Apple Search Ads: The complete guide for beginners

With more than 2 million apps available on the App Store, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for developers and marketers to make their apps and games stand out from the crowd. Of course, you could run hundreds of social media ads to reach out to your target market, but the fact remains that 70% of users tend to use the App Store’s search engine to look for apps.

Put even more simply; you need to start using App Store Search Ads to rank right at the top and fuel your growth.

In this guide, we’ll provide you with an overview of Search Ads: how it works, how it appears to users, how to create your strategy, and how to effectively optimise to get the best results for your campaign.

So let’s get started.

What are Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads is an efficient way for app developers and marketers to put their apps in front of the right people by making use of keyword or phrases that they are more likely to use to look for something.

But since there are often hundreds of apps in every category, Search Ads puts your app on top of the others. For instance, LightRight is a photo editing app that offers filters to edit images easily. Knowing that their target users look for similar apps using the keyword ‘photo filters’, they run a Search Ads campaign to grab their attention.


As per a study conducted across different campaigns being run by different categories of apps, Apple reports that Search Ads deliver a 50% conversion rate on average. In fact, Search Ads costs 40% less than running user acquisition campaigns across other mobile ad platforms.

Take Bumble for example. The social networking app scaled its growth in multiple countries with Search Ads as its top acquisition, and re-acquisition platform. The campaign brought the app a 61% conversion rate. And all they did, was target their ideal users with the simplest of keywords that they were more likely to use to look for something similar to social platforms like Facebook - ‘meet people’.

Why are Apple Search Ads effective?

When a typical internet user tends to spend most of their time on social media platforms, why should app developers and marketers focus on Search Ads?  Well, the answer to this is straightforward. Instead of displaying your Search Ad campaign to a mass audience, it focuses on showing it to only those who are looking for apps similar to what yours does.

App Store Search Ads helps you reach high-intent, quality users, thereby cutting out on those who might not find relevance in what you offer and either turn away from your ad campaign.


Additionally, Search Ads help you offer a private and safe user experience. In instances when users are sceptical about sharing their data over social media accounts and websites, Search Ads adhere to Apple’s privacy standards. While this ensures that only relevant ads are being shown to the user based on the data they are willing to share, it also assures you don’t end up looking too pushy and are reaching the right target audience.

Contrary to battling for attention on social media platforms that are stuffed full of app adverts, Apple Search Ads are a bit like your ticket to skipping the queue by getting your app discovered for relevant keywords that you know customers are typing in.

How do Apple Search Ads work?

For Apple to display your app for the right keywords, it makes use of your App Store listing - metadata and creatives like the app logo, screenshots, app description and the app title. Simply put, even if you have a great keyword strategy in place for your Apple Search ads, a not so optimised app name, description and low quality of screenshots, could kill your conversion rate.

A good first impression will determine how many users will install your app, increase its explore rates and convince more explorers to install.

The first step is for your Search Ads to get matched with a search query so that it can enter the ad space auction with other campaigns targeting a similar audience.

For your campaign to be successful, you need to win the auction in order to appear in the top slot of the search results - because that is the first suggestion a user sees on making a search query using the keyword you’re targeting. The moment your campaign is marked as relevant to a specific search query, then it all depends who the highest bidder is for the keyword.

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  • To be able to join an auction, your app needs to be identified as relevant to the search query
  • The number of clicks on your advert also dictates how frequently your advert is shown The less the number of clicks your Search Ad gets, the less it will show up in targeted queries

Top tip: Your app logo and screenshots need to convey the value your app has to offer in the first few seconds.

How to set up a Search Ads campaign: Apple Search Ads Best Practices

To put your Search Ads in front of the right audience, you need to start by understanding your target market. It doesn’t just include basic demographics like age, gender and location. You also need to understand their interests, their search behaviour and what is currently available to them in the app store.

