Andrea works as Store Ads Lead at the Mobile Growth Consultancy and App Store Optimization (ASO) agency Phiture. The ASA stack has been developed by Andrea with the support of the Phiture team. Special thanks go to Moritz Daan, Maggie Ngai, Stuart Miller, Jorieke van den Broek, and Chandricka Sharma.

The Apple Search Ads (ASA) Stack is a framework designed to help ASA practitioners of a mobile product or service to develop and evolve a strategy for Apple Search Ads. The ASA Stack’s objective is to provide user acquisition marketers with a holistic view of Apple Search Ads. It will show them how they can develop a comprehensive, strategic approach to growing the user base and/or optimizing for performance. The stack can be applied at any stage during a product’s lifecycle and to many different apps, although some elements of the stack could become more relevant at different stages of the business lifecycle.

How Does It Work?

The ASA stack has three key horizontal layers that can be leveraged in Apple Search Ads: Campaigns, Ad Groups, and Keywords. These are then supported by a fourth and a fifth layer: Tools and Supporting Insights.

The horizontal layers are intersected with the foundations (variables and elements) that you can utilize, customize, and develop to improve your Apple Search Ads account. As a matter of fact, it can be said that the variables and elements are, for the most part, the foundations of the ASA stack because these can modify your strategy and help adjust your goals which can be scaling the channel and/or optimizing for performance. Scaling the channel enables you to enhance your visibility and expand the number of users. Optimizing for performance can increase your conversion as well as improve your Return On Advertising Spend (ROAS) or Life-Time Value (LTV).

Companies at different stages of maturity will need to prioritize the foundations differently to reach their particular business goals. As a matter of fact, a successful strategy will need to incorporate most of the elements from the three core layers to generate sufficient impact and it will be highly unlikely to achieve a specific objective (either scaling and/or optimizing the channel) without investment in Tools and Supporting Insights.

Each element (i.e. each individual cell) in the stack represents an activity that might form part of your strategy. Not all elements will be equally applicable to a specific app, category/industry, or given the company’s resources and internal capabilities. A smart strategy does not attempt to cover every single element of the stack at the same time but selects an appropriate mix of initiatives that reflect the business’ essence and its objectives. The strategy you will choose, if appropriately developed, would enable you to achieve profitability, but it should also allow you to invest in tools and insights that enable you to foster your future growth opportunities.

Campaigns Layer

By making sure you have a relevant and clear structure in your account, you will certainly be able to make the most out of your Apple Search Ads account. Having a precise idea of your goals and being organized will have a pivotal impact on your Apple Search Ads Campaigns. A clear campaign format will allow you to exploit automated scripts that can become your best ally in saving your time for daily operations, but also knowing and exploiting little tips and tricks can improve your ASA strategy. In this section, we will discuss the “campaign layer” which covers how you can leverage campaign structure, budget, daily caps, and storefronts to achieve your objectives.

Campaign structure

Your campaign structure is one of the first things you need to address before starting to advertise on Apple Search Ads. How should I organize my overall strategy? What are my targets and objectives? Think about that before you start creating campaigns because it will help you better organize your strategic approach.

At Phiture, we work with a semantics-based campaign structure per market: Brand, Generic, Competitor, Discovery, and Probing. This layout can help to keep costs monitored per country or region, but also identifying the most important campaigns in terms of performance and conversion. You can find more information about this campaign structure in this article: How to Set Up a Systematic Apple Search Ads Campaign Structure with 5 Campaign Types.

However, also other structures can be valuable, such as a value-based structure. I personally prefer the semantics-based campaign because:

  1. It is difficult to assess the value of keywords before you run your campaigns.
  2. Some keywords could be fluctuating in terms of the value they generate (external shocks, change in bids, competition, etc.).
  3. With Semantic campaigns/ad groups, you’re able to more effectively drive conversion with Creative Sets that are relevant to the Semantic Ad Group/Campaign.

How you structure your campaigns will lay the groundwork for your performance. You don’t want a messy campaign because it will only cause confusion.

