Are you marketing an app and you need help tapping into the iOS market? This article explains what you need to know about optimizing Apple search ads, why they work so well, which tactics work best, and which key metrics you can and should track. Towards the end, you’ll find a Q&A section with experts, hopefully answering any last-minute questions you may still have.
Why Do Apple Search Ads Work so Well?
There are over 2 million apps on the app store. 70% of iOS users find themselves using the “search” button to discover new apps, while 65% of downloads come directly from the App Store search, so it’s no surprise that Apple search ads are one of the top ways to maximize app exposure and downloads (especially when the competition for the top spot is no joke). With search ads, you’ll be able to:
- Get the first spot in the App Store search results
- Boost paid and organic user acquisition and have a more engaged user base.
Additionally, here are some top reasons why Apple search ads may work well for you:
- The App Store takes all traffic (organic and paid) into account, so you’ll have higher rankings and better organic results.
- Apple has been surpassing other competitors in consumer spending for a while now, and the trend continues, predicting a $112 billion spend in 2022.
- There’s an average 50% conversion rate for search ads from a more engaged user base (someone looking for your specific product).
- You can perfect your ASO strategy by having your ads automatically matched to relevant searches on the App Store. Get suggested keywords, track, and gain additional keyword insights with SearchAds to optimize your product page metadata (Apple’s product page limits you to 100 keywords, so make them count).
Apple Search Ad Optimization Tactics that Deliver Powerful Results
You want to focus on keyword optimization to ensure you’re ASO-ing correctly. The App Store’s search algorithm is a confusing and completely undocumented process. Thankfully though, this series of Keyword Teardowns analyzed a bunch of data to tell you how the algorithm works, helping you rank higher and understand why search results rank the way they do.
Keep the following tips and tricks in mind for keyword optimization:
- When you think of your app’s name or subtitle, there’s more weight for the keywords at the beginning of the string.
- Where you place your keywords in the name or subtitle makes an enormous difference too (even more so than new downloads or ratings), so if it’s an important keyword, put it closer to the name or subtitle.
- The name holds more weight than the subtitle, while the subtitle holds more weight than the keyword list (it goes: title, subtitle, keywords list). Sometimes, some apps may benefit from not having a subtitle, so all the keyword weight goes to the title.
- Fewer keywords mean more weight for each keyword you do use (in a highly competitive market, it may be to your advantage to use fewer keywords, so the weight goes to the focus keywords).
- The algorithm doesn’t read backward, which means that the direction in which each keyword follows another also matters.
- The algorithm skips duplicates, ignoring all instances of the keyword except for the last one (duplicates can hurt your ranks).
- Update your subtitle often (every four to six weeks) to remain relevant because the algorithm remembers and indexes it. For example, if you have 30 thousand downloads a month, your subtitle will become evergreen (and remain indexed) as Apple associates those keywords with the subtitle.
- Apple filters out some generic keywords, so eliminate the following “stop” words:
Alongside keywords, you must maintain a consistent account structure to drive efficiency and give yourself a better way to scale and adjust campaigns according to your marketing goals. Keep in mind that with the new iOS 14 update, you only have nine campaigns and five ad sets per campaign for each app (and you can’t vary your optimization choice across ad sets in the same campaign), so you really need to give your strategy some thought. One way to do so is by segmenting your campaigns. You can segment in any of the following ways:
- Branded vs. non-branded
- By user type (returning vs. new)
- Discovery (Broad Match vs. Search Match)
- Similar themes or categories
- Top-performing keywords.
With the Advanced option for your search ads, you have better control over how to manage your campaign(s). Some best practices once you’ve chosen your campaign include:
- Audit app metadata before launching a campaign (located in App Store Connect) and keep in mind that there are a few types of ads (alternatives include app descriptions, preview videos, and the number of screenshots).
- You can optimize keywords based on broad match and exact match (which help you control how your ads match to user searches), and the recommendation from both Apple and our experts is to use both match types in campaigns. See more information about each keyword match type here.
- Bid higher for exact match keywords since this means that a user searches for your exact keywords, and search intent matches more closely. Remember, though, Apple only displays one ad per search query, and it won’t always be the same one for each user, so there is a possibility it may get lost amongst similarly-named apps.
- Target keywords based on your unique selling point (USP) by anticipating what keywords your users might search for, allowing you to produce the best possible conversion rate. For example, say you have a health and fitness app; you can add the keywords “meal planning” or “step counter” for best results.
- Use negative keywords to better explain which terms you don’t want to cover in your bid. This will also ensure you’re not bidding against yourself.
- Create ad groups according to user intent instead of putting all your targeted keywords in one group. You can then segment further based on individual top-performing keywords you find.
- Use discovery campaigns to find new Exact Match keywords.
Store Experience Optimization
How you onboard and activate users on their first day using your app (day 0) sets the tone for your entire app. That’s because this is where you lose the most users (if done wrong), but also where you make the most revenue (if done right). Onboarding is also where you can reconnect with returning users, so focus on having an optional onboarding experience that’s fun, fast, and educational for users to help them make the most out of your app. But before onboarding, the entire App Store experience should be straightforward and interesting.
