Guest blog from Thomas Petit: High Hopes - expectations of scaling in Apple Search Ads

App growth consultant Thomas Petit was a recent guest on our Apple Search Ads vodcast, AdBites - here he summarises his key thoughts from that session, which primarily addressed the challenges of scaling with Apple Search Ads.

To watch the full AdBites episode, visit the YouTube channel.

What is 'scaling'?

For many, the scaling metric is adspend; I prefer to focus on outcomes and measure it by revenue. If I can achieve a bit more revenue for less adspend, I’ll take it as a win! Yet, it’s not all about the money - another factor is visibility or coverage; for a complete picture, combine ROI with a metrics that encompasses better awareness consideration and the effect of showcasing one’s app in front of the 600+ AppStore weekly visitors. This, rather than just adspend.

Apple Search Ads scaling limitations

One strong limitation is the nature of the channel itself: unlike paid social or display, search is capped by the number of people searching for relevant queries. That’s true for the Play Store, Google, Bing and obviously, Apple Search Ads. However, not many brands are reaching the ceiling.

The other limit is within your own goals: advertisers with very high ROAS expectations may quickly find themselves limited in how much they can scale.

Have you put your own limits on scaling? How aggressive are you willing to bid to buy the visibility? This is almost always the bigger limiting factor.

What to focus on?

  1. First, observe what you can do on high volume, “short tail” keywords. This is likely where most opportunities to scale are - albeit, at a likely high price. Observe your share of voice carefully on those critical terms to assess visibility potential.
  2. Explore deeper! How far have you explored other search terms? There are always more keywords than you might think; there is the relevancy of the term itself, and lateral association exists, such as ‘fasting’ and ‘fitness’, or ‘insurance’ and driving test apps. It’s always worth exploring new terms – this is what discovery campaigns are for, but also research and explore through other methods.
  3. Geographic expansion: this one is fairly straightforward - with 60 countries available, there is likely untapped opportunities in your vertical somewhere.
  4. Raise your bids: bidding higher is the more direct route to scaling. But be careful about your returns!
  5. Be more relevant: You’re wasting money if you bid but your content isn’t right for conversion. Increasing relevancy can offset or at least smoothen the price of very competitive terms. Iterate your metadata (use keywords you struggle with) and exploit custom product pages to match the intent with your value proposition, increasing TTR can limit the increase in price.

How do the new Apple Search Ads placement fit into the picture?

Some verticals are not massively search driven; people do not necessarily search for them directly. The new placements are ‘display’ formats and don’t depend on search volumes, so they are more about awareness and perhaps more useful for verticals with less search, or for apps that feel they have hit the position where they can’t push search more.

The new Apple Search Ads placements are an alternative means to gain visibility on the App Store and then perhaps scalability. The more people see your brand, the more likely they are to interact with it.

How might you measure the incremental effect of a mixed placement campaign in the App Store?

So the new placements are about maintaining a long-term presence and building brand, rather than just immediate conversion, and that’s why direct return advertisers might have been disappointed initially: they may not look fantastic at first sight on ROAS, because they require a different way to assess their impact. Last-click measurement and/or a low budget test won’t tell you much.

Today tab ad is top of the funnel, awareness (visibility) driven ad placement; it’s building a brand relationship with users. The effect may lag for longer, require a minimum amount of reach and frequency, and even be felt in other ways than traditional, ‘down the funnel’, search result ads.

The approach should be to run more incremental analysis and mixed media modelling and testing. Have periods where you invest more in the new ad placements and others where you invest zero, but all the time you’re looking at the overall outcome.

You cannot measure incrementality on a tiny budget. If every day you’re spending 100 and you put 1 on a new placement, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to measure anything at all. There is a minimum $ amount that will enable you to see the difference, and there’s also a minimum length of time.

Don’t only look at installs and revenue trend: consider the long-term implication of awareness, for instance by monitoring the volume of search for your brand, your historical and current TTR on other terms and even downstream conversions.

What could Apple do to help overcome some of the challenges with scaling?

They have created custom product pages, so now, after 10 years, on the App Store we no longer have to show the exact same thing to everyone! It’s a huge improvement – custom product pages enable you to showcase something different to different users. This has really allowed brands to be more relevant to what people are looking for.

Even after a year and a half, custom product pages are vastly underutilised; this product is a game-changer.

One thing that I’d really like to have is a deep link on the custom product pages – if I know that the user has looked for renting a car, I’d love them to click a deep link and go straight to the ability to rent a car (rather than buy it). Within the app, personalise the experience according to what they are searching for and make it a seamless journey.

Finally, I wish Apple would integrate its own data together, namely here Apple Search Ads and App Store Connect, to bring the purchases and proceeds data into the native interface, allowing us to measure beyond an install without having to join the data together in Excel or use third party tooling.

What can brands do to overcome some of the scaling obstacles?

  1. Set expectations realistically! In volume and returns.
  2. Understand what limits you have set on yourself. Remove the obvious obstacles such as targeting parameters; remove spend caps. Then assess how aggressive you can be with scale vs profitability.
  3. Dig for more keywords – there is always a lot to explore. One of my hidden gems is to bet on foreign language keywords in a territory, to expand the keyword pool.
  4. Consider the new placements on the App Store for what they are: awareness generating, and measure them differently than just direct return.

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