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Apple Search Ads: 4 Things Advertisers Must Know & 6 Best Practices to Maximize App Installs

by Stephanie Mialki in Advertising Apple search ads

One of the biggest game changers in mobile app advertising was launched in 2016: Apple Search Ads. This platform was created to improve the discovery of mobile apps on the Apple App Store, and since launch, has only improved over the years.

Now offering multiple solutions with a variety of unique characteristics and benefits, Apple Search Ads are a must for any business with an iOS app.

What are Apple Search Ads?

Apple Search Ads (ASAs) are an easy way to help people discover and download your app because they reach engaged users at the exact moment they’re searching. ASAs show above the App Store search results on both the iPhone and iPad with a light blue background and ad disclosure icon:

Apple search ads example

There are two ASA solutions to choose from: Apple Search Ads Basic and Apple Search Ads Advanced.

To help you choose the version that’s best for your business goals, level of expertise, budget, and experience with paid app marketing — here’s an overview of both solutions.

Apple Search Ads: Basic vs Advanced

Basic and Advanced Search Ads differ in the following areas:

How they work


There is no expertise needed to run these ads, but you have minimal control over the campaign (e.g., no keyword or audience refinements).

You provide Apple with information about your app, the countries you want to promote it, and your monthly budget. From there, intelligent automation creates your ad and matches it to interested users for most potential downloads.

Up to 50 apps can be promoted with the Basic option.


This type of campaign allows much more control.

You can select your own keywords or follow Apple’s recommendations. You can also take advantage of the Search Match feature to automatically match your ad to relevant App Store users. Using metadata from your App Store listing, information about similar apps in the same genre, and other search data, this feature matches your ads to search terms without you having to determine all keyword possibilities and actively bid on them.

Advanced campaigns enable you to refine your audience as well. You can target by gender, age, and geographically located, and elect to show your ads only to new customers, existing customers, users of your other apps, or everyone.

Additional controls available with Advanced Ads include the device your ad is shown on (iPhone, iPad, or both), as well as when your ads show (scheduled to start and stop on specific dates or only show on particular days of the week or times of the day).

An unlimited number of apps can be promoted with Apple Search Ads Advanced.

There’s no long term commitment with ASAs. You can pause and reactivate your campaign, ad groups, and keywords at any time, as well as adjust your budget. Any unwanted campaigns and ad groups can also be removed from your account whenever you like:

Apple search ads advanced

However, once you remove a campaign or ad group, it cannot be restored or modified, and all ads for that campaign or ad group will stop running.



This solution follows a cost-per-install (CPI) pricing model where you pay only for app installs and you set a max CPI. Apple suggests a max CPI based on what they know about your app and what similar apps are willing to pay to reach the same users. You can choose to use this amount or set your own.

The max monthly bid for Apple Search Ads Basic is $10,000 per app, per month.


Advanced pricing uses a cost-per-tap model (CPT), so you pay when a user taps on your ad. According to Apple, the actual Apple Search Ads cost is a “result of a second price auction, which calculates the CPT you pay based on what your nearest competitor is willing to pay for a tap on their ad, up to your maximum CPT bid.” This means you can bid competitively without the risk of overpaying.

The flexibility of ASA cost is a major benefit. There’s no minimum spend to advertise with either format so you can invest as little or as much as you want. You can also set your campaign budget with a maximum daily spend cap to control how your budget is spent over time. This can be changed at any time.

There is an unlimited max monthly budget for Apple Search Ads Advanced.

Management & Reporting


Basic ads require minimal ongoing management with very low time commitment. Apple recommends checking your quick-view dashboard only a few times per month to track basic ad performance (number of app installs, average CPI, total spend):

Apple search ads reporting dashboard


Search Ads Advanced offers rich data about your campaign performance and trends across all of your key metrics. Powerful marketing tools enable you to see what’s working, what needs to be adjusted, and where you may have more opportunities to meet your goals.



Attribution API is available with Basic Ads, but no access to keyword data or Campaign Management API.


Attribution API allows you to track and attribute app downloads and re-downloads from your campaigns, measuring the value of different customer groups and keywords that drove conversion.

Campaign Management and Reporting APIs are also available for developers, agencies, and third-party platforms looking to manage more extensive campaigns or pull reports programmatically.

Overall, Apple Search Ads Advanced is best for developers or agencies who want access to powerful marketing tools for full control of their campaigns. Apple Search Ads Basic are ideal for those with limited time to promote their app, or simply don’t require all the features of Advanced Ads.

Who can use Apple Search Ads?

