A comparison of Google AdSense and Google Ad Manager

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Google Adsense is a program is run by Google. The program allows the publishers around the Google network of content sites to offer automatic text, video, images, advertisements to name a few. All of this is directly targetted towards the site content and the audience.

It can be confusing when you are trying to understand Google products for your publishing needs. The confusion can be attributed to very similar sounding names of the products or overlapping functionalities of different products. For instance, Adsense and Ad Manager, they both deliver ads, they are both connected to demand sources, they can be used together and they can also be used without each other. Why is that the case? In this blog, we’ll try to understand the difference between the two.

What is AdSense?

Adsense is an ad network. It is a “plug and play” solution for small publishers where you just have to paste a code on your website and the ads start to deliver. There is no minimum traffic requirement for Adsense and therefore almost every publisher can access it with a website and a few articles.

In Adsense, the demand mostly comes from Google Ads and other Google Certified Ad Networks(GCAN). Google Ads is an advertising platform mostly used by small and mid-sized businesses. These businesses have smaller budgets and very narrow, keyword-based contextual targeting, in short, their demand is minuscule when compared to global advertisers. This is why Adsense allows you to enroll in its program even when you’ve very little supply of inventory.

Google AdSense Benefits 

  • Easy to set up, no advanced technical skills needed 
  • Auto Ads available if you don’t want to invest time in ad setup
  • It’s a free, self-serve platform

What is Google Ad Manager?

Google Ad Manager

To understand the Google Ad Manager, you’ve to see it through two different perspectives:

  • As an Ad Server
  • As a Supply Side Platform

Google Ad Manager as an Ad Server

An ad server is a piece of technology that is responsible for managing and serving the ads to the user. The decision to serve the ads is done in real-time. As an Ad Server, Google Ad Manager helps publishers choose and deliver the appropriate ads based on various targeting criteria set for different campaigns.

But, delivering ads isn’t the only function of an ad server. As we said earlier, publishers can manage and control the campaigns with it. The publishers and advertisers want to know how the campaigns are performing, therefore,The ad server also provides insights into ad performance via its reporting features. Google Ad Manager performs these functions as well.

Google Ad Manager as a Supply Side Platform

Supply-Side Platforms are the intermediary platforms that connect publishers to numerous demand partners at the same. Similar to an SSP, the functions of Google Ad Manager aren’t limited to serving ads and managing campaigns. It helps you with opening up your inventory to multiple ad networks and ad exchanges. Ad Manager can add more ad networks like Adsense.

It helps you create competition among your demand sources to increase your revenue. The competition is created by conducting auctions among the demand partners. A demand partner will be ready to pay for an impression when the impression has the chances of conversion (sale, signup, lead generation, etc).But since the demand partner is buying the impression from the auction, its bid has to be higher than the fellow bidders. The same principle applies to the other bidders in the auction, hence everyone is motivated to to pay higher, resulting in better revenue for the publisher.

Google Ad Manager also provides you solutions like Dynamic Allocation, First Look, Optimised Competition to improve your yield.

What are the benefits of Google Ad Manager?

  • A central platform to monetize all types of ad inventory
  • Revenue optimization; GAM competes against other networks in real-time, giving you the highest price
  • By keeping track of the availability of your ad inventory, the forecasting feature helps you manage your direct and programmatic sales more efficiently
  • Advanced reporting

AdSense Vs Ad Manager

Based on the basic functionalities, the differences between Adsense and Google Ad Manager are evident:

Suitability: Adsense is suitable for small publishers that have just started, and don’t need much control or insights on the ad delivery process because the traffic is just a few thousand pageviews (100K-500K). Whereas, publishers that need to control and manage multiple campaigns on their sites, need to use Ad Manager.

Multiple Networks: Publishers who are only using Adsense on their sites can work without Ad Manager. They can simply integrate Adsense by adding its code to the site and they are good to go. Whereas publishers will have to use GAM if they want to bring more demand than just AdSense. Adsense can be one of the multiple ad networks integrated with the site.

Direct Deals: Adsense is good for publishers who haven’t started receiving direct deals to run on their sites. Whereas publishers who are being approached by the advertisers to run direct campaigns need Ad Manager.

Reporting: Publishers who presently do not need advanced reporting on their inventory can keep using Adsense for the time being. The publishers in this category are at their initial stage when they are not working with any direct demand partners and not generating any significant revenue. Whereas publishers who want granular reporting on the performance of the ads should use Google Ad Manager. The publishers in this category need granular reporting because a miniscule improvement in the performance can bring considerable increase in income.

Inventory Type: Adsense supports only basic web ads. So the publishers who are showing ads only on the web can fulfill their needs through Adsense. Whereas publishers who have their inventory on web, apps, TV, etc need to use Ad Manager.

