Apples Search Ads (ASA) kicked off in the spring of 2017, allowing digital marketers another opportunity to get their apps seen, this time directly on the App Store. As with any new channel, a new opportunity comes with a new optimal way of operating. Now, coming up to two years of experience, what are the key considerations to help deliver that efficient activity?
In many ways, ASA can be treated the same as your familiar PPC campaigns – it is still keyword driven, CPC-accounted and with acquisition in mind. That being said it is its own channel, and there are a few unique points to always bear in mind.
First, with only one ad position in the app store, ASA is very much all or nothing. For any given search you will either be the very first thing your potential user sees, or not seen at all. In competitive markets where everyone is vying for this one position this will be amplified and you will find it very difficult to pick up any traction with a tentative approach. This will mean that you must have full confidence in your keyword build as you’ll need to be pushing your bids to find that floor price that will allow you to actually grab eyeballs – there’s little to no point in sticking low bids on some semi-relevant keywords as these will just clog up the account and do nothing.
Secondly, a fairly unique feature of ASA is the Search Match Function. This is a switch that Apple provides on every ad group that enables your app ad to be seen against any search term across the whole of the app store that Apple deems relevant and likely to convert for you. This obviously comes at some risk as it is one step further beyond broad keywords in terms of loss of targeting control – your ad could show against literally anything. However, it is a useful tool representing your most likely avenue to picking up cheap traffic as low bids here will still likely get some action. You may also apply a degree of control with the use of negative keywords – either retrospectively removing any terms that Apple have mistakenly seen as relevant or pre-empting any terms that you are certain you will never want to show for.
Thirdly, as a default there is no copy writing and no creative uploads – everything in a standard ad will come directly from your organic app listing already present and approved in the app store. There is some customisation options in uploading creative sets to an ad group but, unless you have a wealth of creative tailored to each individual keyword, this means that there is not too much value in a granular build – by which I mean theming variations of copy to keywords etc as you should on Google ads, for example. Instead, three campaigns for your brand, generic and competitor terms, with an additional search match campaign should cover all your bases, with the option of distinguishing between keyword match types, customer type or device targeting at the ad group level. This will also mean your average number of keywords per ad group will likely be higher, something to especially bear in mind when bulk bid edits are not an option yet…
Next, it is important to realise that it is certainly best practice to have your ASA campaigns running in partnership with some third-party app tracking software – although this may seem obvious, it is important for ASA as measurement passed the install is non-existent in the interface. Whatever the aim of your campaign it is invaluable to see what your customer is doing, especially as Apple will count an install as soon as the button is tapped. This means that it is possible, and surprisingly common, for Apple to count an install in a case where your app is never even opened.
Lastly, ASA has something of a retargeting function in-built and briefly mentioned above, defined as “Customer Type”. This splits everyone on the App Store into two groups: All Users and New Users. Using their Apple ID, we can ensure that people that fall under “New Users” have never interacted with your app, whether that be many years in the past, on an old device or just current users. This is especially useful if you are running pure acquisition campaigns without a need for a retention or branding function to these ads, as you will be serving to a predominantly fresh audience every time. It is less common for an existing customer to be searching for your brand term as a navigational in the app store than on Google for example, but still something worth considering when deciding which “Customer Type” is best for you and your campaign.
All in all, with due consideration paid to its unique features, we have found ASA to be a strong addition to any client’s marketing mix. Whether the main aim be to try and drive high volumes of installs, registrations or deposits or to deliver high ROIs and lifetime values, ASA campaigns have delivered in our experience.
Robert Westlake is the account director at The Media Image.