Puzzle Solved: Interactive Ads Boost App Downloads

For the most part, crossword puzzle enthusiasts are ordinary people, and winnowing them out from their non-crosswordy peers online might seem like a daunting task, until you realize there’s a shortcut: put a crossword in front of them, and they will probably start solving it.

That was the approach employed by PuzzleSocial, the publisher of one of the world’s most popular digital crossword puzzles, the Daily Celebrity Crossword, and ad tech platform and programmatic DSP operator CrossInstall when PuzzleSocial sought to boost download rates for its puzzle apps. The strategy hinged on CrossInstall’s interactive ads, delivered programmatically via the mobile Web, which allowed users to begin solving crossword puzzles within the ads themselves before proceeding to download the app for further puzzles. 



The PuzzleSocial apps are free to download, and monetize players through a combination of advertising and in-app sales of coins that allow users to access premium content like bonus puzzles, according to the company’s Director of Acquisition Shamanth Rao. Accordingly, the company is focused on acquiring “high-quality” players who use the app frequently with high rates of engagement. At the same time PuzzleSocial recognized that programmatic bidding could lower ad costs -- but it wasn’t clear how programmatic tools could be used to connect with crossword fans.

The answer turned out to be self-selection through interactivity. With programmatic bidding providing scale, and interactive formats enabling “playability,” consumers with an affinity for crossword puzzles were able to smoothly engage with the app experience in the ads, leading organically to the app download. PuzzleSocial and CrossInstall then identified sites producing large numbers of high quality users, and increased spending on those targets.

Rao summed up the combination of factors: “The playable ads directly mimic the app experience, so a user knows what they’re getting into… At the same time, with programmatic we’re able to dip into a pool of almost infinite quality of traffic, because they’re not tied into manually optimizing campaigns.”

With the playable ad units delivering conversion rates around 25% higher than plain display ads, PuzzleSocial’s growth rate for new users is 20% higher than previously, according to Rao. Overall the proportion of traffic coming from programmatic ads increased from nothing in 2015 to over a third of PuzzleSocial’s overall traffic currently, he added.  

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