Apple Search Ads 101

Apple Search Ads (ASA) are sponsored text ads for driving app installs within Apple’s App Store. Apple Search ads were first introduced a few years back 2016, so it is still a very young, untapped platform. These ads can only appear on all iOS devices, meaning iPhones and iPads. 

ASA offers two types of accounts: Basic and Advanced. Search Ads Basic is the simple way to use Search Ads, but it offers very little in terms of control and has a $5,000 budget limitation. With Apple Search Basic, Apple picks the keywords for the Search Ads campaign to bid on based on what the algorithm deems as relevant. It also picks the most relevant targets to deliver the ads to. 

Basically, Apple Search Ads Basic is the bare minimum necessary for a Search Ads campaign to remain live and is completely automated. Apple Search’s algorithm is not as advanced as the machine learning capabilities of Google, but advertisers have to trust that the algorithm chooses the right keywords. It’s good for developers just getting started with Search Ads but does not provide advertisers with the performance levers that Advanced does. 


Apple Search Ads vs. Google Ads

Apple Search Ads Advanced is similar to an early version of Google AdWords, without the luxury of automation. There are several limitations to ASA, which we will discuss in detail, but it has all the basic functions of a search platform. With Apple Search Ads Advanced, you can:

The main differences between Google Ads and Apple Search Ads are:

  • ASA only has Exact and pure Broad match keywords

  • There are no shared negative keyword lists

  • No ad copy -- just “Creative Sets,” which are screenshots of the add preview page

  • There is no automated bidding for the Advanced platform

Apple search ads claim to have an impressive 50% average conversion rate for downloads, which is actually something that we have seen proven across accounts. If you or your client’s goal is to drive app installs, Apple Search is a platform you should consider exploring.


The Basics of Apple Search Ads

First, we’ll walk through some basic knowledge on ASA, then briefly go through the JDM Approach, and then finish off with learning how to create a standard ASA campaign structure based off of that approach.



Before we get into things, I will give you this disclaimer: it is a little tricky to navigate the ASA platform. Keep in mind that this is not Google Ads. If you build your program out correctly, you will be one of the few advertisers that has taken the time to do so. The rewards of efficient and qualified conversions will be worth it.


Apple Search Ads Campaign Setup

When creating ASA campaigns there are no bulk sheet or editor options before the campaign is built - it’s all manual. There are only two keyword match types, Broad (pure broad, no phrase or modified broad) and Exact (which does not include close variants). Once you create a keyword you are unable to change its match type. For that reason it’s important to have a good QA process prior to finalizing your keywords, especially if you are segmenting your campaigns by match type. Another limitation to strategy is a lack of negative keyword lists, so negatives must be added manually at the campaign or adgroup level. 

Once your campaigns are live, there are also limitations to management. First, there is no holistic view where you can see all ad groups or keywords at a high level. Second, there is very little insight into search terms if they are deemed as “low volume”. 

Screenshot of Low Volume Terms in Apple Search Ads.

Due to the lack of insight into Low Volume Terms, it makes monitoring Broad campaign SQRs, and monitoring what Apple calls “Search Match” campaigns tricky. 

Now for some good news. After campaigns are created it is then possible to make bulk changes! You can make bulk changes by downloading your keywords/adgroups in excel, you can make updates such as bid changes, and pausing keywords or campaigns at scale by the associated campaign ID or ad group ID.

The "Download Keywords" selection in Apple Search Ads.

In addition to standard search campaigns, Apple Search Ads offers Search Match campaigns. Search Match campaigns essentially function as Apple’s version of Dynamic Search Ads. Apple’s algorithm uses multiple resources to match your ad to relevant searches on the App Store, including the metadata from your App Store listing, information about similar apps in the same genre, and other search data. 

Before getting into structural strategy, it’s important to know the different names for KPIs. The main KPIs in Apple Search are: Installs, CPA, Taps (aka: clicks) Cost Per Tap (CPT, aka: CPC), Tap Through Rate (TTR, aka: CTR), and Conversion Rate (CR). 

Screenshot of the KPIs measured in Apple Search Ads.


Creative Sets

One great part about Apple Search Ads is that ads are automatically created using the metadata, screenshots and app previews provided on the App Store product page. These also appear in organic search results on the App Store. The ads shown in your account when first building out campaigns are default ad examples. No need to spend hours coming up with unique copy variations!

However, if you choose to test different ad variations, there is the option to create your own Creative Sets by selecting specific groupings of screenshots and app previews from the App Store product page.

Creative Sets from Apple Search Ads.

