Marketers voice many cons to running search ads for branded keywords. Bigger brands usually say:

“We already rank #1 in the organic listing on Apple App Store and we have a well-known brand. If we bid on the branded keywords we simply buy the traffic we would get for free otherwise."

On the one hand, why bother paying for the brand keywords if they are already triggered by your organic listing? Especially, if you have a well known brand that people think of right away. You think about taxi, you search for Uber, you want to watch a new season of a show, you search for Netflix.

When you google to find what experience do big brands have with PPC ads, you get contradicting results. Some say that their internal studies show increase in total numbers when they run PPC ads. Others state they did much better without ads [Source: Incipia].

We have done some research and testing here as well digging more into Apple Search Ads specifics rather than looking at all PPCs. So here are 5 facts to consider  when you wonder whether bidding on your brand keywords is cannibalization or not. Some are underpinned by known facts, others by internal research and experience. If you're looking for practical experience scroll down to Facts 4 and 5. 

Fact 1. Over 50% searches on Apple App Store are branded

This means that half of the users search specifically for brand / app names and have a high intent to install or buy the app they find. In fact, according to AppsFlyer’s initial findings, 66% of all searches include the name of an app or a competitor. Only 34% of the queries are of a general type (discovery-centric).

According to AppTweak, top 20 keywords in the US (Search Popularity > 80) are all brands, with the exception of “games”. This speaks to the fact that branded queries bring about the biggest increase in traffic. And we all know that branded keywords are highest converting.

Even in the ideal world, if neither you nor anybody else bid on your brand keywords, the fact is these keywords will still enter the search match auction. And the advertiser who actually bids on them with higher CPA goals and higher budgets will most likely get into the auction and will win it as long as the keywords they use are relevant.

So if you do not bid simultaneously you’ve lost the war by not taking part in it.

Fact 2. User experience matters

Put yourself in your users’ shoes for a minute. They search for your brand and see you as #1 in organic listing. That’s great!

Now above your app they see a similar one. And this similar app occupies ⅔ of the screen on their phone. I mean it’s huge! Let’s make things worse - there’s a video in the ad, so it starts playing automatically (even though nobody can control whether the ad will show with screens or videos, there’s still a big chance).Here's what happens when you search for "netflix" on US storefront. You see HBO and there's a pretty cool video that starts playing automatically.

In any case it will be hard to miss or ignore it, right?

Let’s make it even worse. Many competitors try to mimic each other. In some cases even the names of the apps are similar, so it is very easy for your user to mistake your competitor’s app for yours.

And the third case is simply accident and user behavior. We all tend to click or tap on the first thing we see (in most cases very quickly, before we even think about it). Here’s example - a user is searching for Unicorn app

Now to actually get to your app they have to scroll way down below the Daily List part.

And that’s when you actually rank #1 in organic listing. Imagine if you’re #11. Nobody has enough determination or patience to go find you unless you are really awesome.

Fact 3. Competition is real and sneaky

Today many marketers realize that they should have a specific strategy to win competition in the red ocean. So you can be sure if you don’t bid on your brand terms, somebody else will.

If a competitor bids on your branded keyword or app name, and you’re not simultaneously, their app will show above your organic listing. If you are a big brand, be sure someone else is bidding on your brand terms and you are constantly losing downloads to competitor.

Does this mean if you run branded campaigns in Search Ads you are absolutely protected and no competitors will show above your organic listing? No, there is always a chance that someone will still bid higher than you do. For example, someone has a really good budget and they can afford a bidding strategy where they raise the bids as high as possible and then gradually decrease them. And your strategy is vice versa you’ve started with the low ones and increase them. Sounds like this way most likely you won’t even get into the auction.

Fact 4. Protection against cannibalization

First of all, when your Apple Search Ad is displayed for a keyword, then your app listing is also automatically displayed at rank #8-10 even if you don’t rank for it. If you do rank for it, it’s displayed at rank #8-10 or above. However this doesn’t have a big effect on increase in conversions.

Secondly, if your app has #1 place in organic search results (and in most cases you rank #1 because of your branded keywords) and you run ads for it, you don’t need to worry. On the results your users will see ads text banner (short version) above the organic search result. Your users are likely to click on the organic result because it has an image.

We ran a small test with a health & fitness app, US storefront, 1M+ impressions to check whether that’s true.

  • At first we evaluated non-brand keywords which users entered to search for the app. For these keywords in most cases Apple showed default image ad above the organic result

(26% Default Text Ad vs. 74% Default Image Ad);

  • Then, we evaluated the brand campaign keywords which users entered to search for the app. For these keywords in most cases Apple showed Text Ads

(76.4% Default Text Ad vs. 23.6% Default Image Ad);

So, it turns out that Apple tends to show text ad for brand keywords if your app is #1 in organic listing for these keywords.

Now let’s consider TTR rate for these two types of ads. Obviously, TTR for the Image Ad is higher. What’s interesting is that whereas for non-brand it’s on average x2-3 times higher, for brand keywords it’s even higher than that - usually x4-5 times higher  than TTR for the Text Ad.

All of this proves that there’s a mechanism that protects your brand from cannibalization. Even if your ad shows above your organic listing most likely it will be Text Ad and users will be naturally more inclined to click on your organic result will images.

Fact 5. More installs and target actions when you run Search Ads

It’s a fact, that advertising campaigns contribute to an app’s discoverability in organic searches in the App Store. But do you really buy the traffic you could have had from organic for free?

One of our clients, Flo, decided to check this on their own experience and allowed us to share their results.

January 16th Flo stopped running Search Ads campaigns for US storefront. January 21 they launched campaigns again. Check the orange line on the graph below. See how the line remains the same? There’s an increase there connected with Facebook campaign launch that brought more organic searches for the app, but there’s definitely no connection between running or stopping Search Ads campaigns and the change in organic results.

What about installs and target actions?

Look at the total installs (yellow) and search ads (grey) line. They have the same pattern. It is clear that stopping Search Ads resulted in decline in total installs. Launching campaigns resulted in their increase.

So you’re not buying your own traffic when you run Search Ads. It’s the other way round - when you run Search Ads with your brand keywords you get more installs and thus more target actions.

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