App Store Optimization – Apple Search Ads launches in China

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Dave Bell, Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, looks at Apple's launch of Apple search Ads in mainland China.

Since launching Apple Search Ads in 2016, Apple has periodically expanded the service to more territories across the world. Initial expansion came in waves, adding several territories at a time, such as the 2019 addition of 46 additional available Apple Search Ads countries. Mainland China is the newest territory to which Apple is opening up its advertising platform.

With mainland China being home to nearly 20 per cent of the world’s population and around 4 per cent of the global share of iPhone users, taking advantage of Apple Search Ads now being available is critical for any developer or marketer concentrating on the territory.

However, China presents several considerations – in some cases potential blockers –  when it comes to running ASA.

Apple Search Ads regional availability
Historically, China has been a huge market for Apple products, with an additional spike seen in the first quarter of 2021 with the release of the iPhone 12 family. With such a large market, it is big news that Apple is finally bringing Search Ads to mainland China. Apple Search Ads is currently available in over 120 territories, with China being the newest addition, a full five years after ASA was first introduced.

There is no confirmed reason as to why it took Apple five years to bring its advertising platform to such a large market, however it is likely that the significant restrictions put in place by the Chinese government concerning the operation of advertising businesses in China did not make the launch an easy one.

Required documents for Apple Search Ads in mainland China
Setting up Apple Search Ads in China comes with many more hurdles compared to other territories. Before developers and advertisers can launch their ads to China, they will need to have several permits and documents required by the Chinese government in order.

Some of these documents are relatively straightforward, such as ‘Confirmation of Online Agreement’ and standard proof of identification documents. However, other documentation may be unfamiliar to companies who are not based out of, or have not advertised in China before, mandated specifically by the Chinese government. Oftentimes a single app will require multiple different permits and licenses across related industries.

An example of the lengthy documentation needed to run ASA is below. For an app that provides its users with a music streaming service, the following documents are required:

  • A Value-Added Telecommunications Business License
  • An Internet Publication Service License
  • An Internet Culture Business License
  • And/or An Audio and Video Service Permission

And depending on the app, the following licenses may also be required:

  • An Internet News Information Service License
  • A Radio and Television Broadcasting Organization License
  • A Radio and Television Channel License
  • And/or a Radio and Television Program Production Business License.

There are even more restrictions in place for advertisers that are deemed non-corporate entities. Along with needing a valid Business License for Individual Industrial and Commercial Households, there are certain categories in which these non-corporate entities may not advertise. This will make advertising especially difficult for most foreign-owned businesses not based in mainland China.

From Apple’s Guidelines:

Examples of content that may not be advertised in mainland China by noncorporate entities are:

  • Gaming
  • Dating
  • Travel
  • Audio/Video Entertainment
  • Finance
  • Insurance
  • Commercial Performances
  • eCommerce
  • Internet News Information Services
  • Real Estate
  • Ridesharing/Taxi
  • Cosmetics
  • Books/Periodicals
  • Employment Services
  • Mail Delivery

This suggests that smaller businesses, such as indie developers and sole proprietors, are extremely limited in their ability to advertise their apps in China via ASA.

Advertising as a foreign-owned entity
However appealing it may be to start promoting your app to the huge market that is mainland China, there are more hurdles to overcome than just the extensive paperwork required. Most businesses based outside of China will be unable to advertise, as the required licenses may only be held by a 100 per cent Chinese-owned business. There are some exceptions where a joint venture company with 51 per cent Chinese shareholders may also be allowed to hold these licenses.

With the amount of hurdles in place, it will prove to be especially challenging for developers to start advertising their apps to the Chinese market via Apple Search Ads. Those interested in breaking into this market should make sure their app is fully optimized before embarking on this arduous process. Ensuring an app is optimized organically, then supplementing important keywords with ASA, will provide maximum benefits for both organic growth and efficient Search Ads campaigns.

Provided they are willing and able to comply with regulations put in place by the Chinese government, developers can now advertise their apps to users in mainland China using Apple Search Ads. Unlike previously-enabled new territories, the requirements for running Search Ads in China may leave many developers unable to take advantage of this new advertising opportunity. For these developers, it will be more important than ever to ensure metadata is optimized for organic search presence, and that creatives convert well.

 The increased competition that comes with the launch of ASA will mean a sweeping change in the App Store Search ecosystem for mainland China. Whether your particular app can be advertised or not, this change will need to be accounted for in your App Store Optimization strategy

About the Author
Dave Bell is Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, a global leader in App Store Optimization with more than 11 years of experience optimizing and marketing apps. We offer the leading enterprise ASO technology and agency services, providing support to clients around the world. Our company is trusted by thousands of enterprise brands and leading startups including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Bethesda, SWEAT, GrubHub, McAfee and many others.