Google AdX vs Google Adsense: Which Is Better for You?

Ben Morrisroe
January 8, 2021
December 18, 2023
Google AdX vs Google Adsense: Which Is Better for You?

Both AdX and AdSense are digital advertising platforms used by publishers to monetize their content. 

However, they serve different purposes and are meant for different kinds of users.

We take a closer look at each to see how they differ from each other, and which one should publishers use to best serve their monetization needs.

What Is Google AdX?

The origins of Google Ad Exchange or simply, AdX, lie in DoubleClick Ad Exchange founded in 1996 as an ad server. It was acquired by Google in 2008. 

Through Google AdX, publishers can sell their ad inventory to advertisers and agencies using real-time bidding (RTB) technology. By establishing an open marketplace where prices are set in a real-time auction, Ad Exchange enables display ads and ad space to be allocated much more efficiently and easily across the web.

Sellers can make the most money of their ad space and get access to more advertisers, while still being able to control who can advertise on their site. Buyers get access to more websites and ad space, and have more control over where their ads run.

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AdX is a platform for monetizing ad inventory that serves both website owners and mobile app developers, in contrast to Adsense which caters solely to website owners, and AdMob which is designed to help mobile app developers sell ad space. For a thorough comparison between Google AdX vs AdMob, publishers can refer to this guide. 

How Does Google AdX Work?

How to get started with Google AdX
(Image Source: Google: Ad Exchange Overview)

Google Ad Exchange works by establishing an open marketplace where buyers place real time bids on available ad inventory. There are three kinds of auctions on Google AdX:

  • Open auction: Publishers are anonymous and the auction is open to all publishers and advertisers. It's the standard or default auction type.
  • Private auction: Private auctions are where publishers target a selected group of advertisers directly, offering them ad placements on their site. In this case, the publishers are not anonymous, and the publisher brand and profile have a deep impact on how well a private auction can perform.
  • Preferred deal: In this mode, publishers offer a deal directly to an advertiser, offering them exclusive access to selected inventory before it goes to a private or open auction. Advertisers can then secure placement on publishers aligned with their brand, or which have higher conversion rates, in exchange for paying a higher price than in an auction process.

Managing and optimizing a Google AdX account is more demanding than using AdSense, and it requires either an agency, an ad ops team, or at least a dedicated resource.

Decisions on this ad exchange can have a big impact on advertising revenue. For example, setting up the floor price too high can make advertisers ignore your website in favor of other, less expensive alternatives, thus causing your revenue to plummet.

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What Is Google AdSense?

Google AdSense is a platform that displays content-based advertisements on partner sites, allowing publishers to earn profit for every ad click made.

AdSense matches ads to a site based on the publisher's content and visitors. Advertisers then bid for placement of their ads just like they do on Google Ads. In fact, ads on AdSense come from Google Ads, the Google Display Network and other Google products.

So what exactly are the key differences? And which platform is more suitable for you?

Click here to read a guide to the best CPM ad networks for publishers.

How Does Google AdSense Work?

AdSense is a free service, and the platform manages all steps of the process once the tags are set up. This means that everyone can sign up and the entry barrier is very low.

Of course, optimizing a Google AdSense operation to maximize the results can require a lot of effort by a specialized consultant or marketing resource. But getting started with AdSense is actually very easy, which is one of the reasons for its popularity and high adoption rate among publishers and advertisers.

The ads come from the Google Ads platform, where advertisers set up campaigns with ads and bid on the keywords that will trigger the placement of their ads. This makes it also very easy for advertisers to access placement on the AdSense ad network.

Google AdX vs Google AdSense: What Are the Key Differences?

AdX is an ad exchange network bringing together buyers and sellers of ad inventory in a real-time bidding process, whereas AdSense is an ad network that simply matches a publisher’s content with related ads. The two products serve a fundamentally different purpose for different kinds of clients. Publishers can refer to this guide for a detailed ad network vs ad exchange comparison.

Here we summarize the key differences between the two:

1. Functionality

Google AdX is an ad exchange that allows publishers to sell their ad inventory to multiple ad networks and advertisers. AdX gives publishers access to a larger pool of advertisers and ad networks, which can result in higher revenue. 

Google AdSense, on the other hand, is an ad network that allows publishers to place ads on their websites and earn revenue when users click on the ads. AdSense provides contextual and personalized ads that are relevant to the content of the webpage.

2. Control

Google AdX provides publishers with more control over their ad inventory. Publishers can set rules for the types of ads that appear on their website, such as blocking ads from certain categories or advertisers. AdX also provides real-time bidding, which allows publishers to maximize their revenue by selling their ad inventory to the highest bidder.

With Google AdSense, publishers can choose the size and format of the ads, but they have limited control over the content of the ads that appear on their websites.

3. Revenue

Google AdX typically generates higher revenue for publishers compared to AdSense. This is in part due to the much larger scale on which AdX operates. Not only does it work with larger publishers, it also allows them access to a  larger pool of advertisers and ad networks, which can result in higher bids and higher revenue. 

AdSense revenue, on the other hand, depends on the traffic volume and the number of clicks on the ads.

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4. Publisher Eligibility

Google AdSense is open to almost all publishers, regardless of the size of their website or the amount of traffic they receive. This means both small and large publishers can earn money with Google AdSense simply by signing up and getting approved. 

Google AdX, on the other hand, is only available to larger publishers who meet certain eligibility criteria. Publishers who want to use AdX must typically have a high volume of quality traffic and a significant amount of ad inventory to sell.

