Apple Search Ads 101

What are Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads is a paid media platform where developers can advertise their app directly in the App Store. Placements appear at the top of search results in the App Store after a user inputs a query, which is why the advertisements are search-based. Overall, Apple Search Ads are a great way to make your app more discoverable. Naturally this increases your app’s brand awareness, impressions, user base and downloads.

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Why are advertisers moving to Apple Search Ads as an ad platform?

Apple Search Ads launched in 2016 and enabled thousands of App Store developers to help build up their reach and find quality users. And while the Android operating system has the most global market share, iOS dominates in the US with close to 60% market share (Stat Counter). Additionally, iOS users are more likely to spend more on in-app purchases, making it a potentially lucrative revenue stream for app advertisers to employ.

According to the AppsFlyer Performance Index report, Apple Search Ads grew by 34% in app installs from the year 2020 to 2021…indicating that iOS users are more engaged than ever in getting the most from their apps. In both gaming and non-gaming apps, Apple users ranked Apple Search Ads second overall for quality and retention, only slightly behind Facebook in rank. 

So if you are seeking high-intent traffic with a high likelihood of staying engaged post-install, look no further than Apple Search Ads. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything needed to get started in. 

“At Apple, we believe that advertising can play a positive role for both businesses and people. This is why we've built a platform that delivers industry-leading performance and value for advertisers, while ensuring an experience that customers love and trust.” - Apple Search Ads

Apple Search Ads Basic

There are two versions of Apple Search Ads: basic and advanced. The basic version is easy to set up, as the name suggests, and has the benefits of being quick and cost-effective. The downside is that the targeting options are limited too, so you only pay per install, not for how many people see your ad.

This setup works well with those who are just starting out marketing their apps, since advertisers can quickly set up a few campaigns and be off to the races. Easily digestible dashboards also make it easy for advertisers to review their performance in a very straightforward way. And since there's no long-term commitment, you're free to choose the length of time you want to promote your app, starting and stopping whenever suits your needs.

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Apple Search Ads Basic works fine up to $10,000 per month, per app. After $10K it is required that you move up to Apple Search Ads Advanced. While it is not required to move to Advanced options within this $10K budget, you may still want to consider running your campaigns on Apple Search Ads Advanced for the additional features available to you. 

For all new accounts, Apple Search Ads offers a $100 credit to get started. This gives you the opportunity to do a small test and see if it is the ideal advertising platform for your business.


  • $100 account credit for all new accounts
  • Pay as you go at a fixed cost-per-install of your choice
  • Basic management knowledge is acceptable
  • AI-powered solutions assist performance through machine learning


  • Lacking audience segmentation options
  • No keyword refinement available
  • Limit to the number of apps that you can promote at any given time

Apple Search Ads Advanced

In Apple Search Ads Advanced, your options are more extensive and you can get specific with settings that matter–like keywords, audiences, and creatives. The metrics and insights available to the advertiser are also more comprehensive in the advanced interface…so you know on a micro level how your campaigns are performing.

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  • No budget limits or app limits - promote as many apps as you’d like
  • Targeting options are far more specific and sophisticated than Basic
  • Keyword optimization is straightforward and simple, with machine-driven recommendations (very similar to Google Ads)
  • No limits on Attribution AI, full access to all features


  • $100 account credit not available
  • Management has increased complexity and nuance
  • Takes time to optimize and oversee, more so than basic (although when paired with MarinOne, significant time can be saved and efficiency shortcuts created)

Getting Started with Apple Search Ads

Setting up your account

Setting up Apple Search Ads is relatively hassle-free. Ensure that you log in with your Apple ID and have granted the app access to your email address. You'll also need to choose which app you'd like to promote. If you published it through Apple Developer Console, it ought to appear as an option to select for promotion at this point.

Launching a Campaign on Basic

Setting up an advert campaign couldn't be easier. All you need to do is choose the app from the drop-down menu, select the geographical region you want to target, enter your monthly budget and max CPI (Cost Per Install) or CPT (Cost Per Tap). Apple Search Ads machine learning AI will take it from there.

Naturally, ads will not run unless you have a valid method of payment entered, so at this point you will need to enter a credit card number or other form of payment. When filling out this section, you will also have an opportunity to see if you qualify for the $100 promo credit. The credit will automatically be applied when you add your card.