Below are some tips on how to ensure your users have an excellent App Store experience:
- Use Creative Sets to your advantage, like playables (a coded experience to create custom events that let you know if a user engaged, won or lost a game, etc.). You can then leverage these to optimize the post-install user experience and increase conversions. You can create up to ten Creative Sets per ad group, making app previews and screenshots relevant to the keywords you’re running for your app. You can align these app previews and screenshots according to various audience segments based on things like:
Targeted app previews and screenshots will enhance your ad’s user response.
- Ensure the design of your app is intuitive and users don’t have to play a guessing game:
- Test creatives in multiple ways, like conducting creative/comprehension testing before putting the ad live to ensure people understand what you’re promoting.
- Conduct mobile A/B testing to optimize app previews and screenshots. This will help users respond to your ads better and boost conversion rates. You can also conduct A/B testing if you’re adding cool new features like animation and interactivity.
- Talk to your customers/users. Use what they say in your App Store description.
Which Key Metrics can You Track Within Apple Search Ads?
The metrics you choose to track will depend on which ad option (Basic or Advanced), campaigns, ad groups, or keywords you choose. You can add metrics and up to 20 filters directly from each respective dashboard to get useful insights or see specific cross-sections of your data. For campaigns, you can see data within a specified date range on any or all of the following:
- Average cost-per-acquisition (CPA), cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM), or cost-per-tap (CPT)
- New downloads or redownloads
- Limit ad tracking (LAT) on/off installs. Important note: to understand true performance, only target users with LAT off, especially if you have strict performance goals or a capped budget.
For filtered data from campaigns, ad groups, keywords, negative keywords, search terms, or Creative Sets tab, you can choose to see data in between, less than, greater than, or equal to specific values like:
- CPA goal
- Max CPM or CPT bid
- Daily cap.
See a full list of the performance metrics you can track here.
Q&A With Apple Search Ads Experts
We asked Senior PPC Specialist Sînziana Stoica and Senior Performance Specialist Andrei Palaghia some questions. Here’s what they said:
1. What is the main difference between Apple Search ads and other networks?
By using Apple search ads, the promoted ads are displayed for the user exactly when they are searching for an app that will potentially meet their needs. Therefore, the conversion rate or the intention to access/click on the ad is much higher compared to the ads clicked on from Facebook or Google Ads. However, the display space of the ads is much narrower, and thus, the competition is higher, but, as mentioned earlier, the conversion rate is higher.
2. What challenges did you come across (if any) when using Apple Search ads?
Until last year, when other types of campaigns were introduced, the biggest challenge was identifying new keywords and expanding search campaigns to cover as many searches as possible. Whether we were tracking user searches or doing our own research, these actions required a lot of time on our part. Once discovery campaigns were introduced, this issue was solved, and we can now set campaigns to find new keywords for us.
3. Which key metrics do you recommend tracking and why?
There are four main metrics that we recommend you follow. The first one is tap-through-rate (TTR), or how many of the users who see the ad actually access/click on it. Apple search ads work based on the fact that users only see the most useful ads. The lower this value is, the harder it will be to win the auction for your ad.
The second one is conversion rate (CR), or how many of the users who saw the ad also downloaded it. If the conversion rate is low, even if your ad TTR is high, the campaigns won’t perform well in terms of the number of installs.
To effectively monitor the campaign and your allocated budget, we recommend you follow two very important metrics – cost-per-tap (CPT), or the amount you’re willing to pay for each click, and cost-per-acquisition (CPA), which shows you how much you pay on average for each download.
A larger CPT auction can help you get more impressions and clicks and even display ads ahead of competitors. The CPA, however, is directly influenced by all three previously-mentioned metrics. It’s the metric that best reflects the campaign efforts. A high CPA can indicate that you need to work on and improve the other metrics first.
4. How much time is required for management when it comes to Apple Search Ads?
Once you create a campaign structure that covers each stage of the user sales funnel, a few hours spent every week to check what users search, costs, and growth opportunities, are sufficient. However, if you just started out promoting your app through Apple search ads, more time spent promoting is necessary. Especially to identify the relevant keywords for your app and the average costs to help you set your long-term promotional budget.
5. Is there anything you would improve in Apple’s approach to ads?
Within each new campaign, there are a series of ads that are automatically created by the platform based on the information provided in the App Store. These ads can not be deleted or put on pause, so ideally, developing the component of creating and optimizing ads is our suggested improvement.
6. What are your favorite tips or hacks that you can share?
In the end, we analyze the numbers, so our favorite hack has to do with setting limit CPAs in campaigns. In this way, we’re more visible, we don’t miss an opportunity to be seen by users, and we have control over the costs at the same time.
And there you have it, Apple search ads in a nutshell. It’s an excellent way to reach users at the exact moment they want to download an app. You learned why they work so well, which tactics work best, and which key metrics you should track. So what are you waiting for? Get to “apple-ying” these tactics today!