The science of account structure in Apple Search Ads: How to do it right

A comprehensive guide to semantics-based and value-based approaches to account structure.

The science of account structure in Apple Search Ads: How to do it right
Anastasiya Starovoytova

Anastasiya Starovoytova

PublishedLast updated

Anastasiya is a Content Manager at SplitMetrics. Being an avid writer and mobile marketing enthusiast, she is dedicated to creating informative and engaging content that helps app developers and marketers succeed.

You can’t create a truly great campaign in Apple Search Ads on a weak foundation. 

Many user acquisition managers face this issue: they believe that the results could have been better, but end up wondering what went wrong. The seat of this trouble is often a poorly structured account.

If you want to fully harness your Apple Search Ads account, you need to master its “science” because the way you build it can have a significant impact on your performance and ad relevance. To achieve maximum ROI, it’s better to stick to reliable techniques that will strengthen your search results campaigns.  

This article aims to explain two fundamental takes on the account structure in Apple Search Ads that we widely use at SplitMetrics — the Semantics-based approach and Value-based one — as well as the factors you should consider before starting out. 

This blog deals specifically with structuring your account. If you’re looking for a more general overview, please check out our Apple Search Ads best practices guide.

What to consider before building an Apple Search Ads account 

A well-structured Apple Search Ads account is a user acquisition manager’s best friend.

By giving your account a proper layout, you’ll be able to hit three birds with one stone:

  • A sound account structure will improve the experience users have with your banners and, consequently, the relevance of your ad.
  • You’ll reduce possible smoke-and-mirrors situations by getting a clearer view of ad performance — and thus a better understanding of what needs optimization.
  • All of the above contributes to scaling and generating profits.

It’s obvious that structuring your Apple Search Ads account offers many advantages and you should make use of them. However, to do so, you’ll need to consider several important factors first:

  • Campaign goals
  • Countries and regions
  • Ad relevance
  • Your past performance
  • Budget
  • Audience segmentation.

These six factors are key things to think about when building your account in Apple Search Ads. We’ll take a closer look at each of them to explore their significance.

Campaign goals

There are four basic campaign goals UA managers stick to for clustering keywords in Apple Search Ads:

  • Brand protection: The goal is to defend your brand against competitors.
  • Competitor: The campaign aims at ‘attacking’ your competition via their keywords.
  • Prospecting: You strive to increase your brand awareness and engage with relevant users.
  • Discovery: You look for keywords that you don’t use (yet).

One of the most recognized Apple Search Ads account structures suggests building your account on the basis of these four goals — Brand Protection, Brand Offense, Prospecting, Discovery

If we visualize it, the account structure will look like this:

Campaign GoalBrand ProtectionСompetitorProspectingDiscovery
Goal DefinitionDefend your brand against competitionAttack competition by bidding on their keywordsIncrease brand awareness and engage with relevant usersMine new keywords
Campaign NameBrandCompetitorsGenericDiscovery

While it’s certainly effective and easy to assemble, the structure won’t suit everyone. Simple accounts with a low ad spend will definitely benefit from it. At the same time, advanced accounts and more complex goals (like, for instance, pre-order testing) require different frameworks for your campaigns to drive better results.

This is where other Apple Search Ads account models come into play. 

Countries and regions

Another thing to consider when starting out Apple Search Ads is what markets you’re going to target.

Are you planning to aim only at one region? Or do you have bigger dreams? 

If you’re in the second camp, then you should remember that each country needs a separate campaign. What’s more, there are other things to cross off your to-do list:

1. Bear in mind the language of your target locations and adjust keywords accordingly.

2. Take into account specific mentality features of different cultures. The keywords that work for Asia won’t be that popular in Europe, and vice versa.

3. Review your app’s metadata and localize to suit countries and regions of your choice.

By implementing the recommendations above, you’ll win over local audiences and make your app an international phenomenon thanks to optimized, effective campaigns.

Ad relevance

Ad relevance plays a vital role in winning an auction that takes place when you start bidding for keywords. It has two types: technical relevance and actual keyword one.

In case of technical relevance, it’s about how close your sponsored ad is to your keyword. Technical relevance is identified outside of your Apple Search Ads account; your app category and metadata are the decisive factors here. Custom product pages are also a great opportunity to increase your ad relevance to specific segments of your audience.

As for actual keyword relevance, it depends on how the meaning of your keywords ties in with your ad banner. In this instance, you can influence actual keyword relevance inside your Apple Search Ads Account by finding the best combo of keywords, creatives and audience and managing it via ad groups.