Launching a Campaign on Apple Search Ads Advanced

In the Advanced setting, setting up an ad account and launching your first campaign requires a bit more time, but not much…it is still quite simple for a beginner to take on. You're going to need to decide which app you want to advertise and where. Apple Search Ads now cover 61 countries, so select those that are relevant for your campaign. You will also need to set the budget and more. The pricing is based on the cost-per-tap model, where you set a maximum level of money you are willing to spend for a tap. The price will go up depending on how much you bid and there is an auction system determining the top bids.

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Apple Search Ads Audience Segmentation

There are various segments for putting the most relevant ad possible in front of your target demo. Mix and match multiple a/b tests with these segmentation options.

  • Search Match - matches ads to appropriate searches with the use of AI to automatically pair the best query with your app.
  • Keywords - much like Google Ads, you can choose particular keywords you feel fit the product or you can receive machine learning assistance here as well and target the keywords Apple Search Ads suggests.
  • Customer types - there are a myriad of options for you to make ads visible to your core customers depending on your campaign needs, such as returning or existing customers, or users of similar or competitive apps.
  • Demographics - gender and age range are the core segments offered in demo audience segmentation. Remember that when you apply age and gender refinements, you automatically exclude customers with LAT turned On or Personalized Ads turned Off. Apple’s privacy policy goes into detail about how LAT and Personalized Ad settings may affect targeting.
  • Device type - the main distinction to be made here is whether the user is on an iPhone or iPad, and what generation thereof.
  • Location targeting - you can segment campaigns by region or country, which offers some specificity to who you would like to reach. This is particularly beneficial to geo-specific apps like DoorDash, Uber, or Pokemon Go.

Keyword Refinement for Apple Search Ads

For anyone already familiar with Google Ads or Microsoft Ads, Apple Search Ads work very similarly, at least as far as keyword list development goes. There are 3 main types of keywords you can use on the Apple Search Ads platform:

  • Search Match: Apple Search Ads uses the app listing to generate keywords.
  • Broad Match: Apple Search Ads suggests relevant keywords and adds them automatically, with some optimization by the user.
  • Exact Match: As the most specific and targeted keyword iteration, these are typically manually added by the advertiser. Brand keywords, competitor keywords, and extremely targeted phrases like product names are all great candidates for exact match.
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Best practice indicates that you ought to only use one match type per ad group. Adding appropriate negative keywords is also very important for Apple Search Ads advertisers. By blocking irrelevant keywords, you can save money on bids, which are often wasted on customers who won't download your app or are not relevant enough to your brand’s targeting.

If you want to optimize your campaign performance for Apple Search Ads, the most fundamental rule is to include relevant keywords in your ads. A simple method to follow is as follows:

  1. Find new searches through the search match and broad match types (use a dedicated ad group for this)
  2. Include the keywords with the highest performance to your different ad groups
  3. Add the keywords that perform poorly to a list of negative keywords.

Best Practices for Apple Search Ads Campaign Management

Keep your campaign structure simple

Don't undertake an overly complex campaign structure or begin to restructure things too frequently simply because it sounds like a good idea. There are many simple things you can do to optimize your campaigns (like many of the tactics in this guide), so be sure to explore those first before making any drastic changes. 

As an example of a great yet simple campaign structure, let’s say you have 500 keywords, two different match types and are targeting people who have downloaded your app as well as those who haven't. While fairly straightforward in terms of methodology, that still makes 4,000 optimization possibilities. That's a lot of variants to manage and monitor before ever incorporating more sophisticated tactics or segmentation. 

It's important to weigh your business goals with your use of optimization and testing new opportunities. Adding more things to your Apple Search Ads campaign can add a lot of extra work and complexity, so be sure to assess what is fitting for you first.

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Be cautious about bidding too high

Apple Search Ads documentation tells us the TTR (Tap Through Rate) per ad unit is taken into account by the Apple Search Ads algorithm in deciding to display a certain app. The higher your TTR, the lower your cost per tap. Such an implementation pummels bigger players with expensive rates and also negatively affects advertisers with a lower budget by limiting their ability to compete.

