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A Practical Guide to Apple Search Ads: Part 2

Campaign Management & Optimization Best Practices

 

We hope you enjoyed the first part of this two-part series, “A Practical Guide to Apple Search Ads.” In part one, we gave an overview of Apple Search Ads and its benefits. In part two, we get into the nitty gritty of campaign management and optimization best practices. If you haven’t read part one of this series, please do so first.channel. 

Strive for Simplification, Avoid Complexity

Perfect is the enemy of great. Chasing perfection is a fool’s errand. If you’re beating performance goals and the future looks bright, stay the course. Avoid a campaign restructure or re-work simply because it sounds like a good idea. The beauty (and curse) of Paid Search is the myriad optimization levers at your disposal. Let’s say you’re bidding on 500 keywords on two different match types while separately targeting: 1) people who have downloaded your app and those who haven't and 2) iPad and iPhone. That’s 4,000 different elements you can optimize. And that’s modest relative to most ASA campaigns. 

Avoid being enamored with features and the quest for the perfect ASA campaign. The intent behind the “More is More” mentality of Search Marketers is a noble one. But it should be tempered with an unrelenting focus on business goals. Both in terms of campaign management performance and time spent on campaign management. The more elements you add to an ASA campaign, the more things you need to manage. 

ASA Elements

 

Apple provides a detailed overview of the different Apple Search Ads elements. We however, wanted to call out the major ASA elements and their purpose.

Campaigns serve the purpose of setting both total campaign budget and daily campaign budget. These can be adjusted at any time. They also allow for the targeting of different apps. For example, if your company offers more than one App, you’ll need to create a separate campaign for each app. Country targeting is also done at the campaign level.

Ad Groups are a level down from Campaigns. This is where the majority of granular targeting occurs. Key functions performed at the ad group level include: defining CPA goal, enabling search match (see “Keyword Match Types” section for more info), adding keywords, targeting device types and audiences, and setting demographics, locations, and ad schedules.

Targeted Keywords are words or phrases for which you want your ad to serve when a user enters a search query. Targeted keywords are typically the biddable unit for ASA advanced. 

Keyword Match Types define how closely Apple’s system matches a search query with the targeted keyword and advertisement. There are two types.

  • Exact match – the search query must be identical to the search query.

  • Broad match – the search query is relevant or the same as the search query. Apple determines broad match relevance.

 

Here are examples of how Match Types work:

Search Match is an ad group-level setting that gives Apple the flexibility to serve your ad for search terms that it deems are relevant based on your metadata without the need for keywords. It’s useful for generating volume and mining search queries as a keyword expansion source. This is essentially what powers Search Ads Basic campaigns.

Negative Keywords restrict an ad from serving for certain search queries. Negative keywords can be used to filter out irrelevant search queries. For example, an advertiser may want to use the negative keyword “free” if they’re a premium app that is not free.

 

Creative Sets allow you to select which image assets from your App Store Connect account you want to show with a given ad group. This allows advertisers to align creatives with keyword targeting themes. Apple uses your default App Store Connect creatives as the creative set. We recommend selecting all assets that you’ve uploaded in your library and let Apple’s automation engine serve the top-performing creative.

Reporting lets you run custom exportable reports for Apps, Campaigns, Ad Groups, Keywords, Search Terms, Creative Sets and Billing. Reports can be ad hoc or scheduled. You can segment by date. You can also view charts and export data in the dashboard page.

Key metrics & their definitions in reports & dashboard:

  • Spend – ad spend (self-explanatory).

  • Impressions – when your ad is served.

  • Taps – when your ad is tapped (i.e., “clicked”). 

  • Installs – app is downloaded.

  • New downloads – first-time download. 

  • Redownloads – app downloaded previously.

  • LAT On Installs – installs from users with limited ad tracking setting on.

  • LAT Off Installs – installs from users with limited ad tracking setting off.

  • Avg CPT (“Cost Per Tap”) – Spend divided by Taps. 

  • Avg CPA (“Cost Per Action”) – Spend divided by Installs.

  • TTR (“Tap Thru Rate”) – Taps divided by Impressions. 

  • CR (“Conversion Rate”) – Installs divided by Taps

Align Campaign Budgets & Structure to Meet Your Goals

The first thing to understand when determining campaign structure is to understand what a campaign controls:

  • App you’re trying to promote.

  • Budget (daily and total).

  • Country targeting.