When choosing a campaign structure we likely want to cover volume (scale) as well as aiming for performance. If your main target is scaling the channel and expanding the current reach, discovery campaigns can support your keyword exploration to find similar competitors or keywords that belong to your domain (we will talk about this in detail in the Keywords layer). This is done automatically, with the help of an algorithm. Other than discovery campaigns, also keyword research, which we will cover later, will be pivotal in achieving scale.

Budget

The Budget figure in the Apple Search Ads console should be interpreted as a lifetime budget. The reason why you should set a very high number on this budget is that if you suddenly spend the whole budget, your campaigns will stop. As we don’t want to run out of money during the weekends or any other time, we would make sure to increase the budget to a very high level to ensure that we are able to scale the channel and not be stopped by hiccups. Keep in mind that this figure is just a placeholder and does not represent the money you will be charged for.

If you have a limited budget and you want to use the budget figure as a monthly budget, the situation will be different. This can happen, for instance, if you want to strictly monitor your monthly budget. With budget restrictions in place, If you want to optimize for performance, you would allocate or reallocate the highest budget to best performing campaigns and/or your main target markets. In this article by SearchAdsHq, Apple Search Ads Cost: CPT, CPA, and TTR Benchmarks by Categories, you can find useful information that can help you frame your strategy before starting campaigns, and maybe even deciding which markets to target.

Conversely, if, for example, you would like to scale the channel and you don’t have strict budget restrictions, you should treat the budget figure as a lifetime budget to avoid surprises after the weekend.

Daily Caps

Daily caps, like budgets, can function as brakes when you have limited resources in place to spend on Apple Search Ads. As such, strict daily caps can help you control spend to optimize for performance but also to increase your scale. As for the former, very low daily caps for non-performing campaigns (by keeping them for exploratory purposes) can help you increase the ROAS on the account level if you mainly keep converting campaigns running. In regards to the latter, increasing the daily caps allows space to scale the channel, letting campaigns run without restrictions.

Storefronts

Advertising in different storefronts (countries) may be a clear solution to your scaling problems. You should consider the inclusion of additional storefronts to reach more users if your objective is to explore new possibilities in new markets. However, certain markets may be too expensive or they don’t convert well enough to hit your targets. In that case, if you want to optimize your performance, limiting the number of ads running in only storefronts with high ROAS countries can produce satisfying results.

As of May 2020, there are 60 storefronts available in ASA, see below.

Source: Apple Search Ads

When creating your campaigns you could either decide to organize your campaigns by region (APAC, EMEA, NA, etc.) or to segment them by individual countries. The first will allow you to reduce campaign management but it will lack precision (bids, CPA goals, etc.). The second will have a higher precision (bids and CPA goals will be directed to one country only) but you will have to deal with several campaigns. Your final decision should depend on the number of resources and goals you have in your strategy.

Ad Groups Layer

The ad groups layer contains many elements that will enable you to strategize on several fronts. Here is where your targeting will be refined and where you will be able to deeply leverage the power of Apple Search Ads. Specifically, this layer is the one that more than any can support your performance-based approach while also backing the reach of a large pool of users.

Device Targeting

Device targeting is the first setting that enables advertisers to refine audiences. With this specific setting, Apple Search Ads enables you to target iPhones and/or iPads. In my personal experience, iPad traffic approximately represents 10–15% of the traffic, but this varies across industries. If your objective is trying to reach the highest possible number of users, targeting both device types will help you.

Keep in mind that iPad traffic can be “useless” if you are offering a service on the go, such as car-sharing or ride-hailing as people do not use iPads as a mobile. However, the iPad segment can be more interesting to target games, for instance. As a matter of fact, think of your own app and what segments may be more relevant to you. Testing the two segments separately can also be a good approach to distinguish whether you should focus on both or only one of them. If performance is your ultimate goal, limit device types to optimize by targeting the best converting segments only.

Source: Apple Search Ads Console

Customer type

The second setting that enables you to refine audiences is the customer types. Here you can decide to go for new users, returning users, users of my other apps, and all users.

