Performance Power Players: Emre Bilgic on Apple Search Ads

Performance Power Players: Emre Bilgic on Apple Search Ads

Emre Bilgic, Senior Customer Success Manager at Mobile Action discussed the power of Apple Search Ads.

Key Takeaways

  • Apple Search Ads are often the last step in the conversion funnel. Without an ASA strategy, advertisers could lose customers to competitors at the final step of the journey.
  • Marketers should optimize Apple Search Ads towards upper-funnel events and track performance all the way through. As an advertiser, if you don’t have a large enough pool of people exposed to your brand from the start of their App Store journey, the number of people converting will be too small to bring impactful results.
  • Ensure there is consistency of messaging and creative between Apple Search Ads and other channels. Advertisers need to help people remember keywords or sentiments that they can bid on in Apple Search to capture their attention at the final step before converting.
  • Apple Search Ads can help capture insights that can shape the product roadmap. If certain keywords are more often searched than others, this provides information about what people want and what features should be prioritized ahead of others

Why is having an Apple Search Ad strategy so beneficial to advertisers?

Mobile marketers will know that Apple Search Ads often sit at the bottom of the conversion funnel. In many cases, ASA is the last step in the journey for a user seeking information about a specific topic or seeking help with a specific scenario. 

Apple Search Ads are often most beneficial when a user has seen messaging from a brand elsewhere i.e. in other marketing channels, for example, on a CTV ad, a billboard, a placement on social, etc. When the user then comes to the app store to find the app, they search using something they recall from the campaign when they saw it earlier. Maybe they remember a specific keyword, or a sentiment, the brand name, etc., or are seeking to resolve a need at that moment. 

Regardless of what they are searching for, it is important that advertisers can be visible at that moment as they search in the app store, and therefore an ASA strategy will help to engage in the moment and capture their intent to find a service or product that resolves the customer need.

The benefit of a good ASA strategy is that even if a person does not explicitly remember the brand itself, they should recall enough about the sentiment or messaging to be able to search in the app store. If the strategy is working effectively, they will be delivered an Apple Search Ad at exactly the right moment as they search. 

Therefore, Apple Search Ads are often the final push to conversion. 

If advertisers don’t do the final push at the point of app store search, then the final piece in the chain is missing and your competitor may get the final conversion if they are bidding on relevant terms.

For example, take a casual game where the player’s objective is to save a central character from dangerous scenarios. Users are served ad creatives run via a DSP and in Apple Search Ads the brand bids on target keywords that are related to the objective e.g. ‘save the hero’. The ASA strategy is to bid on related keywords that resonate with the user via Apple Search Ads as they search for a game to play and remember an ad from another channel. In these instances we see higher conversion rates on KPIs such as impression tap and tap to install.

What are the latest trends mobile marketers need to be aware of when managing Apple Search Ads?

One of the key trends for mobile marketers to be working towards at the moment is the need to develop a cohesive rather than randomized channel mix with clear goals for performance and an understanding of how the channels integrate with one another. To do this advertisers should be very clear on their specific goals for each channel and where Apple Search Ads fit in the overall marketing funnel. Thinking holistically about how the channels combine and interact with Apple Search Ads at the bottom of the funnel effectively allows advertisers to optimize paid media more effectively. Media Mix Modeling will help advertisers understand their media mix and understand the role of Apple Search Ads in the overall channel mix.

Are there specific sectors that are particularly suited to running ASA campaigns? 

This depends on the intention of the customer and why they might be searching for a particular product or service.  Advertisers should be very clear on why people should want to download their app and what the circumstances might be that drive them to go into the app store and search. 

To ensure efficiencies, advertisers should have a thorough understanding of why people go to the app store. If they know the user’s needs, they can be thorough in their ASA approach by understanding the keywords that need to be included. The strategies will differ significantly depending on the product or service and what customers are looking for.

For example, some users simply want a distraction as they are waiting for something to happen, such as commuting. They could therefore be a ripe audience for a casual game and, with the right advertising, be prompted to download and play. Other people may have a specific time-sensitive need that has to be fulfilled at a precise moment, e.g. finding a doctor or buying a consumer good. Both of these scenarios and user journeys would be appropriate for an ASA strategy but would have different tactics.

Knowing what customers are likely to be searching for and how your app can fit into their requirements will ensure there is a better strategy in place for the app stores and what/how keywords should be bid on.

