Apple Search Ads: Tips & Best Practices
Apple Search Ads (ASA) is a valuable tool that lets you promote your app to a wider audience on the App Store. With over 600 million users each week browsing the App Store, Apple Search Ads provides apps with a powerful platform to reach their target audience, increase visibility, and drive downloads.
Whether you’re a seasoned user or just starting out, here are some best practices to help you get the most out of Apple Search Ads, effectively build campaigns, and improve results.
1. Optimize your app metadata before starting a campaign
Apple Search Ads are based on your App Store product page metadata that’s uploaded to App Store Connect. Many elements of your app metadata, such as your icon, title, subtitle, and screenshots, have the power to make your ad more effective. Therefore, make sure that your metadata elements reflect your app’s core experience and it is important to keep them up-to-date with new versions. It is essential for advertisers to review their app metadata in App Store Connect prior to starting a new campaign, as the appearance of your ad creative is based on this metadata and cannot be changed after this point.
2. Build well-structured search results campaigns
Apple recommends structuring search results campaigns by separating your keywords into 4 separate campaigns, with each campaign focusing on a different keyword theme:
- Brand campaign: Protects your brand name and branded keywords from competitors. Keywords in this campaign will help your ad appear for searches directly related to your app and brand.
- Generic campaign: Appear for users who search for keywords related to your app’s core features, functionality, and category.
- Competitor campaign: Visible to users searching for keywords related to competitors’ brand names.
- Discovery campaign: Reaches new and wider audience and discovers new keywords by utilizing broad match or Search Match campaigns.
Structuring your account by keyword themes helps you measure results and monitor performance, optimize your campaign, and set up to scale for long-term growth. Please note that your campaign selections, including the choice to use competitor keywords, Search Match, and broad match, may not be appropriate for all countries and regions.
3. Choose the right match type for the best results
For Apple Search Ads, match types enable you to match user searches with your keywords. This includes “broad match” and “exact match.” For best results, you should run both of these for your campaigns. The broad match setting matches your ad to search terms related to your targeted keyword, while an exact match allows you to show ads to users searching for that exact term. The latter gives you less exposure but connects you with high-intent audiences looking for a specific function. Using both allows you to see what works best for your app and discover which terms consistently generate installs. To learn more about different match types, take a look at Apple’s documentation.
For your brand, category, and competitor campaigns, you should set all keywords to exact match and make sure Search Match is turned off so that your ads appear for the specific keywords you want to bid on. Your discovery campaigns can help find new keywords that may perform well for you. These should contain a broad match and a Search Match ad group to help you find relevant searches that you’re not currently bidding on.
Once you identify search terms that perform well in your discovery campaign, you can add them to the brand, category, and competitor campaigns as new exact match keywords to continue bidding on them with more manual control. Then add these keywords as exact match negative keywords in your discovery campaign to ensure your separate campaigns are not bidding against themselves for the same terms.
4. Use negative keywords in your Search Ads campaign
Negative keywords ensure that your ads will not display when users search certain terms and be added on the campaign or ad group levels. Keywords app developers and marketers may want to exclude are:
- Search terms with poor performance
- For paid apps, search terms that contain “free”
- Names of apps you do not want to compete with
- Words you do not want your app to be associated with
- Irrelevant search terms automatically suggested by Apple (for example, “dating” for a video calls app)
- Top-performers transferred from discovery campaigns to exact match campaigns
For broad match and Search Match ad groups, add all the keywords from your brand, category, and competitor campaigns as negative keywords. This allows your ad to match to searches related to your keywords, but it prevents your discovery campaign from matching ads to the exact keywords you’re already bidding on.
5. Create a campaign that will reach all eligible users
To deliver personalized ads, Apple uses information about a user to serve ads that are more relevant to them. If a user doesn’t want to receive these ads, they can choose to turn off the “Personalized Ads” setting on their device. This does not decrease the number of ads a user sees, but the ads may be less relevant to the user.
When setting up a campaign, you can choose for your ad to appear to all eligible users, or you can modify settings to focus on specific audiences including device, customer type, demographics, and location. To maximize your reach on the App Store, Apple recommends you let Apple Search Ads automatically match your ad to the widest possible audience by selecting the “Reach All Eligible Users” option. You can select “Choose Specific Audiences” and refine your target, but doing so will exclude users with “Personalized Ads” turned off from seeing your ads and may narrow your audience too much.
6. Launch your initial campaign without a CPA goal
When you create a campaign, you’ll need to set a daily budget that is the average amount your campaign will spend each day over the course of the month. For search results campaigns, a cost-per-acquisition (CPA) goal is optional and is the amount you ideally want to pay for a conversion. The CPA goal is taken into account when determining the winning bid amount for an ad placement (up to your max CPT bid), but the setting can limit your potential impressions and taps if set too low.
Therefore, it is recommended that you initially launch your search ads campaign without a CPA goal and give your campaign some time to run so you can learn from results. Once you have an understanding of your initial performance, you can then add a CPA goal and monitor the impact it has on your results.
7. Set max CPT bids based on campaign themes
When you consider your bid strategy for search results ads, we recommend considering varying your max CPT (cost-per-tap) bid amount by campaign and match type. On the Recommendations page, you may find recommended adjustments to the max CPT bids.
You can apply aggressive bid amounts on exact match keywords, as they’re your core performance drivers and the most relevant to your campaign. More investment provides you with more control over when your ad appears. For optimal performance, most of your traffic should come from exact match campaigns.
