How Apple Search Ads Work

Clare Bittourna

June 10, 2019

6 min read

Building an app is a fantastic achievement, but the work doesn’t stop there. The next step is marketing, which can present a new set of challenges. There are several ways to launch an app marketing campaign, from Facebook and App Store Optimization to influencer marketing, but one great channel for iOS apps is Apple Search Ads (ASA). Apple has stated that 70% of app discoverability happens from the Search tab in the App Store, which makes ads within search results a prime channel for traffic. To increase your chances of success through Apple Search Ads, we’ve outlined a few key notes to consider.


Apple Search Ads allows developers to bid on placing their apps at the top of keyword search listings. Developers can choose which keywords for their app to show up for, or they can let Apple select some for them. When users search for those keywords, any apps targeting those terms place bids based on the app’s budget to appear at the top of the search results.

search ads example

An example of an Apple Search ad (Source)

Whether or not the app will be displayed for a specific keyword depends on its relevancy and bids. This is based on a number of factors, starting with the app’s metadata. This is why developers should target keywords that are in the app’s title, subtitle or keyword bank, and integrate those keywords throughout its description.


The Search Ads algorithm crawls an app’s description to find keywords to bid on. Even if an app is realistically relevant for a term, poor metadata structure can prevent it from appearing in relevant search results. App developers and marketers should understand how an app’s organic growth impacts its paid growth.

Likewise, paid marketing impacts organic growth. Apple’s algorithm looks at an app’s click-through-rate when determining where to rank an app for its given keywords – the more clicks an app receives, the higher it rises for that keyword. Clicks count whether they’re gained from Search Ads or organic search.

This makes running Search Ads alongside organic marketing efforts particularly valuable. Each one feeds into the other, enhancing the overall growth. However, if an app is running a Search Ads campaign that is generating volume, shutting it off suddenly or reducing its spending dramatically can impact the app’s rankings by causing it to lose clicks.

If you’re going to run a Search Ads campaign, it’s important to understand the relationship between organic and paid marketing.


There are two versions of Apple Search Ads: Basic and Advanced.

Basic is essentially the lite version, where the developers set a budget and Apple automatically picks keywords and target audiences. Developers using Search Ads Basic only pay per install, and the setup is easy. On the other hand, it provides little in the way of campaign data and lacks customization.

With Search Ads Advanced, developers have access to all their campaign data. This includes daily impressions, installs, information on which keywords provide the most value, and more. It also provides more control over the campaign, such as manually choosing keywords and target demographics.


As noted earlier, the Search Ads algorithm looks at the app’s metadata when determining what keywords to display the ad for. Developers can also choose creative sets (screenshots and videos) to display with the ads.

apple search ads example

Note the creative set Bumble uses for its search ads. (Source)

As a best practice, developers should structure their metadata beforehand to establish keyword relevance. Screenshots should also use highly visible callout text to help drive installs.

When choosing keywords to bid on, it’s a good idea to know which keywords the app is already relevant for. That way you’ll know which terms the app has a better chance of converting users for.


Like any healthy marketing channel, it’s important to gather insights from campaigns and make new iterations based on them. When running Search Ads, there may be times when keywords don’t give the traffic or CPI you were looking for; the same can be said for organic efforts. This is a learning experience that can be used to improve future iterations.

Look at the data and see how you could improve the next campaign’s performance. Do you need to target a different set of keywords? Were the creatives optimized for the intended audience? What can you improve? Every app is different, so it’s important to test and try different iterations to determine the approach that works best for yours.


Whether your app is about to launch or is already on the market, using good marketing tactics will help it grow. If you’re wondering where to invest your marketing budget, Apple Search Ads is a good choice for apps available on iOS devices.

While running Search Ads, you should understand the relationship between paid and organic growth, as well as how each influences the other. From there, determine if Search Ads Basic or Advanced is better suited for your needs.

Incorporate best practices, like setting up your metadata and utilizing optimized creative sets. After your campaign launches, keep iterating and finding new ways to optimize your campaign. Running Search Ads for a month then calling it quits because things didn’t go quite as well as hoped means you’re giving up too early. Review the data and see where you won and where you didn’t, then create a new iteration that uses those insights.

For information on how Codal can help with designing and developing your app, contact their mobile app development team. To learn more about app store optimization, pay a visit to Gummicube.


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