Apple Search Ads Creative Sets best practices and optimization examples

Since the launch of Apple Search Ads (ASA) you might have embraced them…

…Or at least been using them sometimes with different goals: leveraging the keywords popularity data to improve their App Store Optimization, protecting their brand, bidding on their competitors’ brands and of course also because they can be a rather cost-effective way to get installs.

With the recent addition of Creative Sets, it is time to take another look at Apple Search Ads. And of course as a video production agency, we have a specific focus on the creative side and especially App Preview videos.

Let’s take a look at what Apple Search Ads are then dive into the opportunities that Creative Sets bring (and examples!).

This is not meant to be a guide on Apple Search ads so we will first (try to) boil it down to what’s essential to know about ASA to understand well the rest of the article.

If you’ve been running search ads for a while then head over to the following section to see our thoughts on Creative Sets and watch several examples.

Apple Search Ads 101

How do Apple Search Ads display?

With the introduction of Apple Search Ads Creative Sets, it is not the way your ads display that has changed but rather the control over the assets shown.

Apple Search Ads display
Examples of Apple Search ads: text and creative (portrait screenshots for Robinhood and landscape video for Angry Birds 2)

There are two types of Apple Search Ads:

  • Text ads: app icon, app name, app subtitle, ratings (or App Store award), text description and of course the “Get” button;
  • Creative ads (similar layout – not necessarily assets – to organic search results): app icon, app name, app subtitle, ratings (or App Store award), App Preview and/or screenshots and of course the “Get” button.
Apple Search Ads Default ads
Apple calls the creative ads “Image ads” (however they can contain App Preview videos)

To distinguish them from the first organic search results, there is a light blue background behind the ad as well as an “Ad” mention.

Want to see more examples of how they display and different combinations? Check out the this part of this post.

Looking to get a high converting App Preview video done so you can optimize your Apple Search Ads? Check out our app video production services and contact us to receive a free custom proposal.

How Apple Search Ads work

As opposed to Facebook ads for example, Apple Search ads are much more about keywords than the audience (the “demographics” choices are limited).

It is really about finding and optimizing the keywords you bid for so that your ads display to users that are looking for an app similar to yours. And when we say keywords it can also of course be combinations of keywords (searches on the App Store tend to be more short-tail than long-tail however).

There are 3 levels to an Apple Search Ads campaign structure: Campaign, Ad Group and Keyword.

Campaign structure Apple Search Ads
Source: Incipia/TheTool

Budget is managed at the campaign level, the CPA goal (not bid – see below) and targeting/demographics at the Ad Group level and the Max CPT (Cost Per Tap) at the keyword level.

You are charged based on the Cost Per Tap (CPT).

Apple Search Ads (keyword) optimization

Since ASA are centered around keywords, this is the main thing to continually optimize.

There are 3 match types for the keywords you define:

  • Search Match: Apple generates keywords automatically (based on app listing)
  • Broad Match: Apple suggests relevant keywords and adds them automatically. Example: “video editor” -> “best video editor”, “editor video”, “the best video editing app”, etc.
  • Exact Match: Only the closest keywords. Great for brand keywords (competitors’ names or own name). Example: “video editor” -> “video editors”, “videoss editor”

You should use only one match type per ad group.

You can also define negative keywords. Negative keywords can be any of the 3 match types: search match, broad match, exact match.

When you add negative keywords, ads are not shown when a user uses a search term or search terms that contain negative keywords. Examples: a paid app could put “free” as a negative keyword, a video call app could put “dating”, etc.

This can prevent you from wasting money on low-performance keywords.

The basic (and simplified) principle of keyword optimization for Apple Search Ads is the following:

  1. Discover new keywords via the search match and broad match types (use a dedicated ad group for this);
  2. Incorporate (with the exact match type) the best-performing keywords from the ones you discover to your different ad groups;
  3. Set the worse-performing keywords as negative keywords;
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Customer types: acquiring new users, retargeting and cross-promoting

We mentioned that targeting/demographics was limited (age, gender, location). However something really interesting is the fact that you can target 3 different customer types at the ad group level:

  • All users
  • New users (formerly ‘Have not downloaded the app’)
  • Returning users (formerly ‘Have downloaded the app’)
  • Users of my other apps (formerly ‘Have downloaded my other apps’)

This is something you should definitely leverage, as it allows you to retarget users and cross-promote your apps. It also takes a whole other dimension with the new Creative Set feature: you can tailor the creative assets to what these different customer types will see.

