How you can create an ad-supported product for crosswords, sudoku and other puzzles


Digital transformation has changed the way readers access and interact with your publication. Readers no longer expect you to just replicate your print content online. Publications should focus on creating digital native content, with capabilities and experiences suited to the digital medium. Immersive, in-depth experiences can be effectively monetized with advertising, which remains the easiest and most popular choice for publications to monetize their content online.

In this article, we explain how publishers can benefit from creating an ad-supported puzzle product, the different monetization strategies they can use, and the key points they need to consider while creating such a product.

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Why use crossword, sudoku, word search and other puzzles for your games product

High engagement

As experienced editors know, games like crosswords, sudoku and word search  deliver high quality user engagement. An average reader might spend anywhere from ten to twenty minutes on a typical 15×15 crossword puzzle. A difficult Sudoku puzzle might even take an hour! Such puzzles are extremely valuable for creating loyalty and habit. They can be published daily, which means there are a lot of users who return to solve them each day.

Crosswords and sudokus tend to form a premium audience – educated, sometimes older and often more influential, with higher purchasing power. These audiences are highly sought after by advertisers.

Puzzles curated for your brand

As is well known from the. print world, content that is tailored for your audience and reflects your brand ethos tends to generate higher engagement from your readers compared to generic content. Crossword puzzles and other word games allow you to infuse your publication’s content themes and topics into the puzzles themselves, creating an experience that matches your other content offering. You should also ensure that all your puzzle offerings reflect the unique tone, style and look and feel of your publication.

Synergy with Print

Many publications already have a rich tradition of printing crossword puzzles, sudokus and other word based games in their print editions. Sometimes these traditions date back to almost a century! Creating an online, playable version is a simple way to create a fuller, richer online experience that is in sync with the offline print experience. Many publications reuse the content for their print puzzles in their online puzzles as well. This not only provides a consistent experience between print and digital, but also reduces content costs.

An online games section can also help expand the touch points your publication has with its readers. It might not be feasible to carry a newspaper or a magazine everywhere, but almost everyone has a smartphone with them all the time. For example, solving a sudoku on a smartphone is more convenient than carrying a newspaper when commute on the subway or standing in the grocery line. Finally, you can enhance the puzzle solving experience with features that can be provided only online, such as checking/revealing a solution, or getting more help and context about the puzzle clues. People can also love that, with the online experience, they can check the answers the same day instead of waiting for them to appear in print on the next day.

Differentiator from generic arcade games

Some publishers create generic arcade based games sections (also called casual games) on their apps and websites. Such games often have no relation to what the publication has in their print section. For example, publications might offer games like Bubble Shooter or Match3.  These games tend to be generic and possess little to no design customization. While you can run a very large suite of games very easily, most publishers report that most of the engagement is with word and logic games (such as crossword, sudoku and word search) that are traditionally associated with publications.

A drawback of arcade-style casual games is also that they drive your readers to their own domain or apps. They control the content, the experience and the ad inventory. The publication gets a share of the revenues that these gaming arcade providers generate. However, a properly implemented puzzle solution can let you retain control over the ad inventory and revenue stream, on their own domain/app and achieve much better monetization through direct or programmatic ad sales.

Arcade-style games breed little loyalty because players can find these generic games on any gaming website or mobile app. Several publications have reported that, over time, reader engagement with such generic games stagnates and generates meagre returns. Publications will benefit from publishing games and puzzles that are truly aligned with their brand and content, instead of creating cookie-cutter replicas of gaming portals.

Support for publishers of all sizes

It is a myth that ad-based monetization can only work if you have a very large audience. While larger publications tend to use ad-based monetization models more often, smaller publishers can also effectively use these strategies. Hyper local advertising and custom banner ads tend to work well with publications tailored for a smaller geography, such as a city or a province. For niche industry based publications, industry vendors often commission sponsored puzzles to engage the small niche readership.

Types of monetization

There are various ways to monetize your puzzles section via advertisements. A few common examples are given below.

Programmatic banner ads

One or more banner ads can be placed around  the puzzle on the publication page itself. These can be static, but they can also be rotated every 30 seconds to 1 minute. In a typical 20 minute crossword solving session, a puzzle page with 2 banner ads rotating every 30 seconds could garner over 80 ad impressions! Thus, this model works well for both CPM (cost per thousand impressions) and CPC (cost per click)  implementations.

For a reference implementation, check out the Los Angeles Times’ crossword puzzle page.

Video Preroll Ads

A short video ad, between 15 to 30 seconds can be run before the puzzles are shown to the readers. Since a typical reader spends several minutes on a single puzzle, they are generally are willing to watch a complete video ad to access the puzzle. Thus most users tend to complete video pre roll ads before puzzles (compared to a similar pre-roll before a news article). However, you must be careful that the ads do not disrupt the puzzle playing experience.

