A Guide to Apple Search Ads

Ian Perniaby
Senior App Growth Consultant at AppTweak

16 min read

Mobile app developers are always looking for new ways to drive app downloads and increase visibility on the App Store. One powerful tool for achieving these goals is Apple Search Ads, which allows developers to target users searching for apps and promote their own apps at the top of search results.

However, with frequent updates and changes to the platform, it’s important to stay informed and adapt your approach to get the best results. In this comprehensive guide to Apple Search Ads, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started, including account setup, audience targeting, campaign optimization, and best practices.

Whether you’re a seasoned user or new to the platform, this guide to Apple Search Ads will provide valuable insights and tips to help you boost your app’s visibility and downloads.

Check out this blog to create & manage Search Ads campaigns with AppTweak’s Search Ads Manager

What are Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads is a platform that allows developers to advertise their iOS apps to users across on the App Store. Previously, when a user searched for an app or keyword on the App Store, the first result would be a paid Apple Search Ad as advertisers could set a budget and bid on keywords that they want their app to rank for in search results. Today, ASA placements have expanded beyond just traditional search results to include ads on the Today tab, Search tab, and individual app product pages. Ultimately, the goal of ASA is to help developers get their apps in front of more users and increase downloads.

Learn more about the new ASA placements on the Today tab and individual product pages

When done correctly, Apple Search Ads can lead to a direct increase in ASO visibility. This, in turn, can lead to an increase in downloads and conversion. As such, running Apple Search Ads can represent a serious advantage over your competitors, who may not be leveraging this opportunity.

Apple Search Ads: Basic vs Advanced

In the Apple Search Ads console, there are 2 different campaign types: Basic and Advanced. For the best results and most control, we recommend using Apple Search Ads Advanced, but will cover both types here.

Apple Search Ads Basic

Apple Search Ads Basic was set up to make advertising on the App Store easy. In this campaign, the ASA algorithm does all the work in terms of choosing your keywords, optimizing bids, and most, if not all, of the campaign decisions:

  • ASA algorithm automatically optimizes your campaign
  • Simplified setup and campaign management
  • Basic reporting and performance metrics
  • Set CPI goals
  • Less manual control

With a straightforward setup process and limited targeting options, even those new to mobile app advertising can easily create and launch ad campaigns within minutes with the Basic plan.

Apple Search Ads Advanced

Apple Search Ads Advanced, on the other hand, gives marketers full control over the campaigns, including defining ad groups and updating visuals. The Advanced plan additionally offers more granular reporting on the keyword and ad group level, and shows more performance metrics such as CPT (cost per tap), CR (conversion rate), impression share, total taps, and rank:

  • You can run search result, Search tab, Today tab, and Product page ads
  • Full control over search results ads including ad groups, keywords, and spend
  • CPT model – you pay when a user taps on your ad
  • Access to detailed reports on performance metrics

While Basic campaigns may be a good option for marketers with less bandwidth or expertise, it is disadvantageous in that campaign optimization is not transparent. Also, marketers are also not in control of where and how the budget is spent. So, if you are aiming to get the best out of your ads, try out Apple Search Ads Advanced.

Apple Search Ads placements

Historically, Apple Search Ads was mainly utilized for intent-based search campaigns, but now the platform allows a variety of additional campaign types (officially referred to by Apple as “ad placements”). You can now promote your app in:

  • Search results: You can reach users while they are conducting a search on the App Store.
  • Search tab: To reach users who are about to make a search on the App Store. Your ad will show as the first app in the “Suggested” section.
  • Today tab: The ad placement appears after the user scrolls down the Today tab, the first tab loaded when users open the App Store.
  • Product pages (You Might Also Like): When users scroll to the bottom of the product page of another app.
Source: Apple

Apple Search Ads campaign types

Traditionally, for Search result campaigns within Apple Search Ads Advanced, ASA users have followed Apple’s guidelines on campaign structure and have broken down campaigns into 4 different types:

Brand campaigns

Brand campaigns are designed to target users who are already familiar with your app or brand. With this type of campaign, you bid on keywords that are either your brand name or related to your brand. Brand campaigns are especially useful to protect your own brand term when you notice competitors are bidding on it.

Generic campaigns

Generic campaigns are designed to target users who are searching for apps based on general keywords related to your app’s category, gameplay, or core functionality. For example, if you have a fitness app, you might bid on keywords like “workout tracker” or “calorie counter.” By targeting these keywords, you can reach a broader audience of users who are interested in apps like yours, but may not be familiar with your brand yet.

Competitor campaigns

Competitor campaigns are designed to target users who are searching for your competitors’ apps. With this type of campaign, you bid on your competitors’ names or keywords that they are bidding on. Reach users who are actively searching for apps similar to yours by targeting these keywords, and potentially even convince users to switch to your app instead.

