In 1996, DoubleClick was born as an ad exchange provider, acquired by Google, and became known as DoubleClick by Google (aka DoubleClick AdX, aka DoubleClick Ad Exchange).
Then along came Google AdSense somewhere in between, which is an ad network, not an ad exchange, confusing marketers and advertisers ever since.
AdSense, launched by Google on June 18, 2003, automates display ads based on a website’s content and/or audience.
AdX or AdSense: Which Is More Popular?
Despite being second to Google’s display advertising party, AdSense has been more popular than their DoubleClick AdX counterpart, at least since 2004 as seen in the Google Trends graph below.
(Data is ranging from 2004 to the present with interest worldwide, the topic of AdSense [Blue] and DoubleClick [Red] is analyzed. A topic analysis was chosen since the search term analysis for permutations of DoubleClick AdX didn’t provide any results in Google Trends…literally zero.)
Google’s AdSense wins the popularity contest either way, but that doesn’t mean that AdSense is superior to AdX at all.
In fact, advertisers with ads to display like both and website owners who want money to display ads like both as well.
So, AdX or AdSense, which is better? Which will make you the most money?
These are the top priority questions of this post.
The answer always depends on the type of industry and the goals of the campaign or the business.
The answer also depends on who is asking because the answer to these questions also depends on whether you’re a publisher (website owner or display inventory provider) or an advertiser.
Regardless what your goals are, it’s helpful to understand the differences and know in which cases either AdSense or AdX (or both!) is appropriate for various types of business, business objectives, and budgets. And yes there are advantages and disadvantages to each to consider.
But worry not we will declare a winner by the end of this article. All the answers are here!
AdX vs. AdSense Core Differences
Once you understand the fundamental differences between AdX and AdSense, you will wonder why you ever confused the two.
AdSense is the part of AdWords that gives a network of website owners and other Google properties the ability display and publish ads on their site. The network includes Google’s search engine, YouTube, Blogger, Gmail, and the Google Display Network (GDN).
DoubleClick AdX is a standalone Google display ad exchange provider, who through programmatic real-time bidding (RTB) offers a huge inventory to huge advertisers, managed through a trade desk type of service.
The AdX inventory includes tons of different ad networks and recognizable brand and media names. You may be surprised (or confused again) to know that the AdSense network is actually available to advertisers through DoubleClick.
If advertisers can access AdSense through DoubleClick, why would they bother with only AdSense? The answer to this is dependent on what that advertiser’s capacity is in terms of budget and scale. We’ll clarify that in the next sections, but let’s continue to look at the core differences between the two display providers.
As previously mentioned, at the heart of AdSense is an ad network and at the core of AdX is an ad exchange. Blognife explains fundamental differences between the two on the important aspect of ad targeting for example:
“Ad networks follow the model of bulk selling and buying of ads in a predominantly contextual manner. Ad exchanges follow the model of selling and buying on an impression-by-impression basis in primarily behavioural manner.”
The two operate on completely different playing fields, especially for publishers, but because AdSense operates inside of AdX there are certainly some similarities.
Google created a table to illustrate the differences and similarities between the two:
While the table is quite long with many additional sections, the Anonymity and Preferred Deals highlights distinctions, while the Filtering and Blocking row highlights overlap.
With so many layers of consideration, differences and similarities, publishers and advertisers need to take a deeper dive to decide whether to go ad exchange or ad network.
Getting to Know the Google AdSense Ad Network
Bloggers, website owners, and other publishers often delight at the opportunity to earn additional revenue through Google’s AdSense network.
Almost anyone can sign up if they agree to follow some standard terms and conditions by Google and paste a bit of code on their site.
There is in-depth training on how to get started with Google AdSense on WordPress for example, for anyone needing more specific instructions. And just like that ads will automatically start displaying on their website.
We’ve all seen them, like this example here from prominent cookie blogger Sweet Sugarbelle (note: this website came up first when I searched [cookie blogger] from Montreal, Canada):
Using Google AdSense, Sweet Sugarbelle is displaying an ad from Ezoic on the right-hand-side of her homepage and an ad from RBC on the bottom simultaneously.
Website owners can make use of allowing and blocking features in AdSense to control which ads show on their site, preventing competitors’ ads, ads of sensitive matters, certain ad categories, and even individual ads if desired.
However, some site owners don’t want to limit their income potential by blocking and filtering too many kinds of ads from appearing on their site. Most are happy to have ads just displaying automatically while they make money.
As AdNation explains, “AdSense is a self-service ad marketplace aimed at bloggers and smaller websites.”
Publishers in AdSense, like woodworking how-to blogger Les Kenny, have made a living off of their AdSense ad income.
Advertisers, like RBC above, bid on keywords, ads, and campaigns to show their ads on websites included in the AdSense network through AdWords.
The AdSense advertising network aims to please advertisers by offering them the lowest cost for impressions. It also means website owners aren’t getting maximum prices in part because they can’t set floor prices.
Either way, both website owners and advertisers who are inexperienced will find this display ad network accessible compared to AdX. This is especially true for advertisers already running search campaigns in AdWords.
Getting to Know Google AdX
For publishers who want their site to be part of the AdX inventory, the process is much more complicated than with AdSense.
To even have access to the Google AdX, websites have to be a Certified Publishing Partner and go through one of Google’s representatives. The AdX inventory is huge and composed of smaller websites through networks like AdSense but also tons of other networks and display inventory.
Of course, Google likes to exchange display inventory with big sites that have lots of traffic because they want to sell impressions! So media sites and large e-commerce sites are often good candidates to be eligible for this exchange.
Rumor has it that large enough websites can even negotiate higher revenue shares with Google.
