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AdWords vs AdSense: Which is which?

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The difference between AdWords and AdSense

Google AdWords is the tool you use to run ads. Those ads run on Google itself plus other people’s websites (if you choose).

In contrast, Google AdSense is the tool that publishers use to insert Google AdWords onto their pages. It’s what lets you, the ad buyer, buy ads on other people’s sites in the first place.

Hence, if you’re looking to run ads, use Google AdWords. If you’re looking to make money from ads placed on your site, use AdSense.

Let’s take a closer look at how to do both.

Note: Google AdWords is now called Google Ads. We’ll still refer to it as Google AdWords for the purpose of this post. But you should call it Google Ads going forward.

When do I use AdSense?

If you have a website that gets traffic and you want to monetize it, one way to do that would be to designate a space on your website where other businesses in a related industry could advertise their products and services. AdSense works by letting website owners auction off that ad space to the highest bidder and make money without doing any work.

What kind of ads can I run on my website?

There are several different types of AdSense ads. Here are a few worth knowing:


example Google Display ad
Display ad example

These ads are images and short videos that appear on AdSense sites. You can often find them on blogs as banners. Display ads also include plain-text advertisements you can feature on your website. This is the same type of ad that shows up at the top of Google’s search results page (SERP).

Depending on how your display ads look, users may not be able to tell the difference between the ad and your page content. On the pro side, this means it won’t stand out as much like an ad and visitors won’t reflexively ignore it. On the con side, if it isn’t apparent to the user what is an ad and what isn’t, your AdSense account can be at risk of getting banned by Google. So make sure it’s easy to tell the difference.

Where should you place ads? You should think about how your user interacts with your website and place them in a complementary, unobtrusive way. If you’d rather Google pick for you, you can enable Auto ads to automatically place and optimize ads on your website.

Rich media

Rich media ad with interactive buttons
Rich media ad with interactive buttons example

This ad type is dynamic. It can have video, audio, or images. They can have their own user experience and react to inputs.

These interactive ad types can be any of the following:

Dynamic image

Choose whether you want a vertical, horizontal, or square ad on your site, and Google will serve up relevant ads in that format.


Show video ads on your website and get paid on either a pay-per-click (PPC) basis or based on the cost-per-thousand (CPM) page views.


These can be quizzes, minigames, polls, or any other creative HTML use case. Advertisers get detailed analytics and can track how someone interacts with the ad unit.

Because rich media ads are much more engaging than other ad types, their click-through rates can be 2-3x higher than regular image ads. They’re definitely worth testing.


google link ad
Link ad example

Link ads feature topics related to your page content. When people click on the topics, they’re taken to a different AdSense-enabled website. Publishers get paid for ad clicks off of the linked site, not the initial click on the topic. Because it takes two clicks for a publisher to monetize a link ad, they’re generally worth more than other ad types. But it depends on a case by case basis.

When do I use AdWords?

Over 4 million advertisers use Google AdWords to advertise their business in front of people searching Google for related keywords. With Google AdWords, you can pay to put your ads at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).

AdWords is a form of digital marketing used to capture existing demand for your services. People are already searching Google for what your business offers. With AdWords, you can show up at the moment they start their search. It can also be used to passively advertise to people in your target market.

Let’s take a look at what types of ads you can run with AdWords.

You might think you can run ads from AdWords to your website with AdSense and make money off of the paid traffic. Don’t do this. Google will ban you from both platforms.

What kind of ads can I run?

Here are the AdWords ad types you need to know:


These plain-text ads are what you see at the top of the search engines when you search for something. They can also show up on AdSense websites. Text ads are the most common form of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

text ad example
Text ad example

These ads can work well because they’re shown to people with intent. When someone searches Google, they’re looking for something particular. So if you’re selling golf clubs, your ad can show up only to people actually looking for golf clubs. That accuracy of intent and specificity of keyword matching is what makes search engine ads uniquely powerful.


responsive ad adapts to user device
This responsive ad adapts to the user's device

These text or image ads automatically resize to fit the ad space available. You can set them up very quickly and be running ads to people across all devices. They automatically adjust their appearance to better match the page they’re being displayed on, which means people are more likely not to skim over and dismiss them as ugly banner ads.

App promotion

app promotion ad example
App promotion ad example

Send users directly to the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to download your app. You can also “deep link” straight into your app to take visitors into a specific in-app screen. So if you’re searching to book a hotel in Los Angeles on your phone, the top paid result would prompt you to browse hotels in an app like Trivago.


Google Shopping ads show up at the top of the Google Search results page when Google believes a user is trying to purchase a product.

shopping ad example
Shopping ad example

For e-commerce companies, Shopping ads can be the top driver of conversions out of all the ad channels on the web. They work well for products that can be visually displayed since the image is what does the selling.

Need help figuring out which type of google ad is best to run for your startup and how to optimize them to achieve good results? Our agency will do exactly that for you. Hop on a call with our lead strategist Lance to learn more about how we can work together.

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Neal is co-founder and CTO of Demand Curve and Bell Curve. Crypto enthusiast, climbing addict, language nerd, and compulsive traveller.

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