For a reference implementation, check out the Los Angeles Times’ crossword puzzle page.

Sponsored content on a per puzzle basis

This method is commonly used by niche publications, as well as large publications promoting a brand. Here, some of the puzzle content is oriented towards promoting the sponsor, while still ensuring users get a quality solving experience. Such puzzles are often used by TV Shows, Apps and local events to promote their offerings.

For a reference, check out a sponsored puzzle on the Netflix TV series “The Chair”, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Sponsored puzzles section

Another approach is get a brand to sponsor the entire puzzles section on an ongoing basis, without the need to create advertiser-oriented puzzles everyday. The sponsor gets a prominent mention on the puzzle page, and potentially other articles in the publication that refer to the puzzles. This approach can work well for both small and large publishers. Advertisers in the travel/leisure and healthcare industries in particular are likely to sponsor a puzzles section in your publication, since they want to target the puzzlers demographic.

Non programmatic banner ads

Finally, you can also create custom banner advertisements on the puzzle page, instead of using banner ads from an ad network. This gives you tight control over the ad experience, as well as minimizes any potential loss of revenue to ad blockers.

At Amuse Labs, we work with a wide range of publishers and help them implement a variety of monetization strategies. We can also help in estimating the revenue you can potentially generate via your puzzles. Please get in touch with us to learn more.

Things to keep in mind while choosing a solution provider

Control over ad inventory

You need to be in control of what advertisements your readers see. Ideally, the puzzle player itself must not be bundled together with advertisements. You should control and run advertisements separately from the puzzle player. An iframe based solution allows you to do this.

For video ads, the solution must work with your ad servers, instead of serving their own inventory. You should use a solution that works with industry standard video ad mechanisms, such as VAST tag based pre roll ad delivery.

Full support for mobile

A majority of your audience will typically access your site on mobile devices. Any solution you choose must be available across smartphones, tablets and desktops. It should also offer a quick and easy way to integrate with your mobile apps. It should also offer a smooth advertising experience on mobile devices where sticky banners or ad slots do not come in the way of the playing experience.

Content optimized for your audience

A key part of creating your own ad based puzzles section is maintaining control over the content. Many solution providers offer their own crossword puzzle content – you can ask them how easy it is insert your preferred content into their platform. The solution should also work with a wide variety of puzzle formats (XML, PUZ, JPZ are some of the standard ones), and be capable of working with content syndicates too. Further, puzzle creation and editing tools must be a part of the solution since you may need to approve, edit or reschedule puzzles for publication.

If your readers have a unique preference for their puzzles, the solution must accommodate them too. For example. El Pais,  a leading Spanish newspaper runs a digital crossword puzzle product, which uses the Spanish style of “chess numbers” in their crosswords.

Owning the User Experience

The puzzles should ideally be hosted and delivered on your own domain, as part of your website or app. The solution provider should not drive your readers to its own portal, since that disrupts the user experience. An iframe based solution is the best  choice for you to create a controlled, consistent user experience, on your own website, mobile website or in native mobile apps.

Look and Feel

Just as the puzzle content should not be generic, the design elements of the puzzle player should be aligned with your brand guidelines too. Instead of choosing a generic crossword player solution, you need to choose a solution that allows you to create a bespoke design and style for your puzzles.

Data driven approach

Data driven decision making is vital for running an ad based puzzles section. The puzzle solution provider must provide detailed analytics to help you understand the specifics of how your audience is engaging with the puzzles. For example, it is useful to understand metrics such as: What is the puzzle completion rate? How does this vary across device type? How many people print the puzzle? And so on. This helps you tune and improve your puzzle offerings.

Network effects

Once you have built the games section, the more users you can drive to it, the more you benefit. A good puzzle solution needs to have built in network effects to drive traffic, such as  social and native sharing options. A collaborative puzzle solving feature can also effectively increase your user base because ads can be served to multiple people playing the same puzzle.


In the publication world, crosswords and puzzles have excellent quality of target audience, average time spent, ease of distribution and longevity of content. This makes them the perfect product to drive advertisement-based revenue for your publication. A well-implemented puzzles product incurs very modest costs and can add significantly to your bottom line.

PuzzleMe, Amuse Labs’ flagship puzzle platform, provides an iframe based puzzle solution, with support for deep design customizations, built in Play Together mode, a comprehensive analytics suite, VAST ad tag compatibility and full support for mobile devices. Get in touch with us to explore how we can help you build your own ad supported puzzles product.