Apple Search Ads: The Ultimate Guide to Success


Updated for 2019.

Apple Search ads are paid ads for app publishers on Apple’s App Store. This means that if you have an app you no longer need to rely solely on the search listings to drive installs.

Now you can reach new customers by showing users an ad of your app beside the App Store search results.

Since Apple launched the ad platform in late 2016, we’ve been busy managing campaigns for our clients and driving hundreds of thousands of installs. And in this guide, we’re going to share what we have learnt.

You can promote your app to not just US, Canada, and UK users, but also to users in countries across Africa, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, including Thailand.

In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started with ASA, including new changes such as the bid indicator and custom reports.

We’ll help you navigate your way around the Apple Search Ads dashboard, teach you what the different campaign settings mean and show you how to choose your keywords and structure a campaign.

We’ll also give you six secret insider tips that will supercharge your campaign success.

All the information in this guide is based on real client account performance data, and from guidance we’ve personally received from the Apple Search Ads team.


Understanding the Dashboard Terminology

If you’re unfamiliar with digital marketing acronyms, you’ll need to learn the basics before the column headings below make any sense.

If you know this stuff already and would rather read tips on account structure and optimisation, skip to the next section.

apple ads search match

– Status:

The status of a campaign, adgroup or keyword is limited to ‘Active’ or ‘Paused’. Campaigns, ad groups and keywords can’t be deleted, so pausing is the only option for removal.

– Search Match:

Search Match saves you time on trying to figure out all the keyword possibilities for your app. Instead it automatically matches your ad to relevant searches in the App Store.

Apple uses the metadata from your App Store listing, information about similar apps in the same genre, and other search data to work out whether your ad should be shown to a user. This feature can be switched on or off.

– Default CPT Bid:

This is the maximum you will pay for a tap on your ad, not necessarily what you will pay, depending on competitor bids.

– Spend:

The amount you have spent within the current date range. The date range can be altered as required to show data within a specific time frame.

– Avg CPA (Average Cost Per Acquisition):

This is the average cost per installation that you are paying.

– Avg CPT (Average Cost Per Tap):

The average amount you pay for a tap on your ad.

impressions and taps ios search ads

– Impressions:

This is the number of times your ad has been shown to users.

– Taps:

The number of times your ad has been tapped on by users.

– Conversions:

In the case of Apple Search Ads, an installation represents a conversion.

– TTR (Tap-Through Rate):

TTR is calculated by taking taps and dividing them by impressions (taps/impressions).

– CR (Conversion Rate):

The conversion rate is calculated by dividing conversions by taps (conversions/taps).

How to Structure an Apple Search Ads Campaign

Apple Search Ads is pretty simple. You create one campaign for each app. In theory you shouldn’t need to have more than one campaign per app, and in our experience doing so will cause one to conflict with and override the other.

The campaign settings include the campaign name, app name, budget and daily cap.

Your budget is the amount you want to spend for the entire campaign, and your daily cap is the limit you set for your daily spend.

Unlike other ad platforms such as Google Adwords or Facebook, there aren’t any major controls for optimising your ads within the campaign settings of Apple Search ads. In fact, the only reason to return to the campaign settings tab is to adjust spend or change the campaign name.

search ads daily cap

Within your campaign, we recommend structuring your adgroups as per the example below:

The most efficient structure for monitoring performance and optimising ad groups is to split them up by device and match type.

Doing so gives you the control you need to easily understand which devices and match types are returning a positive ROI.

If your app is on iPhone and iPad, you should have six ad groups; one for each device and match type. If your app is only for one device, you will have three ad groups.

Keyword Match Types

Apple Search Ads offer two keyword match types: Broad Match and Exact Match. These function in a similar way to the Google AdWords match types.

If you aren’t familiar with these match types, here’s an overview of each:

Broad Match:

Broad Match is the default match type in Apple Search Ads and is designed to make your ad run on relevant close variants of a keyword, such as singular, plurals, misspellings, synonyms, related searches and phrases that include that term (fully or partially).

Exact Match:

Exact Match gives you far greater control than Broad Match. With Exact Match you can target a specific term and its close variants, such as common misspellings and plurals.

With Exact Match, your ad will get fewer impressions than on Broad Match, but your tap-through rates (TTRs) and conversions on those impressions may be higher because your ads will be more relevant to the user.

As can be seen from our example above, the Search Match function should be turned off for the ad groups that have keywords, and enabled for the other two ad groups without keywords.

You can use Search Match alongside keywords in the same adgroup, but we recommend keeping Search Match and keyworded adgroups separate to allow you to efficiently monitor the performance of each.

apple search ads keywords

Broad match keywords, as shown above, are displayed with no brackets. Exact match keywords, as shown below, are placed within square brackets.

manage apple search ads keywords

The Broad Match setting in Apple Search Ads operates on broad relevance. For example, if we set the word ‘marketwatch’ on broad match it will trigger an ad for the search term ‘bloomberg’.

This is because Apple sees these terms as closely related and thinks that a person searching for Bloomberg would also be interested in an app that relates to the Stock Market.

apple store ads

Exact match keywords will not differentiate between plurals. As seen below, a search for ‘stock’ was triggered by having the keyword [stocks] in the adgroup.

apple search ad tutorial

Don’t bother including plural variants of all your keywords. This creates pointless clutter and will make data analysis that much harder.

apple keyword tool

Using the Keyword Tool

The keyword tool can be found inside the ad group setup options screen or the keyword view. It gives an indication of search volumes for each keyword, but no specific volume numbers.

Ideally you want to find keywords that have a high search volume and low competition, because the higher the competition the more you are likely to pay per tap.

