app store advertising

Growing App Store branding with Apple Search Ads category campaigns

Apple Search Ads category campaigns propel apps to garner category dominance in the App Store. Learn how to get started with it!

The App Store is divided roughly into 26 categories for developers to list their apps. The most popular categories are Gaming, Business, Utilities, Education, Lifestyle, Food & Drink, and Health & Fitness. Each of these categories has approximately 165,000 apps listed. This shows how the categories have a lot to offer users across multiple geos. And about 7000 apps keep getting added to this list weekly. In this context, if iOS growth is a part of the app advertiser’s strategy, Apple Search Ads category campaigns are a must.

How to choose the right App Store category?

Readers of this article, who are new to the App Store ecosystem, this is especially for you. Most of the time, the apps built help resolve multiple problems. qCommerce or on-demand convenience delivery apps are a great example of this. These apps help to solve multiple user problems - food delivery from restaurants, online supermarkets for household needs, and pick-up and drop services for intracity package deliveries. Such an app can easily be listed under three to four categories - Food & Drink, Lifestyle, Shopping, and Utilities. 

But how do you choose the best-suited primary category?

The App Store leaderboard available to app developers helps to make this choice. 

Step 1: Be aware of the app’s Estimated App Worth (EAW). This is calculated on multiple factors - the most common ones being how long the app has been on the market, the overall user base share, and the monthly revenue collected through the app. 

Step 2: In each category, check out the EAW of the top-ranking app and the 50th app to get an idea of the average range of the Top 50 apps of the category.

Step 3: Compare the EAW ranges of each category. Choose the one with a lower or medium range. The EAW indicates the competitiveness of the category in terms of ranking higher and establishing category dominance. Therefore, it is usually recommended to choose the least competitive category to get started. 

Choosing the right App Store category goes a long way to getting the right start on Apple Search Ads category campaigns.


Exploring multiple user touchpoints for category-level branding

The App Store has three distinct ad placements that engage the iOS audience at different stages of the app download journey. To run a holistic Apple Search Ads category campaign, it is necessary to understand the placement functionalities. 

Today Tab ads: For the category campaigns that demand immediate returning user attention. The placement on the App Store homepage is a favorite for making special announcements and launches. 

Search Tab ads: For the category campaigns that are retargeting users. Position your ads to iOS users who have downloaded or searched your app or a competitor app in the past. Create strong brand recall, right when they are about to download an app. 

Search Results Page ads: For the category campaigns that are highly focused on user acquisition. Showcase your ads to people who have submitted a relevant search query; utilize iOS CPP previews to say more about your ad.

Apple Search Ads category campaigns - top FAQs

When is the best time to run App Store category campaigns?

Apple Search Ads category campaigns are best suited for advertisers who have recently launched their app on the App Store and are looking to scale up their category ranking. Category campaigns are also beneficial for the initial stages of seasonal campaigns to establish brand recall among the target audience. These campaigns are also great options for year-round branding and user acquisition activities. 

From the organic perspective, App Store Optimization (ASO) is the first step of focus. This exercise is also important to identify the core category keywords around which the paid campaign strategy will be built. Category campaigns are a great paid method to explore for boosting the app’s download velocity. The higher the download velocity and userbase of the app, the faster it scales up the App Store ranking.

How to build the keyword strategy for iOS category campaigns?

This research can be accomplished with any generative AI keyword recommendation tool. These tools help to save time and instantly provide a list of relevant keywords that have good popularity scores and performance indexes. Platforms like Newton, offer a multilingual version of the tool where App Store marketers can research for English and local language keywords to broaden the targeting horizon. For better research results, utilize keywords found via Apple Search Ads discovery campaigns to create an exhaustive list of target keywords. 

Advertisers need to focus on both organic and paid keywords. 

Organic App Store keywords feature in the app’s title, app subtitle, and description. These keywords tell the App Store what the app is all about. However, the number of keywords that can be utilized to write the App Store content is limited. That’s where paid keywords come in to help broaden the user target base. 

ASO refinement helps to find the handful of core iOS category keywords that accurately define the app. It also lays down the direction for the app marketer to research high-performing keyword variations. 


  • Besides category keywords, research seasonal, multilingual, and long-tail keywords to give an extra edge to Apple Search Ads category campaigns. 
  • When choosing the category keywords to target, check the Share of Voice (SOV) of competitors on such keywords, to get a fair idea of the status of the market.

If this is your first rodeo with iOS keywords, check out this infographic for a quick concept study.

How to refine the targeting strategy for Apple Search Ads category campaigns?

Focus on keyword match types and Apple Search Ads placements to refine targeting strategies for Apple Search Ads category campaigns.