Source: Apple Search Ads Console

Clearly, the bigger the pool of users you target, the bigger the scale you will achieve. If you would like to increase your scale you should go after all users, which will target new, returning users and users of my other apps. Returning users can be particularly valuable because they could have a very high intent to convert as they are coming back to your app (customers who have previously downloaded your app). Returning users, as Apple specifies, could be:

  1. customers who see your ad may have had the app in the past but have since deleted it,
  2. customers who may have it downloaded on another one of their devices,
  3. customers who may have it currently on a device.

Similarly, if you are a gaming company, targeting users of my other apps could be valuable as those users are already familiar with your products and could have a high intent to download your app.

Conversely, if you are looking to optimize your campaigns you can either split or limit your ad groups to manage new, returning users and/or users of my other apps. I would definitely recommend having separate ad groups for these customer types. In this way, you can identify which segment is performing better but also optimize bids and CPA goals more precisely. If you then recognize a bad performance for certain segments you can pause/limit them, which will help you improve your effectiveness.

Demographics

In the demographics settings, we have two options: gender and age. In the gender section, you can either target a specific gender (female or male) or all of them. In the age setting, you can target any range from 18 to 65+, or target “all”. Here the consequences are straightforward: if you want to reach large audiences, you should loosen the age and gender settings (which means targeting the largest pool of users possible). If you want to optimize for performance and focus on specific segments by having more accurate bids, you will have to implement gender and/or age targetings. When targeting “all” in the age range, a specific setting is triggered which enables users with Limit Ad Traffic (LAT) toggled on to be targeted. We will talk about this specifically in the next element as the decision to strategically deciding to pursue this segment can enhance your scale by up to 30%.

Source: Apple Search Ads Console

Limit Ad Tracking (LAT)

Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) is a privacy setting offered by Apple to iOS users, which allows them to opt-out of having an ID for Advertisers (also known as IDFA). When LAT is enabled (LAT on) Apple does not pass on user data to Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs such as Adjust and/or Appsflyer) so that they can’t attribute the user coming from a certain campaign. In other words, users opting out of being tracked cannot be “followed” on which events they complete. Such users will not appear in the MMP’s Apple Search Ads voice but will remain unattributed in the Organic bucket.

If you want to target this traffic, you have to set in each of your ad groups’ settings “all” when setting the age range. This would allow you to target LAT ON as well as LAT OFF inventory. If you do so, you can reach approximately an additional 20%-30% of scale.

Unfortunately, as the events after download won’t be tracked, you will not know how these users will perform exactly. However, if you want to estimate the value LAT ON users add, you can extrapolate the likelihood of these users to complete a given event down your app’s funnel. In this article “How to crack Limit Ad Tracking’s secrets for effective Apple Search Ads Advertising” I walk you through some stats about LAT and how you can calculate an extrapolation measure for LAT on users. This is an extrapolation and could not represent reality. As such, if you are risk avoidant and are very focussed on tangible numbers, you should consider targeting LAT OFF users only.

Location

The location setting can be very handy if your business is only available in certain cities, for example, ride-hailing apps. On the contrary, if your app is available across the whole nation and your strategy is achieving scale, you should leave the location setting empty. If you’re looking for performance and based on research/analyses or other pieces of information you know that your performance is better in only a few cities, you should limit your location targeting to those locations only.

Source: Apple Search Ads Console

Ad Scheduling

The ad scheduling setting can turn into one of your best allies if you use it wisely and you know how users convert in your app. To achieve scale, targeting users 24/7 will help you get a large number of users. However, this choice may not be an optimal solution for example for food delivery apps. If you analyze your conversion funnel, you may realize that certain times of the day do not convert well enough, or even whole days of the week. As such, if you want to optimize your performance you should apply limitations to your ad schedule by focusing only on well-converting days and/or specific hours.

Source: Apple Search Ads Console

Ad group structure

I always recommend dividing semantics-based campaigns (especially the competitor and generic campaigns) into several Ad Groups (all of them always having keywords set as Exact match) that reflect distinct “levels of intent”. This segmentation implies that ad groups are targeting users with different willingness to download your app (or diverse “intent grades”). The higher the intent grade, the higher the likelihood a person will download the app. As an example of how to separate your ad groups according to a level of intent, see the picture below. The example was developed based on an audiobook subscription app.