That said, a successful ad campaign is about achieving a positive ROI, so you’ll need to test keywords related to your app to find out which work well and are worth including in your campaign going forward.

The second tab of the keyword view is the Search Terms tab. Here you can view a list of search terms that have triggered your ads. This is arguably your most useful optimisation tool. It will give you ideas for new keywords, as well as negative keywords.

search ads negative keywords

Adding Negative Keywords to Your Campaign

Negative keywords are keywords that you don’t want your ads to trigger for.

For example, if your business is related to rehab then ‘Amy Winehouse’ would be a good negative keyword to add in. Amy Winehouse was a famous singer and Rehab was the name of her popular album, in case you didn’t know.

Negative keywords aren’t necessary for ad groups that contain only Exact Match keywords because Apple will only show your ads for those exact search terms. You will need to use negative keywords for Broad Match and Search Match ad groups.

Understanding the Ad Group Settings

The ad group settings panel is where the finer controls for your ads are found. In this section we’ll take a look at each setting and what it does:

– Storefronts:

This refers to the Apple Store you want your ads to show in. Choose from 59 countries!

– Devices:

You can choose from iPad and iPhone, iPad only, iPhone only.

– Ad Scheduling:

Specify the best hours and days to show your ad, as well as start and end dates.

– Default Max CPT Bid:

This is the benchmark Cost Per Tap for new keywords. Remember that editing keyword-level CPTs will override this number.

– CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) Goal:

This is how much you’re willing to pay for a conversion. Bear in mind that Apple takes 30% of your sale, so you should aim for a CPA of less than 70% of the cost of your app.

– Search Match:

As discussed previously, this automatically matches your ads to queries relevant to your meta-data and other factors.

– Audience:

Specify targeting criteria at the ad group level:

– Customer Types: 

This is a handy option that enables you to better target your ads. There are 4 options to choose from:

  • Have not downloaded app
  • All users
  • Have downloaded the app
  • Have downloaded my other apps

– Demographics:

Choose the gender and age range of your audience.

– Locations:

Specify cities or states.

Understanding the Bid Indicator

Perhaps the best change to the ASA platform in recent times is the introduction of a Bid Indicator. Previously you had no idea how competitive your bids were, but now Apple gives you a level of bid strength to show how strong your bid is, and suggests a range that you should be bidding within if you want to be competitive.

The Suggested Bid range appears alongside each keyword and is based on an assessment of multiple factors, including how customers have responded to your ad and other advertisers’ ads on this same keyword, your bid history for the given keyword, and other advertisers’ bid histories for the same keyword.

The bid strength is displayed as a red, yellow, or green bar associated with each keyword. It indicates our assessment of the competitiveness of your bid. Bids at the stronger end can help your ads reach a greater portion of your target audience than those at the weaker end.

  • Weak (red) bid strength means your bid is not competitive in relation to other advertisers’ bids. Your ad has a relatively low likelihood of being shown.
  • Moderate (yellow) bid strength indicates an opportunity to improve your bid’s competitiveness and increase the likelihood of your ad being shown.
  • Strong (green) bid strength means your bid is well positioned among other advertisers in the marketplace.
  • No indicator will be shown when there is insufficient data for us to suggest a bid range or measure bid strength, when the keyword has been paused, the ad group or campaign is on hold, or when your current bid is already aligned with our recommendation.


Red is too weak, yellow is moderate, green is strong and competitive.

Creating Custom Reports

One of the key changes in 2018 was the introduction of custom reports.

You can view campaign performance by using the filters provided on screen, but custom reports make it easy to access campaign performance data with more flexible reporting options.

You can set custom reports to the exact granularity you need, run expansive queries for key metrics at the keyword, ad group, campaign, country or region or app level, and schedule reports to automatically run daily, weekly or monthly.

6 Insider Tips for App Store Success

After generating millions of impressions and A/B testing a number of different apps, we’ve identified 6 core best practices that will increase your success with Apple Search Ads.

Tip 1: Don’t Duplicate Keywords Across Campaigns & Ad Groups

Like most other paid search platforms, running duplicate keywords across different campaigns and ad groups simultaneously will cause them to compete with each other and negatively impact the number of impressions each campaign receives.

Tip 2: Free Apps Work Better

Paid apps generally don’t do as well with ASA as free apps because it is far easier to get someone to install something for free. If you have a free version of your app with in-app upgrades, test advertising that version first.

Tip 3: Look Beyond the Keyword Tool

For great keyword ideas, search for your app, or keyword related to your app in the App Store. Then browse the ‘other customers’ bought’ suggestions that appear towards the bottom of the page. This is a great way to mine new keyword ideas for your campaigns.

Tip 4: Test Campaigns with ‘All Users’

When selecting ‘customer types’ in the ad group settings, try using “all users” to begin with, Some users may have upgraded their device and not transferred your app over, so if you use “have not downloaded the app” you will be excluding the chance to re-engage these users. This option also engages inactive users because they too will see the ad.

Tip 5: Use Search Match With Caution!

Search Match can be very effective, but it’s best used with comprehensive negative keyword matching so that it doesn’t duplicate keywords from other campaigns. It can also burn through budget quickly, so test cautiously to start with.

Tip 6: Set Your Campaigns Up Properly!

This might sound obvious, but there’s a big reason why we left this insider tip until last. The beginning of a new campaign is critical because early performance determines how often your ad will be shown in the future.

If Apple determines your ad to be of low interest, it will display it less and favour those of your competitors instead. So make sure you follow the advice in this guide and set your campaigns up optimally from the outset.

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