Apple Search Ads – What Are They & How To Use Them

A relatively new and often under-utilised outlet for PPC campaigns - here's what you need to know about Apple Search Ads.

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Launched back in 2016, Apple Search Ads (or ASAs) are a form of PPC advertising specific to Apple and the App Store. If you’re looking to promote an app, then ASAs could be the perfect way to get noticed.

Over 70% of App Store visitors use search to discover apps and 65% of all downloads come directly from the results. But, with over 2 million apps available the market is a little crowded, to say the least. To increase visibility and gain crucial downloads more and more developers are turning to ASAs. Are you?

Read on to learn what they are and why you should be running Apple Search Ads to promote your app. We’ll talk you through setting them up and even offer a few handy tips to help get the most out of your campaigns. Don’t say we don’t look after you here at SH1FT!

What are Apple Search Ads?

ASAs are sponsored ads that appear at the top of the search results page in the Apple App Store. Although they appear in different formats depending on the device type and search query, they always have a blue background and an ad disclosure icon and look a little something like this…

ASA example in App Store

There are two different versions available to you depending on your budget, expertise and resources. The basic plan operates on a pay-per-install while advanced runs on a pay-per-tap basis.

It’s important to understand the differences between the two options before you start. While you can switch between them, it’s a lot easier to get it right the first time than make changes later on.

Apple Search Ads Basic is paid advertising with minimal effort at a predictable cost. You set the goals for the campaign and Apple does the rest. It’s perfect for developers with little expertise or time to dedicate to PPC (or PPI in this case). However, the potential downside is it offers very little opportunity for detailed segmentation.

Apple Search Advanced is, as you guessed it, the more advanced option. It’s primarily for developers and agencies who want more control over their campaigns and the audiences they target. Operating on a pay-per-tap basis, which is calculated based on what your nearest competitor is willing to pay (up to the max bid you set) and other contributing factors, you never have to worry about overpaying.

Basic vs Advanced

Apple Search Ads Basic Apple Search Ads Advanced
No keyword or audience refinement. Ads are automatically matched to interested users.Option to choose keywords and audiences.
Pay-per-install at a cost you choose.Pay-per-tap up to a chosen max (usually based on customer value or other KPI)
Minimal ongoing management required. Quick-view performance dashboard needs to be checked 1-2 times a month and you adjust CPI based on the recommendations.Access to more powerful marketing tools allows greater control over campaigns. You can keep it simple with Search Match options or manage by keywords and audience type to ROI goals
No keyword data or access to ASA campaign management API (application programming interface). You only view ASA Attribution API.Detailed reports on key metrics. You can measure value and manage at scale with APIs.
Max monthly budget of $10,000 (USD) per app.Unlimited monthly budget.
Promote a maximum of 50 apps.Promote unlimited apps.

Why Should I Use ASAs?

As we’ve established, 65% of app downloads come from the Search function. However, very few of those are apps that don’t appear on the first page. With more than two million apps out there, users are spoilt for choice. Unless they’re searching your app specifically it can be hard to gain organic traffic, especially in competitive categories.

You can advertise your app anywhere, but only Apple Search Ads give you direct access to the Apple App Store and crucially, to users already searching for an app just like yours.

ASAs put you at the top of the results page, meaning you’re the first thing a user sees if they match your keywords. With the unobtrusive blue box and small ad icon, it’s not even immediately obvious it’s not simply a high-ranking app either.

ASAs using the pay-per-tap model have 40% lower acquisition costs than other ad platforms. So they pay off too.

If you still need convincing then here are three more reasons you should be using ASAs…

1. For Higher App Store Rankings

The App Store algorithm doesn’t distinguish between organic installs and ad-driven installs when compiling their TopCharts. Therefore ASAs can help create an overall rise in app ranking leading to more organic traffic and conversions by increasing visibility.

2. Apple: Where The Money Is

Apple is the third leading site for app downloads after Facebook and Google. Since 2018 spending on ASAs has grown nearly 90%, with data showing the market is growing. Developers are spending and users are downloading right here – don’t be late to the party.

3. For Cross-Selling And Upselling Opportunities

Apple Search Ads Advanced allows you to segment and target different leads. You could set up campaigns to focus on acquiring first-time users or to re-engage existing users by promoting premium features or other apps you’ve developed. In other words, whatever your goals Apple Seach Ads can help you achieve them.

How do you create Apple Search Ads?