Why are Apple Search Ads interesting?

Here are a few reasons why you might want to run Apple Search Ads:

  • 65% of downloads follow an App Store search (granted, a lot our “brand searches”), so being visible by App Store visitors is a major plus;
  • Apple Search Ads give you the opportunity of an “Instant” 1st spot in the Search Results;
  • Works for keywords you don’t rank for
  • There is intent already: users are searching for something related
  • Developers get stats on keywords popularity and can discover relevant keywords to use on their App listing
  • When your Apple Search Ad is displayed for a keyword then your app listing is also automatically displayed at rank #8 even if you don’t rank for it. If you rank for it, it’s displayed at rank #8 or above (shout outs to AppTweak for spotting this).
  • No fraud has been observed yet (although this might change)

Basic and Advanced Apple Search Ads

There are 2 types of ways you can run Apple Search Ads: Basic and Advanced.

Apple Search Ads Basic vs Advanced

“I don’t see other reason than laziness to use Basic. Even with little time and experience, launching a single campaign in search match will allow you to see queries and learn. With no negative keywords in Basic, you may very well buy your brand terms without knowing it.”
– Thomas Petit, 8fit

Ok so Thomas has made up his mind, and he definitely has a point. To be fair, if you’re just starting (or actually lazy!) then maybe Basic is a good way to get your feet wet. The only advantage Basic has otherwise is that you can bid based on CPA (Cost Per Install) vs. Advanced where you bid based on CPT (Cost Per Tap) and can only use a CPA goal as “guidance” and not a guarantee.

But yeah, here we’ll talk only of Advanced Apple Search Ads: you can’t use Creative Sets in Basic.

More on Apple Search Ads

If you want to dive deep into having the right structure for your Apple Search Ads campaigns and keyword optimization (and you should), here are some great resources:

You might also want to look into tools like SearchAdsHQ that let you see what happens beyond the tap and the install by connecting Apple Search Ads to your attribution partner. Or if you’re a big spender even automate bidding on CPA (actual in-app events post-install, not just installs like the CPA goal you define in search ads).

What are Creative Sets?

Ad variations in addition to the default ads

As often for Apple-related things, we like to go back to their definition. So here it is.

Apple ASA Creative Sets

The goal here, of course, is to improve ad performance. And this can be done by tailoring the assets that are displayed to users and/or to what they’re searching for.

This was a big ask from people using Apple Search Ads because before this, there was no control at all over which ad was displayed to users: Apple’s machine learning was either displaying the automatically created “text ad” or “creative ad”.

Search Ads machine learning still optimizes to show the best-performing Creative Set but now you can add more variations to the creative pool, at the ad group level (you can do it at the campaign level but you obviously have less control on results).

Something that’s important to understand is that Apple is still going to run the “default” creative ad and text ads along your new Creative Sets, and you still don’t control what volime goes where.

Creative sets default examples and option
Creative Sets come in addition to the ads created automatically using the App Store elements (source: Hotellook)

New data available: Impressions and CVR

If you’ve been running Apple Search Ads for a while, Apple gives you performance data on text ads vs. creative ads going back to March 1: for each type you get the % of impressions it represents as well as the Tap-Through-Rate (TTR).

From folks on the excellent ASO Stack Slack group, it seems that text ads have been seeing less impressions and money spend. Performance (TTR, Conversion Rate and CPA) varies depending on the app (and overall strategy).

When you make Creative Sets and run new ads, you can get the same data for these.

How to add Creative Sets

A limitation of Creative Sets is that they use the same creative assets as the ones on your App Store product page.

As you know the creative assets for your Product Page have to go through Apple’s approval process (which means the videos need to follow iTunes video specifications), and you can change them only with an app update. You can add Creative Sets using any of these assets once they’re approved, but if you want new ones they will need to go through the approval process as well (and therefore an app update).

