App developers and marketers can’t afford to ignore Apple Search Ads. There’s just too much competition with over 2 million apps waiting to be discovered and downloaded. With Apple Search ads fast emerging as a new and effective way to acquire users, many app owners are now realising the importance of using Search Ads to stand out. In fact, according to Mobile Marketer, app install ad spend is predicted to surge to $64.1B by 2020. Despite only being relatively new, Apple Search ads look set to take a $2 billion slice of that pie by 2020 according to Bernstein Analyst Toni Sacconaghi.
We appreciate that Apple Search Ads can be confusing for some, especially if you’ve never used it before. In this article, you’ll find some useful and actionable tips and tricks that will help you conquer this new advertising channel.
What are Apple Search Ads?
Similar to how social media and search ads help you stand out from other content, Apple Search Ads are an efficient and easy way to get your app discovered by users browsing the App Store.
It’s relatively easy to begin creating your Search Ads campaign in Apple. If you’ve previously worked on Google Adwords campaigns, all of it will seem even more straightforward.
App Store ads look very similar to a regular search listing, but the only difference here is that it has a blue background along with a blue “Ad” icon on it. They show up right at the top of the search results when a user makes a query around a keyword (which is actually a phrase as much as it might be a single word!). The ad shown is targeted at the user according to what they have typed in and so will be relevant to what they’re searching for.
This means that your ad needs to target the keywords that users are more likely to make searches with. But additionally, to maintain high relevancy and drive more installs, you’ll need to optimise your app store listing page too.
Right from the app title, icon, description, screenshots and the promo text, everything needs to look relevant to the search made and compelling enough to nudge a download. After all, there’s absolutely no point in creating a great ad to appear at the top of a user’s search results, just for them to click through to a really terrible or mediocre page which is highly unlikely to lead to a download.
How to pick the right keywords
As a marketer, you know how important it is for your app to be recognised for what it does. That’s why the keywords you choose for your Apple Search Ads need to be relevant to your app.
Simply put, your Apple Search Ads success is based on the keywords you choose. Any keywords you choose shouldn’t just take relevancy into account but also the competition that you’ll need to face in order for you to appear. By ‘competition, we mean the number of apps that are targeting the same keyword.
Once you start your keyword search, you might want to run a broad match, but you know in your heart that the exact keywords based on user search intent are the most likely to get you the right audience, leading to higher chances of your app being downloaded and actively used.
On the other hand, Apple’s Search Match feature intuitively understands which keywords apply to your app. Search Match is a default setting in all Apple Search Ad campaigns. This makes it simple to kickstart campaigns if you don’t have any experience in running keyword-based ad campaigns.
The thing to bear in mind is that if your ads don’t start show results in the first few days of running the campaign, you’ll need to change the keywords. This might be because the keywords that you’re using aren’t being searched for or are simply not relevant enough to your add. Or, it may be that you are being outbid by others if it is a particularly popular keyword such as ‘game’.
As Apple itself suggests, the trick to choosing the right keywords for your Search Ads is to:
- Think like your customers – Consider the search terms they might use to look for your app type.
- Try both generic and specific keywords – Pick general keywords relevant to your app to reach a wider audience, but at the same time choose particular keywords to narrow down your targeting to reach your ideal users.
The best thing about Apple Search Ads is that it gives you access to something called the ‘Relative Search Term Popularity Index’. This metric gives you insight into how many searches are being made on the keywords that define your app, or the keywords that you want to use for Apple Search Ads.
The Relative Search Term Popularity Index, it also recommends keywords based on your targeting which helps you identify the most important keywords for promoting your app.
However, search volume shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when picking a keyword to bid on. You’ll also need to consider the type of competition you’ll face for each keyword.
Another useful hint is to set up ‘negative keywords’ for your ad campaign. This will ensure high relevancy of your Apple Search Ads and keep them away from showing up on irrelevant search results. After all, you don’t want to be paying to reach a user who isn’t going to download your app.
Understanding how Apple Search Ads appear
While the keywords you pick decide what searches your app will show for, it’s the relevancy of the app and the bid you place that determines if it will get the top spot on the search results.
For instance, if your app isn’t as relevant for the keyword you’re targeting, it won’t be shown to the user – no matter how high a bid you place on it.
Another important thing to bear in mind is that Apple Search Ads will charge you based on what your campaign is optimized for – taps or installs. The cost per tap model will charge you every time a user taps on your ad; irrespective of whether they download it or not. On the other hand, cost per install is when you get charged only for the number of installs that the Apple Search Ads have driven.
