What are Apple Search Ads?

Lior Eldan Lior Eldan | 9.3.17

One of the best app promoting channels, Apple search Ads provide an average conversion rate of about 50%.

Its high conversion rate comes from the fact that over 65% of all app downloads are organic. Users are searching for relevant app store keywords and encounter apps that they can check and download.

Right now, the only option to appear above the Apple organic search results, which are influenced by ASO, is to use Apple Search Ads. This is also the only way to appear above branded keywords like Amazon or Netflix.

So, if you have an emerging company that wants to go over the big players, start using search ads. You can learn all about them below.

What are Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads are paid search results introduced in 2016 by Apple. This allows advertisers to showcase ads above organic search results on iPhones and iPads on a pay-per-tap basis.

Apple Search Ads - Source: Apple
Apple Search Ads – Source: Apple

Apple’s Search Ads allow app publishers paid access to the top spot in app store search results. Similar to Google Play Ads for search, the ads appear on the top/top left of the App Store search results page with a blue-tinted background.

Apple Search Ads are usually one of the most overlooked user acquisition channels for iOS apps.

With initial evidence of lower CPIs, higher user retention rates and install rates with Apple search ads, if you’re looking to advertise to iOS users you simply cannot ignore this new but powerful tool.

How do Apple Search Ads work?

Apple Search Ads offers an advanced pricing option based on a cost-per-tap model (CPT), meaning that you pay every time someone taps (clicks) on your ad.

The actual cost of a tap is a result of a second price auction, which calculates the CPT you pay based on what your nearest competitor is willing to pay for a tap on their ad, up to your maximum CPT bid.

Apple also allows a cost-per-install bidding model for basic users.

By default, Apple Search Ads lets you automate keyword matching with Search Match. Search Match uses your app metadata, info from other apps in the category as well as other search data to determine which search phrases will trigger your ad to appear alongside organic search results.

The combination of your app’s relevance to the search query and the amount of your bid will determine whether your ad will be the one shown.

Source: Apple

For advanced users, Apple offers customization of targeting variables (demographics, location, device type and app install status on the user’s device), manual keyword selection and ad scheduling.

So for example, you can aim the campaign at users matching specific criteria that are located within a certain distance of your business. You can even ensure the ad appears only during business hours if you so desire.

Why should I use Apple Search ads?

Between 65 and 80 percent of all app installs originate from the app store search, depending on the niche. This makes search ads a particularly effective channel for the acquisition of loyal and engaged users.

According to the Apple Search Ads AppsFlyer tool, Search Ads generate an average of 6 in-app actions per install – the fourth-highest ratio among top media sources.

Apple Search Ads Countries

When it first appeared, Apple Search Ads were only available in English Speaking Countries. Now, things have changed for the better.

Apple Search Ads is supported in over 59 countries ( users will see these ads). Also, Apple allows advertisers from over 120 countries to use the system and advertise through the platform.

A full list of all the countries available is present on the Apple Search Ads Country page.

Differences Between Advanced Apple Search ads and Basic

Apple has split its ads into two different packages, basic and advanced. The main difference between the two is the bidding system. Basic Search Ads work with a cost-per-install model, while the advanced ads work with a cost-per-tap system.

Search Apple Ads Basic Features:

  • A maximum monthly budget of $10.000 per app
  • Only cost-per-install (CPI) bidding.
  • You can choose your maximum bidding price.
  • Apple automates most of your targeting.
Apple Search Ads Basic Features
Source: Apple

Apple Search Ads Advanced features:

  • For monthly budgets of over $10.000 per app.
  • It allows you to use the cost-per-tap bidding model.
  • It allows you to choose your audience by region, demographics, devices, and keywords.
  • You have more control over your campaigns.

If you want to actually boost your installs and create relevant ad campaigns, you need to use the Advanced features.

Also, with the Advanced package, you can provide access to any agency that has an Apple ID. So it will be really easy to give us access as your apple search ads partner when we work together on skyrocketing your Apple Search Ads campaign. 😉

Apple Search Ads benefits:

If your goal is to increase app downloads or increase your app ranking, using Apple search ads is the way to go.

Apple Search Ads help in pushing your app in the featured section, give higher conversion rates than most ads on the iOS platform and provide access to relevant data.

Always be on top!