 

The key dimension is budget. The question you should ask yourself when determining how to structure campaigns is: “How do I want to allocate funds?” Campaigns should be structured in the simplest manner possible to hit your goals. Campaigns should also be structured so that they can adapt to high-level business and stakeholder needs. In the following section, we’ll walk you through campaign structure best practices. 

Step 1: Setup Performance and Discovery Campaigns

Performance campaigns – as the name implies – serve the purpose of accomplishing business objectives.

Breakout your performance campaigns into Brand and Non-Brand. Branded keywords, as the name implies are words or phrases with your brand name (or a close variant). For example, if your have a music app named “Acme123 Music”, branded keywords would be “Acme123 App”, “Acme 123”, “Download Acme 123”, etc. You’ll want to bid on branded keywords because they: 1) Ward of competitors bidding on your keyword term and 2) Give you more ownership on the App Store Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Non-Branded terms are the opposite. They’re terms that don’t reflect your App’s name. For example, “Music App”, “Best Song App” or a competitor like “Spotify” or “Pandora.”

Branded keywords cannibalize organic search queries. The question of how much has been lingering since the inception of paid search over 20 years ago. Non- branded keywords on the other hand are more incremental as the searcher would likely not have found the advertiser’s app had they not been advertising on the keyword. You’re typically going to have more room for growth by investing in non- branded terms.

Discovery campaigns are designed for the purpose of mining search queries as an additional keyword expansion source. They also supplement ASO efforts. You should split your Discovery campaigns into Search and Broad Match.

Discovery Campaign 1: Broad Match

  • Add all keywords from performance campaigns.

  • Negative exact match performance campaign keywords.

  • Turn off search match.

 

Discovery Campaign 2: Search Match

  • Do not add keywords.

  • Negative exact match performance campaign keywords.

  • Turn on search match.

 

With this setup, you’re forcing Apple’s system to only serve ads based on unique search queries (i.e., terms outside of your set of Targeted Keywords). This serves as a great source for adding new keywords. You can then mine your search terms report for keyword expansion.

Step 2: Determine Daily Budget Allocation

Performance campaigns

Performance campaign budgets should be ample enough to hit aggregate performance goals with an optional buffer.

Allocate 80-90% of your total spend to performance campaigns. 

Use the following formula:

Total Budget for Performance Campaigns = Daily Install Target x Target Cost Per Install x Buffer (1.0 – 1.2)

Buffer is optional and adjust according to your risk tolerance. If you are in the fortunate position of having unlimited budgets and you’re hitting performance targets, we recommend setting an amount that you’re comfortable with and steadily raising budgets every week by 10-20%.

After setting up performance campaign budgets, break out Brand and Non-Brand campaign budgets. 60-80% of your budget should go to non-brand, as those installs are more likely to be incremental vs. brand which may cannibalize organic search queries.

Discovery Campaigns

Take the remaining 10-20% of spend and allocate it to Discovery campaigns. If the budget is tight, not running discovery campaigns is acceptable. If you choose to run Discovery campaigns, setup two campaigns: 1) Broad Match and 2) Search Match.

Split discovery campaign budget evenly across broad and search match.

Below is a hypothetical example of how a $1,000/day budget could be split across the various campaign types.

Find Relevant Keywords

Selecting keywords can be overwhelming. However, we break down a few ways to source keywords to help mitigate this. Start a campaign with 20-50 keywords and add 10-20 every one or two weeks as volume needs dictate. Keyword sources include:

  • Brainstorm yourself or with your team – You’re the best source of keywords. Think like an App Store user. What do you type in? For branded campaigns, come up with words and phrases that best reflect your brand. For non-branded keywords, come up with terms that reflect your app or business. Also think of top competitor names. Competitor keywords are a huge volume source.

  • Search Ads Console – Apple provides recommended keywords directly in the console.

  • Google Ads – Google has a free keyword tool. You can enter your App’s website URL or type in keywords (“seed” keywords) and Google will return hundreds if not thousands of recommendations. Note that Google Ads recommend terms for web, which may differ from App Store searches.

  • Discovery Campaign Search Terms – As mentioned previously, discovery campaigns are a great keyword source as they reflect terms Apple deems are relevant to your app. Avoid blindly adding all search terms. Add those that are performing strongly.

