Get Started with Apple Search Ads Campaigns: a Comprehensive Guide for App Owners

Kate Zhabina avatar
Kate Zhabina

If you’re only getting started with your application and are unfamiliar with Apple Search Ads, let us get you up to speed. It is a relatively new, but powerful platform for developers to place sponsored ads on top of the App Store’s search results page. In short, it helps enhance discoverability and facilitates application downloads.

While we’ve already covered the basics of understanding Apple Search Ads, we thought it was important to dive deeper into the subject and lay out the steps of setting up an ad campaign within this platform. After all, despite Apple’s intuitive interface, it can be somewhat overwhelming for a newcomer to grasp.

App Promotion Steps With Apple Search Ads Basic

First of all, let’s quickly cover Apple Search Ads (ASA) Basic and how you’d promote your application within this version of the platform.

If you’ve read our previous post, you’ll know that ASA Basic is designed for those at the beginning of their mobile app advertising journey. It’s the simplest version to set up, but one that comes with a couple of conditions that limit your control. These constraints include:

  • Inability to manage keywords or targeting
  • Working with a maximum budget of $10,000 per app/month
  • Only being able to promote up to 50 apps

Regardless of the restrictions, ASA Basic can be a great fit for some mobile app publishers. Not to mention, the steps separating you from launching your campaign are much simpler and fewer than those with ASA Advanced. Specifically, there are only 5 actions you’ll have to complete:

1. Choose an App for Promotion

Select the app you wish to promote from those associated with your linked App Store Connect account. Don’t worry, if you want to run ads for more applications, you’ll be able to set them up from your dashboard later on.

2. Select the Relevant Countries and Regions

Next, you’ve got to pick whether your promotion will run in all the countries and regions where your app is available or only in specific ones. Do take note, though, that if you choose the former, you’ll automatically be added to new markets whenever they become accessible.

3. Specify Your Monthly Budget

Once the regions are picked, it’s time to add your monthly budget and indicate the most you’re willing to spend on app promotion every month. It is a single budget across all countries and regions, so keep that in mind when specifying your number. As you may recall, with ASA Basic, the maximum monthly budget is $10,000 per app/month.

4. Identify Your Max Cost-Per-Install

Besides listing your monthly budget, you’ll also get the opportunity to specify your maximum cost-per-install (CPI). When you get to this step, the platform will recommend a max CPI based on what other developers are willing to pay to reach the same users as yours. Of course, you can choose to follow this recommendation or set your own amount. However, it’s worth noting that using Apple’s suggested max CPI will increase the likelihood of your ad being shown.

5. Launch Your App Promotion

If you’ve added a valid payment method upon signing up for Apple Search Ads, your promotion will start running once you’ve created it. On the other hand, if you haven’t yet specified a payment method, your ad will only start running after it’s added to your account.

Once everything’s ready and launched, Apple will continuously optimize your campaign in a way that the platform deems to be the most effective. Thus, requiring minimal effort on your part.

Apple Search Ads Basic Best Practices

Once your campaign is live, it’s time to monitor performance and make adjustments. While the features of Basic are limited, there are still some good best practices to follow that Apple itself recommends. Let’s take a quick look at each one of them:

1. Review Metadata

Take a look at metadata like your app’s title, description, keywords, and previews in App Store Connect to make sure it’s the best representation of your solution. Since the platform assesses your app’s relevance for certain search queries based on these elements, it’s imperative to craft them strategically and with care.

2. Adjust Ad Creative

Your ad creative plays a major role in the performance of your promotion. So, take a look at your visual assets, if your ad doesn’t seem to be doing well, then make adjustments that you think may benefit it.

3. Review Product Page

Your product page definitely plays a role in helping to drive installs. Hence, use it wisely to showcase your work and emphasize the best parts of your application.

4. Optimize Max CPI

If you haven’t been using the suggested max CPI and notice that your ad isn’t delivering optimal results — try raising your max CPI to increase the chances of your ad being shown to the relevant audiences. Similarly, even if you’ve used the suggested bid, consider raising it a bit and monitor whether that improves performance.

