Using Apple Search Ads To Choose High-Volume, High-Value Keywords

[fa icon="calendar"] Jul 19, 2017 2:42:22 PM / by Guest

When Search Ads launched, commentators feared dramatically negative effects on organic search. Whilst that is true, the real value of Apple Search Ads for ASO is the visibility it gives into relevant keywords and what users – specifically app users – are really searching for in the stores when they want cool apps.

As I wrote on the ASO Monthly at the time: “If one thing is clear, it’s that search ads are good news for data-driven ASO as it forces Apple to give out more data.”

Put another way, Apple Search Ads can help your ASO – if you know how to use it to your advantage.

Over at Phiture we keep trying to crack the code on exactly this, tapping the data Apple exposed to develop a new way to identify high-volume, high-relevancy keywords.

Today, it’s a key component of our Mobile Growth Stack and a key area where extra focus and effort can greatly increase your competitive edge in ASO – even if you are on a tight budget.

What are Apple Search Ads

In practice, Apple Search Ads – which are currently only available for targeting of English speaking countries -- exist to give app publishers paid access to the top spot in app store search results.

By default, Apple Search Ads also help app publishers automate keyword matching with the top search terms and results that Apple sees from users and how they search. This feature is also known as Search Match. Whilst still in it’s infancy, Search Match can use app metadata, info from other apps in the category, as well as other search data to determine which search phrases will trigger an ad to appear alongside organic search results.

Apple Search Ads

Apple Search Ads are all about helping publishers with the combination of the right keywords and the right bid to ensure their ad is the one shown to searchers.

Turn the model on its head, and you can use Apple Search Ads to find popular and relevant search terms for your app.

Getting started

Trial and error has taught a tough lesson: people search differently for apps on the Web than they do on the app store. This is why Apple Search Ads are a great source of intel as they give insight into how people really search for apps.

Finding the best keywords for an app is a holistic process that takes search term popularity, competition, conversion rate, search trends and other factors into account. At Phiture we’ve developed a methodology for this, called the Keyword Optimization Cycle, and it revolves around building a big backlog of keywords and then targeting the right ones. Let’s walk through the process step-by-step.

app store optimization keywords

The Keyword Optimization Cycle is a model developed by Pablo Penny from Phiture.

#1 Research: Compiling your search backlog

The first step is to research what keywords your users might potentially find you with and placing them into a keyword backlog. Already in this stage of keyword research, Apple Search Ads can help you as they offer recommended keywords that might be relevant to your app. However, other discovery methods such as using the Google Keyword Planner tool or an ASO tool like Priori Data, are more suited for this type of keyword research.

 app store optimization keywords

Search Ads offers recommended keywords and displays search popularity.

#2 Prioritize your keyword backlog

The more interesting application of Apple Search Ads is that they shed a light on search popularity of search terms within the stores. The Search Popularity that Apple returns, ranges between 5-100. As Apple doesn’t return anything below 5, we start out by basically ignoring all search terms that equal 5.

Now that you have compiled a list of all the search terms that actually bring in volume, you need to put yourself in the position of a person searching for your app. The more relevant the keyword is to your app, the more likely you’ll be able to rank and convert those searches into actual users. So we ask ourselves if someone searching for that search term is actually helped with our client’s app. But this isn’t a random exercise. For each high volume search term we decide on a relevancy score. The more relevant the keyword is, the higher the relevancy score we give it. If we have search ads (Apple Search Ads or Google Adwords) data on this keyword, we use those conversion rates as indicator of relevance for the search term.

 app store optimization keywords

At Phiture we use an extensive form for our keyword backlog, but you can also keep it really simple in a couple of columns.

#3 Target your keywords

Having developed a backlog of prioritized keywords interesting to an app, these should be inserted into the app metadata in order for them to be targeted in the search. Both the Google Play and the App Store search algorithms treat the title as the heaviest weighted piece of metadata. Any search term inserted into the title provides a higher chance for ranking for it. While the App Store with the iOS11 update will only allow for titles with 30 characters in length, the Google Play Store currently allows 50. Having the brand name in the title is useful, due to brand recognition and higher ranking for that search term. Adding a combination of highly-relevant high-volume search terms into the title can help achieving a high ranking and thus increasing visibility. However, the title should also make sense, look appealing and make the product recognizable to the user to add to the user experience. The Audible app for instance adds its brand name as well as high volume search terms such as “audio books” and “podcasts” to its App Store title.

#4 Measure

The last but most important stage of keyword optimization cycle is to measure the impact. Leading indicators such as visibility scores and keyword rankings help identify whether or not the new update was a success, but ultimately you will want to see and calculate an organic uplift attributable to the update.

Follow this approach to leverage Apple Search Ads for the keywords that can really make a difference for your app. The smart placement of high volume search terms that draw on real user behavior is sure-fire way to close the loop to vastly optimize your app store presence and get your app in the hands of more users.


Written by Moritz Daan, Partner & Co-Founder of Phiture


The Ultimate Guide to 360° App Store Marketing

This article is part of a bigger project by Priori Data and Peggy Salz — a mobile authority, industry educator and lead author of The Everything Guide To Mobile Apps and Apponomics: The Insider’s Guide To A Billion Dollar Business— are working on: an e-book titled THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO 360° APP STORE MARKETING.

The aim is to bring together a select group of recognized ASO experts and ninjas including Moritz Daan (Phiture, ex-Soundcloud), Thomas Petit (8Fit) and Charo Paredez Ortiz (DOCOMO Digital), to name a few. It’s a free resource focused on giving app developers everywhere on the planet what they need to grow their business on a budget.

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