Incipia blog

Apple Search Ads 101: Terms & Tactics To Know

Gabe Kwakyi | April 18, 2023

For those of you just beginning to manage Search Ads campaigns who are looking for guidance on how to get started, read this mini-guide to terminology and tactics that you should know and help demystify Apple's PPC platform.

General Terminology

  • Search term – the name for what a user types into the App Store. Search terms are what keywords match to, and can be viewed in the search term view, which is in the keywords tab.
  • Search match (per Apple: "Automatically match my ad to relevant searches") – Apple's auto target that uses information including per Apple "your App Store listing metadata, information about similar apps in the same genre, and other search data" to figure out what search terms your app is eligible and relevant enough to show ads for.
  • Negative keyword – a handy target that prevents your keywords from showing ads for search terms which match your negative keyword exactly (exact match negatives) or which contain your negative keyword (broad match negatives).
  • Keywords – the main target you bid on in order to show ads. Your ad is shown when your keyword matches close enough to a user search term.
    • Broad Match – the default keyword match type, which makes your ads eligible to serve for per Apple "relevant close variants of a keyword, such as singular, plurals, misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and phrases that include that term (fully or partially)."
    • Exact Match – a more restrictive match type, which only shows ads when the user's search term matches your keyword exactly.
  • Ad group – houses your keywords and other targeting features/dimensions (i.e. CPA goal, time of day, day of week, age, gender, device, location).
  • CPA Goal (optional) – Apple's conversion optimizer algorithm, which seeks to keep your CPA at or below the goal you specify.
  • Campaign Group – accessed via the top-left navigation, this is a way to group campaigns together in a different view, which can be handy for reducing clutter.
  • Default CPT bid – the amount that you are willing to pay (maximum) per user's tap, for your target (i.e. keyword or search match).
  • Daily (budget) cap (optional) – the maximum amount that your campaigns will be eligible to spend per day.
  • Budget – the maximum that your campaigns will be eligible to spend in total.
  • Duplicate – a new ability to duplicate ad groups or keywords.
  • Download data – downloads keywords, plus performance data.
  • Download keywords – downloads only keywords, with no performance data.
  • Upload keywords – allows you to upload a CSV file to make bulk changes to your keywords.
  • Storefronts – the country which your search ads are eligible to serve in (storefronts live as of 4.25.17 include the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand). *The storefront cannot be changed after a campaign is set live.


Per an earlier article, we established that metrics are data points that are useful for analyzing or sorting campaigns/ad groups/keywords/search terms (these entities we commonly refer to as "targets") by volume and potential, while KPIs are the most important data points, used to analyze the true performance and ROI of targets.

  • Impressions – as with ASO, impressions tell you how many total possible chances your search Ads target had to convert searchers into actual users, and thus which targets have the most potential to scale your acquisition efforts once optimized. Also similar to ASO, in order to determine whether your efforts are driving scale, you should look at changes in impressions per day/week/4 weeks in order to see whether you impression volume is growing, sustained or declining.
    • Search popularity – this metric is a number between 5 and 100 (theoretically inclusive of the upper limit), which proceeds impressions, and indicates which keywords have the highest potential to scale, before actually bidding on them and seeing how many impressions your target earns.
  • Taps – taps go one step further than impressions and indicate which targets that users find your app appealing/relevant enough to actually learn more about, as voted by their actions. Taps are useful for figuring out which target are worth spending more time optimizing for, given they are generating interest but are not converting users. For example, a target may earn 1,000 impressions but no taps while another may earn 100 impressions and 20 taps; this scenario indicates that the former is high potential but not relevant, while the latter is more relevant and is likely worth more of your time working to improve.
  • Spend – more-so than impressions or taps, spend is the most effective metric for sorting by which targets have the largest impact on your campaign performance. Spend sits on the cost end of the UA equation, while conversions sit on the value end of the UA equation.
  • CPT (cost per tap) – the price you paid per tap, on average. CPT is useful for reverse-engineering the level of competition for a particular target. In order to determine the competition level, calculate the percentage between your CPT and your max CPT bid (this is called headroom), which will help you determine whether you are paying a higher or lower portion of your total bid and thus whether the competition is high or low, respectively.

Use search popularity and impressions to figure out where the opportunity for future scale exists, use taps to identify which targets have the most immediate opportunity for scale, use spend to identify which targets have the biggest current impact on your campaign performance overall, and use CPT to identify targets which are either too expensive to compete for or have room in terms of cost to give (and thus increase scale).

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

KPIs are useful for analyzing performance/ROI, and for comparing targets to one another once sorted using a metric.

