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Apple Search Ads Basic vs. Advanced. And why you should (almost) never use Basic.

Last updated: Sep 18, 2023

Note: If it's not obvious, this is opinionated content based on certain assumptions and evidence, we do not bear any responsibility or liability for any actions based on this content.

Whether to use Apple Search Ads (ASA) Basic vs. Advanced is an age-old debate where the experienced ASA marketers know that Advanced is the winner, but many indie developers and marketers don't. Many resources on Apple Search Ads Basic vs. Advanced don't provide a practical perspective for new and/or inexperienced ASA marketers and indie developers. We've decided to settle this argument once and for all by giving an in-depth overview of ASA Basic and what you can do instead. We're also willing to update this page and change our opinion if we find monumental improvements to ASA Basic in the future.

We've also taken one for the team by launching some inefficient campaigns knowing full well that we are sending our money down the drain in order to get hard data to back up our arguments. We used an app called Self - Daily Affirmations, an affirmations app, for this experiment. The subtitle for this app is "Mantra. Gratitude. Manifest." Remember the terms in the title and subtitle as we drill into the results of our experiment below.

We will not go into detail on what is ASA Basic or ASA Advanced description in this article, but here's the official documentation if you need it.

What happens when you launch Apple Search Ads Basic?

Before we dive into the underlying algorithm for ASA Basic, we need to understand two settings from ASA Advanced, 'Search Match' and 'CPA Cap'.

The 'Search Match' option is where Apple automatically shows your app ads to "relevant search terms" based on your App's metadata. Here's the official documentation if you want learn more about 'Search match'

'CPA Cap' is an option where Apple throttles an entire ad group if the cost per acquisition exceeds an arbitrary value. In fact, we've written extensively about the 'CPA Cap' if you are interested.

Why are we talking about these two ASA Advanced options for this overview of ASA Basic?

Common sense suggests that ASA Basic most likely works behind the scenes similarly to an Advanced ad group with a 'CPA Cap' value and 'Search Match', with the only difference being the 'CPA Cap' value becomes 'CPI' in Basic. There is simply no reason or evidence we could find that Apple is using a vastly different algorithm for ASA Basic. If we find contrary evidence regarding this assumption, we will update this page in the future.

In ASA Basic, you specify the countries, a 'Maximum Cost-Per-Install (CPI)' value, and a monthly budget. Then, most likely, you have to increase the CPI value until you get some installs. The CPI value depends on the countries you select and the competition in your app's category and keywords in the metadata.

That's it, there is no need to specify keywords or any other options. Hopefully, you can see some installs and maybe some uptick in the revenue, and you can easily scale by increasing CPI value.

There are no analytics, no visibility on what search terms are used to get installs, and no tuning or optimization possible, but let's assume that we are okay with the installs number and none the wiser. It's so easy to set up ASA Basic, in fact, it took us 46 seconds to set up a Basic campaign for the above app and approximately an additional 22 seconds each time to adjust the CPI value in order to get the installs. Pretty easy. In the end, the installs started after we increased the CPI setting value to $3.00 with the final cost of $2.60 with 6 installs before we paused the campaign after a few days.

Apple Search Ads - Basic Setup

Replicating Apple Search Ads Basic Campaign in Advanced mode aka 'ASA Basic in Advanced campaign'.

In order to understand what happens in Basic mode, we've created an Advanced campaign and ad group with 'CPA Cap', 'Search Match' on, and one country - 'United States'.

Compared to setting up the Basic campaign, we did the extra hard work of entering arbitrary campaign and ad group names, as well as the default max CPT value and a similar 'CPA Cap'. Additionally, we entered a daily budget of $30, which is the monthly budget/30 that we used in Basic. We've left the 'Search Match' option on and entered no keywords, then clicked on the 'Create Campaign' button at the bottom. It took us a whopping additional 76 seconds in order to create an "advanced" campaign and ad group. Yes, it was pretty hard and took a lot of additional time compared to the Basic setup... Let's call this campaign the 'ASA Basic in Advanced' campaign for reference on this page.

Apple Search Ads - Advanced setup step 1

Apple Search Ads - Advanced setup step 2

After some time, the results are in and boy aren't they interesting.

Apple Search Ads - Advanced results

As shown in the above screenshot of the 'ASA Basic in Advanced' campaign, only the keyword "daily affirmations" is relevant to our app, and the "i am" keyword (a similar competitor app name to our example app) generates some impressions. The '(Low volume terms)' are most likely comprised of irrelevant search terms based on the above trend. Out of $22.87 spent during that duration, only $2.60 of the relevant ad spend to our example app is valid.

