Apple Search Ads – Initial Impressions and Starter Tips

By Tinuiti Team

After much awaited anticipation, Apple Search Ads is now officially live, opening up the Promise Land for mobile app marketers. Intuition suggests that users who are looking at apps within the App Store are much more likely to convert than just about any other channel available to mobile advertisers, which has been backed up by some of the initial results I have seen with one of my clients: Cost Per Installs lower than typical CPCs in Google AdWords, “Tap Through Rates” ranging anywhere from 10%-45%, and conversion rates ranging from 40-60%.

The platform is brand new, with the launch announced and the UI presented less than 2 weeks before advertisers could actually set up their accounts. That means companies are still scrambling to launch and feel out the platform, making now the perfect time to take advantage of the cheap installs. It’s unclear how long this will last as more advertisers enter the space, as it’s not entirely clear how the auction works at this time.

What’s New with Apple Search Ads

Before I move forward, let me introduce some new terminology that comes with Apple Search Ads. For one, what is typically referred to as a “click” is called a “tap.” With that also comes Cost Per Tap (CPT), and Tap-Through Rate (TTR). Conversions are still called conversions instead of “Installs” in the platform.
Although Exact and Broad are the only available match types, the mechanics are pretty similar to search with the same campaign>ad group>keyword structure that search marketers will be familiar with.

One thing that might trip Marketers up is that there is a “Budget” and a “Daily Cap” setting at the campaign level. The “Budget” represents a max you’re willing to spend in a month, and a daily cap is how much you’re willing to spend per day. As long as you’re doing day to day spend tracking yourself (and you should be), it’s fine to put some arbitrary high number you won’t actually hit by the end of the month in the “Spend” column.
Another feature that mimics Google’s Dynamic Search Ads or Universal App Campaigns is what Apple calls “Search Match.” This is a keyword-less campaign setting that allows Apple to serve ads on searches they deem relevant. Should you decide to run with this option, you’ll want to monitor the campaigns closely to make sure they don’t spend too wildly or show up on irrelevant searches. Unlike Universal App Campaigns though, you will be able to see which queries are triggering your ads and add negative keywords accordingly.

The strategy we’ve adopted to start is pretty close to our best practices for a typical AdWords campaign. However, it’s also very clear that the way users interact with the App Store Search is a lot different than the way users interact with a classic search engine. For example, our Non Brand campaign performance is on par with our Brand campaigns, and some of our most successful keywords are one-word head terms that probably wouldn’t perform very will when served on Google or Bing.

Marketers should note that there is no way to customize ads in the platform. Apple will generate one of three ad formats, which is created using images and text from the organic app listing. So paid marketers will need to work closely with whoever manages the organic listing within the App Store to find copy that will emphasize the key features of the product in a succinct way. Thankfully, there will only be one ad that shows in the results, so you have a much better chance at grabbing “taps,” even with Non Brand searches.

You’ll have the option to target only the users that don’t currently have your app installed, but if you’re a company with multiple apps, you can also target users that have downloaded any of your other apps. Finally, there’s an option to re-engage people who already have the app. You’ll need an SDK-based MMP (Mobile Measurement Partner) to attribute any in-app events though, since Apple will not follow user behavior into the apps for privacy reasons.


Marketers who are familiar with AdWords and Bing should have no problem navigating the Apple Ads UI, but as a nascent platform, there are still some major missing features that make the set up and management of these campaigns a lot more manual and time consuming. For example, there is no way to see overall keyword performance at the account level. If you want to pull keyword conversion metrics, you have to drill down into the specific campaign. This also goes for some of the other reports that Apple features, which can measure performance by device, age, gender and location, but only once you drill into specific campaigns.

When it comes to keyword research or determining your initial bids, you’ll unfortunately have to shoot in the dark at first. Apple does not currently have any keyword planning tools like the ones offered by Google and Bing, and there is no available data to see how much impression share you’re losing because your bids are too low.

The most frustrating part about the platform so far though is that there is no way to create campaigns or add keywords via bulksheet. You can upload keywords with a bulksheet, but first you’ll have to manually create each campaign and ad group one by one. At that point, you may as well add your keywords in the UI directly, which for now can only be added one by one or as a list separated by commas as opposed to a vertical list from a CSV. Marketers who typically build their keyword lists in a bulk sheet can get them into a format that works to copy and paste with some Excel magic (pro tip: pick “transpose” under paste special options), but it still ads a lot of extra steps.

A big question that has come up for our clients is how to accurately measure attribution or how much you’re cannibalizing your own organic traffic. Apple Search Ads comes with a non-adjustable 28 day attribution window, and will not take into consideration any other channels that a customer interacts with before downloading your app. Major MMPs like AppsFlyer and Apsalar should be able to break these down better, but you’ll need to install an SDK since server-to-server integrations aren’t possible for now.


Although the campaign creation process is a huge pain, you likely won’t need anywhere near the amount of keywords a typical search campaign might have. Think about the way you search for apps you need. You probably aren’t typing in super-detailed long tail queries, and are instead typing in a few words to find what you’re looking for like fitness apps, organizers, or specific companies like Uber. Start with some of the most obvious head terms you can think of and work from there.

The fact that only one sponsored ad shows up in search results for now also makes major head terms a much more viable targeting option than in Google, where you’ll have to fight for attention with three other advertisers for keywords that might have a lot of volume, but may not have the type of search intent needed to drive the conversions you need.

Like most search campaigns, we would recommend splitting your campaigns out by match type. This allows you to prioritize your budget for the exact match keywords that are driving the true performance, leaving remaining budget for broad match campaigns or search match campaigns to mine for new keyword ideas. If you’re going to test out the search match feature, I would also recommend running this in a campaign with no other keywords to make sure you aren’t muddying your results. You should also negate your brand terms so these don’t skew performance.

If your company has multiple apps, I would create separate campaigns for users that don’t have your app vs. users that have some of your other apps. We’ve seen mixed results from this, so keep an eye on performance between the two.

Finally, do your best to eliminate expectation based on any experience you’ve had managing classic search campaigns. Things like competitor conquest campaigns may be an efficient strategy, where it can often times be way too expensive to be a viable strategy in Google. Being able to put ads in the app store is brand new territory. Now is the perfect time to get in there, roll up your sleeves, and discover your own best practices while the market is light and the taps are cheap. Good luck!

Apple Search Ads provides a great new channel to help your customers find you. Learn more about how a combination of channels could possibly take your campaign to new heights by reading our case study Search, Display, and Social Advertising Mix Boosts High-end Retailer’s YOY Sales By 70%.

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