Source: Apple
Selecting Keywords

After you’ve created your ad group or groups, you’ll move onto selecting keywords. Keywords are the terms people use to search for apps in the App Store. In Apple Search Ads Advanced, you can tell Apple which keywords you want your ad to appear for. Let’s go over a quick example.

Say you have a photo editing app. You probably want your app ad to show up for keywords such as “photo editing,” “filters,” and “edit photos.” You’ll input these terms as your targeted keywords for your campaign. Unsure about which keywords would be best to use? Find the best keywords for your app and also see which keywords your competitors are using with App Radar’s Keyword Finder.

Apple Search Ads Keywords Example
Keywords are integral to running successful Apple Search Ads. Source: App Radar

Apple Search Ads involves 3 different types of keyword match and, thus, 3 ways to optimize your keywords.

Broad Match

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.

For example, when you enter “Friends,” Apple will also consider “Friend,” “buddy,” “Freind,” and other variants.

Exact 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 selected keyword exactly as it is typed in.

Depending on the language (e.g., English), common misspellings and plurals will also be taken into account.

For example, when you enter “Friends,” Apple will consider “Friends” and “Friend.”

Search 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.

For Search Match to be effective, 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 is able to easily pull information about your app and produce the best and most relevant keywords.

Now comes the exciting part - bidding! 

Keyword Bids

Keyword bidding is how Apple determines which app ad will be shown. You are definitely not the only person with a photo editing app who wants their ad to be seen by people searching the term “photo editing.” As a result, you’ll bid on keywords by specifying the maximum amount you are willing to pay for one tap. The highest bidder gets the majority share of the ad spot, also known as Share of Voice (SOV).

Here's where App Radar’s Apple Search Ads Intelligence plays an influential role. With Apple Search Ads Intelligence, you’ll see if you are the top bidder for priority keywords and if competitors are placing ads on your app name.

Apple Search Ads Intelligence Top Bidder
See if you are the top bidder for priority keywords - Source: App Radar

Campaign Budget

Apple Search Ads runs on a CPT system. You’ll have to tell Apple how much you’re willing to spend for every person who taps on your app ad. The amount that you set is your bid.

If your ads are not getting enough exposure (impressions), you may have to increase your bid. This is especially true for popular keywords. However, if you generate a lot of taps but with little conversion, you could decrease your budget instead to control the spend and/or CPI. With a great conversion rate, you could increase your bids to maximize installs. This way, you’ll get better returns. 

Creative Sets

Lastly, when working with Apple Search Ads Advanced, you are given a choice to create Creative Sets. These are the app screenshots and preview videos that are shown in your app ad. Most importantly, screenshots and videos already have to be uploaded to your normal app store listing. Once you have that done, the Creative Sets feature allows you to create ad variations from the existing screenshots and videos.

Why is this useful?

Well, users of different demographics will have differing preferences for imagery and copy. Creative Sets allows you to A/B test which combination of visuals and text work best for specific audiences. 

Executing Your Apple Search Ads Campaign

Now you’re ready to go! All that there is left to do is activate your Apple Search Ads and watch the downloads roll in.

Apple Search Ads Summary

Apple Search Ads is a powerful and accessible channel to boost downloads as well as the organic ranking for iOS apps. It is the only way to promote apps directly within the Apple App Store, making it an instant goldmine for first, increasing brand awareness, and second, pushing downloads.

On the one hand, Apple Search Ads Basic takes the workload off of your shoulders. On the other hand, Apple Search Ads Advanced puts you in the driver’s seat.

Looking to run your own Apple Search Ads campaign, but not sure where to start? Get in touch! Our app marketing team will work with you to create a tailored ad strategy that covers all aspects of your app growth from start to finish.