Large parts of the mobile world are up in arms about Apple introducing search ads. Their complaint is that this will make it even harder for small apps/companies without large budgets to compete against larger competition.
Apple claim that "65% of app downloads are driven by search." Yes, that's a lot and search is definitely important but there's obviously some subtlety to that statistic too.
Let's start with what the doesn't include. 35% of downloads (the rest) come from browsing the directory of top apps and direct links from external sites.
It would be invaluable to know the breakdown. What percentage of people get their apps from browsing the top lists? Based on the download spikes that getting featured or included in a list create it is not inconsiderable.
This leaves all the direct links. This includes links in articles from press/bloggers, links from the websites of the apps and the companies or services to which they relate, and adverts.
When I think about what makes up that 35% I'm amazed at how small a share it is.
Clearly search is massive.
But then I take a step back.
In my technical/professional capacity I intentionally click on lots of ads and spend lots of time browsing various app stores. I look at apps and app stores a lot but don't use search. Such behavior is not normal. I know it's not and it's not what I observe others doing. It's also not what I do myself for most of the apps I install for my personal use.
I, just like most other people, have been taught that if you want an app you go to the store, search for it and then download it.
I recently set up another new phone and rather than just reinstall every app I'd installed on the last one I used this as a chance to rationalize the installed app list. I knew the apps I wanted so went through the mental list in my head and for each in turn I searched for the name in the store and then installed it.
If a friend tells me about a game they're playing, or I hear about a cool new app or game on a podcast or from a real person, I will search for it, by name, in the store so I can find and download it.
In all these, common, scenarios for downloading an app they are "driven by search" but they are a special kind of search and unlikely to be affected by advertising.
There is a fundamental difference between searching for a specific app and searching for an app that does a specific task, or a game in a specific genre.
If I know the app I want, the quickest way to find it is to search for it by name in the store. Any reasonably smart search algorithm and basic ASO on the part of the publisher should mean that the app I'm after will be very near to the top of the list, if not at the very top. If I'm after a specific app, even if I see another app advertised in the results I'm very unlikely to install the alternative.
If I want an app that does X and I search accordingly then I am more open to advertising in the results. Similarly, I may be swayed by what's top of the results if I search for a particular type of game.
These generic searches are where the advertising competition is going to be and so it will be hard to compete against those with deep pockets.
If you have an app or game in the store and you want people to install it you are still going to get the best install rate from people searching for it by name.
Yes, 65% is a lot but what really matters is how many of those searches are for a specific app and how many are for a type of app. If there are lots of people searching by type/genre of app/game, then I'm a lot less interested. If there are lots of people currently searching for the name of an app but installing one different to the name they entered then I'm a lot more interested.
Either way I expect search ads to end up like Google Ads on the web. Larger companies/apps will end up having to create ads for their own products which would have been at the top of the search results anyway as a way of fighting off competition while they will be useful to smaller companies going after particular niches.