Incipia blog

5 Advanced Apple Search Ads Best Practices

Gabe Kwakyi | April 4, 2017

Are you ready to take your Apple Search Ads knowledge to the next level? Then have a look at these 5 advanced Apple Search Ads best practices, forged through team Incipia's experiences managing Apple Search Ads campaigns and gaining intimate knowledge of how the Search Ads platform operates.

#1 How to Mitigate Low TTR and CVR (and why)

The number one method by which to mitigate the chances of a low TTR and CVR is to ensure that you have a strong current star rating. Just as having a low star rating will reduce your organic conversion rate, having a low star rating will affect your Search Ads campaigns, which occupy the same location in App Store search. In fact, having no star rating is actually worse than having a low star rating, because low star ratings actively drive users away (3 stars is the neutral rating rule of thumb, under which marks the line of a bad star rating).

Also, when releasing a new app version, your current star rating will reset, meaning that your conversion rate will dip until you regain it (by our experience the decline can be as much as 30%!). When your star rating resets, your conversion rate across all marketing channels can be impacted, however Search Ads are especially affected due to users seeing your app's star rating in direct relation to the star rating of the #1 organic ranking app, which adds a layer of competition not experienced via other marketing channels such as Facebook Ads or even Adwords app install ads.

To delve further into the consequences (why) of having a low TTR, consider the fact that a low TTR not only reduces the chance that each impression your ads serve for will produce a tap or conversion; having a low TTR also reduces the chances of you serving the next ad impression. This is because TTR is one of the factors that determines your ad rank (alongside your bid and likely several other secret sauce factors), which in tandem with relevance directly determines your eligibility to participate in and win Search Ads auctions (and serve impressions).


You may find yourself asking what the fuss over TTR is when bid is widely held as the main factor in ad rank.

While this is true, recall that A) Apple Search Ads are a second price auction economy and B) Apple makes no money if users do not tap. This means that a high bid by itself is not always sufficient to convince Apple's auction mechanic to serve your ad, because Apple can't simply charge you your max CPT bid; by the rules of the second price auction, Apple can only charge you an amount based on the level of competition that exists, which means that if other advertisers have a lower bid than you but higher TTR, Apple very well may make more money from showing their ads because, despite charging them less per tap, their ads are tapped more, leading to a higher revenue for Apple in the aggregate.

Apple's documentation sums up its stance on TTR:

"User response is an important signal of ad relevance. If customers don’t tap an ad, Search Ads will stop showing it to them."

And if you're using a CPA goal and have a low CVR, then your impression share will be throttled as Apple's conversion optimizer algorithm becomes more wary about showing your ads for search impressions, due to the historic inability of your ad to convert searchers and therefore the likelihood of your ads to miss your CPA target (unless you have a very high CPA goal set).

Lastly, we have found evidence to support the fact that your star rating (both current and all-time) can factor into your ad rank score, meaning that the role that your app's star rating plays may not only directly affect your TTR and CVR, but your impression share as well.

Check out our post on how to improve your rankings using Apple's new prompt, and this post on how and when to trigger a review ask.

#2 How to Boost TTR

Moving on, the next question you have is likely to seek ideas for improving your TTR.

Improving your TTR can be done within your Search Ads account by adding negative keywords to broad/search match, zeroing in on the right dimensions (best practice #5) or applying a CPA goal (which ups the chances of you receiving higher quality impressions). But because your Search Ads are built from your app listing, improving your TTR can also happen outside of the Search Ads platform.

The basic tactics include improving your star rating (per point #1), writing a better description opener or finding better screenshots; but a few findings from research we did on apps that earned a top 10 keyword rank can also help raise your TTR. Specifically, while using the top keyword in your description opener didn't seem to produce that much of an improvement, ensuring that your keyword was included in the captions of your app screenshots was correlated with higher rank. Review your app screenshots and ensure that your top conversion-driving keyword(s) appears in your app screenshot captions to boost your TTR for those keywords. And keep in mind that the first three screenshots show for search ads, vs two for ASO.

#3 How to Address Keywords with Low or No Impressions

Improving TTR via tactics like tip #5 below can also improve the chances of your keywords serving ads, but when it comes down to brass tacks, the best way to address keywords which have no impressions is to raise your bid.

In an auction-style ad platform, the problem is that you don't know what your competition is bidding, and to make matters worse, Apple offers no hard data points that can indicate to you either A) what your impression share is (which could confirm whether there are even impressions to be had on such keywords) or B) what you should be bidding in order to serve impressions. So what should you do?

The best practice for safely optimizing keywords with low or no impressions is two steps:

  1. Place such keywords in a campaign with an exploration budget (i.e. an amount you wouldn't be too disappointed to blow on expensive taps).
    1. You can also set a CPA goal to limit the chances of suddenly serving tons of very expensive impressions.
  2. Gradually raise your keyword max CPT bids, day-by-day until your keywords begin to serve impressions. This is the amount you need to set as your max CPT, at the least.

Again, the reason that you must implement this technique is because you have no idea what your competitors are bidding or what you need to bid, so there is no way (other than through experimentation) to determine what bid is required to win an auction.

If you reach an exorbitant bid amount and still see no impressions, then it's possible that either A) your competitors are bidding yet higher still, B) your relevance score for that keyword is simply too low to allow you to serve ads or C) there are no monetizable impressions to be had (not all searches in the App Store serve ads). There are certainly solutions or workarounds to optimize through any of these three issues, but after executing this technique, you will better understand which keywords are most viable to work with, so that you can focus your time, money and effort on those keywords before returning to the problem children.

#4 How to Boost Impression share

Segueing from the prior technique, if raising your bid won't earn you more impressions, then your problem may be in your keyword relevance. By ensuring that the keywords you are bidding on are included in your app's metadata, you can increase your impression share on those keywords, as well as keywords similar to those keywords (broad and search match). This mainly applies to your title and keywords field, but the description can have an impact on relevance, too. By optimizing keyword metadata, we have seen cases of impression volume increasing by up to 45%.

#5 How to Improve Low ROI

The easiest way to improve your ROI (i.e. cost per KPI completion) is to apply a CPA goal, but CPA goals applied to ad groups which contain keywords with low conversion rate will typically throttle impression share and affect to all keywords within the ad group.

You can solve for the throttling/all keywords issue by using tighter match types or targeting search terms within broader match types or breaking certain keywords out into SKAGs (single keyword ad groups). In addition, another under-utilized option is to perform dimension optimization. This includes reporting on dimensions and narrowing your targeting to only the performing segments of a dimension, such as ages 18-24 in the age dimension.


That's all for now, folks! If you'd like more tips for Apple Search Ads, continue learning with our post on the top 10 tips for scaling Apple Search Ads.


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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