How to use Apple's App Store Search Ads

Search Ads are now available, but where should you start?

How to use Apple's App Store Search Ads

As of October 5th, Apple's new Search Ads initiative for the iOS App Store has been available to developers.

The process will be familiar to anyone who's ever advertised on a search engine, and involves advertisers buying up certain keywords to ensure that their game gets pride of place when a user searches for them.

Top of the page

Already, major companies such as King, Zynga, and MZ have begun buying out ad space around their own games.

But in these early days of the service, it's still a relatively cheap way of getting installs. According to Mobile Action, developers using search ads are seeing an average conversion rate of 49.4% with a mere $0.40 cost per acquisition.

So how can you get in on the action? PocketGamer.biz has got your back with this beginner's guide to Search Ads.



Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Clean up your game page

    It should go without saying that if you're considering placing a Search Ad, you should have some consideration of the page you're attempting to drive traffic to.

    Not only is it crucial for ensuring a good conversion rate once people are driven to your page, but Search Ads automatically creates your advertisement from the metadata and imagery used on your existing listing - so make sure it looks as good as it possibly can.

    For this, you might want to look at changing your app icon, picking the perfect screenshots or even tweaking your app's name.

  • 2 Pick targets wisely (or let Apple pick them for you)

    Apple is understandably keen not to get a reputation for irritating its App Store customers with irrelevant ad placements.

    So even if you spend money on the 'racing' keyword with your celebrity simulation game, Apple's Search Match system should prevent your ad from showing up in searches for that keyword.

    How Search Ads appear on the store

    It does this by determining which search keywords are relevant to your app, based on your metadata keywords. Ads on these keywords will be implemented immediately if you use default settings.

    Should you somehow get around Search Match, Apple will also be measuring user response. If users aren't tapping your ad, the frequency with which your ad is shown will eventually dwindle to nought.

  • 3 Set a limit

    Apple is trying to assure app developers that Search Ads are affordable and suit campaigns of all sizes.

    To this end, it's offering no minimum spend and an ability to start and stop advertising at any time with no long-term obligations.

    Apple is calling its payment model cost-per-tap, meaning that you only pay for every user that actually decides to engage with your advertisement and follow through to your App Store page.

    Keep it affordable

    It's worth noting, however, that this does not guarantee a download.

    Therefore, you should consider your usual conversion rate and decide what is a reasonable amount for you to spend for worthwhile return on investment.

    You can control this by placing a maximum daily spend cap to protect you from unexpected costs. When the spend cap is met, ads will disappear before returning the next day.

    Users can also schedule their campaigns to start and stop on specific dates and only appear during certain days and times.

  • 4 Take advantage of Apple data

    There are a number of advanced features you can use to get greater control over your campaign.

    Apple's relative search term popularity index gives you an excellent insight into which of the keywords related to your game are currently being searched for most frequently.

    However, remember that the most popular search might not be the most effective for your campaign. You should consider first the relevance to your app and the fact that popularity for a particular search term may be a flash in the pan.

    You can also enter keywords of your own to target from which Apple will suggest more related keyword ideas.

    Better targeting

    As for buying up search space on keywords that could be considered the domain of another company, early reports are that it is both possible and effective to do so - but is likely to be both expensive and ineffective for the bigger titles, given their superior budget.

    For any keyword combination you bid on, you can select either a broad or exact match.

    The former is most popular, allowing the ad to be displayed even if the keywords are in a different order or feature as part of a longer title.

    An exact match meanwhile means that the ad is only displayed on that specific keyword combination for a more targeted campaign.

    Finally, you can select negative keywords, which are keywords for which you don't want your ad to appear. This can prevent irrelevant placement and increase your ad's efficiency.

  • 5 Picture your user

    By default, the only demographic targeting in Search Ads is to ensure that those who have already downloaded an app do not receive further advertisements for it.

    However, there's plenty of scope to be more specific by targeting based on age, gender and device location.

    Played X? You'll like Y

    Audiences might be the most interesting category, however, allowing you to target your campaign towards existing users of specific apps. 

    This allows you to develop a profile of your would-be user beyond just the search term. Establishing an interest - or at least a prior interest - in a certain type or genre of game before serving them your ad is very valuable.

  • 6 What Apple's Search Ads don't do

    Apple's Search Ads could be very useful for app developers, publishers and marketers, but there are a few things it can't be used for.

    Search Ads do not profile users based on search queries. No data from other Apple Apps, such as Health, Apple Pay and HomeKit, is used to deliver ads either.

    Hidden data

    What's more, no individual user data is shared with advertisers, but rather only aggregate campaign delivery information is made available. So, if you're after more deeper information on each user you're attracting, you may want to seek other marketing avenues.

    Ads will also not be shown to users under the age of 13 (according to their Apple ID), or to accounts that are registered as a Managed Apple ID.

    As expected, your ad will also show up marked as an 'Ad' with a light blue background. This means users will be able to identify your ad as a paid placement, if they are paying attention.

  • 7 Suck it and see

    One of the most valuable features of Search Ads is the simply-presented data it provides on your campaign across all key metrics.

    These reports allow you to see what's working and what isn't, and to change your approach with immediate effect.

    Actionable insights

    With the cost of campaigns low, at this early stage it's worth experimenting and seeing what results you can get.

    Even an unsuccessful campaign is a learning experience and spending limits can ensure that the risk is not too high.

    Use this opportunity for experimentation before the platform becomes overrun and Apple changes its terms.

    [Sources: Apple, Mobile Action]

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.