Beginners to search marketing often hear about Google’s two advertising platforms, Google Ads and Google AdSense. Depending on your goals, one of these systems may be right for you, but what’s the difference between Google Ads and AdSense? Which one makes more sense for your site?

What’s the main difference between Google Ads and AdSense?

The main difference is that Google Ads is used by advertisers and AdSense is used by publishers.

Google Ads lets people advertise on, the Google Search Network, and the Google Display Network (content sites that are not search engines). Businesses use Google Ads to drive targeted traffic to their website, in the hopes that some of this traffic converts to sales. Advertisers pay Google a certain amount per ad click.

AdSense lets publishers monetize their websites or blogs by earning money from relevant Google Ads ads displayed next to their content. The publishers receive a small payment each time one of these ads is clicked on. If your site has enough readers, this can be a simple way to generate a revenue stream from your content.

What are some other differences between Google Ads and AdSense?


Google Ads has been around longer. Google launched AdWords (now Google Ads) in 2000, while AdSense began in 2003.

Ease of setting up an account

It is very easy to set up a Google Ads account. You just need to create a Google account, sign in to Google Ads with your Google account email and password, and then set your time zone and currency preferences.

With AdSense, registering requires more steps. You must submit an application that includes your:

  • Website URL
  • Website language
  • Account type (individual or business)
  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number

You also must agree to various AdSense policies. They include:

  • Not placing ads on sites that include incentives to click on ads
  • Not placing ads on sites with pornographic content
  • Not clicking on the Google ads you’re serving through AdSense
  • Certifying you’ve read the AdSense Program Policies
  • Acknowledging you don’t already have an approved AdSense account
  • Acknowledging you’re at least 18
  • Certifying the name you use matches the name on your bank account

Once you submit this information you can either decide to use an existing Google account for AdSense or create a new Google account. Once you sign into your account you’re told your application is being reviewed, and you’ll receive an email in one to two days.

Ad design flexibility

Google Ads advertisers have much flexibility in regards to their ad text, while AdSense publishers can’t alter the text within ads appearing on their site. AdSense publishers can control, however, the type of ad formats that appear on their pages (e.g. text, image, video, link, flash, AdSense for search), the size of the ads and the colors of the ads.

Google Ads advertisers on the Google Display Network have more ad formatting options than those on Google and the Google Search Network. Those options include choice of font, template, and logo.

Ad limit per page

On each of their pages AdSense publishers can only place three content ads, three link ads, and two search boxes (which when used deliver targeted text-based ads). Meanwhile, Google Ads advertisers can only have one of their ads delivered at a time on Google, the Google Search Network, and the Google Display Network.

Click options

If you are advertising on the Google Display Network, you can choose a cost per click, cost per conversion, target ROAS, or cost per impression pricing system. If you are a Google Display Network publisher, however, you have no say in whether the ads appearing on your site have a cost per click or cost per impression pay model.

Payment expectations

Google Ads advertisers can have a general idea of how much they’ll spend by setting maximum bid amounts for their keyword phrases. But AdSense publishers earn what they earn. More specifically, they don’t control their ads’ cost per click or cost per impression values. Still, they can aim for more revenue by building websites devoted to a competitive industry and increasing their sites’ traffic.

For more information about the differences between Google Ads and AdSense, check out these resources:


Prior post date: 09/30/10 by Christine Laubenstein, a Marketing Associate at WordStream.

Post updated by Jenna Kelly