 

Keeping your keyword list size small and manageable in the beginning is imperative. Add too many keywords and the volume will be spread too thin. You’ll have difficulty drawing actionable insights on your keyword set. Getting more data from each keyword is the better way to go. You’ll bid more intelligently and get better results in the long run.

Bidding Best Practices

In this section, we’ll dive into the specifics of setting keyword and search match bids. We will keep the focus on optimizing for install volume and cost-per- install.

  • Determine target cost per install – Use your internal data to back into the most you want to pay for an install. Be realistic. Setting a target too low will restrict your install volume. Setting one too high can be problematic if you have limited, fixed budgets. Your target cost per install will vary by your business model and industry. Typically, they range from $0.50 to $10.

  • Starting Bid – Set your initial bid equal to your target cost per install. Initially, this will likely result in excessively high cost per installs. That’s ok. You’re initially trying to get volume. You’ll reduce bids as you collect more data.

  • Set Bidding Interval – Adjust bids at least weekly.

  • Determine Tap Volume Threshold – Determine the amount of ad taps (“clicks” in web parlance) over the set interval are sufficient before taking action and bidding. We recommend 10-14 taps over the interval.

  • Adjust bids – The best bidding tactic is the one that allows you to hit your performance goals. Literature on bidding mechanics abound. We recommend keeping your bidding strategy simple in the beginning. If your actual cost per install is 1-20% above your target, reduce bids 10%. If your actual cost per install is >20% above your target (or you have zero installs), decrease bids 20%. Conversely, if your actual cost per install is 0-20% equal/below your target, increase bids 10%. If your actual cost per install is 20% below your target, increase bids by 20%. If your keyword is below your tap threshold, bid it up 10% so it can receive sufficient volume.

In the ASA console, “bids” reflect the “Max CPT” (cost per tap) field. For keyword-less, Search Match ad groups, you’ll bid at the ad group level.

As an added safeguard, you can enter a target CPI at the ad group level to ensure performance stays in line. This will restrict what auctions your ad will serve in, however.

Advanced Topics: 3rd Party Automation Tools, APIs, & MMPs

 

3rd Party Automation Tools

The rule-based nature of Paid Search lends itself well to automation tools. It’s 2020 where AI and ML are quickly becoming king when it comes to routine tasks. This should land on fertile ground. Humans excel at strategic, creative tasks. We strongly recommend making use of tools that expedite workflows. Apple provides nice out-of-the-box capabilities like: target CPI bidding, bulk operations, and recommendations. 3rd party tools can also complement Apple Search Ads campaign management, automating bid management, reporting and more.

APIs

If you want to build your own custom tool or automate a specific process, Apple Search Ads Campaign Management API is a viable resource. It requires significant proficiency in software development or access to software development teams. The increasingly bespoke nature of growth marketing makes APIs a great option, but the level of expertise is significant. This is a better option for larger or more tech-savvy advertisers.

Mobile Measurement Providers (MMPs)

ASA integrates with several mobile measurement partners (MMPs). MMPs are third-party analytics platforms that track in-app data and can tie ad campaign performance to in-app activity. The dimensions and metrics that you track via an MMP are up to you.

Below are a few examples of the types of events an advertiser may track by vertical:

  • Gaming – levels completed.

  • Retail – purchases & revenue.

  • Automotive – price quotes submitted.

 

The in-app data can then be tied to granular Search Ads dimensions like campaign, ad group, and keyword. You can then stitch together spend data from Apple with in-app data from MMPs to optimize for return on ad spend (ROAS).

Below are two hypothetical examples of what can happen when you only optimize for installs/cost per install (CPI) and don’t have visibility into in-app events like revenue.

If you don’t have an MMP, Keyword 1 would be preferable due to a low CPI. But as you can see, Keyword 2 is really the top performer when you factor in return on ad spend (ROAS).

Who Are the MMPs?

Here’s a list of the top players (listed in alphabetical order):

Tying It Together

ASA is a must-have platform. The strong user intent translates into high-ROAS campaigns. Furthermore, learnings from ASA can fuel your ASO engine. We encourage advertisers to strike a balance between striving for perfection vs. sufficiently hitting your KPIs. Stick to the fundamentals and keep things simple. Align campaign structure and budgets with company business objectives. Leverage automation, 3rd party tools, and APIs to take your campaigns to the next level.

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1. App Store data from all available countries and regions (excluding China), 2018 (https://searchads.apple.com).
2. Appsflyer 2019 Performance Index (https://www.appsflyer.com/performance-index).

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