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AdWords vs AdSense: What’s the Difference, and Which Is Best for Your Business?

15 Aug

AdWords. AdSense. Whether you’re an advertiser or owner of a business website, it’s important to know the difference between these similarly-named platforms!

If you’re new to the world of pay-per-click advertising, then the terminology can be a bit hard to follow. With so many different platforms offering different services with their own quirks, understanding what everything means can be challenging, to say the least!

One common source of confusion is the difference between AdWords and AdSense, the two advertising platforms that Google offers. Depending on your business and goals, one of these two might be more appropriate than the other.

Of course, it’s hard to figure out which one is best for you if you don’t know the difference between the two!

Despite the similar-sounding names, both platforms are very, very different in function. Mess this up, and it could cost you hundreds of dollars and hours of time!

To begin, let’s start with the more popular of the two, AdWords

What is Google AdWords?

(Okay, so it was recently renamed Google Ads – for the sake of this article however, we’re going to stick with AdWords – what can we say, it flows better!)

Started in the year 2000, AdWords has evolved to become Google’s primary source of income, making up a whopping 78% of Google’s revenue (a figure that looks set to continue going up in the future).

Simply put, AdWords works by matching users’ search activity with ads from relevant businesses and pages.

Using a combination of relevance, how much each advertiser is willing to pay and the competitiveness of that keyword, Google then decides which ads are most relevant to the searcher and displays them.

For example, if you searched a highly-competitive or generic phrase like “new car”, Google will display ads from high-profile companies like Ford or Toyota.

Search for something more niche on the other hand like “carpenter in Oakleigh” and you’re likely to get ads from smaller, local businesses instead.

Every time a user clicks on one of these ads, they will be directed either to the advertiser’s website or to a dedicated landing page. Compared to ongoing SEO and organic marketing strategies, AdWords can yield quicker conversions.

Finally, as a pay-per-click (PPC) service, advertisers only pay when someone clicks on your ad (hence the name).

This figure varies depending on demand for that particular keyword, as well as search volumes and competition. Be sure to ask your digital marketing partner what a good cost-per-click for your PPC campaign is.

AdWords Search Network

Now that we’ve covered how AdWords works, it’s time to move on to the nitty-gritty.

When most of us think of AdWords, chances are Search network is what comes to mind first.

Think of it this way: Search Network = ads on search engines. These are the ads that show up at the top of a results page.

And it’s not just Google either – AdWords powers the ads on many other search engines. These search partners as they’re called even include long-time rival Yahoo!

Basically, these ads are targeted based on the keyword(s) users enter in the search box and presented at the top and bottom of results pages.

AdWords Display Network

Before explaining Adwords Display Network, we need to explain AdSense.

Similar to AdWords, AdSense is another PPC service offered by Google. Think of it as an extension of the online banner ads of old, serving your ads on third-party websites, often in the sidebar or along the top and bottom of pages.

The Google Display Network (GDN) refers to any site that has Google AdSense enabled. According to Google, over 2 million sites are part of this network and together, they reach 90% of global internet users.

When you see ads on your friend’s travel blog, banners on news websites or any pre-roll ad on YouTube, that’s AdWords Display Network in action!

Okay, so what’s the difference between Search and Display Networks?

While both are part of the AdSense system, Search and Display ads serve completely different functions.

That’s the fundamental difference between the two services. However, there are also a range of other, less obvious differences between the two:

Search is better at making conversions

In our experience, Search ads are much more effective at securing leads. The reason? People who are searching for something on Google are more likely to be in the market for what they’re searching for!

For example, let’s say you’re on Google searching for printer cartridges. If you’re presented with a Search ad from Officeworks, you’re much more likely to click.

If I’m on YouTube watching unrelated videos, chances are you’re not in a “shopping mood”. It takes a very compelling Display ad to make most people click off the video I’m watching in their spare time!

Branding – which one’s better?

When it comes to brand-building however, Display is hands down the winner.

There’s really no contest here. While Search might be better with conversions, there’s no visual element to it. You can’t display your logo, your face or your products – all you have is 140 characters.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to brand-building, there’s no question that the visual nature of Display ads makes them way better at this.

Not to mention, Display ads have a much broader reach. Search ads only turn up if people are looking for you – Display ads on the other hand can be presented on any site that’s part of the GDN.

It’s not as if you’re running blind, either. Display ads come offer a range of targeting options, including specific sites to sites viewed by certain demographics.

Flexibility and variety in ads

Anyone that’s ever worked with Search Network will know that writing ad copy is a lot harder than at first glance.

Simply put, 140 characters split 30-30-80 is not enough to get a meaningful message across… especially when you can’t rely on compelling visuals to do it for you!

On the other hand, Display ads are visual. Images, logos, design… get creative!

Are we repeating ourselves a little bit? Probably – however, that doesn’t make this point any less important.


Have you ever wondered why you’re getting ads for international flights just because you looked up a city in another country once? That’s remarketing in action!

Long story short, remarketing is about presenting ads to people who have shown an interest in your products and services before.

If remarketing is part of your PPC Melbourne campaign, then Display ads are your only realistic option. This strategy allows you to target people who have visited your site in the past, encouraging them to return and convert.

Unsure whether AdWords or AdSense is best for your business?

Get in touch with a Melbourne’s very own iformat. We’re the experts in digital marketing, helping businesses like yours optimise their digital strategies and choose the most effective PPC platforms. Give us a ring on 1300 886 450 or reach out to us here.