In your creative assets pool, you therefore have up to 3 App Preview videos and up to 10 screenshots to choose from (for each display size).

Add your Creative Sets from the ad group view. You can create up to 10 Creative Sets.

For iPhone you can select either:

  • 1 landscape App Preview or screenshot
  • 1 portrait App Preview and 2 portrait screenshots
  • 3 portrait screenshots

For iPad you can select either:

  • 1 landscape App Preview or screenshot
  • 2 portrait App Previews and 1 portrait screenshot
  • 1 portrait App Previews and 2 portrait screenshots
  • 2 portrait App Previews and 1 portrait screenshot

You can select more but it doesn’t really make any sense: you’ll have no control over how Search Ads machine learning will use them and your reports will be harder to analyze.

The only upside in selecting more than the minimum required is that if you remove an asset from your App Store listing (example: you remove a screenshot) then it will be replaced by the “extra one” that you had selected.

Screen Shot 2018 06 05 at 09.41.51
Source: ASO Stack / Strava app

 

The App Preview video(s) and screenshots will be displayed in the same order as the order they are in on your Product Page.

Apple Search Ads order images

Here is an example from the Real Vegas app.

Apple Search Ads Screenshots

Apple Search Ads Casino right wrong
The ad in the middle was actually seen on the App Store, so already using a creative set

As much as possible do not select the exact same first assets that are already in the default creative/image ad (i.e your App Preview #1 and your first 2 screenshots) because as we’ve seen your Creative Sets are running in addition to the default ads.

How to use Creative Sets

Here too Apple offers some guidance, and suggests to align the Creative Sets to ad group keyword themes or to audience types.

In addition to also using Creative Sets to optimize your assets for your best performing campaigns, this gives you tons of possibilities.

It’s important to understand that the Creative Sets you define for your Apple Search Ads do not change the way your Product Page is displayed. So when you tailor your Creative Sets to specific keywords or a specific audience, keep in mind that when users tap to get to your Product Page they will see the same thing as everyone else. You do need to have some consistency.

In his post breaking out the news publicly about Creative Sets, Moritz Daan suggested some interesting things to test.

ASO Stack Test Ideas
Some great ideas by Moritz (source: ASO Stack)

In the rest of this post we’re taking a detailed look at 3 examples of apps that could be using some of these ideas for their Creative Sets.

Advices when using Creative Sets

About 3 months after Creative Sets were made available, we asked Thomas Petit from 8fit if he had any new insights to share. Below his response.

Search Ads advices

Leveraging how videos and screenshots display on the App Store

Use screenshots 6-10 to experiment

One of the first comments on the ASO Stack Slack group after the Creative Set feature was added by Apple was that developers could use the screenshots slots 6 to 10 of the Product Page (pretty much nobody goes past the first few screenshots).

Slack screenshots

And that’s exactly what you should do. Don’t get too weird, but leverage these extra spots to put screenshots that best align with some of your Apple Search Ads keywords or audiences.

Understand how combinations of video(s) and screenshots display

If you want to leverage video and experiment with it in your Apple Search Ads, you first need to understand how the different combinations of videos and screenshots display on the App Store.

Because as we’ve seen, the assets you use in your Creative Sets come from your Product Page.

You can then take an informed decision on what’s reasonable to add and test, knowing how it’s going to affect your organic search results and Product Page.

Only App Preview(s) in portrait and portrait screenshots

Whether you have 1 or more portrait App Preview videos, if your screenshots are portrait:

  • Search results: App Preview #1 is displayed next to Screenshot #1 and Screenshot #2
  • Product Page: App Preview #1 (and any other portrait App Preview videos) are displayed before the screenshots)

Only App Preview(s) in landscape and landscape screenshots

Whether you have 1 or more landscape App Preview videos, if your screenshots are landscape:

  • Search results: App Preview #1 is displayed by itself, taking the full width
  • Product Page: App Preview #1 (and any other landscape App Preview videos) are displayed before the screenshots)

Only App Preview(s) in landscape and portrait screenshots

Whether you have 1 or more landscape App Preview videos, if your screenshots are portrait:

  • Search results: App Preview #1 is displayed by itself, taking the full width
  • Product Page: App Preview #1 (and any other landscape App Preview videos) are displayed in a section called “A Closer Look” below the screenshots, description preview and developer name

What’s interesting to note here in the context of Apple Search Ads Creative Sets is that this set up gives you the possibility to have 2 landscape videos available to align with specific keywords or audience, without interfering too much with your current Product Page listing (if at all – landscape App Preview #2 and #3 will barely be seen).

