Scaling App Downloads with Apple Search Ads

  • Apple Search Ads’ official website states that 70% of the App Store visitors use search to find their next app, and search results ads have a more than 60% average conversion rate. iOS users also tend to have a stronger LTV than Android users.
  • Having an Apple Search Ads campaign is a no-brainer if you’re looking to increase App downloads and promote your startup
  • While the platform itself is limited in terms of its functionality (at least in comparison to Google Ads for e.g.), with the right approach and tech stack, it can also be a powerful performance marketing channel – both for user acquisition and a brand awareness play) – Let’s get to it!

What is Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads is an advertising channel (an ad network) where you can promote your App via Apple’s App Store. There are 4 different types of ad placements, but primarily, your App gets promoted by the keyword the specific user searches for (so it’s very intent-driven, just like Google Search – there’s a need there to be met from the user’s POV: researching a topic, checking prices, download a software, shopping, etc.)

The 4 Different Ad Placement (or Ad Types) of Apple Search Ads

1. Today Tab: ad placement that immediately shows up upon the user opening the Apple App Store (a banner ad). It’s great for visibility as it overtakes a good 40-50% of the visual UI, albeit you have to be selected to be featured here. If your startup is in a highly regulated market – you won’t be allowed to promote your App here, unfortunately.

2. Search Tab: An ad placement that shows up to a user who’s about to search for a keyword. You can think of it as a pre-search ad impression. When you click on Search, there’ll be a portion at the bottom of the UI that will suggest relevant Apps to the user (it’s a very algorithmic-driven type of ad placement, so there’s not a lot of leverage here in terms of control). Let’s be honest, most of us don’t scroll down all the way to this portion (I’m both an android and iOS user for reference)

3. Search Results: 90% of your focus and time will very likely be using Search Results – it’s an ad placement that promotes your App upon the keyword that a user searches for (it immediately shows up at the top of the results page, once a user searches for a keyword). There’ll be a small mention of it as an ‘ad’ so the user knows if it’s promoted or an organic result (not that a lot of users care about this). Apple states that their algorithm can help you get more than a 60% average conversion rate (but that’s likely only going to happen if it’s a branded keyword)

4. Product Pages: Product Pages ads have the same sentiment as the Search Tab ad placement in Apple Search Ads. The only difference is that your ad shows up after a user clicks on a specific app store product page and scrolls down at the bottom of it (it’ll show the promoted app as ‘You might also like’, which is just Apple really stating that it’s a ‘suggested app’). This is a category-based placement.

What Do You Need to Launch an Apple Search Ads Campaign

The great thing about Apple Search Ads, is setting up a campaign is quite a breeze, assuming you have some initial keywords ready to target and an App already released via Apple Store Connect (which you’ll likely already have if you have an app released). It’s as simple as: 

  • Create an Apple Search Ads account (add in your credit card and company details)
  • Connect your Apple Store Connect account (this will be used to find your App)
  • In terms of creatives and ad copy. You won’t need to set this up, because Apple will automatically use your app store listing assets (product page listing details) for this, including App Name, Subtitle, and App Icon. 
  • There is a way to A/B test your product page listings if you want to test if a different App Icon or App screenshots can get your better conversion rates, the feature is called Product Page Optimisation, which we’ll expand on momentarily.  

Setting Up Your First Apple Search Ads Campaign (Search Results Ads)

Assuming you have set up your Apple Search Ads account, connected your Apple Store connect with it and have a few keywords ready to target, then we’re ready to launch your first Apple Search Ads campaign.

1. Create Campaign

2. Type your App’s name in the Choose an App box (don’t worry, you can only promote your own App).

3. Since we’re only setting up a Search Results ad placement, choose that, and then the country you want to promote it to

4. Next is to add in your Campaign Name (make sure there is a taxonomy strategy here, so when you have multiple campaigns, you’re able to know which is which). You can also add a specific start and end date if needed. Negative keywords are keywords that you don’t want to be ranked for (more on this later).

5. Next is adding an Ad Group name (basically the equivalent of an Ad Set if you’re a Meta Ads user). Add in your CPT (Cost-per-tap), you’re CPT is the same as a cost-per-click (CPC), they mean the same thing.

I’d recommend going higher than the recommended suggestion by Apple, remember, advertising is an auction (who pays more, gets to play longer and gets better positioning for their ads).

6. Switch off Search Match. The reason is, that if you have this switched on, Apple will automatically add potentially relevant search terms to target for your campaign. For now, we only want to focus on keywords we know can bring us the best ROI for our budgets. Search Match is more of an exploratory type of test (a growth trial).

7. The next step is arguably the most important, adding the keywords relevant to your campaign. Click on Add Keywords to Ad Group, type in the initial keywords you want to target, and click on Add. Once you’ve added your keywords to target, you’ll see an option to change its match type.

The difference between Broad and Exact match types is simply, that an Exact match only shows your ads to the specific keyword you’re targeting, while a Broad match shows your ads to keywords that potentially relate to the keyword you targeted. Stick with the Exact match type for now and click Save.

8. In the Audience targeting segment, just pick Reach All Eligible Users

9. Finally, click on Default in the Ad Creative segment. You’ll only be able to A/B test different creatives if you have them set up in your Apple Store Connect’s Product Page Optimisation segment (more on this later).

