Apple's New Paid Search: How App Store Optimization Comes Into Play

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A search ad in Apple's App Store.
A search ad in Apple's App Store. Credit: Apple
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Many developers were concerned that Apple's Search Ads program was just another way to award popularity to the highest bidders in the App Store. However, while the ads technically operate on an auction system, there is more at play in landing a popular search ad than just paying a high amount. Relevancy is also key, and that primarily comes from App Store Optimization, or ASO.

Apple's Search Ads are different from other keyword-focused ad targeting platforms. Many platforms do simply award ad placement to the highest bidder. That can lead to messy situations where companies purchase advertisements for irrelevant keywords, creating headaches for users and often resulting in fewer impressions. This is the type of system many developers were afraid of when Apple announced that is Search Ads would use a similar auction format.

Instead, Apple has made bid price just one factor that counts towards landing a Search Ad. Relevancy is the other.

Landing a search ad

Type in just about any highly trafficked search term in the App Store, and the Search Ad you see at the top will be relevant for your search. "Football games" might return Madden or FIFA, while "New Games 2016" might return Clash Royale. All of these apps have a direct connection to the Search Ads they target. Apple has only been getting better at filtering out relevant results as Search Ads continue to evolve.

Because there is no landing a Search Ad without first establishing your app's relevancy for the terms you wish to target, landing an ad becomes a simple matter of optimizing your app. This is where standard ASO practices can help.

How ASO can help

ASO was designed from the ground up to establish relevancy for your app with certain important keywords. Before, ASO revolved primarily around your app's title and keyword bank, with its description, screenshots and icon also coming into play.

In order to increase relevance for the words in your title and keyword bank, it was best to ensure that all of them were somehow related to your app. If you could elaborate in your description to explain how a word was relevant to your app, you had a better chance of landing a ranking for that word.

Now developers should also consider Search Ads when conducting ASO.

Establishing relevancy

Search Ads give your app a chance to brand out past the words in your title and keyword bank, so long as they are, again, relevant to your app. But establishing that relevancy works much the same as establishing relevancy for your keywords. If at first the term you wish to target in your Search Ad seems irrelevant, work to establish that relevancy within your description.

Within the body of your description, there are two great places to increase relevancy for words you wish to target. The first is in your description's first sentence, as this is the first -- and sometimes only -- part of your description users will see. Apple places an appropriate level of importance on the first sentence.

The second is within your app's feature list. This can be a great area to dig in to your app's features and intended audience, and explain away any discrepancies that may have kept your app from landing the Search Ad you wanted.

By tying Search Ads to relevancy, Apple has created a smoother experience for users and developers alike. Now it is possible to use existing ASO strategies to catapult your app to the top of search results for relevant terms, whether you use Search Ads, traditional ASO, or both in combination.