Apple Search Ads: The Complete Guide & Best Practices

Apple Search Ads: The Complete Guide

Apple Search Ads is a relatively new user acquisition channel that is gaining more popularity every day. The platform allows for high conversion rates by connecting relevant users with the right apps. However, there are definitely better and worse ways to manage Apple Search Ads.

This Apple Search Ads guide is designed to help you whether you are looking for new ways to promote your app or you are already a seasoned Apple Search Ads manager. From basic campaign structure to advanced optimization, you will find everything you need to build the ultimate Apple Search Ads strategy.

What is Apple Search Ads?

So what is Apple Search Ads and how does it work? In the simplest terms, Apple Search Ads are the ads that appear at the top of the search results when a user searches for apps.

Apple Search Ads

The platform operates with a cost-per tap system, so app marketers only pay if someone clicks on their ad.

Once people visit the Search tab, they do so with a motivation to download an app that they’re looking for. This means that they do not need convincing to install an app, they are already looking for it. This factor greatly increases the chances of an install occurring.

Apple Search Ads Basic vs Advanced

Apple Search Ads provides two different versions of the platform. Basic and Advanced . The Basic version has a simpler structure and is mostly automated. On the other hand, Apple Search Ads Advanced offers more control and customization to users.

Apple Search Ads Basic

To simplify the whole process and make the life of small businesses easier, Apple Search Ads just asks you to provide the app, the countries you’re targeting, and your preferred monthly budget. And the rest is handled by Apple Search Ads’ algorithms. The purpose here is to maximize your returns with less commitment compared to the Advanced version.

  • It is used by mobile app publishers with a maximum budget of 10 thousand U.S. dollars monthly.
  • A limit of 50 apps that you can promote.
  • No ability to manage your campaign details such as keywords and targeting. Apple Search Ads optimizes performance.
  • App publishers’ can only choose apps and set limits for their CPI and maximum budget.

Apple Search Ads Advanced

Unlike the basic version, Apple Search Ads Advanced is for app publishers with fewer limitations when it comes to budget or time commitment. As the platform works with a Cost-per-Tap model, you will only pay if a user taps on your ad.

To make your ad appear for certain keywords, you have to bid on those keywords. When the search occurs, an auction is conducted. Your CPT is important for the auction outcome. If you get outbidded, it becomes harder for your ad to appear. It should be noted that you will never pay more than the max CPT you set. Additionally, you can pay less than your max CPT if you can beat other bids.

Place your bid, win the auction, get impressions

TTR is also important for this process. Apple Search Ads does not want to harm user experience by displaying spam-like or irrelevant ads. That is why your TTR is taken into consideration. If you have a low TTR, the platform may think of your ad as irrelevant and it might become harder for you to win auctions . That is why you should always target keywords that are actually relevant to your app.

App Store Search Tab Ads

With the newly released feature, App Store Search Tab Ads , impressions will be received even before the user searches for a term. Your app title, icon, and subtitle will be featured in this new ad placement. It should be noted that this new feature will use a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) model.

Apple Search Ads

Apple Search Ads Campaign Structure

Now that you know the basic premise of Apple Search Ads and its versions, let’s go through the Apple Search Ads campaign structure .

Campaign Group

Campaign group is a collection of campaigns for a certain app. You can set up several campaigns for a single app.


This campaign layer lets you filter the campaign through countries/regions or the status (paused/running etc.) of the ad. Also in this layer, you will see the total budget you allocated, spend, daily cap, average CPA (cost per acquisition), average CPT (cost per tap), impressions (how many times your app’s been shown in this ad campaign), Taps, TTR (impression to tap rate) and CR (conversion rate which is the ratio of downloads on taps). Especially, TTR, and CR are very useful and critical for the optimization of ads.

Ad Group

When we click on any campaign we see their ad group data, through which you can reach more detailed information. On this screen, you can see how many ad groups you have, the status of the ads, etc. You can refine many settings, even demography, age, gender, and so on. This gives you a focused view of your marketing strategies.

Max CPT: You can set CPT on a keyword level. This allows you to decrease or increase your bids according to the performance of the keyword. Individual keyword CPT’s can be higher than the CPT set for the ad group.