App Preview #1 in landscape, App Preview #2 in portrait and portrait screenshots

If your first App Preview is in landscape and you also have another App Preview in portrait and your screenshots are in portrait:

  • Search results: App Preview #1 is displayed by itself, taking the full width
  • Product Page: portrait App Preview #2 is displayed before the screenshots and App Preview #1 (and any other landscape App Preview videos) is displayed in a section called “A Closer Look” below the screenshots, description preview and developer name

App Preview #1 in portrait, App Preview #2 in landscape and portrait screenshots

If your first App Preview is in portrait and you also have another App Preview in landscape and your screenshots are in portrait:

  • Search results: App Preview #1 is displayed next to Screenshot #1 and Screenshot #2
  • Product Page: portrait App Preview #1 is displayed before the screenshots and App Preview #2 (and any other landscape App Preview videos) is displayed in a section called “A Closer Look” below the screenshots, description preview and developer name

For Creative Sets this is also a great set up to leverage video, because here too you can have 2 landscape videos to optimize creatives for specific keywords or demographics (pretty much without anyone noticing).

App Preview #1 in portrait, App Preview #2 in landscape and landscape screenshots

As far as we know, this is not possible (feel free to correct us in the comments!).

Click here to watch other great App preview examples.

3 examples of (potentially) great use for Creative Sets

Of course Creative Sets are fairly new, so there are not that many tests in the wild. Or at least they’re not that easy to find.

Although some apps might already be running some tests, we also imagined what they could be testing.

We hope that seeing these examples (and our opinion about them) will spark some ideas for your own app on how to leverage Creative Sets as well as using video(s) for some of your Creative Sets.

Want us to look at your App Store listing and discuss how video could help increase organic conversion as well as Apple Search Ads conversion? Check out our app promo video production services and contact us to receive a free custom proposal.

Bumble

Bumble is a great candidate for experimenting with Creative Sets.

Why?

Because the Bumble app can now be used for different purposes: dating, but also making friends and business networking. And this is something they are trying to push.

If you look at their 2 portrait App Preview videos, App Preview #1 is clearly about meeting people for dating (and well produced) and App Preview #2 about making friends and business networking.

And here are their screenshots.

ASA Bumble Screenshots
Bumble currently has 6 screenshots (in addition to 2 App Preview videos)

With Creative Sets they can now display different Apple Search Ads to people that are looking for different things and therefore using different keywords. For example:

  • Dating keywords: display a Creative Set using App Preview video #1, screenshot #1 and screenshot #4;
  • Making friends or going out keywords: display a Creative Set using App Preview video #2, screenshot #2 and another screenshot (to be added in the slots 7-10);
  • Business networking keywords (or brand search like “Shapr”): display a Creative Set using App Preview video #2, screenshot #3 and another screenshot (to be added in the slots 7-10).

Assuming that Bumble created some ad group(s) with business networking keywords (they are already running Apple Search Ads), someone that is targeted with the default ad for Bumble would see the below. Not very compelling.

Bumble ASA
This will probably not convert well for people looking for business networking

Hence leveraging Creative Sets!

They can also align their Apple Search Ads Creative Sets with the audience. For example:

  • In the remaining screenshots they can add, one could be targeted more specifically to women and the other to men;
  • Targeting a specific city, they could add the corresponding screenshot (like “Best dating app in NYC”);
  • They could use the customer types and target returning users (people that have downloaded the app) to let them know about the other 2 features (making friends and networking).

What about using video even more?

Bumble currently has 2 portrait App Previews.

This means that they could add another video, which we would recommend to be a landscape video. As we’ve seen it would display in the “A Closer Look” section below the screenshots on the Product Page.

