Dave Bell, Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, explains how app marketers can use Apple Search Ads to drive downloads.
App Store Optimization, from a holistic approach, requires three key components: organic metadata optimization; creative and conversion optimization; and successfully driving installs via paid user acquisition campaigns. This three-tiered strategy allows developers and marketers to position their apps to capture users who are naturally looking for them, convert them at a higher rate, and drive the volume of installs needed to index competitively in the app stores.
While evaluating what changes to make for organic and conversion optimization is no easy undertaking, the “where” is relatively straightforward. The keywords an app indexes for and the creative sets displayed on a product page are all established within App Store Connect, Apple’s native console.
But for the third tier – paid user acquisition – there are myriad avenues available to drive potential users to an app. Depending on the type of app, its demographics and functionality, some campaigns may be more beneficial than others. But when optimizing for the iOS App Store, one campaign has unique benefits that others do not have: Apple Search Ads.
When considering which type of campaign to run, keep the below three key benefits of running this kind of campaign in mind.
Compared to other types of paid user acquisition traffic, which drive users to the Product Page, Apple Search Ads has the unique benefit of being displayed in search results. This allows developers to bid for the ability to be served among organic traffic to highly engaged users, on their iOS devices, in the App Store, actively looking for an app to download.
Apple boasts a benefit of Search Ads as the ability to “reach engaged users at the exact moment they’re searching for your app.” Their stats, which have been established since 2019, back up this engagement claim:
Aside from the benefit of displaying the app in an “organic” environment, successful Apple Search Ads campaigns can also have coefficients that benefit true organic ranking visibility.
When a user searches for a keyword in the App Store, and taps on an app, it sends a signal to the app store saying that particular app is relevant for that keyword. Over time, if the app sustains enough taps versus competitors, it can move up in ranking organically. Likewise, if its competitors get more taps, they will move up in ranking.
These taps generated from search count not only from organic results, but also from Apple Search Ads results. While you can’t “buy your way to the top” so to speak, you can bid for the opportunity to be placed above the competition. If the taps are there, and are sustained for long enough, an increase to organic ranking can occur.
This is where conversion optimization and creative testing is critical – and is another area where Apple Search Ads has a unique benefit.
Creative Set A/B Testing
Unlike the Google Play Developer Console, which allows for A/B testing on the Play Store in the Experiments portal, App Store Connect does not allow you to run multivariate tests. In order to measure the impact of a creative change for conversion optimization – such as a change to the screenshots or App Preview video – a full update must be deployed and conversion must be measured before and after.
This presents a few problems – namely that traffic and trends can change before and after the update. Campaigns from external marketing may fluctuate, seasonal trends may come into play before or after, or the app may even start riding a wave of viral popularity. These factors inherently make it difficult to assess the impact of a creative update.
With Apple Search Ads, however, multivariate A/B Testing is possible. Apple allows for up to 10 screenshots, with the first three being displayed in search results (for portrait orientation – just one for landscape). Up to three optional App Preview videos can also be added, the first of which will appear in search results ahead of the screenshots, moving each one back by one spot. But why allow for so many assets when only one to three will appear?
Using Apple Search Ads, developers can add a “Creative Set” within an ad group by selecting up to three sequential screenshots outside of the default set of the first three – for example, choosing to display images 4, 5 and 7 instead of 1, 2 and 3. This set will be run against the default first set of three, at the same time.
For Ad Groups with keywords that are more niche to specific features of the app, developers can test a more specific Creative Set highlighting a given feature to see how it converts compared to the standard first set of three. For Apple Search Ads campaigns run on general, core keywords to the app, developers can then use this data to determine if a change should warrant a full deployment and replacement of the first three images, or even test if having an App Preview video vs. no video would potentially convert better.
Over time, valuable trends on which set gets more engagement via taps and conversions will emerge. This test is limited to Ad Groups in Apple Search Ads and is still not a full A/B test to all traffic like a Google Play Experiment, but it can serve as a proving ground when deciding to launch a full creative update.
Organic optimization, conversion optimization and paid user acquisition go hand-in-hand for a successful App Store Optimization strategy. Once an organic foundation is established and creative sets are deployed that have been shown to convert users, the third piece of the puzzle can help drive continued growth.
When evaluating where to focus paid efforts, or how to get to the next level, Apple Search Ads provides benefits that simply are not available from other types of campaigns and should not be overlooked as part of a paid UA strategy and holistic ASO approach.
About the Author
Dave Bell is Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube. Gummicube is a global leader in App Store Optimization with more than 11 years of experience optimizing and marketing apps. We offer the leading enterprise ASO technology and agency services, providing support to clients around the world. Our company is trusted by thousands of enterprise brands and leading startups including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Bethesda, SWEAT, GrubHub, McAfee and many others.