  • TTR (tap-through-rate) – while TTR is typically classified as a metric or only a proxy for conversions in the absence of conversion data, we have decided to classify it as a minor KPI due to its significant impact on impression share. If your ads are not tapped when they are shown, your impression share will begin to decline, no matter how much you are willing to pay per tap.
  • Conversions – conversions are downloads of your app (though not necessarily installs or first opens). Conversions are useful in and of themselves for figuring out which keywords have the highest total impact on your campaign performance, from the value side of the UA equation.
  • CR (conversion rate) – conversion rate is a metric that is particularly important when using a CPA goal. If your historic conversion rate is poor and you are using a CPA goal, it will result in Apple's algorithm reducing, or "throttling" the impression share for that target, because your target has proven that it cannot efficiently convert users, and Apple's algorithm will take a progressively more conservative approach to showing your ads, even in some cases if your CPA goal is high.
  • CPA (cost per action) – CPA is the priority KPI in the absence of a more important downstream KPI (e.g. ROAS). Use CPA to figure out which targets are doing a good job, or not so good a job at acquiring new users.

Use TTR to identify targets which can scale their impression share and taps via TTR optimizations, use conversions to identify which targets have the largest current impact on your campaign performance overall, use conversion rate to identify which targets can scale their conversion volume via CVR optimizations, and use CPA to identify which targets are performing efficiently, or not.

Non-Public Data

Non-public data are data that Apple captures and uses to manage its Search Ads platform, but does not provide to advertisers. Despite this, non-public data are important to understand, because they have a significant influence on your campaign performance.

  • Ad Auction – the ad auction is a pool of all apps whose targets (i.e. keywords and search terms, minus targeting limitations like device or poor relevance) make those apps eligible to serve ads for a particular user search query. An ad auction occurs every time a user searches a search term in the App Store, and in every auction the participants, winner, and the cost per tap that the winner potentially pays per tap are unique to that auction. Factors such as a higher number of total apps participating, higher max CPT bids of each participating app, and higher TTR stats for each app will all contribute to a higher CPT charge for the winner of that particular auction.
    • Ad rank – the score that each app's target receives per auction, that determines which apps win the ad auction. Ad rank includes some secret sauce inputs, but can be thought of in the simplest terms as max CPT bid * TTR.
  • Impression share – the number of impressions your targets earned divided by the total number of eligible impressions. This is a vital data point that enables the calculation of total potential scale per target, yet impression share is unfortunately not currently provided by Apple Search Ads.
  • Relevance – the relevance of your app's target to a particular user search term; if your relevance is too low, your app will not be eligible to participate in ad auctions.
  • Monetizable queries – whether or not an ad impression is allowed to serve for a user search term. Not all search terms are eligible to serve an ad impression. While the inputs to this boolean value are also secret, they are most likely have to do with the total number of apps eligible for that search term's ad auction, and the maximum possible price which the winner may be charged (i.e. the competition level for that auction).

Other Terminology

  • ROAS (return on ad spend) – an easy KPI to calculate that helps you identify whether your targets are ROI-positive.
  • ARPU (average revenue per user) – an easy KPI to calculate that helps you figure out how much revenue you earn per new user acquired.
  • LTV (lifetime value of a user) – a more difficult KPI to calculate, but typically the best method of valuing users and analyzing marketing success. Check out this post for more information on how to calculate LTV.
  • (Low volume terms) – this is Apple's way of concealing search term data and preventing you from adding negative keywords (thus increasing the number of auctions and the CPT winners pay in each auction).
  • User Withheld – indicates that a user has chosen to prevent advertisers from accessing certain personal information (e.g. age).
  • Dimensions:
    • Age (in increments of 10 years from 18 to 65+)
    • Device (iPhone, iPad)
    • Gender (male, female)
    • Location (country, state, city)
    • Time of Day (determined by the searcher's local time zone)
    • Day of Week (determined by the searcher's local time zone)
  • Customer Types:
    • Have not downloaded my app – new user acquisition
    • Have downloaded one of my other apps – cross-selling
    • Have already downloaded my app - remarketing
  • MMP (mobile measurement partner), AKA attribution provider – a tool such as AppsFlyer, Adjust, Kochava or Tune, which enables you to tie downstream performance data (e.g. registrations, purchases, retention, etc.) to your search ads campaign performance data. Alternatively, you can use Apple's attribution API to tie downstream KPI data to your search ads campaigns.

Some Activities You Should Be Doing

  1. Search term optimization – this is important in order to raise TTR and CVR and prevent money being spent on searches that lower your ROI.
  2. Review optimization – this is vital in order to raise your TTR and CVR, and improve your impression share.
  3. Sub-divide targets and applying a CPA goal to targets with poor ROI – this helps improve your ROI.
  4. Raise bid for performing keywords – this helps scale your performance from targets high in ROI.
  5. Pause targets which perform poorly, even after being optimized – this reduces the impact of low ROI targets.
  6. Expand your keyword list, based on performing keywords –this helps scale your performance, based on targets high in ROI.
  7. Peruse reports for under or over-performing dimensions – this helps you identify which targets should be optimized in order to raise ROI.


That's all for now, folks! Be sure to bookmark our blog, sign up to our email newsletter for new post updates and reach out if you're interested in working with us.

Incipia is a mobile app development and marketing agency that builds and markets apps for companies, with a specialty in high-quality, stable app development and keyword-based marketing strategy, such as App Store Optimization and Apple Search Ads. For post topics, feedback or business inquiries please contact us, or send an inquiry to