If your app is new, it has yet to be ranked high on the App store. Meaning that you won’t get any relevant app downloads through ASO right now.

ASO (app store optimization) is the app store marketing technique and strategy that works on improving the app in order to better follow the app store’s guidelines and improve the ranking on certain keywords for a better search presence and higher organic download numbers.

Lior Eldan – CEO Moburst

This is where the search ads come in handy!

By integrating search ads into your mobile marketing campaign, your app will appear as the first app in the search results. Meaning that you can be over older apps that have been properly indexed.

See an example of apple Search ads bellow:

search ads
Apple Search ads for Photo App

You can even use search ads to show your app on brand-related queries. Are you pushing a restaurant delivery app and want to appear every time a customer searches for your competitor, apple search ads can do that.

There is no way to get organically indexed over a competitor’s branded keyword.

Cross-Sell & Upsell Opportunities

The advanced package allows you to set Apple Search ads in the same way that Mobile Facebook ads work. Meaning, you can target new users that never installed or users that already know who you are.

If your app is free and offers premium features, you can always show ads to users in an attempt to persuade them in purchasing an upgrade.

You can also use the data you’ve gathered to cross-promote apps. Apple encourages agencies to use the data they have about other apps in order to better promote new ones.

You’ve made a campaign around living a healthier lifestyle? You can use the data to also target people that would be interested in workout apps or meditation apps.

Boost your app rank!

App stores actually take ads into consideration when they rank an app, compared to how website SEO works.

To be more precise, they use the conversion rate, app download numbers, and other relevant key metrics to decide if your app should receive a boost in ranking.

There is actually an ad-based ASO strategy that can boost your app ranking. The strategy revolves around launching search ads (combined with other mobile ads) to quickly raise the app ranking in less than 48 hours. The strategy is called a “Burst Campaign“.

How to run Apple search ads?

First thing first, set up your Apple Search ads account. You can do this by going to the Apple Search Page and logging in with your Apple ID.

You can then integrate your company billing info and connect it with your app.

How to run Apple Search Ads

  1. Set up your Apple Search Ads account

    First thing first, set up your Apple Search ads account. You can do this by going to the Apple Search Page and logging in with your Apple ID.

    You can then integrate your company billing info and connect it with your app. Apple Search Ads Account

  2. Decide on Basic VS Advanced Search Ads

    The basic package will take care of everything for you and you are not allowed to make any changes.

    Apple will actually decide where to show your ads and automatically get info about the app from its metadata

    If you want to make sure you have full control, go for the Advanced apple search ads.

  3. Research Relevant Keywords

    Make sure that you know what keywords to target. Some have higher search volumes and others are branded. The relevance of those keywords associated with your app will also affect your costs.

    Sometimes, if your app is in no way related to the targeted keyword, it won’t even show in the ads. Example: Toronto rentals for people looking to rent in Macedonia Apple Search ads keywords

  4. Refine your Audience

    By using advanced search ads, you can decide who you want to target. You are allowed to tweak and refine the following: Device and Customer types, demographics, and location.

  5. Define your Match Type

    Apple Search Ads have 3 different match types: Search Match, Broad Match, and Exact Match. Depending on what your goal is, one match type may be more relevant than the other.Search Match Type

Tips & Apple Search Ads Best Practices

Apple Search Ads are no child’s game. You are using real money and high budgets. The way you optimize your campaign can make the difference between an app win and an app fail.

That’s why we decided to give you some tips and tricks on how to better run your ads.

1. Split your ads into ad groups

You can use ad groups to split your ads based on keywords, audience types, and demographics.

You can even create a different ad group and test all the match types.

2. Check your keyword length

The average search query length used by users on the iOS platform is 2.4 words per search. Meaning that you should always go for keywords that are 2 or 3 words long.

You can use an apple search ads keyword tool to check all the info you need in terms of relevancy and search counts.

Don’t go over the edge. While some marketing experts suggest that the longer the keyword, the higher the conversion rate. It may prove that you’ll pay too much for those particular keywords and the ROI be in fact negative.

3. Before launching your campaign, check your app data

The apple search ads take their info straight from your app’s metadata. Meaning that, if you have any errors in your app page, you’ll also have errors in your ads.

Also, before you start your campaigns, double-check all of your ad groups. It’s actually a common mistake to duplicate ad groups, edit them and forget to save, resulting in multiple ad groups targeting the exact same audience.