The segmentation in intent ad groups can help you optimize for performance as you will be able to work more precisely with CPA goals, creative sets, but also address users with different intent levels differently. Here it is worth noting that Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) could help you master your account performance as they provide a maximum level of precision in ad group management at the bid and CPA goal level. However, this approach will likely create thousands of ad groups if you decide to have every single keyword in an ad group, making your campaigns a nightmare to manage (without any automation). SKAGs can also be helpful if a group of keywords is generating most of your downloads because they will keep your performance closely monitored.

Search Match

Search Match can be turned on in the ad group settings. With Search Match on, your ad will automatically be matched to search terms thanks to the retrieval of multiple data points (such as metadata like title, subtitle, keyword set but also information about similar apps). This setting becomes very handy because you will find new keywords without having to conduct any research. The Search Match setting should be activated in a standalone (empty, with no other keyword) ad group within your discovery campaign to make sure you keep its performance monitored.

Search Match can greatly help you achieve scale: if you let it run with a high default CPT bid it will match hundreds of results. As such, it can be very helpful, but it may also retrieve very broad terms, which is why I would recommend to set low CPT bids and use CPA goals to optimize towards performance. This approach can still help you achieve scale, but with greater attention to the business’ wallet.

Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) Goal

The CPA goal is a setting that can be implemented for every single ad group. Once implemented, it will send a message to Apple’s algorithm to acquire users for a certain amount you specify. If you want to achieve a CPA goal of 2€, the algorithm will try to find users who will convert to download within that specific target.

The CPA goal basically functions as a “brake”, so that it will try not to acquire users more expensive than 2€ (if the target is unrealistic, the CPA goal will only partially work or won’t work at all). This setting is fantastic because if you’re looking for performance, it will help you achieve your bottom-line objectives. If you are looking for scale, removing CPA goals or loosening them (keeping them at very high values) will help you achieve scale and help grasp large numbers of users.

Creative Sets

In the App Store, you can upload up to ten creative assets for your app. For the organic results the first three portrait assets, or the first landscape asset, are shown as a default. Those default assets will also be the main ads you will be showing in your ads. However, with ASA you could run tests with the other assets and see which ones are generating the best conversion rate. One caveat to keep in mind when you want to run creative set testing is that you can only use screenshots from your product page in the order that they are uploaded. It is not possible to play around with their order and Apple won’t allow you to put the second screenshot before the first within one of your test variables.

In the Apple Search Ads Console, you can start creative test sets on Ad Group level. You can create different variants by selecting the screenshots you want to display in your ad and test them against the default set. Apple Search Ads doesn’t have a built-in calculator of results with statistical significance but Phiture has developed an in house creative set test calculator that calculates the winning variant with a preset confidence level. Once you’ve set up the tests in the Search Ads Console, you should analyze the result and lastly re-prioritize the assets. Re-prioritizing the assets means reordering the assets so that the winning variable is now shown by default. This change will also impact organic performance.

By running creative set tests you will be able to improve performance while also increasing scale. A winning creative set test will generate a higher conversion rate which will:

  • Improve your CPA (and as a consequence your bottom line) as users will be more likely to download
  • Improve scale as the conversion rate increases you will create a higher number of users getting your app.

As such, there is a great advantage in running creative sets because these can also impact your ASO efforts and generate positive synergies.

Keywords Layer

The Keywords layer is fairly limited in relation to the number of elements that you can leverage, but its impact on your strategic decisions could be massive. This layer will be pivotal to shifting your performance from decent to excellent and to scaling from fair to high traffic.

Keyword Discovery

Adding keywords is the primary way to increase your scale to your campaigns. The keywords can be added from a variety of sources when you conduct your keyword research such as Apptweak, brainstorming, or even from Google Keyword Planner (as for the latter, keep in mind that web and mobile queries are different). New keywords can also come from your Discovery and Probing campaigns after you have tested them and have been proven to be valuable. The larger the number of keywords you add, the larger the number of potential users that you could target. In sum, the more the better if you are looking for scale. If you want to focus on performance, focus on the keywords that generate the highest ROAS. In particular, focus your attention on pausing probing and discovery campaigns if they have high acquisition costs as well as pausing other poorly performing keywords belonging to the core campaigns (Brand, Generic, and/or Competitor).

