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Apple Search Ads: Best practices for mobile app marketers

Apple Search Ads (ASA) is an acquisition channel that connects advertisers with a relevant target audience. By bidding to appear when a user enters a particular keyword in the App Store, marketers can share their app with users that have a proven interest in specific terms. This is a powerful acquisition tool because impressions are exposed to users searching for functions your app has to offer.

There are 20 million registered iOS developers currently catering to 500 million weekly visitors, resulting in fierce competition for all verticals. It’s more important than ever before to connect with users ahead of your competitors, and Apple Search Ads is a proven method of reaching the right users at the right price. In fact, 70% of App Store users will use the search function to find the right app, and Apple Search Ads have a conversion average of 50%. To make the most of this acquisition channel, let’s take a look at what Apple Search Ads allow advertisers to achieve, and how to set up campaigns for optimal results.

What is Apple Search Ads?

With Apple Search Ads, marketers can significantly improve their visibility in the App Store. The highest bidder gets their ad placed on the results page for a specific keyword – highlighted in blue at the very top of the page. Appearing first on relevant App Store pages is a valuable branding tool, putting your app ahead of your competitors even if they have effective ASO. However, this exposure is only as powerful as the strategy behind it: ASA still requires marketers to bid on relevant keywords in order for their ads to successfully convert users.

There are two solutions available to marketers: Apple Search Ads Basic and Apple Search Ads Advanced. Which one you choose will determine which tools are available to you, with ASA Advanced offering considerably more options to refine your strategy.

Apple Search Ads Basic vs Advanced: What’s the difference?

While both solutions can be useful to marketers, there is a stark difference between what can be performed with each tool. ASA Basic allows you to budget up to $10,000/month per app, and promote a maximum of 50 apps. This option is useful for marketers who want predictable costs and a simplified setup. For example, ASA Basic won’t require you to set audience refinements or relevant keywords. Instead, Apple matches your ad to potential customers themselves. This automation is designed to match your ads to relevant users, the results of which can be observed in your performance dashboard.

If you want to implement more complex campaigns, ASA Advanced expands upon these options and gives marketers greater control of their targeting capabilities. With ASA Advanced, advertisers can select their own keywords, control when ads are exposed to users, and utilize their own creative assets. This requires the advertiser to define their keywords and audiences, setting the maximum spend per click based on their KPIs.

Going a step beyond ASA Basic’s performance dashboard, ASA Advanced gives you more tools that can help you control your campaigns. For example, you can manage your campaigns by keyword or audience, or use Search Match to simplify this process. ASA Advanced also gives advertisers more detailed performance reportage, covering all the key metrics used to determine your campaigns. Notably, there is no maximum monthly budget for ASA Advanced users, with no cap on the number of apps being promoted.

ASA Advanced works on a cost-per-click model (CPC), ensuring that you only pay when a user clicks on your ad. Maximum CPCs can be set to allow you to bid competitively without risking overpaying for those clicks. Using the available information on your app, Apple will suggest a maximum CPC bid in order to help you increase the likelihood of winning each auction.

Can I use both Apple Search Ads Basic and Advanced?

While it is possible to use both solutions, any optimizations you make in ASA Advanced will not be applied to Basic when promoting the same app. As Apple explains in its documentation, there is “no advantage in the auction for running both Apple Search Ads Advanced and Apple Search Ads Basic at the same time” because only one ad for the same app is eligible for each auction – meaning “you may just be transferring impressions from one to the other.”

For more information on Apple Search Ads Basic and Advance, take a look at Apple’s post on both solutions.

How to use Apple Search Ads: 8 best practices

Once you’ve decided on the solution best suited to you, there are also several ways to optimize the performance of your Apple Search Ads. Particularly with ASA Advanced, you have greater control over how your campaigns are managed. Here are a few additional ways you can make the most of ASA. (This list will assume you have Apple Search Ads Advanced, and therefore have access to ASA’s wider range of configurable settings.)

1. Review app metadata before starting a campaign

It’s essential for advertisers to review their app metadata (located in App Store Connect) prior to starting a new campaign. This is because the appearance of your ad creative is based on this metadata, and can’t be changed after this point. You can find more best practices for App Store metadata here.

Note that with Apple Search Ads, the same ad won’t necessarily appear for each user. There are several types of ads, and variants include the number of screenshots, preview videos, and app description.

2. Targeting keywords based on your USP

If you have ASA Advanced and want to refine which keywords are going to generate installs, it’s important to understand how your target audience will attempt to find your app. For example, how will you communicate your app’s USP? This could be, for example, adding “meal planning” and “step counter” as keywords for your health and fitness app. Knowing what your audience is likely to search allows you to generate the best possible conversion rate.

Because these keywords are also more specific, you can limit competition and have a higher chance of winning these bids. General keywords will always be more competitive, and will, therefore, require a higher CPC bid. You should also monitor the performance of these keywords to test whether they are reaching a sufficient number of users.

3. Use your existing Apple ID to cross-promote and duplicate settings

When signing up for Apple Search Ads, ensure that you use the Apple ID linked to your App Store Connect account. This enables you to cross-promote your ads to existing users, as well as adding them as an audience customer type. Apple also has a duplication feature that allows you to copy many of your settings over with ease.

4. Use both match types for 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. As you might expect, broad match will include your ad in related search terms, while exact match allows you to show ads to users searching that exact term. The latter gives you less exposure but connects you with an audience 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.

5. Make use of negative keywords

In addition to your broad match and exact match keywords, you can use negative keywords to define which terms you don’t want to be included for your bids. This narrows the options for your targeted ads, but also ensures you aren’t bidding against yourself.

6. Combining and segmenting countries & regions

With ASA Advanced, advertisers can create campaigns that group countries and regions based on their similarities. This allows you to make optimizations based on specific attributes, such as language and customer value. The value of each country or regions can be learned prior to this by creating and analyzing individual campaigns.

7. Don’t ignore the relationship between ASA and ASO

When setting up your Apple Search Ads campaigns, it can be easy to forget the relevance of App Store Optimization (ASO.) As we’ve already covered, Apple uses information based on your app’s metadata in the App store, so it’s important to ensure that your ASO is strong. This extends to every aspect of ASO, from the relevance of your preview videos to the impact of your screenshots. Make sure your app’s presentation within the App Store is in its optimal state prior to setting up any campaign.

8. Optimize your bids over time

It’s essential for advertisers to adapt their strategy over time, changing bids and budgets to generate more installs and greater ROI. This includes monitoring whether it’s worth raising your maximum bid for a particular keyword that you’re no longer winning, or evaluating whether your budget is better spent on another keyword. Regardless of your analysis, the key is to be adaptable. To help with this, Apple’s recommended bid amount will inform you of how much more would be needed for a strong chance of winning those bids. This can be utilized as a baseline before you have confidence in your own Search Ads analysis.

Whether you’re new to ASA or looking for ways to improve upon your current performance, Apple Search Ads is (and always will be) about discoverability. The marketer with a better understanding of their app’s product, USP, and how their target audience thinks will gain a competitive edge. With these best practices, you’re set to take on the competition and generate convert high-value users at the right price.

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