Once you have an understanding of who is more likely to find your app valuable, here’s what you need to do to set up an App Store Search Ads campaign that gets you more users:

1. Choose your target keywords

To begin with, you need to identify at least 50 keywords that are relevant to your app and are being used by app store users to look for apps of their interest actively. You can do this by using Keyword Suggestions to find the relative search term popularity index to identify the keywords that are the most important to promote your app.

You should be picking out keywords based on the type of Search Ads campaign you’re running - exact matches, broad matches and search matches.

It is important to note that your Apple Search Ads are shown only if a user’s query matches the specific keyword you’re targeting. While this ad type gets you the highest tap through rates, it has a lower impression rate - so you might not be reaching all of your potential audience.

When it comes to using ‘broad matches’ for your Apple Search Ads, Apple shows your campaign to search queries that are close variants of your target keyword. Pretty much similar to what synonyms are. In this case, both the click-through rates and tap through rates remain average.

Here’s an example:


If you plan on using ‘search matches’, Apple is the one that decides which query your ad is relevant to. This is on the basis of your app’s metadata. These ads tend to have a high impression rate, but lower tap through rates because Apple may not be able to understand who your ideal user is.

With the BlackBox platform, you won’t have to worry about targeting the right keywords. Based on which app you want to promote, who you want to promote it to and your budget, the platform picks out and targets the best keywords in your campaign.

2. Discover user search behaviour

Using the Search Match feature of the app store, match your campaign to the relevant searches made by a user. This step is essential as it also helps you uncover new opportunities to promote your app.

For instance, there may be a user segment that you didn't think could use your app, or a keyword that you didn't know users made search queries around. Such data helps you uncover data that could give a boost to your Apple Search Ads campaign. Brian Dean of Backlinko calls them ‘shoulder niches’.

Here’s an example. Your mobile game offers competitive puzzles to players. Instead of targeting only ‘online puzzles’ as your keyword, you could also target ‘boost brain power’ in your campaigns.

While ‘Search Match’ displays all the possible keywords your app could rank for and those that you should compete with, it is also a good idea to use other keyword research tools like Ubersuggest and LSI Graph, or even better, automate the process by using the BlackBox Platform. Based on what your app does, who it is for and what your budget is, the platform picks out the best keywords and optimises your campaigns with them.

3. Fine tune your target audience

Starting with your defined target audience, add the data layer from the search match to further finetune who you want to target with the ads. While you can do this by applying a layer of data including gender, age, devices and location, you can narrow it down even further. By using filters, you can choose to show your ad to existing users only, new users only or to users who are making use of another one of your apps.

4. Select your target devices

Based on what your app has to offer and which device it is the best suited for, select your target devices before starting your Search Ads campaign. You can show the ad to users of both the iPhone and the iPad, or choose to display it to only one device type that you’ll be able to guarantee a great experience on.

If your app is suited for all Apple devices, you will need to separate your Search Ads campaign strategy based on user behaviour on different devices. For instance, an iPad user is more likely to use longer search terms (long tail keywords) to look for apps. On the other hand, an iPhone user might choose to use just a word to find an app that best suits their need.

This is just one aspect of targeting across all devices. You will also need to look into your app creatives and descriptions to be able to appeal to these different user segments (more about this below).

5. Set up your ad campaign

Once you fill in the data of what your app does and who you want to target with it, your Apple Search Ads are automatically created with the metadata and creatives provided.

What you can do to ensure your campaigns drive higher conversions, is A/B test your approach. Vary your app creatives and messaging for different campaigns, note the response you’re achieving on each of them, identify what resonates the best with your audience and bid higher on that specific campaign.

Continually A/B testing your campaigns will help you optimise your campaigns, budgets and drive higher ROI from them.

6. Run or schedule your ads

Based on your goals and the period of time that you want to achieve them, you can run or schedule your app store paid search ads to start and stop on specific days. You can also define particular days of the week or times of the day at which you want your ad campaign to show.