This means you should decide carefully how much you can spend on App Store Search Ads so that you can get a positive return-on-investment (ROI). Keep in mind that the market demand is what determines how much you pay for an ad.
It’s even more important to understand that relevance is critical to winning at bidding. As such, you must separate your Exact Match and Broad Match keywords so that they are not in the same Ad Group and don’t have Search Match running in an Exact Match keyword Ad Group.
Advanced targeting controls
With advanced controls, you can run precise targeting and optimise your ads for keywords as well as user demographics.
The filters help you refine the audience you want your Search Ads to be shown to. It allows you to decide if you want your ads to be shown to your existing users, new users, users of competing apps or to everyone. Additionally, you also get to finetune the targeting based on gender, age, location and device type.
Demographic targeting will narrow down your audience base and show ads only to highly specific categories that you wish to see conversions from. You can run demographic targeting based on:
- Audiences: New users, existing users of your app and users of other apps you own
- Device location
If you have a complete understanding of your ideal audience type, it’s beneficial to go as precise with targeting as possible. However, avoid going for precise targeting if you have a new app. With no idea of who your ideal users are, you will only end up limiting the reach of your Apple Search Ads.
Attribution and reporting
Reporting on how your ads are performing is vital to understanding where you are faltering and where you’re succeeding. From the Apple Search Ads attribution reports, you can understand which of your keywords are performing well. The report gives you insights into the impressions, taps and downloads that every keyword generated for your ad campaign, in an easy-to-understand format.
Apple Search Ads may take you a little time to understand and you may well end up targeting the wrong keywords initially.
To avoid losing your advertising budgets on common mistakes, you can take the smarter route to continually optimise your Apple Search Ads for better results. The Blackbox Platform is an app campaign manager that combines the power of automation with industry expertise to generate the best possible results for you.
All you need to do is tell the platform which app you want to promote, decide on how much you want to spend and who you want to target. Making use of Apple Search Ads best practices and proprietary technology, Blackbox platform ensures you remain at the top of the search results for your target users.
But with that done, don’t forget that the real hack to winning the game is to retain the users you acquire from Apple Search Ads in the first place.
It’s so easy to get started with Apple Search Ads that most of the time digital marketers miss out on the much-needed details. They rush into creating their first campaign without giving much thought to as to where they could potentially go wrong.
Pressing the accelerator full-on as soon as you’ve started with Apple Search Ads isn’t much use. The smallest of things can have a significant impact on your campaign performance. For example, the metrics you choose to measure, the design of your app screenshots, your app store description, the promotion text you use or even the keywords you choose to target can all have a bearing on your results.
In this article, we’re taking a look at the 10 most common errors that app marketers are likely to make with Apple Search Ads and how they can avoid them.
- Not optimising your App Store listing page
With over 2 million mobile apps waiting to be discovered on the App Store, optimising your App Store listing page is crucial. But the sad reality is that the majority of publishers aren’t doing this. Only the best Search Ads have managed to reap the benefits of optimising the App Store listing page.
This is essential because Apple uses your title, screenshots, app icon, and promo text to populate the adverts. Having these elements optimised in your metadata will also be beneficial for your ad’s keyword relevancy.
The better these elements are optimised for relevancy, the higher you’ll rank and the more discoverable you’ll be for potential customers.
- Not setting up Search Ads attribution
It’s vital to know where your customers are coming from and to gain as much insight as possible. This is usually known as ‘attribution’.
Apple Search Ads App Attribution enables you to track the number of downloads from Search Ads campaigns. It lets you measure the effectiveness of your campaigns and the lifetime value of the acquired users.
Apple Search Ads will only attribute a conversion when users click on your ad and then download the app within 30-days.
After all, it’s entirely possible that a user who’s in the process of downloading an app has likely searched for it more than once and interacted with it a number of times without actually clicking on the download button. This might be indicative of how your app screenshots and description need to convey the value better.
We strongly recommend setting up attribution because, without it, you can’t measure app downloads and re-engagements accurately. This also means that you won’t be able to find out how much return-on-investment (ROI) you’re getting out of your Search Ad investment.
- Not knowing the difference between Exact and Broad Match for keywords
When undertaking any keyword research, It’s really important to understand the differences between the keyword match types – Exact and Broad Match.