How to make more money using Google Ad Manager

There is a clear correlation between the amount of ad revenue a website generates and the likelihood of that site using Ad Manager over AdSense. Sites that make more money from ads are more likely to be using Ad Manager. As a website’s revenue increases, the opportunity to increase that ad revenue further using tools like Google Ad Manager grows with it. The approach is simple in concept:

  • Introduce more demand for your inventory – More demand means more chance to match a potential ad impression with a high paying bidder. Ad Manager allows you to have multiple, quality Ad Exchanges, Ad Networks and SSPs, trafficked to the same ad units.
  • Switch AdSense to AdX – Google Ad Exchange (AdX) is Google’s premium monetisation solution. It includes AdSense demand, but also demand from select third parties. It also pays based on CPM and has a few other advantages that help it perform better in a competitive environment.
  • Enable competition – The real key to success is to allow all those sources of demand to compete against each other in auction for every impression either client side through Header Bidding, or server side with a solution like Exchange Bidding (or, if you are really smart – both together). That competition will force all of your demand sources to up their prices to win impressions rather than letting a single Ad Network (like AdSense) set the price for you.

What is the real difference between AdSense and Ad Manager for publishers?

adsense vs ad manager

The choice between AdSense and Ad Manager will boil down to one simple question for most publishers: Do you only intend to serve ads from AdSense? If every ad served onto the site is going to be supplied by AdSense, then there is little advantage to using Ad Manager. Google Ad Manager offers many compelling advantages, but publishers continuing to only have AdSense demand competing for their inventory are not likely to get enough benefit from using Ad Manager to warrant a switch. The truth is that AdSense is very good at running AdSense ads.

Where Ad Manager comes into its own is in being able to manage multiple demand channels, which helps publishers to get the most value from each impression. Ad Manager can natively serve demand from Google AdX and from other partners via Exchange Bidding. By serving third-party tags, Ad Manager enables other networks and exchanges to compete based on price. Ad Manager also manages direct campaigns, optimising their impressions vs your programmatic demand to ensure the highest yield. Importantly, Ad Manager also allows for Header Bidding to compete against your dynamic allocation items, pushing up your revenue per impression.

Google Ad Manager with AdX account

What we discussed above were just the basic differences between AdSense and Google Ad Manager. But when you have an AdX account then the capabilities of GAM increase further:

Programmatic Direct Deals: You can use GAM to send and receive proposals for direct deals programmatically. You can check, approve, or reject the proposals coming from advertisers at a single place. There are no such arrangements in Google Adsense.

Real-time Bidding: Most of the demand from Adsense is based on pre-set criteria by the advertisers, through Google Ads. Whereas GAM can help you connect with demand sources that use real-time bidding.

Real-time bids come from trading desks that are more advanced than Google Ads. The bids are based on real-time data of the users, hence the ads are more relevant with higher conversion rates. The advertisers using the trading desks are also large-scale buyers. Due to the bigger demand and targeted ads the revenue is higher when advertisers are bidding for your inventory in real-time.

Private Auctions: After signing the direct deals with the advertisers, you can hold private auctions among them to sell your premium inventory at premium rates. Since Adsense doesn’t conduct real-time bidding, private auctions aren’t possible with it.

Floor Price: Google Ad Manager allows you to set a minimum price of your inventory. By setting a floor price, you can improve your revenue and maintain the quality of ads on your site. When the floor price is set, you restrict the advertisers to stop buying the ad inventories at lower costs. By doing so, you also stop the low-quality ads that are generally targeted at sub-par inventory. Whereas with Adsense, you’ve to accept whatever rates you are getting.

Google Ad Manager with Header Bidding

As we mentioned earlier that Google Ad Manager can be used to integrate the demand from multiple demand partners, it can also be used with header bidding. Header Bidding wrapper can be configured with Google Ad Manager to receive real-time bids from various supply-side platforms to increase your revenue further.

The two variants of Google Ad Manager

There isn’t just one, but two different versions of GAM. The first is the free version with no minimum traffic requirements, and the other one is called Ad Manager 360. The premium version requires you to have minimum traffic of 90M. Billing is done on an impression basis. The premium version provides you additional features on top of the free version. Here are some of those features:

  • Tracking the user activity with the ads to track conversions.
  • Creation of audience segments based on first-party data.
  • Creation of Master/companion roadblocks to control which creative appears first in your content.
  • Forecasting under-delivery of ads due to lack of inventory.
  • 5 level ad unit hierarchy, the free version supports only 2 levels.
  • Autosuggestion for ad units to help you increase your revenue.
  • The ability to create special ad units so that they are targeted only by the explicit line-items chosen by you.


Adsense and Ad Manager are both needed for website monetization. Use Adsense in the initial days of your site. Start using Ad Manager once you’ve multiple demand partners. You can keep using Ad Manager while working with AdX/Adsense and Header Bidding as well. Graduate to Ad Manager 360 when the controls in the free version aren’t enough for you.

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