As a result, if you don’t check, you’ll lose money!

4. Use apple search ads tracking tools

Information is key.

By using the tools that Apple provides, you can check relevant information like:

  • Ad performance
  • Apple Search Ads CPI (cost per install)
  • Search term position
  • Open rates

You can also check other Apple search ads tools like AppFlyer.

5. Eliminate Non-US traffic

The App Store will not check the user’s IP, yet, it will check the location linked with the App Store ID.

Meaning that, if a user said that he is in the U.S., he will be in the U.S. Also, countries that lack a localized app store will be automatically considered as U.S. users.

If you are targeting only users in America, paying for people outside of it will really affect your budget.

According to AppFlyer, between 20% and 40% of the traffic is from outside of the U.S. actually.

Sadly, even if you set a schedule for the Ads, you won’t eliminate the problem.

The only solution is stopping the campaign during the night and starting it in the morning. This can reduce spam traffic by over 80%.

Should you bid on your brand name as a keyword?

The jury is still out when it comes to bidding on your own brand name as a keyword in Apple’s App Store. For some, it’s essential for successful campaigns. For others, it’s a waste that simply makes you pay for traffic you would have gotten anyways.

We’ll look at why you should consider bidding on your own brand name and similar branded keywords, as well as tips and common pitfalls to be aware of.

Why You Should Consider Branded Keywords

Should your app name or brand name be part of your keyword bidding strategy? Consider the following official Apple statistics:

  • 70% of App Store visitors use search to find apps
  • 65% of App Store downloads occur directly after a search on the App Store
  • The average conversion rate for Apple Search Ads is 50%

Add the fact that Apple search ads are expected to generate $2 billion in revenue by 2020, and you start to understand how important search ads are to app store success. This massive amount of money is being spent by other companies who are desperate to stand out from the millions of apps out there. Which brings us to our first point in considering whether to bid on your own branded keywords:

Your Competitors Are Already Doing It

Yes, part of that $2 billion is being spent by your competitors to try and piggyback off your hard-earned marketing efforts and steal your potential users. Consider the following real-life scenario: you’ve run Facebook campaigns and retargeted users who have reached a critical point in your marketing funnel.

A user then searches for your app in the App Store (and remember, the most-searched terms are almost exclusively brand names) but a competitor of yours has bid for your brand name, resulting in their receiving the coveted top spot in the search results – and quite possibly allowing them to ride into the sunset with “your” user, the one you put so much effort into.

The best-case scenario is that a text-based ad is shown, only taking up about a quarter of the screen at the top of the page. Then, you hope that your app shows as the organic #1 result, and you can leverage its creative assets to draw the potential user in (more about this later).

Finally, it isn’t a great reflection on your company and its marketing strategy if the “top” result, even when searching for a specific brand name, is of a rival app.

Point Your Loyal Users In The Right Direction

Similar to the above scenario but with a twist, a branded keyword can help users that were already looking for your app, but that may have been led astray by a competitor or by a misspelling of the brand name. With competition so fierce in the app store, competitors probably have very similar keywords, descriptions, and even app names to you.

The “Breethe” app for example, gently reminds users searching for their brand name but perhaps misspelling it, that they are the one the user is looking for.

Apple Search Ad Best Practices: Should you bid on your brand name as a keyword?

Even Apple Recommends It

In its official Advanced Ads Overview page, Apple relates to both generic and brand keywords. When discussing keywords, Apple advises the following:

  • Discovery keywords can help you reach a wider audience and mine for popular search terms
  • Generic keywords can also help you reach a wider audience of users interested in your app or its genre
  • Competitor keywords help your ad show for queries that are more narrowly focused on your type of app
  • Brand keywords help your ad appear for searches directly related to your app and brand

Clearly, according to Apple themselves, brand keywords should form an important part of your overall bidding strategy.

You Have Little To Lose

With a user searching for your brand, and assuming your ASO is good enough that you would have come up as the top result, you could be in the position where you would be paying for a tap that you would have received organically.

The good news is this: Since ads are presented in a shorter format than organic results, the user will generally be drawn to click on your organic app listing because it has more information, screenshots, and so on – saving you money.

