app marketing

5 best practices to follow when setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns

Team Newton compiles all the things to remember while setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns - how to go about it, mistakes to avoid, and best practices.

Apple Search Ads is a premium user acquisition channel that specifically targets iOS users. The App Store sees close to 650 million visitors per week. With over 1.96 million apps competing for user attention, this landscape of premium user acquisition is a tough nut to crack. Paid ads on the App Store are helping app marketers get their apps in front of a global audience. And with over 60% conversion rates on search ads, this is rapidly proving to be a lucrative investment for app marketers. Having worked with several Apple Search Ads campaigns, team Newton puts forth the 5 best practices that yield great results when you are setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns.

What are Apple Search Ads(ASA) campaign types?

ASA offers four distinct campaign types to explore for iOS app growth - brand, category, competitor, and discovery campaigns. Each serves a different purpose of positioning your ads to the right audience at the right funnel stage.

Brand campaigns

These campaigns primarily target your brand keywords - like brand name, variations of brand name spellings, or any tagline or hashtag you may have. These campaigns work well with exact-match keyword types. [If you are looking for more clarity on Apple Search Ads (ASA) keyword match types, we have a detailed article here]

Advertiser benefit: Brand campaigns help to reach out to a very high-intent audience who are actively looking for your app specifically.

Best suited for: Audiences in the Desire stage of the funnel who have already shown interest in downloading your app.

Category campaigns

These campaigns are centered around your app category keywords, like grocery delivery app, pet supplies app, music app, etc. Category campaigns scale better KPIs with non-branded, descriptive, exact-match category keywords. 

Advertiser benefit: Category campaigns assist advertisers in positioning themselves in front of an audience who have shown a high interest in their category and are looking for the best option for themselves. 

Best suited for: Audiences in the Interest stage of the funnel who are interested in trying out your product or service category.

Competitor campaigns

Apple Search Ads (ASA) campaign types that target your competitor’s audience. These campaigns are usually built upon keyword groups that are popular search queries for competing app audiences. Exact-match type for competitor keywords helps with campaign performance. 

Advertiser benefit: Competitor campaigns help apps secure users from competition who are on the lookout for an alternative product or service. 

Best suited for: Audiences who are in the Advocate stage - they already have pre-knowledge of what’s on offer in the market and can become your strongest advocates if successfully converted.

Discovery campaigns

These Apple Search Ads (ASA) campaign types are meant to position your app among untapped audience groups. Turning on Search Match for these campaign ad groups helps to discover previously untapped keywords. Broad match works best for discovery campaign goals. 

Advertiser benefit: Maximize the paid ad opportunities of the App Store. Appear in front of an audience who show high potential to be quality users.

Best suited for: Audiences in the pre-awareness and Awareness stage of the funnel, who have previously shown interest in similar services, products, or app categories, and have a high inclination to engage with either your category or brand.


How to go about setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns: step-by-step guide, common mistakes, and best practices

Keyword research and selection

How to go about it: 

- Get your first set of keywords based on your organic App Store optimization data

- Utilize Apple’s Keyword Suggestion Tool to get a list of keyword variations

- Filter the list into four categories - long-tail, high-traffic/popular, high-intent, high/low competition

- Based on the audience personas you want to target and the messaging you want to put forward, group your keywords into the above-discussed campaign categories

- A/B test keyword-led ad groups to find out which keyword group is performing the best

A common mistake to avoid:

Not maintaining a negative keyword list. Similar keywords to your category may not be the right fit for your brand. Setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns requires an updated, negative keyword list such that your ads don’t appear for unrelated keywords. Another way to leverage negative keywords is to add your brand, category, and competitor keywords to this list for discovery campaigns. This will help prevent exact matches to keywords that you are already bidding on in other campaigns.

A best practice to follow: 

If your app has a global presence and has met all the App Store localization requirements, consider doing multi-lingual keyword research. GenAI keyword tools make it easy to identify the right native language keywords to target for higher conversions.

Budget allocation

How to go about it:

- Be clear about your objectives for paid ads: are you supporting your organic reach? Are you investing to discover a new audience? Is positioning yourself vis.a.vis the competition the primary goal?

- Based on your objective choose a dominant campaign - brand and category campaigns support organic conversions; discovery campaigns are great for tapping into new audiences, and competitor campaigns are a great way to be present where your competition is

- Remember it is not necessary to fire up all four campaign types at one go. However, always try to distribute your budget across campaign types to minimize ad spend loss

A common mistake to avoid:

Not setting aside a small portion of the budget for A/B tests. It’s very important to know what you are betting your ad spends on.  