But despite a few major hoops to access AdX as a publisher, there are some serious perks. For example, publishers can set floor prices and control who bids on their available ad units in the exchange, and there are many more possible buyers through different types of auctions! Publishers can sell their ad unit inventory through Open Auction, Private Auction or Preferred Deal.
The Open Auction is DoubleClick’s standard ad exchange that as its name suggests is open to all AdX publishers and advertisers. As with any auction, the more bidders there are, the higher the final price paid. Google notes that in general, the Open Auction tends to generate the most revenue simply because it’s open to the most buyers.
The Private Auction allows publishers to offer an auction to a select group of advertisers or buyers.
In this type of AdX auction publishers are no longer anonymous in the open auction environment. Instead they’re displaying proudly who they are hoping to attract the highest bid with a select few advertisers who have previously targeted their site, for example.
What’s perhaps even more interesting is the notion of Preferred Deals, which bypasses the auction completely offering a one-to-one transaction between publishers and advertisers.
In a Preferred Deal, buyers get exclusive access to inventory before it’s available for auction, securing placements, even if it means higher prices.
If AdX is a source of revenue for a particular advertiser, it may make sense for them to pay those premiums and take advantage of preferred deals.
Although AdX seems like the dreamboat for publishers who are able to offer inventory privately, set floor prices, and negotiate private deals, Adngin warns it’s not all fast cash for publishers.
If the publisher sets their prices too high or if they’re not as competitive as others they could actually end up lowering earnings compared to what AdSense alone would have yielded.
Dynamic allocation can help publishers sell unsold inventory to maximize returns, but that’s another post in itself.
Large advertisers that want to programmatically run ads in a large marketplace that they have control over, turn to Google AdX. To have success in this exchange, skilled marketers and advertisers have to manage their bids and campaigns daily.
Like publishers use a rep to offer inventory inside DoubleClick’s ad exchange, advertisers often partner with a trading desk to place ads inside this inventory.
Advertisers may pay higher prices, but for more inventory that offer potentially higher returns.
As an advertiser, think of the kind of visibility your ads could have if they showed up on sites like The New York Times or the National Basketball Association (NBA) website!
AdSense or AdX, Which is Better?
The answer to which network is better depends on the businesses budget and expertise.
Ultimately AdSense provides a playing field for lower budget advertisers and an opportunity for all websites to profit from airing ads on their site, with little to no experience. With a little onboarding and tweaking, everything becomes automated.
AdX is more costly and more complicated, and requires expert management, yet has a larger inventory with more control.
Here are four reasons why publishers think AdX is better than AdSense:
- As a publisher you can set minimum prices for different ad positions on your site and these can be unique for branded or anonymous buyers of your inventory.
- AdX offers Preferred Deals, allowing advertisers to offer and negotiate a fixed price privately with an advertiser before their inventory goes into live auction.
- Private auctions allow site owners to have more control over which ads show on their sites.
- Publishers can set different costs for different sections of their websites (e.g., sports or news).
The point about control has greater implications.
If ad exchanges are utilized selectively, they have the potential to provide a greater user experience onsite than AdSense alone. By being selective about which ads show, you can ensure that users don’t get annoyed. And if you can keep site visitors for longer you can impact metrics like time-on-site and bounce rate, in turn improving a site’s overall performance and ranking in Google’s eyes.
So publishers with valuable real estate might like AdX because it gives them more control and potentially more revenue from their digital real estate if managed correctly, but AdSense may be more suitable for new website owners.
For advertisers, the answer about which is better largely depends on which one provides the best ROI to their display campaigns.
Which Will Make More Money?
Again the logical answer about which channel is most profitable largely depends on your business type and circumstances – can you actively afford and manage either AdSense, AdX or both?
Obviously, the implementation and management of different display campaigns play a huge role in an advertiser’s success.
However, I am daring to say that as an advertiser AdX could potentially provide bigger returns if your client or company has the money to experiment with this channel.
After analyzing 400+ websites, Adnimation concluded that Google AdX will make more money for advertisers than Google AdSense, but noted the answer is subjective and requires deeper analysis.
In the short term, advertisers might see more clicks on Google AdSense ads than AdX ads, but this could be by mistake because of their placement beside the “Next” button on gallery pages, which also drives up CPMs. While clicks may go up temporarily they won’t provide valuable returns in the long run.
Others agree that AdX will drive more revenue than AdSense, even for publishers, claiming that they’ve seen a 30 percent increase in overall ad revenue with AdX vs. AdSense.
Considering large websites may actually be able to negotiate revenue share with Google, AdX is where it’s at when it comes to which will earn you more cash as a publisher.
Ultimately, though, if AdSense and AdX can offer website owners income, why wouldn’t they just opt for both?
In some cases they do, in other cases, publishers simply aren’t eligible for an AdX account.
However, if they are, site owners could certainly display both AdSense and AdX inventory to the auction.
Declaring a Display Network Winner for Publishers & Advertisers
AdSense makes a winner out of everyone and even the smallest websites and advertisers can use this network. This ad network’s accessibility likely contributes to its overall popularity as we saw in the Google Trends graph featured in the introduction.
Popularity aside, the two display providers are quite different and therefore the question of which is better depends on who is asking.
Overall anyone who understands well the difference between the two believes AdX is a better display platform that can generate more money for advertisers and publishers if they can get access – it’s pretty exclusive. Reserved for big websites and advertisers, AdX isn’t a simple walk in the park.
From that perspective, however, inexperienced display marketers risk losing their advertising investment through AdX so it’s highly recommended to work with an experienced trading desk.
More Digital Advertising Resources Here:
- Do Google’s New AdSense Native Ads Violate Its Own Policies?
- How Google AdSense Deals With Misrepresentative Content
- Google AdSense Policies & Reinstatement
Feature Image:Agnieszka Boeske/Unsplash
All screenshots taken by author, December 2017