5. Adjust Country and Region

At the end of the day, you want to reach as many interested customers as possible. So, if you haven’t been running your promotion across all the countries and regions where your app is available — consider changing that.

6. Review Chosen Business Model

Lastly, the right business model is imperative for a successful mobile app business. Hence, if all of the above-mentioned best practices aren’t helping you drive performance, it may be time to rethink your chosen business model. Perhaps switching to a subscription-based one and hiding some key features behind a perfect paywall will boost your growth.

Alternatively, if you feel you’ve hit the ceiling with ASA Basic, think about making the transition to the Advanced version of the platform. The setup might be a tad more complex, but we’ve outlined it for you below so that you can feel more prepared when completing it yourself.

How to Set Up an Apple Search Ads Advanced Campaign

If you feel like ASA Basic isn’t enough for you, or you’ve tried it, followed the best practices and it’s not quite working — consider turning to the Advanced version of Apple’s ad platform. Below, we’ll discuss some of the key steps of setting up an ASA Advanced campaign and guide you through the entire process. Let’s dive in:

1. Create an Optimal Campaign Structure

With ASA Advanced, the very first thing you’ve got to do is get your campaign structure right. Since this version of the platform operates on a cost-per-tap (CPT) model, it’s imperative to make the most of each tap and ensure that people actually download the application.

However, before we dive in, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the Apple Search Ads terminology:

  • Match Types: keyword settings within the platform’s search results campaigns that allow app owners to control how ads are matched to user searches. 
  • Broad Match: a default match type in ASA Advanced that ensures your ad will run on close variants of the relevant keyword. For instance, it’ll include singular terms, plurals, misspellings, synonyms, and phrases that may include the keyword. All in all, this option helps save time on building keyword lists since you don’t have to think of all possibilities by yourself.
  • Exact Match: a match type that offers the most control over searches. In this case, you pick a specific term and its close variations, and that’s it. Typically, this can result in fewer impressions, but higher tap-through rates and conversions since the audience you’ll be reaching is one that’s likely most interested in your application.
  • Search Match: a feature that when turned on, lets your ad be matched automatically to search terms without you having specified all keyword possibilities and bidding on them. Instead, it uses your app’s metadata, information about similar apps, and search data to match your ad with relevant queries.

Now that you know the main match types, we can move on to discussing campaign structure and you’ll understand why that preamble was necessary.

As previously mentioned, the way you structure your campaign has an immediate impact on its performance. Thus, to make the most of your investment in ASA Advanced, it’s best to separate your campaigns by keyword theme or strategy. 

Overall, there are four campaign types that you should consider creating:

  • Brand Campaigns. Focused on users that are explicitly searching for your app or company name. Thus, in this campaign type, keywords will help your ad appear in searches that are directly related to your solution or brand. In this case, all keywords should be set to the exact match type.
  • Category Campaigns. Concentrated on customers that are searching for non-branded terms that describe your app’s category or what its actual purpose is. Hence, with this campaign type, you can reach a wider audience that is interested in the genre that your app belongs to. Here, keywords should be descriptive of your application and set to exact match type.
  • Competitor Campaigns. Centered on customers searching for apps that are similar to that of your own within the same or similar app category. In this case, all keywords should be set to exact match as they can help your advertisement be shown for searches that are narrowly focused on your type of app.
  • Discovery Campaigns. Executed with Search Match and Broad Match keywords. With this campaign structure, you aim to find useful keywords and target popular search terms that are relevant to your app. So, you’ll want to create two ad groups. One for Broad Match (with Search Match off) and one for Search Match (with no keywords but Search Match turned on).

Alternatively, you may also want to separate your campaigns based on their budgets or countries and regions. In both of these cases, you can then create four different ad groups to focus on the four keyword themes that we’ve outlined above.

2. Fill Out Essential Information

Once you’ve settled on your campaign structure, you can head to your account and fill out all the necessary information. Specifically:

  • Pick the app you want to promote
  • Select where your ads will run — at the top of the App Store’s search results or on the search tab at the top of suggested apps
  • Choose the countries and regions where your campaign will run

Once all these basics are done, you can move on to setting up your campaigns.