Now you’re fully onboard with ASAs, you need to know how to set them up. To get started you need the Apple ID associated with your App Store Connect account and an Apple Search Ads account. Oh, and the app you want to promote, obviously…

For help setting up your ASA account up take a look at Apple’s guide here.

What Do They Look Like?

ASA’s are automatically generated based on the existing metadata (app name, subtitle, description), videos and/or imagery on your App Store product page.

Before you create your ad make sure to go over and optimize this information; check links redirect correctly, copy is accurate and imagery creates an engaging insight into your app. Changing App Store metadata can take up to 24 hours to show in ad previews and 2 hours to be reflected in live ads, so it’s better to get it right before you start!

*Tip – the first sentence of your product page description is the only one visible to a user without clicking read more, make it count!*

Apple Search Ads don’t support the customization of the ad creative. This means you can’t upload your own ad design or change how it looks. What you can take advantage of however are Creative Sets.

Creative Sets create ad variations and use additional assets to align better with ad group keyword themes and/or audience demographics, which helps to improve performance. Each ad group can have up to 20 ad variations with Creative Sets. What’s clever is that the algorithm optimizes to show the creative generating the strongest customer responses so you’re always putting the best version of your ad out there.

For the advanced option, you are also required to input a max bid for the cost of a user tapping your ad. Apple generates a suggestion to maximize success (although makes it clear that it is not a guarantee) but it can be easily identified with the following equation…

cost per tap equation

Types Of Ads Users See:

  • App Icon and the first two lines of the description/promotional text
  • The Icon and the first three portrait screenshots or one portrait preview video
  • App Icon and the first landscape screenshot or preview video

The Campaigns You Need to Run

An ad can’t be everything to everyone all at once so don’t put all your keywords into one big group. The number of campaigns you run is up to you, but Apple recommends you start with these four:

Brand Campaign

This type of campaign is focused towards targeting customers searching for your app or company by name. The keywords should be app/brand-specific and set to exact match type.

Category Campaign

Focussing on customers searching for non-branded terms that describe your app/category, this campaign is useful for reaching a wider audience with an interest in your niche. Keywords should describe your app and be set to an exact match.

Competitor Campaign

Steer users away from competitors’ apps and towards yours with a campaign targeting keywords that are narrowly focussed to your app type. As before, set to exact match.

Discovery Campaign

Keywords aren’t always easy to identify but a discovery campaign will help find new search terms relevant to your app. These new keywords can help you reach a wider audience and find new popular search terms. For this campaign you need two ad groups:

  • Broad Match – include all keywords from the other campaigns with the match set to Broad and Search Match turned off.
  • Search Match – no keywords but Search Match enabled so the ad can be matched to relevant searches in the App Store.

Campaigns should be built for multiple countries/regions depending on your intentions. If you’re looking to understand the value of a specific location then create individual campaigns. Similarly, if larger markets require different budgets or unique objectives, focus on just one area per campaign. However, if you want to make managing the ads easier or track metrics and optimize according to factors such as language, customer value etc, then consider grouping similar countries/areas together.

Successful campaigns can be duplicated and run in other countries as long as they meet the Apple Search Ad policies and feature in the list of available countries and regions. Duplicating campaigns can save you time, but always consider if the cultures/traditions are similar to ensure your ad will resonate (and not offend!).

Tips For Successful ASAs

  • Segment, Segment, Segment! I cannot stress this enough when it comes to creating PPC/PPI ad campaigns. Although reach will be smaller, you’re targeting users who are more likely to convert so your chances of success will be higher.
  • The Apple Seach Ad algorithm considers the relevance of the app (along with the bid) when it comes to ad placements. Ensure your copy and content are consistent from the ad itself to the download page. Seamless transitions = more conversions.
  • Leave campaigns running for at least a week before making any changes to allow the algorithm to ‘learn’ your ad. That way you’ll have more accurate results on how users are responding to it before you start modifying it.
  • If you want your ad to go out on a specific day, or if you want to create it and then have time to review it, select ‘Pause’ or ‘Launch Date’ during setup to stop it from going out immediately.

Final Takeaways

Apple Search Ads are a simple and straightforward way to get your app noticed by the right people. Since most of the ad creation is done for you, all you need to do is check your product information and sit back and watch the downloads roll in.

Well actually, you should continue to monitor and optimize the campaigns as they run, but compared to some other forms of PPC strategies this one is fairly low maintenance!

As always you also have the option of reaching out to a marketing agency to help optimize advertising. At SH1FT we’ve had great success marketing apps and we’d love to help you with yours. Any excuse to talk marketing…

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