Written by Ben Morrisroe

7 May, 2020

Both AdX and AdSense are digital advertising platforms. Both are owned by Google. Both are used by publishers of all sizes to monetise their content. And both provide publishers with access to the same buyers and advertisers. So, what’s the difference between both then? How do you choose which one is better for you and your business? Let’s take a closer look at them and see how they differ and the advantages of each.

What is Google AdX?

The origin of the ad exchange AdX lies in DoubleClick, a company founded in 1996 as an ad server. It was acquired by Google in 2008. The purchase was controversial at the time because there were concerns that Google would have too much control over online advertising. Adsense was developed by Google as an internal product in 2003. It displays content-based advertisements on partner sites. Advertisers 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. It may be the benefit of having Google on their brand name or the fact that it’s an advertising product that’s very easy to set up and requires minimal work, but Adsense is much more popular than AdX/ DoubleClick in Google Search. It’s not really that surprising, considering that both products serve a fundamentally different use case for different kinds of clients.

Google AdX vs Google AdSense: what are the key differences?

Google AdSense is an advertising network. It allows publishers to monetise their content on desktop and mobile. Setting it up is very easy. You just create ad placements and insert a tag on your site’s code. From then on, AdSense will take care of everything, from serving ads to targeting, to payment to the publisher. Google AdSense will fill those placements with cookie targeted ads from the Google Ads program. The filling rate is between 95-99%, so most of the time your ad units will be utilised. It’s not a very lucrative way to monetise content, as the platform is geared towards providing low-cost impressions to advertisers. Publishers can’t set a floor price on their ad units, and they can’t also sell those ad units on their own. So they’re stuck with what Google offers them. Still, there are plenty of stories of bloggers and small-scale operation that are able to generate a living wage out of AdSense. Google AdX (also known as Google Ad Exchange or previously known as DoubleClick Ad Exchange) is an ad exchange network. This means it is a programmatic advertising platform, offering real-time bidding (RTB) on ad spaces to ad networks, including AdSense, agencies and demand-side platforms. Publishers working with Google AdX have access to a larger inventory in real-time. Also, publishers can access buyers from Google Ads and other marketplaces using this exchange. It also provides much more control to publishers over their ad space and allows them to sell their ad inventory directly. There’s also higher competition for ad inventory, which results in increased revenue per ad unit sold.

How to get started with Google AdSense

To insert AdSense ads on your website you just need to sign up on AdSense and submit your website details for verification. Once they approve your request in a few days, you’re good to go. You just need to copy the ad tags provided by AdSense and insert them on your website code, on the places where you want to place ads.

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, optimising a Google AdSense operation to maximise the results can require a lot of effort by a specialised consultant or marketing resource. But getting started with AdSense is actually very easy, which accounts for its popularity and high adoption rate from publishers and advertisers. Ad revenue share is strictly defined: 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. Publishers have a certain amount of control on the ads published on their site. They can, for example, block competitors, sensitive topics and categories and even individual ads from showing up on their site. They can also change the size and type of ads (text or display, for example). 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.

How to get started with AdX?

If you want to use AdX (previously known as DoubleClick Ad Exchange) to sell your ad inventory, setting it up is a bit trickier. A Google representative has to manually approve that application, and access to the AdX ad exchange is generally reserved to large publishers. 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. There are three kinds of auctions on Google ad exchange, AdX:
  1. Open auction. Publishers are anonymous and the auction is open to all publishers and advertisers. It’s the standard or default auction type.
  2. Private auction. 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.
  3. 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 of paying a higher price than in an auction process.
Managing and optimising 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 favour of other, less expensive alternatives, thus causing your revenue to plummet.

Google AdX vs AdSense Revenue: Which generates greater returns?

Digital advertising revenue depends on a large number of factors, which makes it difficult to recommend one platform categorically. Back in 2017, Adnimation conducted a study with data from 400 websites which suggested that Google AdX would generate more revenue. But in the end, it depends basically on whether your publication has a large enough audience and the resources and expertise in place to manage and optimise their ad operations effectively through Google ad exchange. If the answers are positive, Google AdX then opens up many more customisation possibilities and optimisation paths to maximise revenue. If you don’t, however, then Google AdSense, which is easier to manage and optimise than an ad exchange, would provide higher yields.

What should I choose then, AdX or AdSense?

AdSense is an easy and highly accessible way to generate revenue for even small-scale and niche publishers. This makes it a popular and sure way to show automatically 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. Google AdX, on the other hand, offers an ad exchange programmatically or with real-time bidding. 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. But getting access to AdX is limited by Google to publishers with large audience sizes, so it’s likely they have the resources in place to help them get the most out of Google AdX.

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