As a general rule, place moderate bid amounts on broad match and Search Match. The goal of these discovery campaigns is to identify relevant keywords, but it may not drive high efficiency like exact matches. Also, remember to move high-performing terms from discovery campaigns to the exact match campaigns to have more control over bidding strategy.
8. Utilize custom product pages in Apple Search Ads
Custom product pages (CPPs) are unique landing pages that enable you to show different facets of the app to specific audiences, while maintaining consistent messaging and a seamless experience throughout the user acquisition journey.
In terms of ASA, advertisers can now direct traffic from an ad group with keywords for a specific audience to a CPP with creatives tailored to that audience and user intent. With this enabled, users will see the CPP creatives in the search results ad. When users tap on the ad, they’ll be taken to the custom page, thus creating a smooth experience. This can result in higher conversion rates, tap-through-rates, and increase in funnel engagement metrics as users are shown more relevant content and creatives earlier in their journey.
When creating a Today tab ad, one of the requirements is to have a live custom product page. The CPP you use must include at least 4 portrait or 5 landscape assets. Your ad’s background will be automatically generated from your assets using a darkened and blurred visual effect.
9. Optimize your Search Ad campaigns over time
Once you set up a campaign, the work has only just begun! It is recommended to continuously monitor your campaign to see what’s working and what’s not. Use analytics to track your ad’s performance and make adjustments to your campaign as needed. On the Recommendations page, you may even find customized daily budget recommendations for each app that’s actively running search results campaigns. This will help you stay on top of your campaign and make any necessary optimizations to ensure its success.
You can increase or decrease bids and budget anytime on the Apple Search Ads console.
Situations to increase bids include:
- Your Search Match terms are increasing conversions for your app. In this case, you can try raising your max CPT bid to see if it gets you more impressions.
- Your keywords are performing below your CPA goal in terms of conversion rates. Sometimes, incremental increases in your bids on those words can increase impressions and conversions. Apple Search Ads has a suggested range that you can use as a guide.
- You’re bidding on relevant, popular keywords but not seeing any impressions.
Situations to decrease bids include:
- Your CPA is higher than your goal, specifically on a keyword that’s getting taps but not conversions. In this case, you should lower your bid.
- Lowering the bid keeps your CPA down. You may still win some impressions, but may see fewer impressions for that term.
While optimizing bids is important, don’t forget to optimize the keywords within your campaigns as well. As mentioned previously, once you identify search terms that perform well in your discovery campaigns, you can add them to the brand, category, and competitor campaigns as new exact match keywords. Then repeat the process of adding these keywords as exact match negative keywords in your discovery campaign.
10. Take advantage of the synergy between ASA and ASO
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, you are able to create a synergy loop between ASA and ASO.
Identifying the most “powerful” ASA keywords with high conversion rates and implementing them in your ASO strategy (creatives, keywords, etc.) will help to further strengthen your App Store visibility and conversion optimization. This synergy is crucial for your app’s success in the long run, as it maximizes the overall impact across channels by applying and validating learnings from ASA to ASO.
The 3 areas of synergies across ASA and ASO include:
- Custom product pages (CPPs): Implementing CPPs into your ASA campaigns can result in a more seamless user experience and lead to higher conversion and tap-through rates. This 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 ASA 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 visibility for those keywords on the App Store. Since your app receives more downloads from a specific keyword due to an ASA ad, its organic keyword ranking is also likely to see an uplift.
- Keyword strategy & discovery: Another way in which ASA 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 ASA campaigns to your app’s metadata (title, subtitle, keyword field) has proven to positively impact visibility and keyword rankings. This creates a win-win situation, as including important keywords in your metadata would allow you to increase your visibility for ASA.
11. Be cautious of brand cannibalization
When it comes to brand campaigns, there is a risk of paying for downloads that would have otherwise been driven organically. Many advertisers advocate for bidding on an app’s own brand terms to prevent competitors from “stealing” their traffic. However, these brand defense campaigns do have an obvious downside. While they are meant to secure search traffic from being diverted, they introduce the question of how many installs would have been driven organically but were cannibalized instead. Measuring the exact cost of cannibalization has been central to Apple Search Ads since it was introduced on the App Store.
Let’s recap the best practices for Apple Search Ads to ensure that your campaign is optimized for success and reaches its full potential:
- Optimize your app metadata, such as your icon, title, subtitle, and screenshots, before starting a campaign.
- Build well-structured search results campaigns focussing on different keyword themes.
- Choose the right match type to enable you to match user searches with your keywords.
- Add negative keywords to prevent your ad from appearing for certain searches and thus improve campaign efficiency.
- Set audience targeting to “Reach All Eligible Users” to maximize your reach on the App Store.
- Launch your initial campaign without a CPA goal.
- Consider varying your max CPT bid amount by campaign and match type.
- Utilize custom product pages in your Search Ads campaign for higher conversion rate.
- Continuously monitor your Search Ads campaign to track your ad’s performance.
- Leverage the synergy between ASA and ASO, as it helps strengthen your App Store visibility and conversion optimization.
- Be cautious of brand cannibalization as it runs the risk of paying for downloads that would have otherwise been driven organically.
If you are unsure about your current ASA strategy, feel free to reach out to us! Our team of App Growth Consultants provide a variety of ASA services including keyword research and recommendations, campaign audits, CPP creation, as well as full service campaign management.