Incipia blog

Why App Store Search Ads Will Trump iOS Marketing

Gabe Kwakyi | June 12, 2023

  To follow up on an earlier post extolling Apple's upcoming App Store Search Ads as the single best iOS marketing channel, here is more data to support that assertion, comparing Apple Search Ads to other popular iOS marketing channels.

The Setup

The six comparison criteria were annotated on a scale of 1 (poor rating) to 3 (top rating) and include:
  • Scale - how many users can be reached through this app marketing channel?
  • Cost per installhow much does it cost to acquire a new user?
  • Average value returned per dollar spent - how much value does each ad dollar return in the long-term via installs, revenue, etc?
  • Budget/effort required to set up and runwhat are the budgets or seed user minimums, back-and-forth with sales teams and other effort required to get ads live?
  • Taps to installHow many taps does this app marketing channel require from ad-to-install? The fewer taps, the higher the conversion rate.
  • Targeting flexibility/creative customization leewayHow many different targeting and creative customizations does this app marketing channel enable marketers to tap into?
The channels include:
  • App Store Search Ads - Apple
  • Social media ads - Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, etc.
  • Display (retargeting or predictive intelligence) - Liftoff, Rocket Fuel, etc.
  • Display (RTB/general) - Fiksu, Criteo, etc.
  • Keyword boost - NativeX, Freemyapps, etc.
  • PPC - Google Adwords, Bing ads, Yahoo Gemini
  • Universal App ads - Google Adwords (While this is a comparison of iOS marketing channels, Google universal ad campaigns were added as a comparison of a similar store ad platform to support our comparison of Unviersal ads in the previous article)
  • Boost/incentivizedTapjoy, Fyber, etc.
  • PR/Influencer Hand sold campaigns, ReadyPulse, etc.
A couple caveats to the data include:
  • Keyword boost campaigns vs regular boost campaigns
    • Keyword campaigns are a specialized boost campaign, requiring more infrastructure to run (i.e. less scale) and producing a higher value returned per user because they are more effective than regular boost campaigns at retaining rank over time (keywords are more rank-sticky than categories); these campaigns allow marketers to choose which keyword to rank for (i.e. higher flexibility) and are not dinged for taps to install despite requiring users to search for an app before installing, because they are run only on a pay-by-install pricing basis.
  • PR/Influencer
    • These campaigns often encounter difficulty in attributing performance and even getting users to the app store (i.e. taps to install), especially on fast-rising channels like Instagram and Snapchat where posts cannot contain a tagged link to the App Store.

The Comparison

App store search ads vs other app marketing channels

*Click the thumbnail of the comparison chart above to enlarge it

By analyzing each channel according to the six criteria, we can see that App Store search ads are positioned to edge out social media ads by a hair, with a score of 2.6 vs 2.5 respectively. The two platforms both earned a top score in two key areas (value returned per dollar and budget/effort required), and while social media ads provide better targeting/creative flexibility and scale, Apple search ads take the lead in fewest interruptions on the path to conversion (taps to install) and are poised to beat social media ads in pricing; at least to begin with.

Due to the massive success of social media ads (e.g. lookalikes, massive scale and huge leeway for creative/targeting optimization), increased advertiser participation have raised social media cost per install metrics to the highest in the app marketing game.

And, given its second price auction-based mechanic, Apple's search ads will enjoy an early win in the cost column, similar to the Bing Ads bonus (fewer advertisers on Bing Ads produced low CPCs vs Adwords - a boon for advertisers), yet as the platform's popularity grows, Apple search ads may face the same cost inflations that Facebook did, causing Facebook to re-take the top iOS marketing spot. In this case, Apple stands to regain the top spot by either opening up more targeting/customization abilities or tapping into partnerships/growing spotlight search volume to increase scale and remain competitive with Facebook.

Regardless of the pricing outcome, one thing is clear: Apple's App Store search ads will be a highly successful app marketing channel for iOS once they hit general availability in Fall; we at Incipia can't wait to put our expertise in keyword analysis to the task of driving ROI through ASO and this brand new, exciting app marketing channel.

That's all for now folks! Thanks for reading - stay tuned to the Incipia blog or subscribe to our email list for more information on app store optimization and marketing strategies.

Incipia is a mobile app development and marketing agency that builds and markets apps for companies with a development speciality in high quality code architecture and keyword-based marketing optimizations. For blog/video or speaking requests, business or press inquiries please contact us at