Starting the targeting right

When starting to structure a category campaign, sub-divide the campaign into ad groups. This first step resolves a lot of targeting issues right at the beginning. Denote a theme to each ad group and upload the set of relevant keyword groups to target. For example, for a qCommerce app, category campaign ad groups can have themes like 10-minute delivery, month-end grocery shopping deals, top restaurants for food ordering, or package pick-up and drop. Each of these ad groups can target search queries around the selected theme, thereby focusing the ads for a specific set of audiences.

Refining the targeting - keyword match types

Once the keywords and ad groups are set, the advertiser has to choose match types. The options available are exact match, broad match, and Search Match. To get a detailed idea of how these match types influence App Store ad appearances, check out the table below:


For category campaigns, generally, exact matches and broad matches are preferred. Seasoned advertisers also play around with hybrid layering to secure the best results. A/B test which keyword groups perform better with which match type. This will help advertisers find the high-intent audience groups who need more focus. This is also crucial to understand the budget distribution for Apple Search Ads initiatives. If keywords or keyword groups are not performing well with exact matches, it is better to change their match type to broad match to regulate costs. The non-performing keywords can be added to the negative keywords list to block ad placements to low-intent users. 

Refining the targeting - ad placements

App Store has three primary ad placements - Today Tab for the ones just coming to the App Store, Search Tab for the ones just getting ready to download, and Search Results Page ads for the ones who have submitted a search query to download an app. If we take the above example of the qCommerce app’s category campaigns - ads relevant to monthly supply deals can be a great one for Today Tab where instant attention is the objective - these ads are also linked to a CPP that can say more about the in-app deals on offer. For Search Tab ads, it is possible to target users who have previously downloaded food delivery apps, shopping apps, or intracity package delivery apps. With Search Results Page ads, users can be targeted based on specific products they have searched for or a specific service requirement they may have.


How to make the best use of my Apple Search Ads budget on category campaigns?

For Apple Search Ads campaigns, the cost model comes in three types - Cost-Per-Tap (CPT), Cost-Per-Install (CPI), and Cost-Per-Converted-User (CPCU). If you would like to know more details on Apple Search Ads costing, here’s our article on the topic

To get started, identify the pricing model you would like to go by. An MMP full-funnel integration to the Apple Search Ads platform makes this part of the job simpler. Here’s how this works:

  • Always keep an A/B testing budget aside to know which category campaign ad groups are showing potential for high ROAS
  • Run these test ad groups through full-funnel analytics
  • Check keywords, keyword match types, bid ranges, and product pages that yield high impressions, taps, installs, and post-install event conversions (signups, wishlisting, first purchases, etc.)
  • Discover trends and patterns that are commonly occurring for high-performing ad groups
  • Edit or update other campaign ad groups based on the test insights to finally launch the category campaign

Continually monitor the full-funnel campaign performance to make decisions on pausing or scaling the campaign budget. If advertisers are doing these campaigns on quite a large scale, rule-based automation is there to take over the task. The trends and conversion patterns discovered can be set as rules to automatically adjust keyword bid amounts as well as campaign durations.

How to personalize my Apple Search Ads category campaigns?

iOS App Store CPPs are the answer to this question. The CPPs are alternative product pages that are completely customizable. The content can be localized and the creatives can be edited to reflect the audience persona and the specific region targeted. CPPs can also help to show the best available products on the app to showcase how the app is different from other players in the category. It can also be utilized to give more information about in-app deals and events that can attract more users to the app. CPPs are especially useful for brands that cater to multiple categories. The customized page helps to reach out to multiple audience segments who are high-intent prospective users of the app. 


Point to note: CPPs are only available with the Today Tab and Search Results Page ad placements. However, the CPP link can also be utilized to drive external traffic to the App Store via other advertising channels.

Apple Search Ads case study for category leadership

In this Apple Search Ads success story, we explore the category growth of a real-money gaming app in the India App Store. The gaming app wanted to surge iOS downloads and also establish category dominance with a high Share of Voice (SOV) on high-performing keywords. The gaming app approached the situation with:

  • Industry experts in real-money gaming app user acquisition to identify the right set of keywords for the brand.
  • A holistic keyword strategy that encompassed brand-centric, competitor-centric, and high-intent category keywords.
  • Automated bid optimization to adjust costs based on real-time keyword-led campaign performance.
  • A unified dashboard to track the complete campaign performance from impressions to first deposits.

The campaign impact was tremendous. They recorded 42% growth in installs, an 81% increase in the install-to-deposit ratio, and a 60% reduction in Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC). 

If you are looking to set up similar sustainable Apple Search Ads category campaigns for long-term iOS growth, we are happy to help you get started on the right path.

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