Apple Search Ads: Beyond the Best Practices

By Radostina Zhekova | March 21, 2022

Radostina Zhekova is UA Manager at Voodoo. In 2016, Radostina landed her first gig in mobile marketing where she worked with Europe’s top gaming companies. Since then, Radostina has focused on mobile app growth strategies and media buying & campaign optimization at companies like Jam City and Voodoo.

Learn more about Mobile Hero Radostina.

Traditionally, search traffic is highly valued because users search with intention. You are promoting a product to people who are already interested. But the real question is—how do you optimize for search intent? It is not always intuitive, and it does not happen overnight.

We know that building a campaign usually involves a few essential steps: keyword research, structuring your campaigns around the most relevant keywords and grouping your keywords to optimize performance and control spending. But knowing the basics is not enough. In what follows, I lay out a few ways to get creative with each step.

Busting Best Practices for Campaign Structure

According to App Store data, 70% of users discover apps through search. Apple Search Ads is a powerful channel and a key part of any mobile marketing strategy. However, managing this channel can be tedious and time-consuming—especially if you’re doing this manually. Structuring campaigns and efficiently managing the long list of keywords also presents a significant challenge.

If you research the subject, you’ll find many “top ways” to organize your campaigns. The chart below offers one example:


(Source: SearchAds)

This is certainly a promising way to group your campaign. But it’s also not the only way to go about it. To better align your campaign with search intent, you have to get creative. I recommend creating your framework specifically for the app you are working on—this makes it easier to manage.

Create Your Definition of a “Branded Search Term”

One way to think outside the box with your campaign structure is to group your campaigns based on relevancy instead of keyword categorization. The more relevant the keywords are, the more likely they are to drive conversions. Grouping them this way also makes high-performing terms easier to see.

Let’s say you have a gaming app named “Candy Pop.” Play around with your brand term. You might have one brand campaign with two ad groups. The first ad group might include all keyword combinations with the word “candy,” while the second group includes all the keywords “pop.” Eventually, you might settle on a keyword combination—let’s say “games with candy”—as the branded search term.

Then, the goal is to create one single campaign that covers all the highly relevant keywords to “games with candy.” Assuming that brand searches are intentional by consumers, you can consider which keywords will perform on par with or similar to the brand search term. Of course, not everything you test will work out. Once there is data on each keyword performance, optimization will come naturally.

The primary purpose of working this way is to push beyond conventional best practices—don’t be afraid to tweak your process to fit your app. Once you nail down this campaign strategy, you can move towards expanding by testing other keywords groups of lower relevancy.

Use Ad Groups Effectively

Another way to customize your campaign is to use multiple ad groups in one campaign. Switching to multiple ad groups can help organize keywords more effectively. For example, think about generic terms that work well for a fitness app.

Start with several ad groups arranged around one main keyword. You may end up with three different ad groups: one containing keyword combinations with the word “fitness,” one with the word “workout,” and another with “training.” This will enable you to compare which keywords grouping performs better for your app. Once you identify the more successful ad groups, you can use them to guide your focus.

Consider Country Grouping

I also recommend grouping by country. Traditionally, marketers prefer to select the largest markets in individual campaigns. However, if you build your campaigns around keyword relevancy, you may find that grouping select countries together can improve performance. Country groups can work well for brand campaigns when user habits and interests are similar. High relevance to a user’s search intent in one country will often mean more engagement across the group.

Remember that if you group different countries together, you must include all the applicable search terms in the targeted languages. For example, if you group Canada and Germany together, you will need to include terms in English, French and German.

Repurpose Discovery Campaigns

Finally, it is recommended to dedicate roughly 20% of your budget to discovery campaigns that help yield new keywords. On Apple Search Ads, there is a search match function that automatically searches for terms without the manual work of looking for possible keywords and active bidding. A best practice is to move all good keywords identified to your primary campaign as an exact match. 

A way to repurpose the discovery campaigns is leveraging them as additional support campaigns that run significantly lower bids. This way, discovery campaigns can bring traffic from lower-volume search terms that you might have missed in your main campaigns.

To summarize, don’t be afraid to experiment on Apple Search Ads. You need to be comfortable with occasionally innovating on accepted best practices. Create a structure that best serves your app, relevant search terms, and what your target users are searching for.