3. Adjust Campaign Settings

First off, you’ve got to give a name to your campaign. So, based on how you’re organizing the campaign, it’s best to make the name relate to that for ease of monitoring. For instance, by naming it based on a campaign type like Brand, Discovery, Competitor, or Category.

Then, you’ll need to set your campaign’s budget. Of course, you can always increase the amount later on, but decreasing it won’t be possible once the campaign is launched. So, keep that in mind when deciding on a number. Overall, your ads will run until your budget runs out, the campaign end date is reached, or you pause the campaign.

Additionally, if you want even more control, you have the option to set a daily cap, which will help to distribute your budget across all of the days within a specified time period.

4. Create an Ad Group

Now that your campaign settings are complete, it’s time to zero in on your ad group. Of course, first, you’ll need to give your ad group a name. Ideally, one that relates to your keyword theme so you can easily monitor different ad groups and their performance without having to recall how they differ.

Next, you’ll need to set a max CPT or max CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions) bid for your ad group. As you probably know, a max CPT relates to the largest amount you’re willing to pay for a tap on your advertisement while a max CPM is how much you’ll pay per thousand ad impressions.

Also, in some cases, you can add an optional cost-per-acquisition (CPA) goal, which is essentially the amount you’d like to ideally spend to acquire a single customer.

5. Select Ad Group Keywords

Next, it’s time to select ad group keywords. As you recall, these are used to ensure the most relevant customers find your app and hopefully download it. Of course, the platform knows plenty about your application and its genre and will thus provide keyword recommendations to help you pick the best keywords.

However, if you’re choosing your own keywords and want to ensure you do it well, start by thinking like your customers. How would they search for your type of app? What word combinations would they use? Once you’ve pinned that down, add the keywords to your list and make sure to try both — general and specific ones, so that you have a good mix of potential matches.

6. Refine Your Audience

Now, it’s time to refine your audience and zero in on your targeting. You’ll be able to get quite specific with your demographics and target users based on:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location
  • Device type (by default, ASA Advanced shows your ads to customers who use the device types that your app is compatible with)
  • Customer type (all users, new users, returning users, or users of your other apps)

As you can see, ASA Advanced offers you a lot more options in terms of targeting when compared to the Basic version of the platform. Thus, helping your ads reach the most relevant audience for your application.

7. Specify Campaign Duration and Schedule

We’re almost at the end of the ASA Advanced setup process, so please bear with us. At this point, it’s time to specify your ad groups and ad schedule. So, you’ll need to identify the times and days that your ads will run on the App Store. By default, the platform will propose a “today” start date and no end date, so make sure you edit those fields before launch if you’ve got a specific schedule in mind.

As a general rule, this function of ASA Advanced is very helpful when dealing with seasonal promotions and time-sensitive campaigns as it allows you to focus on specific dates and align your messaging with them.

8. Add Creative Sets

Finally, we’ve reached the last step of the Apple Search Ads Advanced setup process. Here, you can add optional Creative Sets to expand ad options that align with your ad group’s theme or audience.

Creative Sets are basically screenshots and app previews that you select from your App Store’s product page. They give you the power to leverage additional assets you have and create more ad variations, thus facilitating improved ad performance. Especially, if you align relevant screenshots and previews with specific keyword groups and audience refinements. 

Moreover, ASA’s platform will use intelligent automation to optimize which Creative Sets to show in order to ensure the best results. So, it’s really in your best interests to think carefully about this last step and experiment with different options.

Once again, this is just another way that ASA Advanced gives you more power over the customization of your campaigns.

Making the Most of Your Apple Search Ads Campaigns

Apple Search Ads is an immensely powerful tool that mobile app developers and marketers should certainly embrace to boost iOS downloads and increase brand awareness. So, whether you choose the Basic version of the platform or turn to the more comprehensive Advanced one, there’s little doubt that you’ll quickly reap the rewards of Apple’s advertising tool.

Qonversion offers the opportunity to monitor how your ASA campaigns are performing and stay on top of the important metrics for subscription-based apps. So, we know a thing or two about successful promotions on Apple’s platform. If you’re not sure where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.