If your TTR is anywhere between 3-5% (a common rate within the non-gaming industry), then your app is unlikely to rank well and you’re going to be struggling with poor conversion rates.

If your conversion rate is low and you're not getting targeted traffic, instead of increasing bids, try other keywords or optimize your ASO (App Store Optimization) game by working on keywords in the app description or metadata. 

Capitalize on the Ad Variation feature

As a result of Apple Search Ad's Ad variations feature, advertisers can tailor ads to users by aligning creative to keyword themes and audiences for more relevant content. First you’ll need to set up custom product pages, more on that here. You can create up to 35 pages using different preview videos, screenshots, and promotional text. Once that’s done, you can version out ad variations sending users to specific product pages when they tap your ad. This gives Apple Search Ads managers the ability to curate a preview into the users’ experience when using the app based on their preferences. These custom ads are available on devices using iOS 15.2 or later. If your ad reaches someone with an earlier iOS version, your default ad will appear on their device. 

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Check for traffic outside of the US

When you use Apple Search Ads campaign-targeting settings, all the US storefronts you're shown are based on the location chosen by a user in your device. There are also a number of countries that don't have the App Store. Therefore, Apple considers downloads from these regions as US-based downloads at the matching rate. 

Based on data provided by AppsFlyer, the percentage of this type of traffic varies between 20% and 40%. Without a doubt, the percentage is higher in games versus other apps. This can lead to your ads’ Return on Investment (ROI) being negative or less than zero, so it’s crucial to set conversative goals and account for this potentially variable traffic, up to 40%. Anot bnbher tactic is to run your ad campaigns during the peak hours of your targeted region only, versus 24 hours a day. This can reduce irrelevant “US” traffic by 80%.

Use App Store Optimization and Apple Search Ads hand-in-hand

Apple has changed the limit for the maximum number of keywords allowed for app names; it has been reduced from 100 to 50 characters. This will make it more difficult for apps to cram as many keywords into their name, which is often called "keyword stuffing." This impacted keyword rank positions for over 15% of the iOS App Store's top apps, whose names had over 50 characters. However, with Apple Search Ads, publishers who don't use App Store Optimization techniques are still able to gain a competitive advantage.

The key takeaway is that the rate of installation via the App Store search bar is very high, both for paid and organic placements, which is why utilizing both Apple Search Ads and App Store Optimization tactics is the ideal strategy for app advertisers. In fact, over 65% of downloads happen after users search for apps in the App Store. Much like a grocery store shopper is interested in buying things on the shelf, mobile users are much more likely to want to download an app when they're browsing the App Store. Publishers can use Apple Search Ads and App Store Optimization to drive more customers to their app at a high-intent moment in their journey. 

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How MarinOne Can Help with Apple Search Ads

Our comprehensive system for optimizing ad campaigns across multiple networks offers agencies and brands an easy way to find, filter, and compare the best ads for a given keyword or demographic. Compare your Apple Search Ads campaigns against Google Ad campaigns, Microsoft Ad campaigns, LinkedIn and many more platforms in one fully-customizable tool.

A few of the key offerings that makes our software distinctive include:

  • Custom groups with A/B testing functionality to reach your target market and new markets. 
  • Expert insights and consultation from our managed services team to increase conversions and lower cost per lead.
  • A single interface for making any kind of digital ad - whether you want to schedule ads for a later date or publish content that's already written.
  • Our Marin-specific conversion tracking tool allows you to have insight into the success of your keywords and segmentation.
  • Forecast budget and spend more effectively by having omnichannel performance comparison all in one place.
  • Automated reporting and data visualization provide customizable modules which increase your efficiency.
  • You can consistently measure the results of your Apple Search Ads against the results of campaigns for other publishers and platforms.

Here you can learn more about MarinOne for Apple Search Ads, and schedule a demo with one of our advertising experts to get started.

If you're still wondering whether or not you should use Apple Search Ads, read some of our related articles that will convince you this is the right tactic for your business and help you strategically plan your Apple Search Ads campaign roadmap.

Paddy Power - Apple Search Ads Case Study: Improve CPA by nearly 30% using Marin bidding
Why you should be running Apple Search Ads
Automated optimization for Apple Search Ads
Get your app in front of the right people