Apple Search Ads 101

Apple Search Ads 101 guide 

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Apple Search Ads, including best practices for structuring, managing, and optimizing your search results campaigns. Let’s dive in. 

What is Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads are ads within the App Store, which includes both ads in the search results as well as the search tab. With search results ads, app advertisers can connect with relevant users searching for key terms. For example, each time a user enters a search term like “hotel”, they’d see a relevant ad for an app that’s bidding on the keyword “hotel”. Now, a search tab campaign suggests your ad before a user even searches for it with no minimum spend. These ads run in any country where Apple Search Ads is available. The pricing model used to be CPM, but now it runs on CPT. 

What’s the hype?

Having launched in 2016, Apple Search Ads isn’t a new marketing channel - but many companies have recently increased their marketing budgets to run campaigns on the App Store. Here’s just a few key reasons why:

High-intent means high-quality users

Users coming from Apple Search Ads are likely to stick around for the long term because they’re actively searching for the best app that matches their needs. In fact, each week, 600 million people go to the App Store with the intention of downloading apps and 65% of downloads occur directly after a search on the App Store. This just goes to show how much intent users have on this channel compared to display channels. 

Brand protection

There’s 1.8 million apps out there on the App Store. Because it’s so competitive, many advertisers use Apple Search Ads to bid on their own company names as a way to protect their brand from other competitors luring away their potential audience. 

Apple Search Ads pricing models  

Apple Search Ads offers advertisers two plans to get started: Apple Search Ads Basic or Advanced campaigns. Apple Search Ads Basic runs on a CPI, or cost-per-install pricing model, while an Advanced campaign runs on a CPT, cost-per-tap (like cost-per-click) pricing model and also includes Search tab ads. How do you choose?  

Apple Search Ads: Basic vs Advanced

Let's start with Apple Search Ads Basic. In this campaign, the Apple Search Ads AI does all the work for you like choosing your keywords and targeting your ad groups - so it's hands off, but potentially less scalable. Even though you have less work to do, you also have less control over your campaigns. Apple Search Ads Basic may pick keywords that drive installs, but don’t hit other performance goals specific for what you’re looking for in your campaign. For example, even though these keywords may increase installs, you have less control over downstream ROAS.    

Same goes for targeting: the Apple Search Ads Basic algorithm automatically chooses the audiences for your campaign, and their targets may vary from your CPI goals. The Basic plan shows Total Spend, Total Installs, Average CPI (cost per install) and Max CPI. Apple Search Ads Basic is recommended if you’re just starting out, have a smaller budget, or want to get a taste for how Apple Search Ads works.  

Apple Search Ads Advanced on the other hand gives you full control over your campaigns. From the get go you’re picking keywords, defining ad groups, and updating visuals. The Advanced plan additionally offers more granular reporting on the keyword and ad group level, and shows more performance metrics such as CPT (cost per tap), CR (conversion rate), impression share, total taps, and rank.

A short sum up:

Apple Search Ads Basic 

  • Apple Search Ads automatically optimizes your campaign - less manual control
  • You pick the price for app downloads
  • Access to basic performance metrics  

Apple Search Ads Advanced

  • You can run Search Tab ads 
  • For search results ads you specify ad groups, keywords - full control
  • CPT model - you pay when a user taps on your ad
  • Access to detailed reports on performance metrics
Apple Search Ads search results campaign types

Generally, advertisers break down their search results campaigns into four different types: 

Brand campaigns bid on keywords that are either your brand name, or related to your brand 

Generic campaigns bid on general keywords related to app’s genre or topic 

Competitor campaigns bid on your competitors’ names or keywords that they are bidding on 

Discovery campaigns bid on: 

  • Search Match - ads that Apple Search Ads automatically matches with relevant search terms
  • Broad match - keywords that you pick and Apple Search Ads bids on similar words that you’ve provided 
How to manage Apple Search Ads

There are many moving parts to an Apple Search Ads campaign, so we’ll go over targeting, bids, and keywords one by one. 

Audience targeting

You can target your Apple Search Ads campaigns according to location, age, gender, user, and device type - the deep audience parameters enable you to tailor your campaigns to your audience. However, take into account that targeting specific audiences will limit ads appearing to users who’ve turned off the Personalized Ads setting.

For that reason, one option is to open targeting for all users. However, if you wish to reach a specific audience you can control the audience for a specific ad group. For example, if your app is popular with football players, you could limit your ad group audience setting to only reach users who are of college age and who’ve chosen to receive Personalized Ads. Better yet, if you know that students aged 18-22 is the demographic that you’re really trying to target, you can even set that as a specific ad group. 


Moving on to bids. Choosing bids doesn’t have to be a narrowly defined process. You can choose according to what you’re willing to pay, industry benchmarks, or anything that you have a hunch may work best as a starting point. Only after running a campaign, you'll be able to see the bid range and understand if it performed well or not. Once the results are in, the next step is deciding whether to increase or decrease it. If an ad isn’t getting a lot of impressions, that’s a time to increase the bid to get higher reach and performance. If it is getting a lot of impressions but the bid is low, you can try slowly decreasing the bid until it starts to negatively impact performance. 