Match type

It is important to understand the difference between Exact, Broad, and Search Match. Any of the three Sources (a Broad Match keyword, an Exact Match keyword, or a Search Match ad group) can match Search Terms. Search Terms are search queries (which can be words or phrases) someone enters in the App Store. These three different match types can help you in different ways: they can provide scale and/or performance.

On the one hand, Exact Match keywords will ensure precision and target matching Search Terms that will help you optimize for performance. Exact Match keywords, inserted with [square brackets] around them, are those that only deliver exact results (i.e. if I insert [Facebook] as a keyword, my ad will only be delivered to searchers looking for “Facebook”, or slight misspellings in the App Store).

On the other hand, to scale your reach and to provide you with new keywords to add to your firepower, Search Match and Broad Match will be useful. Broad Match keywords can find related Search Terms (i.e. if I insert Facebook as a keyword, our ad might actually be delivered for searchers that look for “Twitter” or “social media”). As defined by Apple, Broad Match keywords are “relevant close variants of a keyword, such as singular, plurals, misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and phrases that include that term (fully or partially)”. Finally, Search Match “uses multiple resources to match your ad to relevant searches on the App Store, including the metadata from your App Store listing, information about similar apps in the same genre, and other search data”. In sum, these two sources will not only contribute to your scale, but they could also boost your performance if carefully monitored.

Bids

Bids will be one of your main weapons to optimize and/or scale your campaigns. Bids are crucial to get you higher amounts of traffic. To scale the channel and gain as many impressions as possible you should set bids to “maximum” (a very high bid), outbidding all competitors. This implies having high bids that enable you to win as many auctions as possible. If some keywords are not performing well and your ROAS is low, you should consider decreasing their bids to values lower than the respective Cost-per-Tap. This will result in reduced volume and possibly better performance because of their eligibility to enter into less competitive auctions. Hence, lowering bids will get you “less expensive” users who could affect your bottom line conversions positively.

Tools

The tools covered in this section can create synergies and efficiencies when utilized together with ASA. Certain tools can enhance productivity, some performance, while others can help you monitor competition and the market. We would recommend using them if possible because they would allow you to generate combined efforts aiming at better performance.

Automation & Machine Learning (bid optimization, keyword redistribution, etc.)

Automating some daily tasks and operations in ASA can save a lot of time. Automation can ensure higher levels of efficiency while enabling you to scale sustainably and improving your performance. Great ways to work with automation can be leveraged through the ASA API through which scripts can be exploited. For instance, you can leverage bid automation which will help you find optimal bids given the time of the day, but you can also automate time-intensive tasks such as redistribution of keywords in different campaigns. In this article Phiture has built a non-official API library in Python, that provides easy access to campaign management. This library only requires intermediate Python skills and makes it possible not only for Engineers but also for Data Analysts and Apple Search Ads Consultants to work with it.

Mobile Measurement Partner & Apple Search Ads Attribution API (Adjust, Appsflyer, etc.)

The MMPs will be extremely helpful if you want to optimize for ROI, which is why their usage is highly recommended. In order to track and optimize for low funnel events (i.e. a specific action that happens in the app such as purchase, trial) you will need a Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP). Different MMPs such as Adjust and Appsflyer measure all events that happen in the app after download, which is where the Apple console can no longer measure what happens in the app.

With an MMP you can accurately measure the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns because through the Apple Search Ads Attribution API you can attribute app installs that originate from your Apple Search Ads campaigns. This can be done by adding just a few lines of code to your app, after which you can easily understand the value of different customer groups over time and the keywords that drove their downloads.