In this case, you need to take into account where different audience segments are located, local holidays, seasonal market trends and more. Your campaign schedule should match when your audience is more likely to be searching for apps like yours.

7. Monitor and optimise

Like any other marketing campaign to promote your app, there is no ‘set it and forget it’ approach to App Store Search Ads. Whether you want your campaign to get you more users or re-engage inactive ones, you need to consistently monitor the changing app store use pattern for better Apple Search Ads optimization. This could include the copy you use, the creatives you use to showcase what your app does or even the keywords you’re targeting.

One of the most important Apple Search Ads tips is to track user response as the key metric. If no one clicks on your ads, they are eventually going to stop being shown to your prospective customers and you’ll lose the market. This means you need to continually focus on improving your tap-through-rate (TTR) to enhance your Search Ads impression frequency.

Also, make it a point to dive deeper into data to understand the end-to-end journey of your acquired or reacquired users. From when and how they discovered your app, how many times they were shown your ad to when and where they converted - user journey mapping is not just essential to design a great app, but also to create campaigns that actually convert.

While you’re all set to leverage Apple Search Ads with the seven steps above, there are also a few other rules you should always keep in mind:

  • Apple focuses a lot on user experience, and hence the algorithm automatically prefers apps that are known to offer the same - primarily higher ratings and positive reviews
  • The App Store pulls information from your app store listing - so make sure you use the right copy and creatives there
  • Don’t endlessly target keywords you’re already ranking for. Look for new opportunities instead - for instance, the keyword or keywords that your competitor is focusing on
  • Place higher bids on higher volume keywords when they are highly relevant to what your app has to offer
  • Consistently optimise your app listing for the best of results on the App Store Search Ads.

The last point brings us to another critical aspect of App Store Search Ads - App Store Optimization. As a general rule, you’re already focusing on it - or at least trying to - while listing your app. But here’s why it is essential to pay attention to a few aspects a little more to make your search ads work.

Apple Search Ads and App Store Optimisation

If you’re not picking the right keywords, your app is not going to be able to reach the right audience. If your App Store listing is not optimised for the keywords you choose, there is no way for the store or the users to know what value your app has to offer and to whom. Simply put, Search Ads are nothing without App Store Optimisation (ASO).

While Apple does allow you to bid on multiple keywords, having even the biggest of budgets does not guarantee your app showing up on search results. That’s why to compete better with similar apps; you need to get yourself set for organic growth as well.

Here are the two things you need to pay attention to the most to make your Apple Search Ads and ASO complement each other.

1. App metadata

Your app’s name and description are vital to your app’s relevancy in the App Store. These are the two pieces that need to be written to a degree of quality that a user doesn’t just discover your app amongst millions of others, but also convinces them instantly to download it. You need to do this before thinking about running your App Store Search Ads.

  • App name: Apple scans app names for relevant keywords as soon as a user performs a search. That’s why apps that use their targeted keyword in the app title, notice a 10.3% boost in their ranking. While listing your app, include only the most relevant keywords because you have just 30 characters available to you. If you’re targeting users from different regions, it’s also a good idea to focus on localisation. It will help you instantly form a bond with the users by being more relatable and contextual.

  • Promotional text and description: This is the text that appears at the top of the long description and is limited to 170 characters. While it doesn't get indexed by the algorithm and help optimise for search results, it is nonetheless a smart space to highlight exactly what your app does or to post the latest updates you have made. A catchy promo text can actually help you get a 35% conversion lift average in App Store search downloads.

  • App description (long): This is where you put words to use and let your target users know everything about your app and what it has to offer. Use this space to highlight every little aspect of your app that adds value to the users - let them know what each feature does and how it is different from the offerings of other apps. Instead of going for longer paragraphs, format your app description with shorter paragraphs and bullets to make it readable and quick to consume at a glance. But remember to prioritise the placement of your target keyword here. Distribute the keyword evenly across the length of the description; don’t overstuff though. Also, use this space to include awards and media mentions. It acts as social proof to show a user how those similar to them are loving your app. People tend to trust people more than they believe ads.