Your past performance

Some app marketers make a huge mistake when including keywords with different performance into one ad group.

If you follow in their footsteps, you’ll get a bunch of mixed stats — and that will throw an obstacle in your way and blur out your performance analysis. 

This is why it’s wiser to group keywords according to their past performance. Unite them into different campaigns based on the LTV of users seeking for these keywords.

Budget

The way you handle your budget is utterly important when it comes to Apple Search Ads account building.

As you remember, this user acquisition channel allows you to set your budget at the campaign level. A great course of action here is to pamper your top-performing keywords first and then allocate the remaining budget across less important ones.

Here we see a direct connection to the previous point of the article: the wisest choice is to create separate campaigns for keywords of different performance levels. You’ll be able to see the big picture clearer and it will also make the ‘spreading the budget’ a much easier process.

Since we’re mentioning the finances in this paragraph, it’s worth reminding that your ad spend should be a part of your account structuring approach. There’s no need to create a complex structure if your spend is less than $1000 per month. A more sophisticated layout is better for a bigger budget as it allows you to be really flexible when creating and managing campaigns.

Audience segmentation

And, last but not least, audience segmentation.

With this ad network, you’re able to target two main categories of users to hunt down — new users and returning ones.

When starting to structure your Apple Search Ads account, keep in mind who your core audience is and build the account accordingly. However, you shouldn’t discard the general audience, especially if your app is narrowly focused. By pursuing your general audience, you can increase the number of impressions and rank higher on the App Store.

What approaches to take when structuring an Apple Search Ads account

Aside from the simplest account structure — the one centered around brand protection, brand offense, prospecting, and discovery — there are two more worth trying out.

We’re talking about the Semantics-based and Value-based account structures. 

Both are relevant.

Both are solid picks.

Yet there are differences between them that you mind find crucial for your paid user acquisition strategy.

Let’s dive deeper into each of them.

What is the semantics-based approach?

The Semantics-based approach can help you increase the number of impressions as it banks on high-performing keywords. In its essence, it calls for breaking down your Apple Search Ads account into five components, or campaigns:

1. Brand: These campaigns have branded keywords as their foundation and bring in the users with the highest intent as well as help you protect your brand against competitors.

2. Generic: The campaigns are based on descriptive keywords instead of brand ones; they attract those users that look not for a brand but a solution to their problem.

3. Competitors: All about going on the offensive, this campaign type is built upon the branded keywords of your competitors with the aim of capturing the interest of those users that are looking for a solution to their problem via your rival’s app name.

4. Discovery: With this campaign in Apple Search Ads, you mine new keywords using broad match and Search Match. 

5. Proxy: Proxy campaigns help you check out the keywords you got via discovery campaigns and get a clear understanding of their performance in MMPs.

How to set up a semantics-based account

To finish building an account of such a structure, you need to put all the keywords from Brand, Generic and Competitors campaigns into the Discovery one and mark them as exact match negatives. This step will prevent your account from experiencing data dilution. 

Then you have to put exact match keywords from Brand, Generic and Competitors campaigns into the Discovery campaign. 

As soon as you’re done with it, go on and look at the search terms in this campaign that don’t have enough performance data. Add them to your Proxy campaign as exact match keywords.

What’s next?

Let’s check out your high-performing keywords and underperforming ones. 

The keywords that proved to be of great performance should be added to your Brand, Generic and Competitors campaigns. And the keywords with poor output are to be paused.

In the end, this is what your Semantics-based account will look like:

A semantics-based account structure
Figure 1. A semantics-based account structure

This account structure also suggests setting up a separate ad group in Brand, Generic and Competitors campaigns for each of the audience types (new users, returning users, all users). Note that your Discovery and Proxy campaigns should be left as they are. 

Use a separate ad group in Brand, Generic, and Competitor campaigns for each audience type
Figure 2. Use a separate ad group in Brand, Generic, and Competitor campaigns for each audience type

An important note: If you’d love to establish theme ad groups (ad groups based on user search intent), make sure you split each theme into audiences.

Speaking of budget management, the best strategy for a Semantics-based account is to make an emphasis on your branded keywords. Allocate your budget to them to get the attention of your most relevant audience and then waterfall the remaining sources across other keywords.

Semantics-based account structure: conclusion

To sum up, we can say that the Semantics-based approach to account structure in Apple Search Ads is a simple and effective way to organize your account and increase impressions.

It’s easy to set up.

It really brings results. Weekly iterations of the keyword transfer we described above facilitate great performance optimization. 

