Search Ads – How Paid Search Will Impact iOS Developers

This Fall Apple is preparing to initiate the biggest shift for App Store search yet in the form of Search Ads, sponsored app placements that will appear at the top of certain searches within the App Store.

Apple’s developer page bills Search Ads as “an efficient and easy way for you to promote your app within the U.S. App Store search results, helping people discover or reengage with your app at the very moment they are searching for apps like yours”. Sounds helpful, but to developers who make their living from apps, any change in the App Store can seem worrying. How will Search Ads impact the store’s ecosystem? Nobody knows for sure, but we can make a few points with confidence that show Search Ads may be the next great thing for developers.

To start, let’s talk about just what a Search Ad will look like in the App Store. When a user types in a targeted search term (“photo filters” is the example used by Apple), if a developer has bought an ad and Apple deems the app relevant for that term, it will appear at the top of the search results above the first organic search result. That means the ad will now be the first app users see. However, top ranking apps don’t have to worry about being pushed off of the front page, because Apple has designed the search ad to be smaller than a traditional search result. This means that both the ad and the top organically-ranking app will be visible to searchers right away.

A Search Ad also differs from a traditional listing in the number of screenshots shown. There are many different display options when your search ad goes live. Portrait ads generally seem to display three screens, at a smaller size than a standard App Store search result. Screenshots can also be displayed in landscape, or even not at all. Potentially, though, apps advertising through Search Ads will have one more chance at converting a user than traditional app listings.

A small blue “Ad” notification will appear next to the developer name, indicating to users that this is not a standard organic search result. Pertinent information such as an “Editor’s Choice” banner can also be displayed, should your app have received the honor from Apple in the past.

Aside from these differences, it’s business as usual for Search Ads being displayed in the App Store. The app’s title, visual elements and developer are all displayed front and center. The “Get” button is the same as well, meaning that users will be able to download advertised apps with one tap.

According to Apple, “various targeting features will enable deeper discovery of apps, including lesser known or niche apps”, and “by default a user won’t see ads for apps they already have downloaded”. Similarly, a Search Ad for your app will be shown when Apple deems your product to be relevant for a user’s search, so you won’t have to worry about your app only appearing for users who type in one specific phrase.

Continuing on that theme, Apple will by default automate much of the process of buying the ad for you, should you choose. When you buy a Search Ad, Apple will automatically match your app to relevant user searches in the U.S. store. You don’t have to type in any terms off the top of your head or search up the most popular terms, by default at least. If you do want that granular level of control, Apple will allow you to target specific keywords and audiences, and provide APIs for campaign creation, management and reporting.

Once your ad is live, payment will function similarly to a Google Adwords campaign. Purchasing an ad plays out like an auction, and you only pay when a user actually taps on your ad. There’s no minimum amount to spend and no contracts, so it seems as if Apple is keeping things flexible, for now at least. This also means that anyone who has spent time with Google Adwords should be able to pick up Search Ads relatively quickly.

Apple’s insights suite offers buyers a chance to track the impact that their Search Ad is making on their product. The Attribution API breaks down results by each keyword bid upon, and supposedly emphasizes privacy for both you and the user as information lookup occurs exclusively on the user’s device.

All of that sounds great, but how will Apple’s Search Ads actually play out when millions of apps potentially have access to them? To find out, we’ll turn to Google’s Search Ads as example. Google released Search Ads for the Google Play storefront a year ago, and were met with a similar mixture of excitement and trepidation from developers.

Even during the beta period, though, Search Ads were found to be a great way of converting high-quality users. Nordeus CEO Tomislav Mihajlovic, for example, told TechCrunch that his company saw “significantly more app installs from Search with the addition of Google Play inventory for [their] game Top Eleven”. Other developers, like Uber competitor Honk, claimed that Search Ads through Google cost as little as one-third the price of a Facebook ad campaign.

History shows, then, that Apple’s Search Ads could very well be a boon to developers in the App Store.

The Apple Search Ads beta is available now for curious developers out there.

500px Photo ID: 28795857 - The seats of the Olympic Stadion in Munich.

ASO Trends for Fall 2016

Another season, another batch of brand-new App Store trends. This Fall you’ll find everything from presidents to Pikachu ruling the mobile roost.

Look for these topics to dominate the mobile conversation in Fall 2016.

2016 Summer Olympic Games

One of this Fall’s biggest search trends has already kicked off in grand fashion. The Summer Olympic Games began on August 5th with a widely-publicized opening celebration, but the games themselves had been a hot topic for months due to an unprecedented combination of controversy and hype.

The lead-up has made the 2016 Rio Olympics one of the most buzzed-about ever, but now that the games themselves have begun the sports and the stars are taking the limelight. Terms like “Olympic games 2016”, “Olympic games” and “Olympics” have naturally seen massive surges in App Store search volume. So have the sports (“tennis”, “archery games” or “gymnastics games”) and the stars (“Michael Phelps” or “Usain Bolt”).

Expect this trend to carry through early Fall as hype from the ultimate results of the Olympic Games, as well as any scandals or news after the fact, keeps the topic in public consciousness for a few months.