Pro Tip: ASO Becomes Even More Important

With competitors bidding on your brand name, it might not be feasible to continue bidding on it yourself. This kind of decision will be impacted by metrics such as competitor bids and LTVs.

If your competitor is bidding for your brand name or other similar keywords, one of your best weapons is your organic app listing, particularly your creative assets. Consider the scenario where your competitor has the top (paid) spot, but immediately underneath is your app, complete with an incredible logo, beautiful screenshots, and an awesome video.

The Right Decisions For Your Business

Decisions such as whether to bid on brand keywords or not have significant implications on your ad campaign and budget, and should not be taken lightly. This is where top ASO experts can help.

Work with your Apple Search Ads Creative Sets

“Apple Creative sets” is a feature that was integrated on the 29 of May 2018.

It allows publisher to modify the way creatives are integrated inside the search ads, allowing users to test and tweak bothe ads and organic variants alike.

While you can’t really A/B test organic creatives using search ads, you can use the Apple Creative Sets to better understand what combination of creative has a higher conversion rate.

Source: Splitmetrics

The creative set works by allowing you to choose between the images and videos already present on the app’s page.

Apple Search Ads Creative Set Limitations

Only screenshots that have been uploaded to the store can be used. In other words, in order to refresh creative materials and ads, you must push a new app update.

The order in which the screenshots will be uploaded to the App Store will dictate the available order of creatives in the Creative Set, which is not necessarily what we want.

The ability to mix and match in any way best suited for you, as well as to test different ad combinations, is crucial to advertisers in determining which are working best and should be kept alive, and which we can and should take down.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty when working with this new tool is the reporting feature. As it is not possible to see a combination of creative and relevant keywords together, it becomes nearly impossible to know what works best on the keyword level.

The feature will enable advertisers to better control the creatives as possible in other platforms (albeit with lots of limitations), and help to increase the CTR and CVR (TTR and CR in Apple lingo), by using more targeted creatives for each campaign/ad group.

The ASO aspect of Creative Sets

Creative sets can also assist with App Store creative A/B testing, i.e. not through 3rd party solutions such as Storemaven or Splitmetrics.

To date, there wasn’t an option to test App Store creative assets with organic search traffic, similar to the option to test on Google Play through its Experiments module.

While not designed to be an A/B test tool, creative sets open the ability to gain unique insights into App Store user behavior, not to mention the ability to test the performance of creative per keyword, an option which isn’t available on Google Play Experiments.

Don’t forget about Apple Search Ads API

The Apple Search Ads Attribution API is a line of code that can easily be installed in any app. It is crucial for all multi-channel marketing campaigns.

By integrating the script inside your app, you can understand which channel or medium has brought installs and conversions in your app.

You can link the API with most analytics tools on the market.

The Apple Search Ads API needs to be integrated into the Xcode project file of the app.

You can use the API information to optimize your CPT and CPA targets, understand campaign ROI, user lifetime value and effectiveness of your advertising campaigns.

Apple Search Ads FAQs

What are Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads are paid search results introduced in 2016 by Apple. This allows advertisers to showcase ads above organic search results on iPhones and iPads on a pay-per-click basis. Today, over 70% of users find an app through the search function.

How do Apple Search Ads work?

Apple Search Ads works by providing ads to users through a cost-per-tap (CPT) for advanced users or a cost-per-install model for basic users. The actual cost is the result of an auction-based on your maximum bid and your closest competitor.

How much do Apple Search Ads cost?

Apple Search Ads have an average cost per tap (CPT) of $0.8. The highest a Tap can go is $3.5 and the lowest at $0.1. Ads in the Gaming, Health and Education industries revolve around the $1 per tap cost.

What is the Apple Search Ads API?

The Attribution API is a script installed in apps, that allows app publishers to better understand where app installs are coming from in their analytics. (mainly from paid Apple Search Ads)

Can you still get an Apple search Ads promo code for $100?

The promotion was only available in 2017. Right now, you cannot request a Search Ads promo code of $100 anymore. Not even if you contact Apple.


Apple’s Search Ads are one of the best ways to increase app downloads on the iOS App Store.

Make sure you plan everything ahead, do your research and A/B test with the Apple Creative Sets.


3 thoughts on "What are Apple Search Ads?"

    • Hey Mohsin,

      You can’t at the moment but the rumor is that they plan to roll out additional geographies by end of year, so hopefully soon you will!

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