10. Click Create Campaign…and voila! You’ve set up your first official Apple Search Ads campaign.

Tracking Your Performance and Metrics To Be Aware Of

There’s no point in having an Apple Search Ads campaign if we’re not able to understand if we’re doing well in terms of performance, so understanding some of the platform’s metrics (KPIs) is important.

In the first segment of your User Interface you see, make sure that your campaign is actually enabled (the Status column should say ‘Running’). Within the top-right UI, you’ll see a Date Range filter (to filter your activity by specific dates), and underneath that, you’ll also see an Edit Columns option (where you can add or remove specific metrics you want to analyse).

Within the same UI, you can also see your Daily Budget and Spend, to keep track of your marketing spending for this channel. You’ll also see some vital metrics within the same row, which I’ll now explain further: 

  • Tap (Click): This is when a user clicks on your ad, also considered a ‘tap’ (click on a phone screen)
  • Impression: This is when a user ‘sees’ your ad
  • Install: I’m confident you know this 
  • CPT (Cost-per-tap)/CPC (Cost-per-click): How much you pay for an ad Tap/Click (Spend divided by Taps = CPT)
  • CPM (Cost-per-mille): How much you pay per 1,000 ad impressions (Spend divided by Impressions, then multiply by 1000 = CPM)
  • CPA (Cost-per-acquisition)/CPI (Cost-per-install): How much it is for a specific conversion, in this case, an App Install (Spend divided by Installs)
  • TTR (Tap-through-rate)/CTR (Click-through-rate): The % of people who click on your ads after seeing them (clicks divided by impressions = TTR/CTR as a percentage) 
  • CR/CvR (both means Conversion Rate): The % of people who install your app after they click on the ad (Install divided by Clicks = CvR as a percentage)

Optimising Your Campaign for more App Downloads

  • Focus on relevant keywords – Make sure to research and target keywords that are highly relevant to your app and will result in conversions. Avoid broad-match keywords unless they’re validated or used for a Growth Trial.
  • Set specific bid amounts – Set specific bids for your most important keywords rather than using Apple’s automatic bidding. This gives you more control over costs and you’re better able to push keywords that bring a better ROI.
  • Analyze search terms – Look at search terms driving clicks/conversions and add high-performing terms as keywords. Also negative match irelevant terms. A separate campaign for your best keywords is also worth a trial.
  • Test different creative – Try out different combinations of ad text, captions and images to see what resonates best with users. A/B test your ads via Apple Store Connect’s Product Page Optimisation tool.
  • Track conversion rates – Continuously measure and optimize based on conversion rates, not just clicks. This focuses spend on profitable users. Still, be able to balance traffic though, Brand Awareness has a big part in your overall App Growth Strategy.
  • Adjust bids based on performance – Raise bids on well-performing keywords and lower those with high costs and low conversions.
  • Monitor and update frequently – Check campaign performance at least weekly and make changes to optimize over time. Competition and seasonality affect performance.

Apple Search Ads Features for Growth Trials (Growth Hacks)

Quite an info-packed article eh? Here at Proverve (my Performance Marketing Agency), we have a specific framework for growth, specifically called Growth Trials. A Growth Trial is simply an array of hypotheses or assumptions to validate in order to ‘grow or improve’ specific KPIs for a specific purpose or channel.

Here are some I’d recommend trialling within Apple Search Ads specifically:

  • Product Page Optimisation: in Apple Store Connect, create multiple variations of your Product Page (up to 3 variants), for your screenshots, App Icons and featured graphics. Albeit, you need a decent amount of App-installs to validate which version works best. My advice is to go aggressive with your App Search Ads if you were to test this so you can get as much statistical significance as possible (let the data be validated!).
  • Broad vs Exact Match Type: while I don’t recommend mixing and matching match types, it might be worth a test in a lot of instances. This is especially true for Branded keywords. Explore having both match types for your Branded keywords and for your intent-driven keywords, and separate out the match type by ad group level. If you then find a specific match type that is better in terms of conversion rate or CPA, maybe have a dedicated campaign solely for those keywords.
  • Search Match: If you’re still in growth-exploration mode for your ASA campaign, switch this feature on as a separate campaign. Use this campaign (once it has enough data), to validate which keywords or search terms actually give you traffic and app-installs, and then add those into your Always On campaigns. Be sure to check this often and add irrelevant keywords as Negatives to all your other campaigns.
  • Aggressive CPT: As mentioned earlier, advertising is an auction, the more you pay, the better ad impressions you get (quality). If you find you’re not getting decent volumes of traffic or Installs for your keywords, explore going more aggressively with your CPTs (incrementally increase this). For example, £1.50, to £3, then to £5, so on…
  • Intent-driven Keywords: the greatest marketing hack is to embody your ICP, mindstorm all the possible keywords that they may use and then keep on expanding these until you find keywords that are intent-driven enough (to cause them to install your App if they were to see your ad)
  • Competitor Keywords: Capitalism is bliss. You steal some of your competitors’ audiences by targeting their branded keywords in your campaigns. You’ll love this one, albeit, CPT tend to be high here.

Congratulations on reading the full article, if you want to learn more about Apple Search Ads or discuss all things growth, connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s get a conversation going!

Proverve is the first consulting solution for startups looking to scale their user acquisition, to support further rounds of funding. We achieve this by specialising exclusively in Performance Marketing and deploying our very own Growth Science framework, all as a subscription-based offering (plug and play). 

Growth. It’s possible.

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