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Apple Search Ads: Basics, Tips, and Tricks

Published: November 13, 2019

Author: Garrett Stollar

If you ever find yourself hungry and perusing the iOS App Store, you might type “pizza” into the search bar. At this point, you will probably be served an ad in your search results, such as the one pictured below. Welcome to Apple Search Ads (ASA)!

ASA can be an effective tool for digital marketers and is an obvious choice for those looking to drive iOS app installs with great efficiency. In fact, 65% of all iOS app installs occur directly after somebody conducts a search on the App Store. This is because people using the search functionality in the app store are, in general, a very high-intent audience and are usually primed and ready to download (or re-download) an app. And if that’s not good enough, ASA also has a 50% average conversion rate.

Campaign Set-up Tips

The best practice for campaign structure within ASA is to have four separate campaign types with the following match types:

  1. Brand campaign (exact match)
  2. General/Non-brand campaign (exact match)
  3. Competitor campaign (exact match)
  4. Discovery campaign
    • Ad group 1: broad match terms
    • Ad group 2: search match

Similar to most other search engines, ASA has options for both exact and broad match keywords. Below is a screenshot of which type of queries fall under exact match vs. broad match:

Source: Apple

In addition, Apple Search Ads also has a third match type, called Search Match. Search Match uses your app’s metadata to automatically match your app to relevant user search queries, based on ASA’s effective algorithm.
Because of Search Match’s capabilities, you do not need to input any keywords yourself, but rather can rely on ASA’s machine learning to match your app to relevant user searches. Search Match campaigns are a great keyword discovery tool if managed properly. I would recommend setting the bids and budgets for your Search Match campaigns lower than the rest of your campaigns and pulling query reports frequently. In addition, be sure to add all your exact match keywords from your other campaigns as exact match negatives in your Search Match campaigns, to both isolate and optimize your Search Match campaigns to find new keyword ideas.
At 3Q Digital, we often use single-keyword ad groups to tailor ads and/or landing pages to specific keywords. However, with ASA, your options are different. One native tool in ASA that you can use to test ad content is called Creative Sets; it can be found at the ad group level. The flexibility that this tool allows is to tailor different types of keywords to various types of visuals. So, for example, if you were advertising an app that delivered two things (pizza and burgers), you could group your pizza-related keywords separate from your burger-related keywords, showcasing pizza and burger images separately to appropriate groups of people.

Some UI Challenges

Apple Search, like most platforms, has some downsides. Most of these downsides stem from requiring data analysis outside of the platform, such as in Microsoft Excel. So, be prepared to create some processes around these limitations:

  1. Inability to apply campaign or ad group-level name filters in the UI. This means a lot of your filtering work is going to have to be done in Microsoft Excel or a similar tool. This is not ideal when you want to do a quick computation or analysis.
  2. Data download speed. Data can take a long time to download from the UI (in “Custom Reports”). If you know you are going to have to download data at some point in the day from the platform, I would start the data pull as soon as you can.
  3. Install optimization only. Apple does not accept postbacks from mobile measurement partners for in-app events. This means that ASA’s optimization algorithm can only optimize for the install, and thus you can only view performance and efficiency metrics related to this conversion event. However, there are third-party tools you can utilize that will help fill this gap.
  4. Geo-targeting bulk upload restraints. If you are building out campaigns with a plethora of geo-targeting, make sure you allow yourself ample time or helping hands, because this has to be done manually.

In summary, Apple Search Ads is a fantastic way to reach potential users right at the moment they want to download an app. ASA is one of the newer advertising platforms, so there are some limitations and workarounds you will have to embrace to achieve optimal performance. However, I guarantee that your efforts will be worth the phenomenal efficiency you can find in the platform. Happy apple bobbing and searching!

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