Broad Match is used to drive the maximum amount of user views. Let’s say you have a farming game that will appeal to a specific audience. If you choose a generic keyword, such as ‘Games’, your ad will appear even when users search for something like ‘Sports games’, ‘Kids games’, and ‘Strategy games’, and might go so broad to the extent that it appears even when the search wasn’t even remotely close. This runs the risk of you showing your ad to a lot of irrelevant prospects.
On the other hand, Exact Match keywords match user search terms that are the same keyword phrase you’re bidding on, which means highly relevant searches even if the audience searching for that exact phrase is comparatively small. Depending on your goal – reach or relevancy – you’ll need to pick your keyword match type to reach that target. Of course, with exact matches, the aim is to research a list of exact matches that all bear some relevance to your actual app.
- Using too many keywords for Broad Match
In Apple Search Ads, broad match is the default type for keyword targeting. Broad match basically refers to taking close, relevant variants of the keywords you want to target – singular, plural, misspellings, synonyms, related searches and phrases that might or include a part of the term you’re targeting.
While this type of targeting gets you an increased number of impressions, getting actual conversions can be tricky.
This is due to the fact that when your campaign uses broad match for keyword targeting, it is displayed for searches on even the close variants of the keyword – singular, plurals, misspellings, synonyms, related searches and phrases that might include the term fully or partially. So in some cases, words in a foreign language may also get matched to the searches if relevant to the app – even if they’re not your defined target user.
However, if ad impressions don’t match search query intent it can lead to a huge rise in your Cost per Tap. You don’t want to lose out on too much money, right? This is why having too many keywords on Broad Match can be risky.
Instead, we recommend aiming for at least 80% of taps on an ad from Exact Match where you can have more control over the searches. You can target a specific term and its close variants such as misspellings and plurals only. Even though these ads will get you fewer impressions, they are more relevant to the search intent.
- Mixing Exact Match keywords and Broad Match together
Whether you plan on using Exact Match or Broad Match for Apple Search Ads campaigns, remember to not use both for the same campaign.
Since Broad Match is enabled by default on the Apple ads platform, many marketers unintentionally leave it on. Now if they’re running an Exact Match campaign in this case, their ads will also end up showing for words similar to the target keywords due to Broad Match.
This only results in confusion and not being able to identify if a specific keyword is getting you the desired number of impressions and installs.
Its good practice is to set up different Apple Search Ads to experiment with both the Exact Match and Broad Match type of campaigns. That way you can also monitor and identify which works the best for your campaign.
- Using Web Search Keywords for Apple Search Ads
Users behave differently on different devices. They might not type in the same search query on Google Play as they do on the Apple App Store. Also, unlike web search, App Store search is a relatively lesser known territory to marketers. You can’t simply replicate your keywords from web search campaigns to your Apple Search Ad campaigns. This would only result in a decrease in ad keyword relevancy.
Branch actually studied the top 500 App Store keywords and identified that they were all either single words or related to brands. This only goes to indicate that there are very few users who search with long-tail keywords like ‘top 10 songs of the 90s’. The best way to find the right keyword is to think like the user.
- Using Apple’s CPA goal
While your ad campaigns will get you more impressions, there isn’t any guarantee of conversion – a user installing your app. Using a cost-per-acquisition (CPA) as your goal might seem like the best way to maximise your app downloads, but it doesn’t guarantee downloads.
Instead, use CPA to guide your campaign optimization. If the impressions of your Search Ads are very low, raise your cost-per-acquisition goal because if it is priced too low, you may not be able to enter the auction for your targeted keyword.
Since the Apple algorithm strictly takes into account the relevancy of your campaign to the keywords you’re targeting, choose taps as your goal to achieve higher impressions.
But if you still want to keep acquisition as your goal, steer clear from low converting keywords.
- Not optimizing your daily budget
Apple Search Ads let you set a budget for your campaigns. But most marketers tend to set a daily cap and not revisit it until the campaign has exhausted the budget, is ended or it has been paused.
While you can’t decrease your budget, you can always add or adjust the daily spend cap at any time. Monitor the performance of your Apple Search Ads closely, identify the day-to-day trends that cause a spike or diffuse your performance. This will help you make the most out of your campaign budget.
- Not checking Search Match traffic
Search Match is the default feature offered by Apple to enable you to get your ads up and running in no time. With Search Match, your ads are set to automatically be matched to search terms without the need for you to figure out all the keyword possibilities or even actively bid on them.