There are different types of keyword settings - exact match, broad match, and negative keywords.

First, there's an exact match. Exact match is a keyword that is exactly what you type in the search bar. For example, if you type “Off Road Driver”, your results are going to only be “Off Road Driver”. Exact match will also match you to close variants like common misspellings and plurals. The benefit of exact match is that it protects your brand against your competitors who might also be bidding on your name.

Then, there's a broad match, which includes close searches related to your keyword. If there are misspellings, words out of order, plurals, or phrases that are close to your keyword, a broad match has you covered. 

Negative keywords are keywords you exclude from your brand activity if your brand name sounds like an irrelevant term. You can also use them in discovery campaigns to exclude keywords you’ve found already, as well as any keywords you’re actively using in your exact and broad match campaigns. 

Apple Search Ads analytics and reporting

Once you start running your campaigns, there are three options for analyzing performance data on the Apple Search Ads platform.

The first is through the campaigns dashboard. Here, you can see performance metrics across every campaign, as well as the daily budget, and your campaign’s start and end date. You’ll see data like spend, installs, average cost per acquisition, impressions, and conversion rate. You can also drill down into the ad group or keyword level through the ad groups dashboard or keywords tab. 

The next option is the charts dashboard where you can view different targeting metrics like countries, device, date and ad group and visualize the performance data through bar graphs, charts, and trend lines. This dashboard is a great way to compare metrics that are important to you - for example how does the CR compare to the CTR for a certain ad group. 

Lastly, there’s custom reports. Here, you can automatically schedule reports, organize report dimensions, and choose how deep you want the analytics to go within campaign groups. Note that it can take up to three hours to view the latest data and doesn’t include data from in-app purchases.  

If you want to dive deeper into your Apple Search Ads analytics and reporting and understand post-install performance like ROAS and CPA (cost per achievement), you can use a third party platform like Luna, an official Apple Search Ads partner, that also connects to your MMP.

How to optimize your Apple Search Ads

After deciding on the structure of your Apple Search Ads campaigns, choosing the right bids and organizing your keywords, you can get optimizing. Here are six tips to scale your campaigns and boost ROAS.  

1) Analyze CPA. We talked before about the process of choosing bids. Now that you have, it's helpful to understand which KPIs you should analyze and optimize. CPA (cost per acquisition) is a metric that shows the progress an acquired user made in your app: how much are you paying for someone to download your app from the Apple Search Ad and then for example, get to level 2 or book their first taxi ride. By looking at CPA, you can tell how many quality users you have, since they're actually engaging with the app. A low CPA shows you that users are both downloading your app and engaging with it. If your cost per achievement is high, you’d want to first decrease the bid. 

2) Adjust bids accordingly. If you see some keywords underperforming, you’ll want to see what’s causing it. First, you’ll look at the bid and see if your bid was strong enough. On Apple Search Ads, you’ll see the average bid range and if your bid is stronger or up to par with your competitors - basically the platform shows where you stand in the auction. But note that sometimes you don't necessarily want all your bids to be strong. It really depends on the target of your campaign. For example, let’s say you’re targeting app installs and want your CPA to be $20. You’re not going to add a high bid because it’s going to increase the cost of your installs. You can always change and optimize your bid according to its performance.

3) Analyze your CTR. You can look at the click through rate, or in other words, how many people are clicking on the ad. Click through rate (CTR) shows you if your ads are appealing or not to potential users. This is important because your ad is your first interaction you have with them. You’re trying to find keywords that give you a higher CTR.

4) Pause or remove a keyword? It’s helpful to ask these two questions when your keyword is underperforming and your CPI is high: Do you want to pause the keyword completely? Or do you want to just try lowering the bid? You can try decreasing the bid around 20-25% and see if it improves. If it’s still not improving, pause the keyword while simultaneously increasing your bid on a high potential keyword. Overall, you want to analyze your low performing keywords and see whether to fix or remove them while also analyzing your high performing keywords and see if you can scale them. 

5) Analyze your impressions. Impressions show you how many people are searching your keyword. If you see that you have a lot of impressions, analyze whether those impressions are converting to downloads. You might want to adjust your bid to see if conversions will remain stable at a lower cost. 

 6) Constantly monitor keywords. A keyword's performance is not always going to stay the same. Be sure to constantly look at your keyword activity and find the balance between your keywords’ spend, performance, and reach. For example, let's say you increase the bid on a keyword and the next week instead of $66 spend, it's $500 without conversions: increasing the bid may cause your performance to scale down. Essentially even though it's at a higher scale, it's not performing as well as when it did on a lower scale. That said, incremental increases are going to act differently at different levels of scale, so defining marginal ROI is a good way to find balance. 

Getting started with Luna Search Ads

Time to put these tips in action with Luna, an official Apple Search Ads partner. Learn here how Luna's smart bidding algorithm, bulk operations feature, and MMP support can help scale your Apple Search Ads campaigns. 


Let's put these tips to good use

Scale up your app marketing with Luna