Now this landscape video could have different purposes:

  • If about dating, Bumble could test if an Apple Search ad with a full width video works better than their current combo (one video, two screenshots);
  • If about making friends and/or business networking, they could use the full width video to convert better people targeted with friends or business related keywords;
  • Messaging could be more general and the video be about all 3 value propositions: dating, making friends and networking.

So many possibilities! And if you can afford to put your logo on the LA Clippers jerseys, you can probably test most of these 🙂

Starz

As you would imagine the Starz app lets you watch movies and shows from the channel.

Starz has a landscape App Preview, and a set of portrait screenshots.

As you can see their video is very much ad-like (judging by the end screen, it may actually be a commercial), and although it might be somewhat “in your face” there are several very good things about it.

For example what they’re doing showing the TV shows full screen (with the name of the show overlaid) almost right from the start is a great way to grab the attention. It definitely makes sense because this is the experience they’re providing: enjoying TV shows full screen.

This is much better than what some other TV shows apps are doing, especially when they focus on navigation first.

HGTV App Store video
HGTV’s listing clearly doesn’t grab as much the attention

 

Back to Creative Sets. Let’s look at Starz’s screenshots.

Starz screenshots

They clearly made a decision to highlight the Power TV Show. Not sure how many people are searching for this TV show, but this is a perfect example of a Creative Set that could be created.

They could make a Creative Set using screenshots #2, #3 and #4 and target these keywords, or tv shows keyword for demographics that are likely to like that show (say Males 18-24).

If they want to promote their app through another show (maybe to women), they still have lots of screenshots that can be added to create another combination.

For others, they could try (vs. the default text ad and video ad) a creative set that uses screenshot #1, screenshot #2 and another screenshot to be added in slots 6-10.

What about leveraging video even more?

Their current App Preview #1 gives a great overview of the app while clearly showing the kind of tv shows that can be watched.

Starz could upload 2 additional landscape App Preview videos to align with either keywords or audiences. For example:

  • Each additional video could highlight a specific tv show (like Power that seems important to their audience, or Vida). Each Creative Set would use a video and target the demographics most likely to like that show. They could still talk about the app (streaming, downloading, etc.) around showing this “star” content;
  • Assuming there are different genres of tv shows in the app (and people look for them on the App Store – that’s what keyword popularity in Apple Search Ads is for), different videos could each target “funny shows” or “drama shows”, etc. The beginning of the video, and the copy, would then be focused on the genre of tv shows;
  • Starz already targets the “tv shows” keywords, and they could try different video creatives to see what performs best. For example right now the “Download” value proposition appears after the 10s mark in the video, which might be too late. It’s also not explicitly mentioned in any screenshots so it’s very possible that people take a while before seeing it (if at all). So a video that is focused on this “download tv shows” message would be worth testing.

Another option for Starz is to add a portrait App Preview, which would therefore be displayed before the screenshots on the Product page. The video could:

  • start by highlighting the “free trial” message of the current first screenshot (in which case they should use the first screenshot for something else);
  • start by highlighting the “download” message above.

This portrait video could then be used in combination with 2 screenshots to add other Creative Sets.

Again, there are lots of possibilities. It comes down to analyzing what your users like the most about your app (or what you want to emphasize), and then come up with creatives (screenshots and/or videos) that highlight this.

Forge of Empires

What about games?

Here too you have some good opportunities, especially for the more complex games where there are several game mechanics or aspects.

Let’s have a look at Forge of Empires. They have 2 landscape App Previews and portrait screenshots.

Their App Preview videos could use some polishing (especially the text banners) but the combination of videos and screenshots is still interesting, especially in the context of Apple Search Ads.

As we’ve seen, because the videos are landscape (and the screenshots portrait) they display in the “A Closer Look” section further down the page. So that second video is not going to get seen much.

What could be improved however is that currently the 2 landscape videos are very similar:

  • They start exactly the same;
  • The first scene about experiencing the eras is slightly longer;
  • They added a scene about discovering new technologies before the end screen.

Forge Of Empires Scene1 Addition

ForgeOfEmpires AddedScene
These are the two parts that were added in the second landscape App Preview video

 

Here are their screenshots.

