Apple Search Ads: new placements, new opportunities, new challenges

By John Koetsier September 30, 2022

Apple Search Ads now has new placements, and it’s a big deal. 

In addition to the search page and search results page ads, Apple is now offering ads on both the Today tab — the default home page of the App Store app — and product pages, where your app is itself listed. The result is twofold: app publishers can now essentially buy something very similar to what an actual Apple-created app featuring, which has always been highlighted on the Today page, looks like … and your very own app listing page is now content for other apps to advertise against. 

Of course, any ads are still clearly labeled as ads.

There are some massive new opportunities coming up in ASA. And, there’s going to be a few challenges as well.

App product page ads on Apple Search Ads

One of the new placements is right on everyone’s app listing pages, essentially turning the millions of apps on the App Store into a massive amount of published content against which Apple can run ad auctions. (Genius, right.)

These placements are a mixed blessing, however.

Hopefully Apple will not put direct competitors on your app listing page, but there’s no guarantee about that. Apple will either select relevant categories for your app by itself, or advertisers can choose the categories in which they run, and the reality is that attempted conquesting is going to happen.

“Ads appear at the top of the You Might Also Like list to users who have scrolled to the bottom of relevant product pages, actively researching apps and getting information to help them decide whether to download,” Apple says.

Apple Search Ads new placements

The good news from the app publisher perspective? The ads are waaayyyy down the app listing page. For instance, I just checked Supercell’s Clash of Clans app product page, and the “You Might Also Like” list is literally 5 full screens down. Honestly, I doubt I would ever scroll that low when checking out an app. And while it’s a cardinal error to reason from your own behavior to everyone else’s … I can’t see too many others doing it either.

The bad news from an advertiser perspective is exactly the same point: the ads are not in an obvious position on the app product page. They may not get a lot of attention and therefore may not generate a lot of action.

Like other ads on the App Store, product page ads are made from your existing assets in your own app product page.

Today tab ads

Today page ads are very different, taking different assets, and requiring explicit Apple approval before publishing.

The benefit is obvious: premium front page placement. When people open the App Store, this is where they come, and while the very top billing is still reserved for Apple’s featured content of the day, a Today tab ad will be at least partially visible by default on app open. Sure, plenty of people enter the App Store via direct deep link to a specific app … but Apple says the “Today tab is where over half a billion weekly App Store visitors start their journey to discover new apps.”

That’s massive scale.

However, the Today tab is where everyone starts, so there’s not a lot of contextual targeting going on. In other words, if you’re planning to do a Today page ad via Apple Search Ads, you better have an app with a near-global appeal or an app that monetizes extremely well so the lack of targeting specificity is not critical.

Note: if you’re going to use a Today page ad, it will be created from a custom product page, and you’ll need to have at least 4 portrait or 5 landscape images associated with that custom product page. Even though it’s from a product page listing, Apple is taking no chances that something shady or inappropriate makes it to the first page of its most important app: each ad will need to be individually approved by Apple in App Store Connect.

Apple Search Ads new placements

Today tab ads are actually sort of carousel/video ads. You get a full-width block as people scroll down the App Store Today tab, and people will be able to see those multiple screenshots from your custom product page. They’ll also see your app name, a very brief description, and the App Store GET button.

There are, of course, a few (perhaps more than a few) additional details:

  • No more than 3 lines of text
  • No more than 50 characters
  • Assets “must “include screenshots from the app you’re promoting”
  • Those screenshots must be at least ⅔ of the ad creative
  • No pricing
  • No offers
  • No ranking claims
  • Font must not be similar to Apple’s in the Today Card
  • Text can’t suggest that this is an Apple-promoted app
  • If you mock up a phone, the bezel must be the same as the most recent Apple devices
  • No violent, sexually explicit, or inappropriate images

One very important note: you can’t just swap out new creative or A/B test creative side by side. With Today tab ads in Apple Search Ads, you get to run one at a time. Want to change it? Make a new one and get it approved. 

Meanwhile, your existing ad will continue to run.

In other words: maybe FWIW spend some money doing some A/B testing on another ad network first to see what works best. Even then, of course, context matters, so you still won’t really know what will operate best in the App Store environment. But, given the prominent placement, you can expect experimentation here to be expensive, so any insight into clickability and value is probably better than nothing.

More ad placements on the App Store is huge

According to a recent Splitmetrics report, ads on the App Store have an average TTR (tap-through rate) of 9.99%. Some categories, like Entertainment, are at just under 25%.

That’s mindblowing for basically any other ad placement in any other network.

Conversions are insanely off the charts as well: 64.96%, according to Splitmetrics, with highs of 78% in Entertainment, 74% in Food & Drink, and 71% in Travel. That means out of 100 people who tapped an Apple Search Ads ad, 65 actually installed an app.

With an average cost per tap of $1.12 in Q2 2022 … that’s a good deal. Expect more publishers to jump on board, and expect Apple to take a higher percentage of advertisers budgets.

But there’s a caveat. 

With more placements and therefore a busier ad environment on the App Store, you can probably expect some of those tap-through rates and conversion rates to drop. Few ads in a sea of content typically means high attention rates; more ads tend to dilute both visibility and engagement.

New measurement requirements

The good news is that the Apple Search Ads Attribution API did not change. The other news is that with more placements, there’s a bit more complexity in managing it all. Expect Singular to be able to help measure and monitor your results in various different places in the very near future.

What’s next for Apple Search Ads?

(Note: I have literally ZERO insider information about this.)

It would not shock me to start seeing Apple put ads in some of its other apps. Podcasts comes to mind. So does Music, along with maybe Weather and Stocks. But there are multiple options here, including Shazzam, which — let’s be honest — is one big ad for Apple Music.

However, there are continual rumors about additional Apple investment in its advertising platform … so potentially the ads the company offers will eventually make their way into additional Apple apps. 

A little thought grenade to leave you with: would really blow the industry’s mind would be Apple Search Ads in non-Apple apps.

Of course, then they’d have to change the name, no?

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