2. App creatives

You might have noticed how some apps tend to focus a lot on making their app screenshots look good. On the flipside, some apps take a screenshot of their screens and upload them on their app listing.

There is a key difference between the two. The former makes a better impression on the target users, leading to an increased number of downloads. This is because its app creatives give the user a sneak peek into what it offers, letting them quickly decide whether the app is worth downloading or not. So use this space as smartly and creatively as possible!

For instance, including a good video can actually boost your conversion rate by up to 40%.

To make your app creatives work for you, remember to use the space to highlight the essential features - your unique selling point and to create a storyline while doing so; it will make it more intuitive for a user to browse through them all.

For instance, Slack has both a mobile-specific app and a desktop specific app. With customised creatives for both audiences, their users have a clearer idea of what the apps offer.

And when it comes to their mobile app, they use screenshots that give the users an idea of what they can expect when using the same app on mobile devices.

While the above two will take care of the data that gets automatically picked up by Apple to create your Search Ad, here’s another aspect to App Store Optimization that you should focus on:

3. Review and ratings

As mentioned before, Apple is all about being able to offer a great user experience and being relevant to their users. That’s why they use ratings and reviews as a parameter to gauge how good an app is, for being recommended to its users, thus affecting where you stand in the App Store search ranking.

Apart from serving as social proof to potential users, ratings and reviews also act as metadata for search and help categories your app better in the store, based on user feedback.

If you’re wondering how you could nudge users to share positive reviews for your app, start with those who are more actively engaged with it. Encourage them with in-app incentives for instance. You never know which feedback might actually work the best for your app in the store and what might define your product development journey.

And the best part is that now you can directly respond to comments dropped by users on your app listing, making it easier to have a conversation.

Key takeaways

As soon as an app developer or a marketer learns about Apple Search Ads, they tend to jump onto the bandwagon all too soon. But the campaigns that work are those that are backed by a proper Apple advertising strategy - research and user data that focuses on how the end user tends to use the search on the App Store.

So before starting your App Store Search Ads campaign, make sure you go beyond just identifying who your app is meant for. Focus on optimising your listing for relevant keywords by ensuring that the metadata, keyword bank and the app’s creatives, are all in line with what you want your app to be shown for.

Setting yourself up for organic growth before running an Apple Search Ads campaign will also help you analyse the response of users, test the discoverability of keywords and create campaigns that are more likely to be displayed at the right time with the right message, to the right audience.

To put it bluntly, don’t just look at hastily wanting to launch your app before someone else brings up something similar. Let data drive your App Store Search Ads campaign and maintain a user-first approach while creating your promotions.

After all, in a user-centric market, it’s how well you are able to understand their needs and pitch your app as a solution in a relevant manner, that can ensure brand stickiness and increase your app downloads.

We know that it is a lot to do and can be overwhelming for an app developer or marketer to handle. In such scenarios, you shouldn’t shy away from reaching out to experts in App Store Optimisation and Search Ads. They not only help you set-up your App Store Search Ads campaign but also help you understand your user segments and the ever-changing App Store as well as market trends better.

Alternatively, you can look for smart tools like the Blackbox Platform to manage your Apple Search Ads efficiently. It combines the power of automation with the experience of industry experts to optimise your Search Ads.

All you need to do is tell the platform which app you want to promote and how much you want to spend. Then you can sit back and watch your app’s ad begin to appear at the top of the search results in the App Store.

Want to learn more about the Blackbox Platform and how it can help you get more app downloads from Apple Search Ads?Watch the below video.

Visibility matters in times when there is so much content on the web and thousands of apps under every category trying to capture a similar audience’s attention. It’s time to cut out the noise and reach high-intent, quality users with search ads.

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