And it’s a well-known account structure in the industry. Phiture, for instance, also has a lot of good things to say about the Semantics-based approach.

So, is it worth trying out? Definitely. 

What is the value-based approach?

While the Semantic-based account structure is a good call, it isn’t the only option you have.

At SplitMetrics, we also recommend applying the Value-based approach.

This approach insists on grouping keywords into different campaigns depending on their value. So, what does it mean, exactly?

In this context, value is closely connected to users’ intent: We’re grouping keywords in accordance with the value that users searching for these exact keywords bring to you

Let’s move on to the structure itself. The best practice is to organize it the following way:

1. Brand campaign: You should dedicate as much budget as possible to a bid in this campaign to acquire high-value users.

2. Discovery campaign: The purpose of this campaign is clear — it aims at mining keywords and identifying new search terms you don’t have in your Tier 1 (we’ll describe what Tiers mean in this structure below) via Search Match and broad match.

3. Tiers: A specific feature of the Value-based account. Tiered campaigns unite keywords depending on their lifetime value. To create them, you’ll need to calculate the LTV of your keywords. In the end, Tiers will enable you to have even more control over your budget.

The Value-based account structure can have an additional, fourth, component — a Proxy campaign — to test discovered keywords. We’ll talk more about it in the next section of the article.

How to set-up a value-based account

Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up a Value-based account in Apple Search Ads.

Give the eye to your Brand campaign. Put your maximum bid into it. It’s necessary to acquire the users that are most likely to become your high value customers.

Moving on to the Tiers, you should first understand how to group keywords into these campaigns.

Let’s take a look at the users and keywords distribution pyramid that was created by Gabe Kwakyi from Incipia to illustrate the Value-based account structure:

A value-based account structure
Figure 3. A value-based account structure

We’ve already established you should put your maximum bid into your Brand campaign. Now it’s time to see how the Tiers work.

For your Tier 1 campaign, it’s better to put here exact match keywords that bring you high LTV users and favor the campaign with a competitive (meaning pretty high) bid too to get as much traffic as possible.

The Tier 2 is your so-to-speak medium campaign. It should get medium-value keywords and a medium bid.

As you might guess, the Tier 3 campaign has the lowest-value keywords and should be given the lowest bid. Unless you have Tier 4, 5, or more — it’s possible to create them too if you find it convenient. 

To manage these campaigns most effectively, organize keywords by LTV bands with the respective bids. Such a frame will help you control bids depending on their value, not to say that it will be easier to navigate your account. Here’s an example:

Organizing keywords by LTV band
Figure 4. Organizing keywords by LTV band

For your Discovery campaign, set the bid that is similar to the bids from your Tier 1 or Tier 2 campaigns. To find new search terms, you have to remain competitive. And this means some investing into your discovery efforts. 

When you start getting new keywords, transfer them into your Tiered campaigns in accordance with their value. Make sure they’re added as exact matches and are marked as negative ones in the Discovery campaign.

We mentioned before that you can add another component into the Value-based account — a Proxy campaign. If you decide to go that way, make sure the Proxy campaign has search terms added as exact matches.

This is it. Your Value-based account is built. Here’s how it should look like:

How your account with a value-based structure will look
Figure 5. How your account with a value-based structure will look

On the topic of budget management, the waterfall approach works here best. Spread the budget downward the whole pyramid structure by prioritizing the keywords that bring the most value.

Value-based account structure: conclusion

The Value-based account structure may result in higher ROI and more effective scaling — if you play your cards right.

It can be challenging to create and maintain this account structure for a variety of reasons.

First, it can be really difficult to waterfall your resources downwards the pyramid as, for instance, the highest value keywords may have the lowest scale, and vice versa. 

Second, the value of keywords constantly changes. You have to be on your guard to make sure they’re distributed correctly.

Third, you may think it’s too overwhelming to manage an account like that, especially if you have a limited budget.

However, you shouldn’t let these possible obstacles discourage you from trying the Value-based account structure out as it has lots of potential and benefits. 

The bottom line

Shaping an Apple Search Ads account into the structure that works well for you is always a smart choice.

If we compare these two approaches, we must point out that the Semantics-based approach is easier to build. It’s also one of the most time-tested account structures out there. 

With the Value-based approach, it really is more challenging to create (although it’s not that complicated as it may seem). You need to constantly keep an eye on your keywords’ value to ensure your efforts lead to the best results.

When deciding between the two, think of all the advantages and disadvantages these approaches have, and pick the one that suits you best. 

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