Adwords Vs. Adsense: What's the Difference

During the 2017-2018 year, 84% of advertisers claimed they received success with PPC marketing. If your organization is debating about your next advertising strategy, investing in PPC marketing is a smart move.

PPC, or pay-per-click, uses a combination of search terms and visual ads to promote your brand. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

If you're researching different PPC markets, you probably came across Google AdWords and AdSense. These are both Google advertising products but execute a different advertising strategy. But what's the difference?

Read this AdWords vs AdSense guide and know which platform you should use.


AdWords vs AdSense: The Definitions

Before we go into the individual differences, let's define each advertising platform to get a better idea of the strategies each one utilizes.


AdWords is an advertising platform that utilizes Google's unique interface to gain more clients.

AdWords offers two approaches to this: investing your brand in Google's search network and/or through Google's display network on different websites.

Here's a breakdown of each. When you search terms in Google, at the top of the results, you'll see results with "ad" next to the name.

Those websites are at the top of the results because advertisers bid on the keyword you typed. You only pay when someone clicks on your website.

You can also increase brand awareness with display ads. Google will place your visual ads on different websites. Like the keyword strategy, you bid on your visual ads and only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

Both strategies have their advantages and disadvantages, but it's recommended brands utilize both strategies to reach a wider market and retarget their existing customers.


Google AdSense is the opposite -- AdSense helps you make money from your website. AdSense is a platform that optimizes your website for ads. Remember when we discussed display ads from AdWords?

The reason your ads appear on websites is that those websites utilize AdSense.

But random ads won't appear on your website. Google tries to match your website with the right ads based on your website content.

Google's bots will crawl your website, picking up on search terms. From here, Google will match your website with ads based on your niche and relevant search terms.

AdSense is most popular with blogs, news websites, online magazines, and any website where popular websites use content as their primary purpose, as opposed to paid products.

Which Should You Use?

The main reason you should use AdWords is if you're advertising a product or service and you should use AdSense if you're a blogger or content creator and want to generate advertising revenue.

But these differences are vague. If you believe you can benefit from both but still want to know about the differences, continue reading where we highlight specific differences.


AdWords advertisers have the most flexibility. They design their ads, choose their search terms, and bid on the ads they choose. AdWords advertisers can use a combination of templates, fonts, and even their logo to convey their brand.

AdSense website has some flexibility. But not as much as AdWords advertisers.

For example, they can't change an ad displayed on their website. If they utilize specific search terms for their content, they can't remove the ads that also utilize their same search terms.

This doesn't mean AdSense advertisers don't have any say in ads. They can choose which ad medium they prefer on their website; for example, they can opt for text and image ads over video and flash ads.

Setting Up an Account

If you have a Google account, you can create an AdWords or AdSense account. However, AdWords is a bit easier.

To sign up, you just enter your Google details and set your currency preferences. From here, you can start bidding.

AdSense is a little stricter. That's because Google needs to see you have an updated website that receives lots of traffic. Advertisers are paying for their ads and Google needs to ensure they're getting their money's worth.

Here's what you need to qualify for an AdSense account:

  • Website URL
  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Business type

In addition, AdSense will also ask you questions such as your language.

  • AdSense also has strict rules you need to follow. This includes:
  • No pornographic content (or optimizing ads that feature pornographic content)
  • Don't include any content promoting to the ads or telling readers to click on them
  • Not clicking on the ads yourself to receive more revenue
  • Certifying you're an adult (you must be 18 or older)
  • You can't have multiple AdSense accounts
  • You have to use the name that matches your bank account

Before you can start displaying ads on your website, you should read the rules carefully and agree to all terms and conditions Google requires.

Click Options and Revenue

AdWords have another advantage -- they can choose their click options.

They can choose either a cost-per-click model (meaning you only pay when someone clicks your ad) or a cost-per-impression platform, which is when you only pay if a web page receives a specific number of website visitors.

The latter is commonly called "cost-per-thousand" because most advertisers pay when a web page receives a thousand visitors.

However, AdSense websites have no say in how they're paid. It all depends on the advertising preferences the advertisers selected.

Content creators either get paid if they receive a thousand or more website visitors or if their readers click the ads.

Ad Limits

AdSense websites do have an edge over AdWords advertisers -- they can choose ad limits. This depends on which ads are displayed on their website, the limit of ad content, and a specific number of ads displayed on their website.

Google reduces a single web page to three link ads, three content ads, and two search boxes.

Websites can also choose the ad medium and which ones they want to utilize more -- for example, a website can choose more content ads rather than text link ads.

AdWords advertisers also have another drawback -- they can only display one type of ad per webpage and search result.


AdWords advertisers have more flexibility in payment. They bid a specific amount and can bid as little or as much as they want. This helps them control their advertising budget better.

Unfortunately, AdSense websites don't have this option. They earn what they earn.

The best way to ensure websites make money off of AdSense is if they focus on creating quality content that generates high traffic and engaged viewers.


SEO, or search engine optimization, encompasses different strategies to boost your search results organically. In other words, you don't pay for SEO. You use Google's algorithms to optimize your website for search results.

Even though SEO is organic and PPC is inorganic, both use similar strategies.

Keywords are a great example. Advertisers optimize web pages for SEO so they can boost organic search results. They may even use those terms toward a PPC campaign in order to boost a landing page.

If you own a website that utilizes AdSense, SEO strategies are integral.

That's because boosting organic traffic will help you perform better in Google searches, bringing even more traffic to your website. You'll also represent yourself as an influencer, opening the door to backlinks directed to your website.

All of these strategies mean even more traffic, which opens up the doors to a revenue increase.

Have you tried optimizing your website for SEO but aren't receiving the benefits or traffic increase? You may need an SEO expert to help drive more traffic to your website.

Misconceptions About Both

While Adwords and AdSense offer many benefits to both businesses and publishers, there are many misconceptions about both. Here are some examples.

Adwords Misconceptions

Here are some common misconceptions about AdWords:

  • AdWords isn't free. You don't pay to display your ads and search terms, but you pay if your advertising efforts are successful.
  • Your ads don't show up on your own website

AdSense Misconceptions

Like AdWords, publishers have some misconceptions about AdSense. Here are a few to know.

  • Unlike Adwords, AdSense doesn't cost you money. It's designed to make you money and increase sales for advertisers and businesses.
  • AdSense isn't spammy. Google allows publishers to control what ads are displayed on their website, which ads are displayed, and how many ads are on a single web page.
  • But publishers should take efforts to avoid too many ads and ensure the ads on their website are targeted to their audience.

Need More Information About AdWords and AdSense?

Understanding AdWords vs AdSense is difficult for a beginner. Here's an easy way to look at it -- AdWords is for businesses who want more sales and AdSense is for publishers who want to generate revenue from their content.

There are smaller differences between the two that will help both advertisers and publishers. As you use either strategy, you will learn more tactics to boost success.

Still confused? We have an AdWords section and an AdSense section. Visit either one to improve your strategy.