Do you have apps in the Apple App Store?
Since October 10, 2016, Apple has offered search ads in the app store and it looks as though they’re probably here to stay. If you do a quick search for an app, you’ll find that the top results are almost always ads for related apps.
Apple promotes search ads as “an efficient and easy way for you to promote your app at the top of the app store” and some apps who are taking up the ads are already seeing results.
There is already precedent in the Google Play storefront — they released search ads about a year prior to Apple and developers have reported that overall, the search ads are a good way to convert high-quality users.
So, are search ads worth adding to your marketing plan? How do they work and what do you need to do to take advantage of them?
How Do Search Ads Work?
Search ads in the app store work in a similar way to how search engine ads for Google or Bing work. A user will search for keywords and if there are advertisements which are a match to those, then an ad will appear for the matching app at the top of the search result. Ads are apparent to the user by their blue background and a small blue “Ad” notification next to the developer name.
Search ads are available if you’ve got an app up in the app store for the US and if you are in any of the countries listed by Apple.
Ads are based on the metadata you provide in your app store entry, including imagery. This means that before getting into launching any search ads, the first thing you should do is check that you’ve really optimized your listing with the right keywords and data.
You aren’t able to customize any of the copy or creative for your search ad as it is pulled from the metadata only. If you need to make changes to your metadata, Apple states that it may take up to 2 hours to be reflected in your Search Ads listing and up to 17 hours for it to show in your preview in the Search Ads campaign app. You are able to add keywords during ad setup if you need new ones.
Why Use Search Ads?
There are in excess of 2 million apps available in the app store and over 1600 apps being submitted each day. This creates a lot of “noise” for any app developer hoping to get good download results for their new app. Apple advises that, in the US, 65% of all app downloads come directly from App Store searches; of course those apps which rise to the top of searches are much more likely to get downloaded by users.
How do those top search results get there? First of all, any “featured apps” you see haven’t been placed there by a complex algorithm, they’ve actually been hand-picked by an editorial team that is responsible for the particular local app store. Patrick Yip gave 21 tips here for how app developers can improve their chances of being picked to feature, one of the key strategies being to be relevant to a local audience.
Secondly, if you’re wondering how apps come to appear in the order that they do and what pushes some above others, that’s where a complex algorithm comes in. In short, you need to have used some strategies in setting up your app for the App Store which optimize it for search. Of course, with everyone else doing so too, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your app to rank highly, particularly if you’re in a very competitive category.
This is where search ads can give you the advantage. You’re effectively skipping the queue to get your app shown to those who enter relevant search keywords. Apple promises that your ad will only be shown to users who haven’t already downloaded your app and cost is on a cost-per-tap model — the user has to tap on your ad for you to be charged.
Given that ads work best for apps which have been well-optimized already, it’s worth covering what that actually means;
Optimizing Your Listings
With or without search ads, it’s worth your while to check on your app listings and ensure that they are optimized for the store. Apps that languish in the depths of the store tend to be there because a) they’re awful or b) they haven’t been optimized (more often b) — Apple doesn’t like to approve awful apps!).
Here’s what we’d check before investing in search ads:
#1. Assess Your Current State
Where is your app sitting right now? In order to measure if you’ve been able to improve, it’s important to know where you began. Take a look at the current metadata you’ve submitted to the App Store, which words and phrases you rank for and how many people are searching for those terms.
How do you know which search terms you are ranking for? That’s not easy in practice because Apple does not simply give them to you, but there are a few strategies you can use:
- Use keyword planning tools such as Google Keyword Planner or Moz’s Keyword Tool to see what people are actually searching for and compare these results to the keywords you are using.
- Use the search field in the App Store to type in a few letters. This will bring up commonly used search terms which can be selected to auto-fill.
- Use a tool which has been created to assist with App Store optimization. Tools such as App Radar or Mobile Action include features for viewing how popular the keywords you are using really are.
#2. Check Out Keywords
Taking out a search ad for keywords which you’re already ranking highly for could be a redundant exercise. Why? Because if you rank highly, your app will show immediately underneath the ad anyway. In the earlier screenshot where we searched for “weather forecast”, the Weather Channel was the first organic result. It wouldn’t make sense for them to advertise using “weather forecast” keywords.
Successful apps may be ranking for any of thousands of keywords, but if you’re languishing down in the pile of search results, you need to do some research on which keywords or terms may be ideal for you to target. This doesn’t necessarily mean the high competition keywords either — those are difficult to rank for due to having so many others trying to do so too. Keywords and terms which are less commonly targeted, but still get large numbers of searches are a better bet.
You can use any of the tools we mentioned in the previous section, including app optimization tools which allow you to spy on which keywords competitors are ranking for. You can also look to the app reviews to find the “natural language” by which users refer to your app. This can give you an idea of possible keywords you may not have thought of. Do this either the manual way by physically searching through reviews, or mine data using an app optimization tool.
#3. Optimize Your Title and Description
Once you have a good idea of what words and phrases will be best for your app, look to optimizing your title and description for the App Store.
Your title should, of course, include the actual title of your app, but you can also add keywords to give it more context and app store optimization juice. For example, going back to the earlier App Store screenshot showing weather apps, the paid result is an app called WeatherBug. They have added a dash after the title with more keywords such as “local weather” and “radar.”
This technique is also especially useful if you have an app with a title which doesn’t immediately relate to what the app does. For example, if you hadn’t heard of it before, “Stripe” probably wouldn’t immediately strike you as being an app for payments. They could add keywords to their title such as “Stripe – Payments, Credit Card Payments, eCommerce Payment Solution.”
As for your description, you get room to use a few more keywords, but you need to also ensure you’re actually using it to sell your app. Make descriptions accurate and clearly answer the question “why should I download this app?”
#4. Ask For Reviews
Having more (good) reviews is another way to rank better, although of course, you have little control over whether a user will actually give you a review. One solution to at least maximize your chances is to ask for reviews from inside the app.
As for the quality of the reviews, ensuring that your app is kept updated, that you respond quickly to any queries and that you take care of fixes as soon as possible will go a long way toward helping your average rating.
#5. Improve Your Download Rate
This is the other area which impacts how well your app ranks — download rate. This is calculated based on the number of people who visit your page in the App Store vs. the number who actually download your app.
You have little control over this, but optimizing your description to entice downloads can help. You can test different elements such as the icon and screenshots you use and keeping your description updated, taking into account any customer feedback.
With these steps having been taken, you will be better placed to see good results from investing in App Store search ads.
Should You Advertise?
App Store search ads are a relatively recent addition for Apple, but early data, as well as data from Google Play search ads, shows that they can be an effective marketing tool for app developers who need an extra boost to their visibility.
As App Store ads work from the metadata you have already provided to Apple, you are best to review your app store optimization before deciding to use the ads. Keywords, terms, and descriptions should be maximized and you should know where you stand in relation to competitors.
Should you advertise? For the vast majority who aren’t already ranking well in the App Store, it just might make sense.
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