Discovery campaigns

Discovery campaigns are further broken down into two subtypes: search match and broad match. With search match, Apple Search Ads automatically matches your ads with relevant search terms, based on your app’s metadata and other factors. With broad match, you choose specific keywords to bid on, but Apple Search Ads also bids on similar words that you’ve provided. Both subtypes can be useful for reaching a wider audience of potential users, who may not have otherwise discovered your app.

Advanced App Store Optimization Book 2022
Source: Advanced App Store Optimization Book (2022).

Learn more about how to structure your campaigns in ASA chapter of the Advanced App Store Optimization Book (2022)

When choosing a campaign structure, you will want to cover search volume and aim for performance. If your main target is scaling the channel and expanding your current reach, discovery campaigns can support your keyword exploration to find similar competitors or keywords that belong to your domain. This is done automatically with the help of an algorithm.

Besides discovery campaigns, keyword research can also be pivotal in achieving scale.

Expert Tip

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Apple Search Ads groups

Ad groups in Apple Search Ads are a way to organize your ad campaigns into smaller, more specific groups. Each ad group can have its own set of keywords, bids, and ad creatives, which allows you to target different segments of your audience with tailored messaging.

We always recommend Apple Search Ads practitioners to divide semantics-based campaigns (especially the competitor and generic campaigns) into several ad groups, with all of them having keywords set to exact match to reflect distinct “levels of intent.” This segmentation implies that ad groups target users with differing wills to download your app (also known as diverse “intent grades”).

Segmenting ad groups by intent can help you optimize for performance, as you’ll be able to work more precisely with CPA goals and custom product pages (CPPs), and address users with different intent levels differently.

Audience targeting

By using ad groups, you can target your Apple Search Ads campaigns according to location, age, gender, user, device type, and schedule. However, keep in mind that targeting specific audiences will prevent ads from appearing to users who have turned off the Personalized Ads setting.

One component of audience targeting is to refine audiences by customer type. Here, you can decide to target new users, returning users, users of your brand’s other apps, or all users. The bigger the pool of users you target, the larger the scale you’ll achieve.

If you’d like to increase your scale, you should go for “all users.” This includes returning users who can be particularly valuable, as they have a very high intent to convert, having previously downloaded your app and come back to it.

Keyword match types in Apple Search Ads

Within Apple Search Ads Search result campaigns, there are different types of keyword settings – exact match, broad match, and negative keywords.

  • Exact match: The keyword setting in Apple Search Ads Advanced search results campaigns that provides tightest control over searches where your ad may appear. This match type matches your ad to searches on an exact keyword that you have identified, as well as common misspellings and plural variations.
  • Broad match: This keyword setting helps control how ads are matched to user searches on the App Store. In broad match campaigns, you are able to enter keywords and the Apple Search Ads algorithm ensures your ad will run on relevant close variants of those keywords, such as singular, plurals, misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and phrases that include that term – fully or partially.
  • Negative keywords: Entering negative keywords into your ASA campaigns prevents your ad from appearing for searches for those specific keywords. You can also use negative keywords in discovery campaigns to exclude keywords you have already found or are actively using in your exact and broad match campaigns.

How to manage your budget & bids in Apple Search Ads

The budget figure in the Apple Search Ads Console should be interpreted as a lifetime budget – the total spend in this channel, regardless of timespan. Here are some important points to keep in mind while managing your budgets in Apple Search Ads:

  • You should set a very high number for the budget because if you suddenly spend your entire weekly budget, your campaigns will stop. Keep in mind that this figure is just a placeholder and does not represent the money you’ll be charged. The situation is different if you have a limited budget and you want to use the budget figure as a spend limit (for example, if you want to strictly monitor your monthly budget).
  • With budget restrictions in place, optimizing for performance will require the reallocation of the highest budget to the best-performing campaigns and/or your main target markets. Daily caps, like budgets, can function as brakes when you have limited resources to spend on Apple Search Ads. As such, strict daily caps can help you control spend to optimize for performance but also to increase scale.
  • For the former, very low daily caps for non-performing campaigns (keeping them for exploratory purposes) can help you increase the ROAS on the account level if you mainly keep converting campaigns running. For the latter, increasing daily caps provides space to scale the channel by letting campaigns run without restrictions.
  • Only after running a campaign will you be able to see the bid range and understand if it performed well or not. Once the results are in, the next step is deciding whether to increase or decrease the bid.
  • If an ad isn’t getting a lot of impressions, that’s the time to increase the bid to get higher reach and performance. If it’s getting a lot of impressions but the bid is low, you can try slowly decreasing the bid until it starts to negatively impact performance.

Learn how to improve your ROAS with App Store Optimization

Synergies between ASO & Apple Search Ads

Apple Search Ads can be a great tool to improve your ASO strategy. Running ASA alone can often generate uplifts in organic visibility, conversion, and keyword rankings by generating additional downloads.