More than 88% of ad spend went to irrelevant terms and users who, despite downloading the app, most likely won't engage with it and are not really interested. It is safe to assume that this is exactly what happens when you run ASA Basic for your app based on the above hypothesis. Another observation is that setting 'CPA Cap' value doesn't guarantee that you would get the CPA in the results which we've also mentioned in the 'CPA Cap' article.

What should you do instead?

Simply stick to Apple Search Ads Advanced campaigns.

If you strongly prefer the simplicity of ASA Basic without any keyword management, even the extremely inefficient 'ASA Basic in Advanced' campaign is better than ASA Basic as you can at least have some kind of visibility into what's happening when you spend your hard-earned money. The adjustment of the default Max CPT' and 'CPA Cap' values is not that different from ASA Basic, as you'll have to adjust the 'CPI' value in ASA Basic anyway.

Our recommendation is to set up ASA Advanced campaigns with the keywords with 'Search Match' OFF as you already have a list of keywords in the form of your app's title, subtitle, and App Store Connect's keyword list of 100 characters.

In fact, we have written a free practical beginners guide and ebook to Apple Search Ads Advanced after observing millions of dollars of ad spend across hundreds of campaigns which you can access at the end of this article.

The extra time that it takes for a properly setup according to our guide could yield results many times better than those from ASA Basic. Even though you may see Cost per Installs is higher in Advanced, this is because of the simple reason that in the end, you are spending money on relevant installs for your app with full control. On top of that, you have visibility into the performance and results, which can guide your next steps and further tuning if needed.

Furthermore, with ASA Advanced, you can easily attribute your ASA installs linked to post-install actions like subscriptions and custom events, giving you the powerful possibility of further optimization, especially with our easy-to-use Search Ads Optimization (SAO) AI platform.

Another benefit is that you now also have visibility into how app store users react to your App's ad impressions, which is a gold mine for App Store Optimization (ASO) research and ideas for improving your App's metadata and ad creatives, something that wasn't possible before ASA.

Before you jump into ASA Advanced, let's also discuss a couple of the main pain points associated with ASA Advanced setup with the keywords.

  • When set up properly, Apple Search Ads is an easy, extremely efficient ad channel, it can also get expensive depending on the country, app category, competition, and keywords. The reason is simply when users are searching for an app with a keyword, the user's intent to install and engage is already there, and app store users in general trust native app store ads more than other ad channels. It can also be a "limited inventory" of keyword searches which makes the keyword bids extremely dynamic, competitive, and unpredictable.

  • While adding keywords during initial setup and the occasional addition of new relevant keywords aren't time-consuming, it can be time-consuming and difficult to maintain keyword bids all the time. It can get expensive even with manual adjustments, as it's not realistic for most app developers, agencies, and consultants to babysit keyword bids 24/7 and 365 days a year with a proper idea of how a keyword bid should be adjusted for the best optimization and performance.

You have the option of utilizing an advanced and automated AI Apple Search Ads optimization platform like ours to solve these pains.

Even if you ultimately decide not to deal with keyword-based ASA Advanced campaigns, the 'ASA Basic in Advanced' campaign is still vastly better than 'ASA Basic,' as you have visibility into how your ad spend is delegated across keywords and an additional option to add negative keywords to exclude from the campaign easily if an irrelevant keyword wastes your ad spend consistently. By adding irrelevant keywords, you can save your hard-earned money from being wasted, and make app store users less annoyed by not showing your app for irrelevant search terms.

When should you use ASA Basic?

As we have mentioned "almost" in the title, here's when you should use ASA Basic.

Because we have shown a way to create the 'ASA Basic in Advanced' campaign (inefficient but similar to ASA Basic) above and why it's still a better option than ASA Basic, if you simply cannot find the additional 76 seconds, cannot bring yourself to enter some arbitrary values in three additional fields and an extra click compared to ASA Basic, yes in that case you should use ASA Basic.

Apple Search Ads Guide free ebook

Get your free copy of the ebook -

A Guide to Apple Search Ads for Generating Revenue and Reducing Cost

Search Ads Optimization (SAO) AI optimizes and automates your keyword bid management so you can scale Revenue/ROAS, reduce cost per acquisition, and minimize wasted ad spend for your Apple Search Ads campaigns. Learn more...