ForgeOfEmpires screenshots

These current screenshots are not a great fit for Creative Sets because they were created as a single image.

But with the 10 screenshots limit that Apple has, Forge Of Empires could easily add new screenshots to align with specific keyword themes or audiences (although different demos seem harder to identify in this case).

The 3 following themes, each time aligning keywords and Creative Sets, could be leveraged:

  • town builder – screenshots focusing on the map, the different building you can create or the city administration (trade, etc.)
  • civilization games – 3 screenshots showing different eras;
  • war games – 3 screenshots focusing on war strategy and battles.

Of course they can’t test all of these at once since that would be too many screenshots to add.

With the videos though, they have the opportunity to see if adding Apple Search Ads Creative Sets using videos that are aligned with these themes get them better results (TTR, installs and later engagement).

Right now they seem to be testing App Preview #1 vs. App Preview #2, whether in the organic search results or in ASA. But these 2 videos are very similar, and it will be hard to draw conclusions besides maybe on the length of the video that works best for them.

Keep this in mind if you are creating several videos for your Creative Sets: they probably need to be more different than what has been done here.

An example of this is what DomiNations did on their Product Page (3 landscape App Previews): the videos have different beginnings and highlight different things, which makes them interesting to App Store visitors and also allows to make different Creative Sets with each.

A/B testing your App Store listing with Apple Search Ads

By running different Creative Sets for different keywords and audiences, you now have better tools for their Apple Search Ads optimization.

Since Apple Search ads display the same way as search results (in terms of number of screenshots, orientation, etc.), should you automatically apply the findings to your listing (i.e make the best performing combination the default)?

Not necessarily.

It’s important to understand that users’ behavior on the App Store is different whether they see an add or an organic result.

Apple Search Ads TTR
Different behaviors (TTR) for an ASA and an organic result

There are several limitations to relying only on Apple Search Ads to improve your organic results: you can’t test your actual Product Page, you can only use the assets you upload (in the order you upload them), Creative Sets are aligned with different keywords and audiences, etc.

However, you can use the insights that you get with Apple Search Ads as guidance.

Especially from your tier 1 keywords ad groups. Taking a quick look at some of the apps we’ve talked about:

  • Bumble: it’s very likely that some of their top keywords are around the “dating” theme,. For these top keywords, if they see a (hypothetical) landscape video performing better in terms of TTR, but also installs or even sign ups then they should consider moving the landscape video to App Preview #1 so it displays in the search results. And then analyze the “live” impact on the App Store via a pre-post analysis;
  • Starz: we talked about how the “download” value proposition could be highlighted more in a different video. Same here, if for their top keywords (most likely “tv shows” and variants) that video performs better in Apple Search Ads, it would be silly not to try it in the search results;
  • DomiNation: they have 3 different landscape videos (that are different enough), and of course just the 1st one is visible in the search results. Via Apple Search Ads Creative Sets they can test the performance of the 2 other videos (the first one is already in the default ad). If it turns out that one is performing better, they should switch the order.

Apple Search Ads Creative Sets are not going to replace existing A/B testing or pre-post analysis methods, but they can give guidance (and sometimes some very strong suggestions). You just want to look at the full picture and the actual impact of changes on the Product Page conversion rate as well.

Conclusion

ASA can now be optimized not only on the structure of your campaigns and ad groups, but you can now start working on creative optimization as well.

Rather than relying on default ads with no control or stats whatsoever, you have the possibility to align your creative assets to the keywords, audience and demographics you target. And understand what performs best!

Of course Creative Sets are not perfect, and there are some limitations: the biggest ones being having to use only the assets that you upload to your App Store listing, and to use them in the order you upload them.

But things might change (use your enhancement requests in iTunes connect to do your part!), and the new insights available are already very valuable.

There are also many new ways that video can now be leveraged in Apple Search Ads, and it will be really interesting to see who seizes the opportunity (and how).

Have you started experimenting with Creative Sets? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Sylvain Gauchet

Hi there, I'm Sylvain and I'm one of the co-founders of Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.) where we find engaging ways to present mobile apps and games so our clients can either increase their conversion rates or improve their user acquisition.

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