You may be eligible to use either Basic or Advanced if you’re a developer and have an app currently listed in the iPhone or iPad App Store. You must have a valid email Apple ID to sign up, and all advertisers must comply with Apple Search Ads Content and Advertising policies at all times.

You can simultaneously run both Basic and Advanced ads to promote the same app. However, any optimizations made in Advanced campaigns will not be applied to Basic. There is also no advantage in the auction for running both types of ads at the same time since only one ad for the same app is eligible per auction.

Since Apple creates your Basic Search Ad for you, you don’t need to know how to optimize that type of ad. With Advanced campaigns, though, these are the optimization tips to focus on.

Best practices for Apple Search Ads Advanced

Ensure relevance

Whether your ad shows over others bidding on the same query is determined by the combination of your app’s relevance to the search query and your bid amount. However, if your app isn’t relevant to the search, it won’t make it into the ad spot regardless if you’re the highest bidder.

To improve ad relevance, craft your app titles, descriptions, and metadata with highly appropriate keywords.

Remember, Apple provides a list of keyword recommendations to save you time. You can use this and/or add your own. When choosing your own keywords:

  • Think like your customers — Consider search terms someone might use to find your app (words that explain the problem it solves, needs it meets, or service it provides).
  • Use both general and specific keywords — General keywords reach a wider audience, but they might be more competitive, requiring higher bid amounts. Specific keywords may have less reach but may show for search queries that are more narrowly related to your app, improving the rate of ad taps to conversions.

Also, pay attention to user response as this is an important signal of ad relevance. If users don’t tap an ad they see, Apple will stop showing it.

For instance, this ad showed for “photo editor”:

Apple search ads relevance

After not tapping the ad — and refreshing the search — this new result appeared:

Apple search ads relevancy

This time, I tapped the ad to view more details. With continued searches for “photo editor,” this same ad showed two more times consecutively.

Create campaigns for multiple countries and regions

Originally available only in the U.S., Apple now serves ASAs in 46 countries worldwide. Advertisers can be in any of 121 countries to target these ads to App Store users in any of the supported countries. You have the option to focus your ASA campaigns on a single country/region or multiple, depending on your strategy.

Apple recommends:

  • For larger markets, focus on a single country or region
  • To understand the value of a particular country or region, create an individual campaign
  • For easier management, group multiple countries and regions into one campaign
  • To track metrics and optimize according to attributes like customer value, profiles, language, region, etc., groups multiple countries and regions by similarity
  • If it’s your first ASA campaign, group multiple countries and regions for discovery, and then reevaluate as performance data is gathered

Optimize your campaign structure

Campaign structure can impact performance, reporting, and your ability to scale. For the most success:

  • Create separate campaigns for each keyword theme or strategy
  • Create separate campaigns for particular budgets
  • Create separate ad groups for discovery, generic, competitor, and brand keywords

Apply match types

Apple has two match types you can apply to help control how your keywords are matched to searchers:

  1. Broad match — The default match type. It ensures your ad runs even on relevant close variants of a keyword, such as singular, plurals, misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and phrases that include that term (fully or partially).
  2. Exact match — This provides the most control over searches in which your ad appears because it allows you to target a specific term and its close variants, such as common misspellings and plurals. Your ad may see fewer impressions, but the tap-through rate (TTR) and conversion on those impressions may be higher since you’re reaching higher-intent customers.

It’s recommended that you run campaigns using both match types to ensure good coverage and performance.

Set your max CPT bid

Your max CPT bid is the maximum amount you will ever pay for an ad tap. When calculating this:

  • Decide what amount you can afford to spend on a new customer or action.
  • Estimate the percentage of users who tap on your ad and who you think will download your app.
  • Calculate what you can afford to pay up to that estimated percentage of that decided amount for each tap.

To help inform your bid decisions, Apple will suggestion a max CPT bid when you create a new campaign or ad group. This is based on what they know about your app and what advertisers with similar apps are willing to pay. However, it is simply a reference point. The actual amount you’ll pay is based on what your nearest competitor is willing to pay for a tap on their ad.

Use Creative Sets testing

In June 2018, Apple launched “Creative Sets” for advertisers to test the performance of different visual assets. This is essentially Apple’s unique A/B testing feature, allowing you to upload different app previews and screenshots to monitor variations in conversion over time.

Get more app installs with Apple Search Ads

If your business has an iOS app, consider promoting it with Apple Search Ads to reach more potential customers. Not only could your app show at the top of the search results ahead of your competitors but showing up here at all indicates that your app is relevant to their search query.

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Stephanie Mialki

by Stephanie Mialki

Stephanie Mialki is a digital marketing professional with expertise in ecommerce trends, landing pages, journalism, and mass communication.

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