Apple Search Ads Console

On the Apple Search Ads Console, you can create your campaigns and manage them. On the management side, you can create new campaigns and new ad groups, add keywords to existing ad groups, and adjust your bids. Through the ASA Console, you can also set up your creative set tests. The Apple Search Ads console will enable you to check impressions, clicks, and downloads (among other metrics) but it will not track any event happening after the app download. You would need the help of a Mobile Measurement Partner for seeing which campaigns generate the highest amount of purchases, sign-ups, etc..

App Store Connect (Cannibalization)

The App Store connect enables you to create your own product page, where you can set up your metadata, screenshots, and in-app purchases. Other than organizational and set-up purposes, the App Store connect should be leveraged to gain valuable insights into your app’s performance with App Analytics. You can measure various important KPIs and create custom graphs and reports. It is also possible to get insights into payments and financial reports in the Sales and Trends section. Other features include responding to customer reviews on your App Store product page creating promo codes for potential users.

As such, the App Store Connect becomes an important ally to measure your reach (organic and paid) as well as the number of app units you generate (also here, organic and paid). These metrics can be severely impacted when you start running your Apple Search Ads. These can dramatically increase because ASA can increase your visibility. However, there is an important caveat: cannibalization. Cannibalization happens when your ad is targeting users that would already convert organically but convert through the ad instead. This clearly generates issues because you would be paying for the users who would have converted for free.

The App Store Connect can turn into your analysis tool to infer if organic downloads experienced a drop while your paid downloads were started. If your organic metrics decreased and your paid metrics increased while the overall traffic remained relatively stable, that could be a sign of cannibalization. It is hard to properly assess cannibalization though because Apple does not allow the disclosure of organic traffic at the keyword volume. This implies that while you are able to see the increase in volume for a keyword in ASA, you wouldn’t be able to assess if that increase in volume came at the expense of the organic volume.

In any case, you should pay attention to cannibalization by conducting tests (switching off campaigns or specific keywords) but you should also keep in mind that seasonality and other exogenous factors may be impacting your test set-up and these exogenous factors could make it difficult to properly assess the real impact.

Apple Search Ads API

With the Apple Search Ads Campaign Management API, you can basically run the operations that you can implement through the ASA console. With the ASA API, you can build campaigns, manage budgets and daily caps, create ad groups and include keywords, run creative sets and generate reports, implement audience refinement, and ad scheduling. This implies that if you have a team of engineers that are able to help you, they could be developing scripts to automate your campaigns. As such, the ASA API can be a very interesting tool to explore because it will reduce overhead in your team in terms of management. Moreover, it will also automate tasks that can help you achieve greater scale, better performance, and increased efficiency.

Competitive Intelligence (Sensortower, App Annie, Apptweak, etc.)

Being able to know what your main competitors are doing can position you extremely well in the market and generate a competitive advantage. Tools such as Sensortower, App Annie, and Apptweak will provide useful knowledge that can be used on several fronts from broad market intelligence to the narrow keyword observation. These tools will make up the additional scale you want to achieve as well as reach higher targets of performance. They can help you understand the mobile ecosystem and maximize the potential of mobile advertising in order to efficiently attract quality and high-value users. These tools are great for your Business Intelligence and ASA strategy but they involve a substantial investment.

Keyword Research (Apptweak)

Conducting proper keyword research is the key to having a successful account in ASA. Discovering long-tail keywords as well as keywords that are important in terms of volume will allow you to achieve scale and performance. Brainstorming all the possible search terms is a good starting point, as well as accepting the Search Ads console suggestions (sometimes). However, with the help of additional tools like Apptweak you could really professionalize your keyword research. Apptweak provides a comprehensive competitive overview of your competitors’ keywords while also providing several other search ads intelligence keywords analyses.

Source: Apptweak

By implementing Apptweak in your arsenal, you can indeed level up your keyword research process and gather a significant amount of information on the competition.

Third-Party management tool (SearchAdsHQ, Kenshoo, etc.)

Third-Party management tools such as SearchAdsHQ and Kenshoo among others provide an excellent solution that enables apps to fully analyze their media buying funnel for Apple Search Ads. These tools are deeply integrated with ASA and MMPs, thanks to their integration with the respective APIs. As such, they enable a much more comprehensive view on performance than the Apple Search Ads console only. In sum, these tools help apps focus on ROI instead of CPI, which will, in turn, shift the focus to performance and quality results.

