Wait… Apple’s App Store is getting into search ads?

Posted by kdow on Jun 9, 2016 11:17:18 AM

Ahead of WWDC16, Apple have announced some big changes to the App Store.

Advertising has always been a huge boon to amplify a companies’ message. Got a webinar on Friday and only have two weeks to promote it? The best thing to do is target the type of people you want to attend and pop and advert into Google/Facebook/etc.

Ads are more useful, but also take up much more space in a browser!

But banner ad days blurred the idea that ads could do any good. Ads, and their reputation, have been tarnished ever since the world of banner exchanges and similar.

Today, though, if you search for something on Google (albeit without Adblock software, which you should have) the page won’t serve you one or two ads with organic results underneath. No no, now the page is almost 1/3rd taken up by ads.

Why is that?

Well, simply put: people trust ads more. That’s because back in the good old days of ads being a mere annoyance, they were untrustworthy. An ad for a good keyword cost very little to bid on, so regularly the ads’ intentions were malicious, useless or just plain spammy. Today, though, bidding on keywords that people regularly search is more costly. As a result of that cost the kinds of businesses bidding for the ad space are generally of a more reputable background. I’m not suggesting for a second that advertisers are no longer spammy or malicious in their intent. But things are certainly a lot more above board these days.

What’s this got to do with the Big Fruit?

Before WWDC16 kicks off, Apple have already pushed some updates out to the App Store. It’s faster, will refresh more often, will improve discoverability, has new features for subscription services & even will roll out ads to help companies’ get their apps found more readily. iMore has a pretty solid round-up of the changes.

Apple is capitalising on two things with the ads idea: additional revenue as well as a genuinely useful service for companies that want to get found on the App Store.

The App Store has been notoriously difficult to search. It’s hard to find things, and most apps get downloaded simply because they’re featured on the home screen. With that screen now being updated more often than once per week, the discoverability rate increases.

Imagine being a developer that updates your app. You did well at launch because Apple featured your awesome new app on the home page of the App Store in 5 countries, and from there downloads spiralled. But usage dropped (as is typically the case) since launch. App retention is low, and you have some sexy new feature to improve user retention stats as well as to improve adoption. But a new update push doesn’t mean Apple is going to feature your app. However, if you could spend a little PPC (Pay-Per-Click) budget on the App Store, that could improve your chances of jogging people’s memories’ of having downloaded your app, as well as attaining new users!

The graph below shows user retention ratios being huge on average on iOS devices. The story is similar on Android. Granted, the data sources are a bit hazy but this is largely reflective of app store user activity when you aren’t YouTube, Tweetbot or similar:

Should I be worried?

As a user: no. The improvements to the App Store being rolled out are huge. Keep in mind that for Apple, the App Store presents massive revenues to the business so to try to etch out new ways to improve that revenue stream makes sense. It serves Apple’s bottom-line quite nicely, but also helps improve the experience for both developers as well as users.

And no, I seriously doubt Apple is becoming Google & getting into free services in exchange for data & ad serving. This is a relatively small footprint for ads and I would be surprised if Apple don’t curate the hell out of these ads. Moreover, Apple are saying that these ads are private. The ad publishers won’t be collating a bunch of data on the users in the same way Google does.

Of note if you’re a developer is Apple’s dev documentation on Search Ads.