Inside the ad groups, you will target the actual keywords that you want your ads to appear for. Thus choosing the correct Apple Search Ads keywords will be crucial for the success of your campaign.

Apple Search Ads Match Types

When it comes to keywords, there are two Apple Search Ads match types : Broad and Exact.

Broad Match

With broad match, Apple Search Ads provides matching words related to your keyword or synonyms, misspellings, related searches and phrases including the target keyword. It can allow you to discover new keyword patterns which you can later individually bid on.

Exact Match

If a user searches for a specific keyword that matches yours, your ad will be shown. Close variants are also considered such as misspellings or plurals. You might receive fewer impressions although your TTR and CR will potentially increase as you are reaching the most interested audience.

Search Match & Negative Keywords

Search Match can be defined as a keyword discovery tool. Search Match automatically matches your app to relevant user searches, helping you uncover search trends that can drive ongoing keyword discovery. This is especially useful in markets where you don't know the local language.

Your ads can get matched to searches based on your metadata. Search Match also considers information about similar apps in the same category. Search Match is especially important when running an Apple Search Ads discovery campaign.

Negative Keywords: You can specify the keywords which you don’t want your app to be displayed for. This way you can narrow down target keywords to increase efficiency. For example, if your app sells clothes for men, you can add “women’s clothes” as a negative keyword to stop your ad from being matched to people who want to buy clothes for women.

Apple Search Ads Campaign Types

Now that we have discussed the basic campaign setup as well as match types and other tools such as Search Match and Negative Keywords, the proper campaign types can be discussed.

Brand Campaign

To protect your brand you need to have a brand campaign and choose the proper keywords which almost exactly match your brand name (otherwise your competitors will win the bids on them). This way you will keep competitors from appearing for your brand name and taking away potential users. For this campaign, keywords should be set to Exact Match.

Competitor Campaign

Similar to the logic of the Brand Campaign, you can also bid on keywords that are directly related to your close competitors. This way you can try to get installs from users who were originally searching for your competitors app. For this campaign, keywords should be set to Exact Match.

Generic Campaign

With generic campaigns, you will be targeting and adding the keywords that are frequently used to search for your app category. Keywords broadly describing what your app does can be added to this group. Keywords should be set to exact match. The purpose of generic campaigns is to find potential users who are searching for an app without targeting a certain brand.

Campaign Types

Discovery Campaign

Through Apple Search Ads Discovery Campaigns , you can discover new and related search terms. Apple Search Ads suggest using two different ad groups for your discovery campaigns. A Broad Match ad group which includes all the keywords you used in your first three campaigns with the match type set to Broad Match. Additionally, you should also create an ad group with Search Match turned on to get automatically matched to relevant keywords. To learn more about campaign structure and best check out the Getting Started With Apple Search Ads coursebook of Ultimate Apple Search Ads series.

Download Search Ads Coursebook (Beginner)

Apple Search Ads Demographic Targeting

You can refine your ad group to target specific demographics. This way you can use a selection of keywords that you think will be effective for a certain group of people and increase the efficiency of your Apple Search Ads campaign.

Location, Gender & Age

You can also adjust the locations and the demographic (sex, age) that your ad will appear. These parameters will later help you to optimize Apple Search Ads. For example, you might discover that some ad groups are performing better for some age ranges than others.

User Type

All Users: Ad group will not differentiate between user types.

New Users: Users that have not installed your app before.

Returning Users: Users who have installed your app previously but have since deleted it.

Users of My Other Apps: Users who are using the other apps of the publisher. This option can be used for cross-promotion.

Device Type, Date & Time

Another option for specifying your demographic is the device type. You can choose to display your ads on iPhone, iPad, or both. Keep in mind that using different creatives for different types of devices might also improve your TTR. Finally you can customize the times that you want your ads to appear.

Check out our Tuning Up Apple Search Ads coursebook for further detail about demographic targeting.

Download Search Ads Coursebook (Intermediate)

Apple Search Ads Performance Tracking

There are some crucial metrics when evaluating the performance of your Apple Search Ads campaign.

Crucial Metrics for Campaign Performance


The number of times your ad appeared in the search results for a given keyword. Impressions are the top of your user acquisition funnel. Without getting impressions, it is not possible to evaluate nor optimize your campaigns.