5. Ad Quality

Both AdX and AdSense offer high-quality ads, but AdX tends to have a more rigorous screening process for ads. AdX only allows ads from certified advertisers, which helps ensure that the ads delivered are high quality and relevant to the publisher's audience.

What Is Google Ad Manager?

Google Ad Manager is Google's flagship ad server product, enabling publishers to leverage both AdSense and Ad Exchange, along with third-party networks. 

At the end of 2018, Google rebranded many of their advertising and publisher-facing products, including AdWords, Ad Exchange, DoubleClick, and other advertising and marketing tools. While AdSense remains a separate product for small-medium sized publishers, Google Ad Manager combines Google's popular ad server/SSP (formerly DFP) and their industry-leading ad exchange (AdX).

Google Ad Manager explained
(Image Source: Think with Google)

Publishers need AdSense to sign up for a Google Ad Manager account, but to join Ad Exchange, publishers need to get invited by Google or sign up through a third-party partner. In doing so, Google limits access to its premium ad exchange and ad server to larger publishers and partners.

For more information on how to sign up for a Google Ad Manager account, see this Google support article.

How Authorized Buyers Work With Google Ad Manager

Google's Authorized Buyer program enables millions of websites and apps from all over the world to make their ad inventory available to programmatic buyers. Authorized buyers have access to “Google Partner Inventory”, allowing them to curate both how and who they work with through diverse buying methods.

The most common buyers include:

  • Ad networks: Companies that serve as brokers between publishers and advertisers.
  • Trading desks: Divisions at agency holding companies that execute exchange buys for all the company's agencies.
  • Demand-side platforms (DSPs): Platforms that make buying across multiple exchanges easier.

How to Get Started With AdX

If you want to use AdX to sell your ad inventory, setting it up can be a bit tricky. Since access to the AdX ad exchange is generally reserved for large publishers, a Google representative has to manually approve your application.

If you're able to get in this ad exchange you'll have access to an advanced ad ecosystem with advanced functionality. You'll be able to set floor prices on your ad units and access a wider range of buyers and auction types.

If you're a large enough publisher with a dedicated account manager in Google AdX, you can even negotiate your own ad revenue share. This can have a huge impact on your bottom line, as small percentage changes have large impacts due to the large volume of a high-traffic site.

Start by signing up with Google Ad Manager. You will get DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP), which is an ad server by Google and a Google Account Manager. This person will tell you if you are eligible for an AdX account or not.

Before getting approved, there could be more checks related to ad viewability and safety concerns. Google AdX might reject a publisher's website if it's known to show inappropriate content and/or is low in viewability score.

To learn more about getting started with AdX, refer to Google's Ad Exchange checklist.

How to Get Started With Google AdSense

To insert AdSense ads on your website you need to sign up on AdSense using your Google account and submit your website details for verification. 

You will also need to submit your physical address as Google sends a personal identification number (PIN) by post to this address for verification. This usually takes between two to four weeks to arrive.

Once your request is approved, you're good to go. You just need to copy the ad tags provided by AdSense and insert them in your website code where you want to place ads. Request approval may take anything from

Click here to read a guide on improving ad placements and increasing revenue.

Google AdX vs AdSense Revenue: Which Generates Greater Returns?

Digital advertising revenue depends on many factors, which makes it difficult to recommend one platform categorically. More importantly, the two platforms are targeted at different segments, so it is not feasible to directly compare their revenues.

Google AdSense is mostly preferred by small to mid-sized publishers. It has a strictly defined revenue share wherein 68% of revenue goes to the publisher, while Google keeps 32%. The publisher's share goes down to 51% on ads shown on internal search engines powered by Google.

Google AdX on the other hand works with large publishers and agencies. The revenue it generates will depend to a great extent  on whether a publication has a large enough audience and the resources and expertise in place to manage and optimize their ad operations effectively through Google Ad Exchange.

If the answers are positive, Google AdX then opens up many more customization possibilities and optimization paths to maximize revenue. If not, then Google AdSense, which is easier to manage and optimize than an ad exchange, would provide higher yields.

AdX or AdSense: Which Should I Choose?

Whether you choose AdX or AdSense depends on your size, your audience, and your business needs. Also, bear in mind that while anyone can opt for AdSense as long as they meet its minimum criteria, working with AdX is not a choice open to many publishers. Rather, it is Google that selects who it wants to work with.

AdX has the potential to generate more revenue to publishers but requires more attention and dedication, or the resources to hire a third-party that can manage their ad ops for them.

Since publishers using AdX have large audiences, they expose themselves to the world's most premium advertisers who are eager to spend significant advertising budgets on widely trafficked sites. If you have substantial knowledge in the tech and ad industries and the resources in place to get the most from the platform, AdX is the right choice for you.

AdSense, on the other hand, is an easy and highly accessible way to generate revenue for even small-scale and niche publishers. This makes it a popular way to show text, image, video or interactive ads, which are targeted based on the site's content and audience.

You should choose AdSense if you're a small or medium-size publisher with minimal resources to dedicate to ad management and implementation and limited technical knowledge.

Final Thoughts

Both AdSense and AdX help publishers generate revenue by displaying ads, though they work in different ways, and are often targeted at different kinds of publishers. If you’re a publisher interested in exploring monetization opportunities beyond just AdSense and AdX, you might want to consider exploring Publift’s revenue and performance optimization solutions.

Publift is a programmatic ad platform that has been helping publishers realize up to 55% increase in revenue since 2015. Get in touch with us to know more about how we can help you maximize your earning potential.

If you’re making more than $2,000 in monthly ad revenue, contact us today to learn more about how Publift can help increase your ad revenue and best optimize the ad space available on your website or app.

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