A best practice to follow:

To streamline regular budget allocation, study the keyword-level performances of ad groups. If you are following a multi-lingual Apple Search Ads campaigns approach for the different target geographies, this will also give you insights into your top-performing regions and user demographics that are ultimately bringing in the ROAS.

Bid strategy

The bid strategy of setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns is an extensive topic that we have covered earlier in our blog. Here’s a quick overview:
How to go about it:

- Select the final list of keywords to bid upon: we recommend choosing a balanced list of high-traffic, low-competition, long-tail keywords to keep within the overall campaign budget 

- Leverage the Set Bids option to limit the amount you are willing to spend on each target keyword

- In the learning stage of the campaign, opt for manual bidding to exercise greater control on spends; but as your campaign matures focus on automating the process

- Explore bidding options for hybrid match-type layerings to reduce CAC

A common mistake to avoid:

Blindly following the popularity score. While the score is a great indicator of trending search queries, they are also usually high-competition and require expensive bidding to win the auctions. Keywords, especially long-tail or local language keywords might have a lower popularity score but position the brand in front of a higher-intent audience, which helps drive the ROAS.

A best practice to follow:

Have a moment marketing component to your bid strategy. Seasonality puts focus on certain keywords that usually underperform in non-peak periods. If you are active in emerging markets, like South Asia, MENA, or LATAM, where local festivals form a key part of the cultural diversity - seasonal bid optimization can power up the short-term ROAS, and make up for the lean periods.

Another interesting feature to explore for this is dayparting your Apple Search Ads campaigns to ensure ads appear at peak times when you are likely to attract more installs and downloads. For example, if you are a food delivery app, it makes sense to have ads appear around breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner times to ensure you are showing up to your audience exactly when they need your services.

Ad creative and copy

How to go about it:

- For most ad placements, Apple fetches the data from your Custom Product Pages. The App Store Connect screenshots and content can be used to generate up to 35 different Custom Product Pages

- Ensure your creatives represent your target audience

- Focus messaging on core USPs for brand and category campaigns, user problem statements your app is solving for discovery campaigns, and competitor differences for competitor campaigns

A common mistake to avoid:

Not optimizing keywords to localized creatives and copy. The right creatives take time and effort to craft. Ensure it gets the right attention by updating your keyword selection to reflect the essence of your creatives and ad copies.

A best practice to follow:

Localize your custom product page creatives and ad copies to maximize your reach and utilize similar assets for multiple campaigns.

Tracking and optimization

How to go about it:

- Track efficiency of campaigns at keyword levels; focus on mapping bids to conversions

- Look at first-party app data to identify the keywords that are continually converting high-LTV users

- Maintain a monitoring schedule to immediately identify campaign anomalies

- If you are looking for more insights on Apple Search Ads tracking and optimizing at a full-funnel level, we have a detailed article on this topic.

A common mistake to avoid:

Not refining campaign ad groups. To optimize campaigns for maximum ROAS, constantly keep track of ad group performances - pause or remove ad groups that have regularly underperformed. The same applies to keywords - retain the high-performers and add low-performing keywords to a negative keyword list. 

A best practice to follow:

Integrate Apple Search Ads campaigns to your MMP on a single dashboard to get a full-funnel analytical view of your campaigns at the ad group and keyword level. This way, campaigns can be optimized to include a good mix of ad groups that mature faster to produce sustainable ROAS. Once the ROAS has stabilized from each ad group, the focus can move to automating bidding and optimization workflows. 

At Newton, with full-funnel tracking, we have been able to boost bottom-funnel event metrics by 55% month-on-month.



The process of setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns is fairly simple and the ASA dashboard in this regard is quite self-explanatory. The challenge majorly lies in understanding what is the right approach to each step of the campaign setup. We have tried to cover the key thought processes to keep in mind when approaching each of the campaign set-up steps. However, despite being careful, we are all prone to some common mistakes. For ASA campaigns that translate to negative keyword lists, lack of test budgets, focusing solely on trends, no planning for seasonality, and so forth. With a disciplined monitoring and tracking system, however, ASA campaigns can become lucrative user acquisition initiatives. Keeping a few best practices in mind - making campaigns language-inclusive, aligning budget distribution to key goals, leveraging peak marketing moments - will help to keep refining your Apple Search Ads campaign setups.

If you would like to explore setting up Apple Search Ads campaigns for yourself, or even if you are optimizing your existing campaign setups, feel free to get a keyword health check done with our complimentary Apple Search Ads audit report.


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