POV: Apple Search


Apple is launching a new search ads product for App developers allowing them to bid to appear for desirable searches using a similar model to Google’s search engine advertising platform, AdWords.  Targeting and set-up options will vary from detailed keyword and demographic targeting (although these will be more limited than Google or Facebook), to a fully automated set-up, similar to Google’s Universal App Campaigns.  With a full launch in the US slated for the autumn, Apple’s developer portal is currently offering beta opportunities to trial the ads for free over the summer.

Details and Implications:

Getting an App noticed on the App store can be difficult.  You can discover it through the ‘featured’, ‘categories’ or ‘top charts’ lists but Apple suggests that 65% of app downloads in the App store are driven by searches.  Being visible here is currently reliant on publishers ensuring their app is the most relevant for the user’s search query, using many of the tactics employed in traditional SEO. With recent studies suggesting that only a third of users download new apps in an average month, Search Ads could offer a great opportunity to stand out and drive downloads.  As organic search rankings are also influenced by the number of downloads, this may be a good tactic to drive early downloads of newly launched Apps and stimulate organic visibility but there will be a number of factors to consider to achieve success:

  • The likelihood that ads appear for queries is driven by both bid and relevancy. So publishers must focus on optimising their App metadata and other elements.
  • There will be only one ad visible for searches at launch.  As such, some terms may be extremely competitive, driving up the cost to appear for these terms.
  • The ad unit is in two sizes, with the size being chosen and all information automatically being populated by the Apple system. The larger version of the ad unit will push down organic results to the extent that organic downloads may be reduced.
  • Tracking will be possible but it is unclear at present whether familiar third parties (TUNE, Appsflyer etc.) will be compatible.
  • Publishers may be forced to bid on their own App name and brand to defend against other publishers who are using ads appearing there.
  • If they try and appear in a space that is not directly relevant for their App, they will simply not be allowed.


Search ads offer publishers the opportunity to get their App discovered in an extremely competitive market.  For those with broader paid download strategies across Google and Facebook this will be another useful channel. However it also means that optimization of the organic elements of an App has never been more important to ensure smaller independents are not priced out of the market and that user experience is still prioritized.