Even just hearing Google Ads vs AdSense can be confusing. After all, they’re both Google services. Both have similar names. And both relate to advertising.

But what are they, exactly, and what sets them apart? On paper, it’s pretty easy to mix them up. And even if you have managed WordPress hosting like what we offer here at Kinsta, you’re still going to need to figure out how to use these platforms on your own.

To combat the confusion, we’ll define Google Ads and Google AdSense, offer direct comparisons between these advertising platforms’ features, and discuss who they’re for and how they work.

Let’s get started!

What sets these two (on the surface, very similar) Google services apart? 👀 Dive in here ⬇️Click to Tweet

What Is Google Ads?

Google Ads homepage with a headline reading “Reach new customers online with Google Ads” followed by a blurb that says, “Be seen where your customers are searching, browsing, and watching across Google Search, YouTube, and the web. Get the most of your marketing budget with automated solutions from Google Ads.” To the right of this text is a mobile phone overlaid with a Google search result for the phrase, “office supplies.”
The Google Ads homepage.

Google Ads (formerly called Google AdWords) is a service where advertisers make bids to place ads on search engine results pages (SERPs) or the Google Display Network (GDN) to drive traffic back to their websites.

According to W3Techs, 98.4% of websites belonging to a known advertising network use Google Ads, accounting for 46.1% of all websites.

Ads in the SERPs are text-based and often appear above the primary Google search results for a keyword phrase. For instance, we searched for the phrase “web design,” and the following Google Ads appeared on the search results:

How Google Ads appear in SERPs. This example shows the results of the phrase “web design,” followed by ads for various web design agencies.
How Google Ads appear in SERPs.

By contrast, GDN ad placements appear on websites, apps, and anywhere else Google display ads appear.

Plus, display ad campaigns have a reach of 35 million websites, apps, and Google properties like YouTube.

These ads can help you find new customers or engage with existing customers by exploring new audience segments. The system is designed to encourage more clicks and conversions by means of an automated targeting process.

Automated targeting finds audience segments that perform well and delivers your ads to them when the system feels they are at the right stage of the sales funnel. You can set a variety of goals as well, which include:

  • Boosting sales
  • Increasing leads
  • Bolstering website traffic
  • Building brand awareness

The system relies on machine learning to deliver better campaign results.

Additionally, automated bidding adjusts the bid for your ads to display in the GDN to stay within your predetermined budget and maximize your conversion rate.

What Is Google AdSense?

Website owners can place ads on their websites, apps, and other spaces with an AdSense account. You can designate specific areas or web pages on your website as ad space.

Publishers receive a commission in exchange for the advertising space and displaying AdSense ads. That ties directly into what we previously discussed about Google Ads: Website owners and publishers are also part of the Google Display Network. So it’s these spots on a publisher’s website that advertisers bid on within Google Ads.

The Google AdSense program is one of the top ways bloggers monetize their websites and is often deployed right alongside affiliate marketing campaigns to diversify revenue streams.

There is a multitude of ad campaign display options available to publishers. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options as well as the numerous types of ads available for publishers’ websites:

  • Display ads
  • Video ads
  • Game ads
  • Matched content native ads
  • In-feed native ads
  • In-article native ads

The customization goes further still. Once you’ve selected an ad type, you can also choose ad sizes. Google suggests a few fixed ad sizes to use in most cases as they’re pre-configured to look the best.

These are the fixed ad size options in Google AdSense for both mobile devices and desktop computers.
Fixed ad size options in Google AdSense. (Image Source: Google)

The most common options for desktops include:

  • 300 x 250 px
  • 336 x 280 px
  • 728 x 90 px
  • 970 x 90 px
  • 468 x 60 px
  • 300 x 600 px
  • 160 x 600 px
  • 250 x 250 px
  • 200 x 200 px

Dimensions for mobile devices typically include the following:

  • 300 x 200 px
  • 300 x 50 px
  • 300 x 100 px
  • 250 x 250 px
  • 200 x 200 px

You can also opt to use responsive ads, which automatically resize to fit the allotted space on your website.

Google Ads vs AdSense

The main difference between Google Ads and AdSense is that Google Ads lets advertisers bid to place ads on publisher websites — with the highest bidder winning the slot — while AdSense gives publishers the ability to designate spots on their websites and apps for the display of ads in exchange for a commission.

Let’s take a look at some other noteworthy differences when comparing Google Ads vs AdSense.

Their Purpose

For starters, let’s take a look at the primary purpose of these platforms:

  • You can use Google Ads to drive traffic back to your website either from Google SERPs or the GDN.
  • In contrast, you can use Google AdSense to drive traffic to other websites by being a publishing partner with the GDN.

Why Website Owners Use Them

Now let’s look at why website owners use these platforms:

  • Website owners use Google Ads as a critical form of online advertising and addition to their search engine optimization efforts.
  • Website owners use Google AdSense to generate an alternative revenue stream from their existing content.

Flexibility and Limitations

In our next Google Ads vs AdSense area of comparison, let’s look at where they offer users greater control and where the reins are held tight.

  • Google Ads offers tons of flexibility for ad text but limitations on how the ad will appear on the publisher’s website. You also can only have one ad delivered at a time across Google and the GDN.
  • Google AdSense offers no control over what text appears in ads but full control over the size of ads and where they will appear on your website — and numerous integration options via AdSense plugins for WordPress and general advertising plugins.

It’s also easy to add on AdSense if you use other Google products like Analytics already directly in MyKinsta. Additionally, you should always consider using a performance monitoring tool like the Kinsta APM tool to ensure the addition of ads isn’t slowing down your website.


And now, the last head-to-head comparison for Google Ads vs AdSense: the costs associated with each. That is, the potential money spent and money earned.

  • With Google Ads, you spend a fee each time someone clicks on an ad of yours that appears in the SERPs or the GDN. The amount you spend for each click is referred to as cost per click (CPC). The price is determined in many ways, including the bid amount, how the ad currently ranks compared to competitors, and the overall quality score attached to the ad.

    That is why highly competitive niches with highly competitive keywords have a much higher CPC than less competitive choices.

    Moreover, with Google Ads, you earn nothing directly. However, the boost your website receives through ad clicks can pay off in the form of new customers or clients. Ensuring those clicks reach the appropriately targeted audience is key. Otherwise, paying the CPC would be the equivalent of throwing money down the drain.

  • With Google AdSense, you don’t spend at all. It’s completely free to use because you’re providing the ad space for advertisers to promote their products and services.

    Google AdSense lets you earn a commission for each click on the ads that appear on your websites or apps. You can also receive a commission for ad impressions.

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We hope this comparison between Google Ads vs AdSense has shone a light on the subject for you and clarified any misconceptions about the differences between these platforms. To recap, Google Ads is for advertisers, and Google AdSense is for publishers.

That’s pretty much it! You can use both to great effect in promoting your websites and bringing in some extra income.

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