What are the specific guidelines to be aware of when creating/setting up a Search Ads campaign?

Always follow Apple Guidelines and be aware that these are subject to change. Developers should be notified by Apple when changes are required for ads to be updated to avoid having campaigns paused. For example, recently there were changes to the guidelines for Custom Product Pages which required attention. Staying on top of guideline changes is important, for example, there were also recent changes to the Today Tab ad placement. Previously the Today Tab needed to feature screenshots which had to be approved by Apple. Now the guidelines are slightly more relaxed, but those advertisers still using old Custom Product Pages for the Today Tab may be losing conversions. 

Some sectors have higher restrictions developers have to be aware of, for example, gambling, finance, alcohol, medicines, etc all have restrictions.

Are there any optimization tips for ensuring campaigns deliver successfully?

Marketers should optimize campaigns towards upper-level events and track performance through lower funnel KPIs such as conversions or installs. It’s important to have a healthy and large enough pool of impressions and installs at the start i.e. the top of the funnel otherwise you can’t optimize the lower funnel events and will likely lower the potential for the campaign to perform.  

Advertisers should understand what their competition is doing, what campaigns in Apple Search Ads they are running, and evaluate how often ad creative needs to be refreshed to ensure they are working effectively. 

Also, be sure to track the user journey in detail. This will require working with an MMP and/or having access to internal 1st party data. The reason is that you want to be able to see how people react at every stage of the journey. For example, where and when a user taps, what the product page looks like when they land on it and install the app, and then what the onboarding process looks like. This level of detail ensures that you understand where people are likely to fall out of the journey and prevent it from happening. If you don’t understand the journey and aren’t tracking in detail, you will be unable to optimize. Limiting or missing access to detailed data will hamper decision-making and prevent testing decisions which could ensure more customers install and become active.  

For example, are there too many steps in the onboarding? Or is the onboarding process contradictory to their expectations? If a user sees messaging on CTV that explains how easy it is to use an app and then they have issues setting up an account they may be disinclined to return. Be clear on what the user expectation is and then ensure they match this with what they actually experience when installing an app.

What level of budget should an advertiser consider allocating to Apple Search Ads?

We suggest $10-$20k a month as a minimum starting point and plan to maintain that level of spend for at least 3 months in the US market to receive enough data to evaluate results. Advertisers that can’t allocate that sort of spend may not be in the right stage of their growth to benefit from Apple Search Ads and should evaluate where their spend is likely to return ROAS.  

Because Apple Search is such a high-intent channel the costs can be higher than other mobile mediums, but because the user is in a place of high intent and therefore there can be a lot of competition which can drive the prices up. So there is tension between high intent and likelihood to convert vs. competition bidding on the same keywords. That is why an always-on strategy is better than a few months of testing on and off and more learnings will be enabled over time.

Any best practices for Apple Search Ads that you can share?

Apple Search Ads and App Store Optimization need to work together to be most effective. Though often in different teams, ASO and paid activity do work hand in hand and there needs to be clear communication between the strategies, for example, feeding back on concepts, creative, learnings, etc. The two have mutually beneficial effects and complement and support each other as we discussed in a recent blog ‘How to Personalize the App Search Journey

What internal teams and external support will be needed to deliver successful campaigns?

Advertisers can benefit from running ASA not just as a performance channel, but also to gain important product feedback. Evaluating how people behave with specific keywords can give important feedback about how the product is working. For example, in the case of a fitness app that offers home workouts, etc. it is useful to understand who is converting through specific keywords. If some keywords are always performing better this provides information about what consumers are looking for which can help shape the product offer in the future. 

ASA also helps media planning for other channels, enabling marketers to see which keywords are converting at a better rate. The converse is also true, showing which keywords gain little interest or traction and what customers are less interested in – both ways can help shape the product roadmap.

About Emre Bilgic

Emre Bilgic is an accomplished ASO and Apple Search Ads expert. Working with some of the biggest players in the App market, Bilgic has been providing his partners with valuable guidance on how to grow their App through paid and organic user acquisition efforts. Joining the MobileAction team in 2021, Bilgic has been sharing his passion for App marketing, through some of the best tools for ASO and Apple Search Ads available to User Acquisition Experts around the world.

Further Reading

Making App Store Optimization and Apple Search Ads work together

How to Personalize the App Search Journey

How to make data actionable