Guide to Apple Search Ads in 2023

Ian Pernia by
Senior ASO Expert

13 min read

Since its launch in 2016, Apple Search Ads (ASA) has been a powerful tool for app developers and marketers to drive high-quality, relevant traffic to their app on the App Store. ASA is now available on the App Store in 61 countries and includes ad placements within the Today tab, Search tab, product pages, and traditional search results. Read this blog to learn about the platform and how Apple Search Ads can complement your ASO.


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.

Check out this blog to learn more about the new ASA placements on the Today tab and individual product pages

When done correctly, ASA can lead to a direct increase in ASO visibility, which, in turn, can lead to an increase in downloads and conversion. As such, running ASA 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

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 campaign types (ad 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”). Let’s look at each of the available ad placements options in an ASA campaign:

Search results

‍This is the main placement of Apple Search Ads with which you can reach users while they are conducting a search on the App Store. In Search result campaigns, you can bid on a set of keywords to ensure your ad will appear first, above the organic results of the user’s search query.

Search tab

‍The Search tab placement allows you 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 Today tab can be a great opportunity to reach a large number of potential users with eye-catching creatives. The ad placement appears after the user scrolls down the Today tab, the first tab loaded when users open the App Store, and takes about 50% of the visible screen space when displayed in full size. The ad shows creatives from a custom product page created specifically for the Today tab and approved by Apple’s team.

Product pages (You Might Also Like)

For product page campaigns, your ads will be displayed when users scroll to the bottom of the product page of another app. You can choose between 3 targeting options:

  • Show your ad on product pages of apps in the same category as yours.
  • Show your ad on product pages of apps from a category different from yours.
  • Show your ad on product pages of any category.
Apple Search Ads placements
Source: Apple.

Search result 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: Bid on keywords that are either your brand name, or related to your brand
  • Generic campaigns: Bid on general keywords related to app’s category, gameplay, or core functionality
  • Competitor campaigns: Bid on your competitors’ names or keywords that they are bidding on
  • Discovery campaigns: Bid on –
    a) Search match: Ads that Apple Search Ads automatically matches with relevant search terms
    b) Broad match: Keywords that you pick and Apple Search Ads bids on similar words that you’ve provided
Apple Search Ads Campaign Structure
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)

We always recommend that ASA practitioners 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 (CPP), and address users with different intent levels differently.

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 will also be pivotal in achieving scale.

Find out whether your Apple Search Ads campaigns are cannibalizing your app’s organic installs

How to manage Apple Search Ads

There are many moving parts to an Apple Search Ads campaign, so we’ll go over targeting, bids, and keywords one by one.

Audience targeting

You can target your Apple Search Ads campaigns according to location, age, gender, user, and device type. 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.

Budget & bids

The budget figure in the ASA Console should be interpreted as a lifetime budget – the total spend in this channel, regardless of timespan. You should set a very high number for this 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 ASA. 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, you’ll 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 it. 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 is getting a lot of impressions but the bid is low, you can try slowly decreasing the bid until it starts to negatively impact performance.

Keyword match types in ASA

Within ASA 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 ASA 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 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.

Synergy between ASO & ASA

Synergy between ASA and ASO
Source: Advanced App Store Optimization volume (2022).

ASA 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 ASA and ASO. Identifying the most “powerful” (those that have a high conversion rate) ASA keywords 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 we maximize 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, increasing visibility, and keyword optimization strategies.

Custom product pages (CPP)

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 ASA 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 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. Thus, increased download volume from ASA 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 ASA ads cause competing apps to be pushed further down in the search results.

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 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 metadata would allow you to increase your visibility for ASA.

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:

  1. Set up your Apple Search Ads account: Before you can start using ASA, 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.
  2. 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 to. There may be some restrictions that make your app ineligible for Apple Search Ads advertising in some markets.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.


Conclusion

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 ASO Expert
Ian is an ASO Expert at AppTweak helping apps improve their store presence. He is passionate about movies, traveling, and spending time with his dog.