Number of people who tapped on your ad. This metric is important as if you can not get people to tap on your ad, it will be harder to win auctions as your ad might be considered irrelevant.

Tap-Through Rate

The ratio of the number of users who tap on your ad after seeing it. Calculated by dividing total taps by impressions received. It is of crucial importance to keep your TTR as high as possible. This way, your ad will be relevant in the eyes of the algorithm while also helping to increase the number of potential downloads.

Cost-Per Tap

CPT shows you how much on average you are paying for a tap on your ad. This metric will determine your profitability as it allows you to measure the cost of acquiring a tap on average.

Conversion Rate

CR shows you the amount of people who have downloaded your app in relation to the total taps you have gotten. It is calculated by dividing the total number of installs by the total number of taps. Even if you get a lot of taps, you will not be profitable if they don't turn into installs. We will discuss how to optimize Apple Search Ads conversion rates shortly.

Cost-Per Acquisition

CPA shows you how much on average you are paying for a single download. This metric can be considered the ultimate consequence for prior metrics. Any problems in your user acquisition funnel will surely drive up your CPA.

How To Optimize Apple Search Ads

After your campaign is up and running, you will start to accumulate data. If your campaign is not running optimally, you will have to make adjustments in order to meet your revenue targets.

So where exactly do these adjustments take place?

Optimizing Apple Search Ads Bids

Keeping tight control of your CPT is important for efficiently managing your Apple Search Ads campaign budget.

Assume that you have a CPT target of $7. If your actual CPT is more than $7, you can decrease your bid by 5% per 12 hours. This is the most basic way of improving your CPT. By keeping actual costs lower than targets, you will become profitable. Conversely, if a keyword is bringing in lower CPT’s compared to your goal, you can increase your bids to get more installs as such keywords will still be profitable.

Even if you bid on a keyword that is extremely relevant to your app, you might not get any impressions. In such a case, you want to increase your bids until you start getting impressions. For example, you can increase your bid by 5% until it reaches $1. Do not hesitate to spend some money to get impressions, as without data you will have nothing to work with.

Increasing Conversion Rates

Conversion Optimization is yet another important thing you can do to better manage your Apple Search Ads budget . Apple Search Ads Creative Sets is the perfect tool for this purpose. You can use Creative Sets to increase your Tap-Through and Conversion rates.

Creative sets allow you to customize your ads for different groups. Let’s assume that you have an app that allows users to do flight reservations, hotel bookings and more. You can display your flight related creatives to users that search for flight booking apps while displaying hotel related screenshots to users that search for hotel finding apps.

With creative sets you can also customize your product page for different device types, which can improve your conversion rates.

Apple Search Ads Automation

As you might have noticed, there are many parameters that Apple Search Ads managers should constantly check and optimize. That is why automation tools for Apple Search Ads can come in handy. Let us demonstrate our point with a simple example.

Consider that you want to increase your bids for keywords that are not getting enough impressions. If you are managing many different keywords within many different ad groups, you can save time with automation tools.

Apple Search Ads Automation Tool

As you can see, we can easily set a condition and an action easily with . With this automation rule, for any keyword within the chosen campaigns, our bids will increase by 10% each day that the keyword receives less than 10 impressions.

You can create personalized automation rules for your specific needs. If you’d like, you can also use the Automation Templates that we provide our users to quickly set up your rules.

Apple Search Ads Goals

Every app has different methods of generating revenue. The audience, the content, the revenue generation method, and many more variables are in the play. That is why dynamic calculations are important to measure the effectiveness of your campaign. For example, a subscription-based app might focus on different metrics compared to an in-app purchase-based app.

By understanding the relationship between your ad groups (campaign) and in-app goals such as subscriptions, you can see more accurate metrics relating to profitability.

Funnel Tracking

Apple Search Ads Funnel Tracking provides a funnel tracking feature which gives an overview of your Apple Search Ads campaigns. Here we can see that 10,414 downloads resulted in 324 subscriptions and 64 purchases for the selected campaigns.

You can find more information about custom metrics on our third coursebook Tracking and Automating Ad Activities .

Download Search Ads Coursebook (Upper-intermediate)

Relationship between Apple Search Ads & ASO

App Store Optimization

What is App Store Optimization (ASO) ? In a nutshell, App Store Optimization is the process of increasing your app’s visibility in the App Store. Through keyword optimization, you can increase your app's organic rankings and make it easier to find the search results.

