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How to optimize your App Store search ads

Published: August 17, 2016

Author: Adam Rakib

Apple recently announced Search Ads, a new way for app developers to increase awareness and discoverability, and subsequently drive more downloads and increase usage for their apps. During the unveiling, Apple focused on search, disclosing that it accounts for about 65% of all installs. With over 1.9 million apps and 14,000 being launched every week, making your app visible through search is an absolute must. (Editor’s note: Adam is joining us for a free webinar tomorrow at 11 a.m. PT on this very topic; we’d love to see you there!)
On the surface, the new tool addresses the problem smaller developers have getting discovered among giants that already capture 94% of App Store revenues. Despite “relevancy” being the main factor for appearance in ads (regardless of your bid), it’s still unclear how things will play out for indies – given that Search Ads will still come at a cost. Big or small, what’s certain is that Search Ads has the potential to be a game-changer for all companies invested in mobile user acquisition, and as such it’s imperative to find your edge.
Speaking of edges, it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s managed ads that your creatives play a significant role in helping you stand out and attract the right audience. But at least in the initial launch, Apple is not giving developers control over ad copy or creatives; it’s removing the ability to run A/B tests and develop keyword-based ad copy. Instead, as Apple’s Search Ad Product Manager Casey Fictum detailed, “…search ads will automatically create an ad for you, using the meta data and imagery that you’ve already provided in your App Store listing, so there’s actually nothing for you to do here, except make sure that your App Store information is the best representation of your app.”
Ads are automatically created using the title, description, and imagery you provided to the App Store
apple search ads
While you can’t test ad creatives, you can test your App Store creatives with solutions like StoreMaven, which does double-duty as improving the overall app page experience and increasing your Search Ads performance. Through testing listings with over 50M users, we have learned about the power of messages in your product page, especially ones that appear in the “first impression” (your first 2 screenshots, icon, and title). Therefore, we were very happy to see the design format of Search Ad reflects some of our major learnings.
Potential Conversion Increase of ASO
aso performance increases

aso importance
Data from over 50M visitors to StoreMaven’s cloned App Store pages

Besides running the necessary tests, ensuring your App Store information is optimal goes through measuring your ad’s clickthrough rate and install conversion rate. Luckily, Apple is providing more analytics to support this effort. The search ads dashboard allows you to track your average Cost per tap (CPT), average Cost per acquisition (CPA), and Install Conversion rate. You will also get visibility into the amount of ad impressions, taps (clicks), and absolute amount of conversions. For keyword research, Apple will share keyword suggestions based on your initial inputs, and will display relative search volume for keywords as well. Last and most exciting for advanced marketers, Apple has opened an Attribution API to help you understand which keywords deliver the most valuable customers – so you can optimize bidding strategies accordingly.
Cons of Search Ads
All in all, this is great news. Search Ads, new analytics, keyword research, and the attribution API all bring us all closer to our goal: learning what messages capture quality users at affordable costs. But we have our concerns:

  • The inability to run multiple ads simultaneously constrains us from hitting multiple audiences with the perfect message
  • Your ad creatives are pulled from your product page creatives. We’ll be challenged to find one that works well for both! Similar to ads that run on Facebook, we presume that there won’t necessarily be a 1-to-1 correlation between the ad’s click through rate and the install conversion rate. At the end of the day, we care more about conversions, so the challenge is finding the combination of messages that yields the highest install conversion on the product page but doesn’t compromise the ad’s CTR. Since users can install directly from the ad, we furthermore believe that it’s better to design and test product pages that create more intent to install, as opposed to designing creatives that draws more “taps”.
  • It initially seems that competitors can bid on your own licensed brand names. For example: Uber can bid on the keyword “Lyft”. Apple will likely give preference to the owner of the brand name as it’s more relevant, but this still means that you might have to bid for your own name thus paying for users that otherwise would have installed organically.

We encourage marketers to adopt a holistic approach to obtain an advantage: Test your creative assets to improve CTR and CTI, and match your app’s messaging with the keywords that drive quality users at the right volume and cost.
If you have any inquiries on our best testing practices, please reach out!

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