Don’t forget to make sure that your app and any third party tracking (ie AppsFlyer, etc) is properly configured before launching your paid campaigns. 

Things to check for include:

  • Do you have in-app conversion events beyond just the install such as a trial or registration?
  • Does your app feature a page for new users to understand what the app is?


The JDM Approach

At JDM, our go to strategy is the Alpha/Beta campaign structure. Alpha/Beta is a process of segmenting Exact Match vs Broad Match Modified keywords at a campaign level. We have developed  a modified version of this for Apple Search Ads, taking into consideration some of the limitations of the platform. In Apple Search, we are limited to Exact match and pure broad keywords, and have no negative keyword lists. Our workaround to this is running a smaller amount of Beta keywords that can eventually be promoted to Alphas within the Exact Match campaign. Since CPCs and competition are low on ASA, we see Competitor campaigns work very well, with higher conversion rates than you would normally see on Google Search for a competitor conquesting campaign. After rolling the initial standard search campaigns (Alpha, Beta, and Competitor) we’ll then begin to test out “Search Match” dynamic campaigns.

Having a clean and consistent account structure will help drive efficiency, ensure queries are being funneled to the correct keywords and allow you to optimize towards different goals for each campaign. Doing the manual campaign creation up front to build that clean structure will be worth it in the long run when you have cleaner reporting and easier account management. 

The limitations within the ASA UI can be tricky, so if you have any questions feel free to reach out to us


How to Build a Standard Apple Search Campaign

The first thing you’ll want to do is some keyword research. Since Apple Search does not offer a keyword planning tool, we typically do our keyword research within the Google Ads keyword planner and then apply top volume terms to ASA.

The second thing to do is create a campaign shell with all the right settings in place. Select the app you want to advertise, as well as the country you’d like to advertise in. Then name your campaign and set your overall campaign budget as well as a daily cap. 

The "Create Campaign" screen on Apple Search Ads.

Next, create your adgroup name. For organizational purposes, make sure that Search Match is turned off when building standard campaigns, as it is a best practice to create these in their own campaign.

The "Create Ad Group" screen on Apple Search Ads.

With the functionality of creative sets automatically being built off the keywords, there is no need to break up your keywords into hyper focused ad groups based off of creative. Creating a single ad group for each theme is enough segmentation. For example, creating one ad group for “Budget” will suffice vs creating one for each “Budget Planner”, “Budget Tracking””, “Budget Planning”, etc. You will need to set a default bid for each ad group. A good way to decide on your default bid is looking at the suggested bid by ASA and bidding 10-20% lower than that number. This gives you a good starting place with room to scale. 

Since the goal of app campaigns is typically to bring in new users, make sure you are choosing the “New User” customer type as well as any other specific demographic targeting that is applicable to your product. 

The "Customer Types" selection in the Audience settings on Apple Search Ads.

Once you have your ad group settings all in place, it’s time to add in your keywords! To do this, click “Add keywords to your ad group.”

The "Keywords" section in the 'Create Ad Group' screen on Apple Search Ads.

Now, you’ll begin entering your keyword ideas. On the left hand side you will see some keyword suggestions that Apple makes based off of your app metadata, which you can sort through and decipher what fits your ad group theme. 

The search tool for keywords in Apple Search Ads.

As you are choosing your keywords, you will enter in a manual bid. ASA typically suggests a bid higher than needed as an initial starting point. As stated previously for the ad group level bid, we suggest setting your bids 10-20% lower than their suggested bid to leave room to scale. 

You’ll want to adjust your bids for your campaigns based on performance, such as increasing bids for your higher intent exact match keywords.  Higher bids for exact match campaigns will be more effective in terms of efficiency on your campaigns.

For this example, we are building out an Alpha, or exact match, campaign. As mentioned above, ASA does not consider close variants or any misspellings as exact match, so you will have to enter these keywords individually, 

Last thing to keep in mind (because if you don’t you will scream) REMEMBER TO CHOOSE THE CORRECT MATCH TYPE. Once you pick a match type, you cannot change it once the ad group is created. Take the time to QA your keywords and match types prior to saving to avoid frustrations and messy campaigns in the future. 

Finally, you’re done with your first adgroup! You can go ahead and click create campaign, and begin your next. 



Be sure that when creating your Beta, or broad match campaigns, you are negating all exact match terms so that there is no overlap and search terms are filtering into the correct campaigns. If you want the help of a professional team of Paid Ad marketers to supercharge your Apple Search campaign, contact Jordan Digital Marketing!

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