In the App Store, three fields are most important for the search algorithm. Your app title, subtitle, and keywords field. You can type up to 30 characters in the App Title and Subtitle fields. By using the keywords you came up with during your research in these fields, you can improve your visibility. However, do not forget that the keywords you target should be relevant to your app.

Importance of ASO for Apple Search Ads

So what is the relationship between App Store Optimization and Apple Search Ads ? First of all, a well-optimized listing page will tremendously support your Apple Search Ads efforts. In the previous sections, we mentioned the importance of a solid conversion rate. If users are not downloading your app, it does not matter how many impressions you get or how much money you spend.

Using ASO practices, you will be able to get better outcomes from the impressions you receive thanks to Apple Search Ads. If you are ranking organically high for the keywords that you bid on, it will become easier to spend your budget and get more impressions.

Apple Search Ads & App Search Optimization

Increasing ASO Strength with Apple Search Ads

On the other hand, your Apple Search Ads activities can also support your ASO strategy. Apple Search Ads’ recommended and related keywords can be valuable as they are considered by the algorithms as relevant to your app. Including these keywords or keywords that you discovered through Discovery Campaigns can boost your app’s ASO performance.

To summarize, choosing the right keywords is important for both Apple Search Ads and App Store Optimization. Through various methods, you can conduct keyword research and target appropriate keywords in your paid campaign or metadata. Brand keywords, generic keywords, the keywords used by your competitors and new terms you find through Discovery Campaigns can boost both your organic and paid campaigns. By making sure you have a solid strategy on both fronts, you will be getting ahead of the competition.

Finding the Best Apple Search Ads Keywords

Apple Search Ads operates with a cost-per-tap system. Thus, finding and bidding on the right keywords is essential for any Apple Search Ads campaign. By choosing the right keywords, you can potentially reduce your Cost-per Acquisition while increasing your Tap-Through Rates, resulting in higher Apple Search Ads revenue.

Through Competitors

You can also find new keywords by thinking like a potential user. A significant portion of searches in the App Store are Brand Based searches. That is why it can be important to include some competitor brand keywords in your bidding list.

Keyword Auction Insights

As you can see through’s Keyword Auction Insights feature, for the keyword "facebook", Tiktok and Google seem to be getting the most impressions and outperforming the others.

In addition to Brand Keywords, generic searches (category-related keywords) should also be considered when building up your strategy. Some users are not directly searching for a brand, but rather a type of app. For example, the user might be searching for a calorie tracker app without minding the brand. Including such keywords in your strategy can increase the number of impressions you receive. Especially identifying long-tail keywords that imply high user intent can be effective.

Keyword Research Tool

Using a keyword product such as the Keyword Research tool that MobileAction provides can be helpful for finding generic keywords. As you can see, after typing “calorie tracker’, we are instantly presented with suggestions from different sources.

When deciding on keywords, you should also consider their metrics.

Keyword Metrics

Search Score or Search Popularity is important for understanding the amount of search traffic a given keyword receives. However, only focusing on the popularity score might be a mistake as the amount of competition for a keyword is also important. For this keyword, we can see that 41 apps are running ads. The more apps running ads for a keyword, the harder it will be to receive impressions.

Discovery Campaigns

Of course, thinking like a user is not always enough to identify new keywords. That is why Discovery Campaigns are necessary for a comprehensive Apple Search Ads campaign. A typical Discovery Campaign includes a Broad Match type ad group along with an ad group for which Search Match is turned on.

Discovery Campaign allows you to find new and unique keywords to scale your Apple Search Ads campaigns. By utilizing these campaigns, you can figure out what your potential users are searching for.

There is also another less-obvious advantage of these campaigns. By analyzing the keywords that Apple Search Ads matches your ad with, you can understand how the search algorithm evaluates/relates your app.

To set up your Discovery Campaign, first of all, you need a Broad Match ad group. Let us assume that you are trying to advertise a workout app. By targeting the keyword “workout” in your ad group with Broad Match, you can potentially get matched to searches such as “women workout” or “workout at home”.

