You might think that with mobile gaming booming, the sector would be resting on its laurels, but it can’t. Competition for users is fierce and with millions of dollars being spent monthly on user acquisition (UA), proving quick return on ad spend (ROAS) is critical.

First, some context: Gaming - it’s come a long way since the first mobile phone game was introduced in 1994, a pre-installed form of ‘Tetris’, arriving on a mobile phone called the Hagenuk MT-2000.

Image of Nokia 6110 phone showing Snake game

Three years later in 1997, Nokia designed a version of ‘Snake’, first appearing on the Nokia 6110 and has since been embedded on 400 million devices worldwide, making it the most played video game on the planet.

Jump forward a decade or so to 2008 and Apple launched the App Store, paving the way for any developer, from a one-man show to large studios, to deliver apps directly to a growing base of iPhone users around the world. Within 8 years, Apple had launched Apple Search Ads in the US with a $100 credit to encourage developers to try it out.

Graph showing $70billion App Store revenue forecast to 2026

Jump to 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic, gaming experienced massive growth in terms of both UA and monetisation. These three statistics offer some insight into the current state of the mobile gaming market:

  • In 2021, there were 3.9 billion smartphone users worldwide. (Newzoo)
  • Mobile game consumer spend reached $116 billion in 2021 – $16 billion more than in 2020. (AppAnnie)
  • iOS App Store Player spend alone is set to reach $70 billion by 2026. (SensorTower)

Every developer since ‘Snake’ knows that apps cost money to develop and market, so acquiring the right players and monetising your app (through in-app advertising exposure or in-app purchases), is key.

Apple Search Ads quickly established that targeting the user in the App Store delivers impressive conversion because intention is high. Apple Search Ads states that 70% of users use the search function in the App Store, resulting in 65% of downloads coming from search.

Today, gaming is a highly valuable and highly competitive vertical; as such, we are often asked how we can help to deliver enhanced performance and ROAS for gaming apps, so when we built our new Search Ads Platform, Astra, we did so with gaming and in-app events in mind.

Astra is built to consider the needs of individual verticals such as gaming, fintech, ecommerce, and a large part of the new platform is to provide targeted functionality to support these verticals, be it as simple as enabling gaming clients to upweight their budget across periods of the day, or week, when the UA opportunity is at its strongest.

Let’s take a look at some of gaming’s hurdles to Apple Search Ads success:

Expectation of Acquisition Costs

Gaming apps often use a portfolio of different digital UA channels and have a solid understanding of customer acquisition cost (CAC) and ROAS, by channel. When approaching Apple Search Ads as a UA channel, it’s important for brands to understand that because user search intention is so high in Apple Search Ads, conversion likelihood is also very high, as previously stated. This may mean that CAC might be higher in Apple Search Ads, but this should be viewed against the context of the greater likelihood of UA success.

The best way to approach Apple Search Ads is not to think of it as a traditional UA channel, since user intent and conversion is so high. Think of Apple Search Ads as a way to secure users and scale spend through more targeted, objective campaigns. Objective campaigns are focused on discovering and proving UA hypotheses that allow you to better focus your spend and bolster growth. An example of this is temporal targeting, where certain times of day may deliver better ROAS and therefore spend capacity or acceptable CPD goals may be adjustable.

Is There a Benefit to Bidding on Brand?

Image of a Search Results ad

Apps may feel that spending Apple Search Ads budget on brand terms when user-intent and brand-search is so high, delivers little return. However, it’s worth remembering that your competitors are very likely to be bidding on your brand and if they win those bids, their Search Ad will appear above the number 1 ranked app. So even if your ASO is outstanding, a competitor can achieve better visibility than you simply by winning the Search Ad bid.

Poor Performance of Generic Keywords

The side-effect of consumers searching by brand name is that incidence of searching by game type (such as ‘crossword’ or ‘block puzzle’) may be low, so some generic keywords may not perform well. However, this will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis before it is ruled out; it’s also worth remembering that in some areas of the gaming category generic keywords perform well and they also increase audience visibility.

How can Astra assist here? Astra’s 24/7 discovery function uses natural language processing and keyword entity extraction to bring new, effective keywords to your campaign – beyond the common generics. Once proven to be viable keywords, your Cost Per Tap Bids and budget allocations are optimised constantly with the aim of generating the maximum number of downloads for your specified rate of spend.

Image of the Astra dashboard showing keyword results

Tracking Data

Since the launch of iOS 14.5 and the prioritizing of user privacy, apps have experienced reduced attribution insights against specific keywords, for in app-events. AppsFlyer and Adjust are using some level of probabilistic determination but it still stands that data can be scarce and this has a negative impact on proving campaign ROAS in a timely manner.

Astra will be pulling in AppsFlyer keyword data, which will make it much easier to identify which keywords are performing well, and this will enable users to make informed decisions about campaign and keyword optimization.

Reduction In Spend When Switching to A New Platform

In Astra it’s possible to transfer across existing Apple Search Ads campaigns, decreasing the likelihood of seeing any significant drop in spending. Astra supports a passive monitoring mode which allows us to understand the performance of your campaign prior to migration, maximising the efficacy of our machine learning systems to allow immediate engagement of our bid optimisations systems, whilst taking consideration of the existing state of your campaigns.

So, in Summary…

If you’ve skipped ahead, here’s the key point - we created Astra to make managing Apple Search Ads campaigns simpler and more time and budget efficient for gaming apps. A high level of automation, combined with clear visualisation of metrics, makes it easy to see how your gaming campaign is performing, where to make optimisations to keywords and budgets, and importantly (for proving ROAS), understand how well your campaign acquisitions are performing after the install.

Want To Know More?

Check out Astra for yourself - just get in touch to arrange a demo with our team if you’re interested in self-managing your Apple Search Ads or contact our Agency team to hear how we deliver success for our managed clients.

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