Supporting Insights

The supporting insights section is the final layer of the ASA Stack. It provides you with elements that enable you to know the environment you are working in as well as analyzing the effects that ASA generates and that ASA is affected.

Organic Uplift

Organic uplift can be defined as an increase in organic visibility, conversion, but also keyword rankings. Organic uplift can generally happen because of higher visibility for certain keywords as well as a higher conversion for these keywords. In essence, when your app receives more downloads, its organic keyword ranking is likely to grow. As such, ASA is able to generate organic uplift for your organic keyword rankings since it will be able to generate additional downloads. Also, due to an increase in downloads, your app will be ranking higher in the category and therefore attract more App Units via Browse.

Therefore, ASA can be an excellent tool, not only to increase your scale but also to increase your performance. If you use it correctly, the higher visibility for certain keywords will also bring about a better organic performance since your organic keyword rankings will improve and could generate additional organic downloads. Therefore, it can be said that ASA is able to generate positive synergies for your ASO strategy too.

Benchmarks

Benchmarks will provide valuable support to develop your Apple Search Ads strategy. Being able to know in advance what the average cost per tap or average cost per download in a given country will direct your choices towards the most appropriate locations. These early decisions, in turn, may anticipate and improve your performance later down the line. As such, it is always a good practice to get informed and retrieving benchmark information on the industry. There are several ways to access benchmarks: you can read reports online, speculate from other channels (Facebook, Google, etc.), and/or receive this information directly from Apple or from its partners. SearchAdsHQ has developed this SearchAdsHQ benchmark report for 2020 which collects benchmark data from their own clients only. Here you can find out what could be yours for a given industry and location. Similarly, if you have direct contact with Apple Search Ads representatives, you would be able to retrieve this information from them.

Micro influence (endogenous factors)

Separating endogenous from exogenous factors can help you understand better what are the influences and how are they affecting your campaigns. With endogenous factors, we should be inferring all ASA-generated effects. With exogenous factors, we should think of all external factors that may influence your ASA account. Micro influences can be the effect of your advertising efforts and how they can impact the Share of Voice (SoV) for some keywords (the SoV is the percentage of impressions your app receives through ads). The more you spend on certain keywords, the higher your share will be, which will increase your scale. Similarly running ASA can impact your organic app units by generating cannibalization (this is not always true and should be analyzed). This mainly happens in your brand terms and for keywords, you rank high organically. Organic cannibalization may be impacting your performance and should be taken seriously, for instance by running tests that could assess the impact on your organics.

Macro influence (exogenous factors)

External changes in demand caused by seasonality or even triggered by shocks like COVID-19 can have an impact on your acquisition efforts (e.g. read here the impacts of COVID-19 on ASA during the early days of the outbreak in Europe). Competition can surge in the summertime for some verticals, or even demand may decrease during the Christmas period as some users may be focusing on different activities (e.g. not focusing on work). These changes will likely impact the traffic your app receives but also the average cost per click. This, in turn, will affect your whole funnel, impacting your Return On Advertising Spend and Customer Acquisition Costs. Therefore, it is important to anticipate those seasonal trends that are often recurring to adjust your performance and be ready to grasp the additional scale that is related to seasonal trends.

Many other factors can be affecting your campaigns, such as trending keywords, changes in Apple’s algorithms, and other product updates to ASA. All these factors should be monitored as they will be able to impact your performance and scale.

Conclusions

The ASA stack is composed of 5 layers and you should leverage its foundations (variables and elements) to achieve your goals, that could be scaling the channel and/or optimizing for performance. The ASA stack’s objective is providing you with an overview of all the available assets to grow an exhaustive strategy in Apple Search Ads that leads your business to profitability.

You should adapt your strategy to your business and needs while at the same time trying to cover as many elements as possible given your resources, but keeping in mind that a smart strategy does not try to cover all elements at the same time. The strategy you will choose, while enabling you to achieve profitability, should allow you to invest in tools and supporting insights to foster your future growth opportunities.