As discussed before, another component of a Discovery Campaign is Search Match. In a Search Match ad group, you do not have to specify any keywords. Everything will be handled by the algorithms and your ad will automatically get matched to relevant searches. You should constantly monitor your results in order to make sure your ad does not keep getting matched to non-profitable search terms.

Utilizing Search Terms from Discovery Campaigns

You ran your Discovery Campaign, and you ended up with numerous Search Terms, what now? First of all, you need to discriminate between irrelevant keywords and keywords with the potential to profit.

Even though the exact definition would depend on your context, a Search Term with high search volume, a relatively low CPA, and high relevance might be worthy enough to include in your Exact Match campaigns or App Store Optimization strategy. Simply add the keyword to your exact match campaigns and do not forget to also add the keywords as a negative keyword to your discovery campaign. Automating these operations can make the whole process a lot easier.

Feel free to check out our fourth Apple Search Ads Coursebook for more detail on keyword selection.

Download Search Ads Coursebook (Advanced)

Track & analyze performance

If you stumbled upon a Search Term that is irrelevant to your campaign, simply add it as an exact negative to your discovery campaign. Repeating this whole process will make your Apple Search Ads campaigns even more efficient over time.

Apple Search Ads Health Check

If you are currently managing an Apple Search Ads account, there are a few things you can check to make sure things are running smoothly.

  • First of all, make sure that you do not have Exact Match and Broad Match keywords under the same ad group. This kind of complication will make it harder for you to assess results and optimize as the data will be harder to interpret.
  • Make sure that you are not bidding on the same keyword under different campaigns or ad groups. Similarly, you should check the Search Term level to make sure there are no overlaps. Even though it's not a huge issue, your campaign results will not be as clear as they should be. Our Duplicate Keywords tool can be extremely handy for this process, especially if you are dealing with several campaigns and hundreds of keywords.
  • Ensure that you do not have exact search terms caught in one of your Broad Match or Search Match ad groups. Always add exact search terms as negative keywords to your Discovery Campaigns.
  • Check for any idle keywords. You might accidentally add a keyword as negative to one of your campaigns or ad groups while you are simultaneously bidding on it. In such a case, it will not be possible for you to spend on those keywords.
  • Keep control of overspending keywords. Even though increasing your spend on high-performing keywords can bring in more impressions, it will limit your ability to gather data and optimize. In such a case, you can consider creating a separate campaign for your keywords which were not able to spend any budget due to getting overpowered. This way you will increase data diversification and reach more useful results.

ASA Health Check

Apple Search Ads Best Practices

Let’s end this Apple Search Ads course with some Apple Search Ads best practices .

Managing an Apple Search Ads campaign is much more than merely creating it. The actions you take after you set up your campaign is just as important (if not more) than the campaign structure itself.

You need to continuously monitor and optimize your bids and keywords in order to maintain your performance. Here are some frequent questions that campaign managers might have.

  • You created a campaign, structured it properly but still not getting any impressions. How can you solve this? This situation can have two possible explanations:
    • Your CPT might not be high enough, allowing competitors to win auctions. In this case, incrementally increasing your CPT can help you to get more impressions.
    • Apple Search Ads actively tries to maintain an optimal user experience. That is why it tries to have only the most relevant ad appear to a user. If your app is not related to the keyword that you bid on, you might not win auctions even if you increase your CPT. That is why you should try to be honest when determining if a keyword is relevant to your app or not. ASO and Apple Search Ads are both crucial for a solid app marketing strategy , thus they should be paid careful attention to.
  • How much should you increase your bids?
    • It is recommended that you increase your bids by 20% if you are not getting impressions. After you increase your bid, if you are still not getting any impressions, you can increase your bid again until impressions start coming. To get an understanding of your bids and the changes required to improve performance, you need to observe your performance first. Without spending any money, this is not going to be possible.
  • How to decrease your CPA or increase your CR?
    • These questions will be covered in more detail in the following ebooks. However, understanding the data on your dashboard is critical for this problem. Increasing bids on well-performing keywords while decreasing bids on less-profitable keywords have the potential to decrease your CPA. Regarding the CR, using better creatives or more intriguing descriptions can push users to install your app.

We hope that this article helped you with your Apple Search Ads strategy. If you would like to learn more about and how it can take your Apple Search Ads campaigns to the next level, schedule a demo with our experts today!

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