By adding another step, we are able to create a synergy loop between Apple Search Ads and App Store Optimization. This synergy is crucial for your app’s success in the long run, as we maximize the overall impact across channels by applying and validating learnings from Apple Search Ads to ASO.

The 3 areas of synergies across Apple Search Ads and ASO include:

  • Custom product pages
  • Increasing visibility
  • Keyword optimization strategies
Advanced App Store Optimization volume 2022
Source: Advanced App Store Optimization volume (2022).

Tailor creatives to specific users with custom product pages

Custom product pages (CPPs) are unique landing pages that enable us to show different facets of the app to specific audiences while maintaining consistent messaging and a seamless experience throughout the user acquisition journey. In practice, we would steer traffic from an ad group for a specific audience to a CPP with creatives tailored to that audience and user intent.

The result is higher conversion rates starting as early as the tap-through rate, as the Apple Search Ad will show more relevant creatives from the CPP instead of the default product page.

Higher CVRs lead to improved performance for these keywords, which will allow you to bid higher, be more competitive in auctions, acquire a higher impression share, and increase the overall scale of these keywords.

Increasing organic rankings & visibility

Bidding on keywords with Apple Search Ads allows you to appear in the top results for keywords that your app does not rank well for organically. In turn, this positively impacts your app’s visibility for those keywords on the App Store.

Since your app receives more downloads from a specific keyword due to an Apple Search Ads ad, its organic keyword ranking is also likely to see an uplift. Thus, increased download volume from Apple Search Ads will lead to incremental organic downloads and boost your app’s overall growth on the App Store. At the same time, it will also drive high-intent traffic to the app that is more inclined to make an in-app purchase or perform a specific in-app action.

Bidding on specific keywords can moreover help decrease visibility for competitors on specific keywords, as Apple Search Ads cause competing apps to be pushed further down in the search results.

Keyword strategy & discovery

Another way in which Apple Search Ads can positively impact your ASO is by discovering the keywords that could be highly relevant for your app. Adding high-performing and well-converting keywords from your Apple Search Ads campaigns to your app’s metadata (title, subtitle, keyword field) has proven to positively impact visibility and keyword rankings. This allows you to improve your app’s metadata by incorporating keywords that users are already converting for, which then, in turn, can further improve your organic conversion rate. This creates a win-win situation, as including important keywords in your app metadata would allow you to increase your visibility for Apple Search Ads.

How to set up Apple Search Ads campaigns

Now that you know the different components of Apple Search Ads, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to set up ASA campaigns and promote your app:

  • Set up your Apple Search Ads account: Before you can start using Apple Search Ads, you’ll need to set up an account. You can do this by visiting the Apple Search Ads console and logging in to your App Store Connect account.
  • Set up your app: For an app to be eligible for Apple Search Ads in a particular market, it must be available for purchase, download, or preorder on the App Store. Also, Apple Search Ads must be available in the countries and regions you want to promote. There may be some restrictions that make your app ineligible for Apple Search Ads advertising in some markets.
  • Create a campaign: Once you’ve set up your account and your app is live on the App Store, you can create your first ad campaign. To do this, click on the “Create a New Campaign” button in the Search Ads dashboard.
  • Choose your target audience: One of the key benefits of Apple Search Ads is the ability to target specific users with your ad. You can specify the location, age, and interests of the users you want to target. Keep in mind that targeting specific audiences will prevent ads from appearing to users who have turned off the Personalized Ads setting.
  • Set your budget: Next, you’ll need to set a budget for your ad campaign. You can choose to set daily caps as well as a lifetime budget for your campaign.
  • Choose your keywords: Selecting the right keywords is crucial for the success of your ad campaign. Choose keywords that are relevant to your app and are likely to be used by your target audience when searching for apps on the App Store.
  • Launch your ad: Once you’ve set up your ad campaign, it’s time to launch it. You can choose to launch your ad immediately, or schedule it to launch at a later date.
  • Monitor and optimize your ad: It’s important to regularly monitor the performance of your ad campaign and make adjustments as needed. This can include changing your bids, audience targeting, or keywords to improve the effectiveness of your ad.

With these steps, you can use Apple Search Ads to drive targeted traffic to your app on the App Store and increase your app’s visibility and downloads.

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If you’ve read this far, ASA is probably very important to you. We hope this blog has given you a better understanding of how to utilize Apple Search Ads in 2023. With these tips, you can create successful campaigns, reach a wider and higher-intent App Store audience than you ever could organically, and increase your quality installs.

If you find this post useful or have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you! Watch this space for more updates on any new features or releases coming to Apple Search Ads in 2023.

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Ian Pernia
by , Senior App Growth Consultant at AppTweak
Ian is a Senior App Growth Consultant at AppTweak helping apps improve their store presence. He is passionate about movies, traveling, and spending time with his dog.