It’s easy to get carried away with the Search Match setting to win a huge influx of traffic in a relatively short time period. However, this is not one of Apple Search Ads best practices. It’s better to stop and think about the keywords that are actually relevant to your app.
As a best practice, find out how relevant the Search Match traffic is for your ad campaign. Sometimes, what’s good for the App Store doesn’t really spell quality, high-converting traffic for your ads.
- Not testing different creatives
If you’re not testing your creatives regularly, you’re limiting the ROI you could reap on your Apple Search Ads. In Apple, you can experiment and create ads based on the app’s existing metadata and creatives with Creative Sets.
Creative Sets enables you to leverage your additional App Store assets to create multiple variants for your Apple Search Ads. Each set includes screenshots and app previews that you select from the App Store page. You can create up to 10 ad variations per ad group with this feature, which then run in addition to the current image and text ads that Apple automatically creates for your app.
This ultimately helps you create a winning ad set that gets maximum views and conversions. The best Apple Ads are those that have been continually tested for engagement and conversions.
In summary, they say that you should learn from your mistakes, and you’ll only win the Apple Search Ads game when you understand precisely where you can go wrong. Your Apple advertising strategy should be created in such a way that it doesn’t just address the current search patterns of your target users, but also is optimised for changing trends.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
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Welcome to our monthly update where we examine the average CPA (cost per acquisition) for Apple Search Ads campaigns across three segments – Games, News and Sports as well as the overall CPA.
To recap from the last month, we calculated the mean CPA by summing the spend for the month and dividing that value by the total number of conversions for that month. We ran the analysis across the global campaigns that have been run on our own Blackbox Platform since June 2018. It is essential to bear in mind that this data does not present an analysis across the entirety of the Apple Search Ads portfolio.
As per last month, we are still seeing fluctuations in some categories as the popularity for running Search Ad campaigns increases and keyword bidding becomes more competitive in some categories more than others. On a final note, December represents the busiest month of the year regarding ad spend, and so we expect to see a rise in CPA’s across the board as brands invest heavily in acquiring new users.
Despite it being the busiest month of the year for mobile advertising investment, the actual rise in CPA from November to December was only 0.54% from $5.11 to $5.65. This still represents the highest point that we had seen the CPA since June 2018 when World Cup campaigns in the Sports category caused the CPA to rise significantly. Overall, the price variance of the four months from September to December 2018 has remained relatively steady at an average of $4.90. The average price over the seven months that we have been publishing the data for sits at $4.40 and so it will be interesting to see how this settles throughout 12 months.
In December we saw an Average Cost Per Tap (CPT) of $2.35; this is 15.8% and 35.8% higher than October and November, respectively. The price an individual pays for a tap is determined by how much an app’s nearest competitor is willing to pay, up to the app’s maximum CPT Bid. Therefore, if other app developers are willing to pay more, the price of CPT goes up.
It is of little surprise that we saw a significant spike of the Games CPA to its highest point of $11.45 in December 2018, as it continues to remain the most competitive category for app developers due to the high LTV of many apps. It is essential to bear in mind that due to the way Apple categorises its apps, it is currently tough to differentiate between traditional video games and casino-style gaming apps, with the result that both kinds of app appear in the category results.
The high point of $11.45 represents a price increase of over 400% compared to when we first started publishing the Games CPA in June 2018. Overall, the last four months of the year from September to December have averaged $8.52 and overall, the seven months from June to December have averaged $6.04.
Due to the dominance of betting apps, sports remains the category with the highest CPA, although it is the only category that saw a drop in the December CPA compared to November, with a small decrease of 0.2%. The overall average for the seven months from June to December 2018 is $11.41. There appears to be far less total price fluctuation in the category with a variance of 50% between the lowest price in August and the highest in June compared to the games category which saw a 400% increase between lowest and highest.
There does not appear to be as much seasonality with Sports apps with regards to Christmas; instead, the spikes are logically due to major sporting events such as the World Cup. It will be interesting to see the impact of major sporting events such as the Super Bowl on 3 February 2019.
News remains a less competitive keyword category which is reflected in the lower CPAs and the overall stability of the pricing.
After a high of $4.08 in June, we can see that the CPA trended downwards towards the end of the year with a slight increase in December of 9.6% due to the rise of promotions in December around Christmas. Overall, the category has an average CPA of $3.12 in the seven months from June to December 2018.