Football Season

Speaking of sports, if there’s one event every search industry can count on it’s the kickoff of football season. Starting in early September, popularity for football-related search terms in the App Store will skyrocket yet again. The sport should remain a popular topic throughout the Fall, as excited fans initially rush to cheer their favorite teams on in the beginning, and stay to see who makes the Playoffs and eventually the Super Bowl in Houston, Texas.

The immediate connotation with football apps is probably games like Madden for most fans, but don’t forget that football is a massive industry that expands to news sites, data tracking services and fantasy leagues.

Pokémon Go & Augmented Reality Gaming

Pokémon Go has already taken the world by storm and introduced tens of millions of rabid fans to the new world of augmented reality gaming. But what happens when players start peeling off and searching for new, similar experiences?

“Augmented reality” and “augmented reality games” have already become popular search terms in Pokemon’s wake, but don’t expect it to stop there. With Pokémon making over $1 million per day, fans (and developers) have taken notice.

Just as many competitors will soon be coming to the augmented reality field, Pokémon Go will be trying to wrangle as many players as possible away from those competitors and back into their corner. Expect some major updates throughout the end of the year which will keep the title trending in App Store search.

United States Presidential Election

The United States’ Presidential Election is, again, a topic which has been building in popularity and which will reach its peak this November. Whether it’s a news aggregator or a political game, politics has never been a bigger search topic in the App Store. Look for terms related to the election, the political process and the candidates themselves to hit their peak late this Fall.

And there you have it – Four of the biggest upcoming trends in the App Store this Fall. Can your app reasonably capitalize on one or more of the above? If so, you might just be caught up in the wave of trending organic search.

PokeGo

Pokémon Go – Why the Hit App Needs ASO

Pokémon Go – It seems like all anyone can talk about lately. And why not? It became the top grossing app in the US within 13 hours, raising Nintendo’s market value by $9 billion in five days. 21 million users play the game daily. Between four and five million more download it each day. And with well over $1 million daily setting the app above competitors like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, it seems like The Pokémon Company and Niantic are on top of the world.

It might come as a shock, then, that Pokémon Go is in desperate need of ASO.

Beneath the sheen of the Pokémon brand, surprisingly little has been done to market Pokémon Go to mobile users. And while brand recognition and online chatter have contributed significantly to make the app number one on the charts, those factors can only take a game so far. As of now, when the social media masses move on to the next big craze, Pokémon Go won’t have a leg to stand on.

Let’s start with the app’s most crippling weakness – its keyword rankings. As expected, Pokémon Go ranks for multiple Pokémon-related terms, such as “pokémon games free” and “pokémon RPG”.

However, many of these rankings fall well below what you might expect. For instance, as of this writing the app is only rank 8 for “pokémon games free” and a whopping rank 600 for “pokémon RPG”, a shocking figure given that Pokémon Go is, for all intents and purposes, the biggest Pokémon role-playing game of all time.

The rankings only get worse from there. A series of surprising oversights means that users who may connect with Pokémon Go will likely never find it through search. For example, the app does not rank at all for Nintendo, a brand closely associated with the Pokémon legacy. Similarly, the app doesn’t register for its world-famous mascot, Pikachu. Nor does it rank for other famous creatures like Mew, Mewtwo, Squirtle, Charmander or Bulbasaur.

Even generic phrases are missing from Pokémon Go’s keyword rankings. Core words and phrases that are extremely relevant and could help the app grow by leaps and bounds are outright missing, such as:

  • Collect
  • Catch
  • Raise
  • Breed
  • Trade
  • Dragon/s

The list goes on and on. Just take a look at the snippet of Pokémon Go’s ranking report below.

Datacube Pokemon Go Rankings 5

As you can see, the app ranks well for some generic terms like “mobile games”, but lacks rankings for crucial relevant terms that could help more users find the app organically. Just look at how mixed the app’s ratings for Pokémon-related terms are, with most Pokémon rankings falling in the high hundreds or worse.

It’s not just the app’s metadata that’s suffering, either; Pokémon Go’s store page is surprisingly lacking, too.

For starters, the app is completely lacking a preview video. Thousands of users have taken to the Reviews section to complain about a lack of clarity in Pokémon’s features, and the absence of a preview video only compounds confusion around the game’s feature set.

Without a preview video, the task of convincing a user falls to the app’s screenshots. The first screenshot is simply a digital Charmander standing against a barren street corner. There are no feature callouts, no explanatory text to guide users, just a barren and boring image.

The same can be said for each of the following screenshots. Each image is simply a capture from the game, with little to nothing to offer context to the user about what they are seeing. There’s even a low battery shown atop several of the screenshots, highlighting a common complaint from users that the app drains battery too quickly. Next to the battery percentage a charging symbol can be seen, giving the impression that the developers were rushed in creating the screenshots and didn’t have the time to take captures at full battery or edit the images before they were uploaded.

With the massive success of Pokémon Go, it can be easy to overlook just how many ASO best practices the app completely ignores. While the brand’s worldwide recognition has already been enough to launch the app to massive success, once the fires die down on social media, Niantic and The Pokémon Company will need to make sweeping changes to their App Store presence in order to keep their spot at the top.