AdSense and Ad Manager are two cornerstone’s of Google’s publisher-facing tool-set. Both help site owners earn money from ads on their websites, but they are wildly different tools with far less overlap that some realise. Understanding the differences between Ad Manager and AdSense, together with the strengths and weaknesses of each allows publishers to use to right tool for the right job; vital when trying to optimise their ad revenue. Let’s start with the basics before moving on to more interesting use-cases.
What is AdSense?
Google AdSense is technically an Ad Network, although one that is quite different to any other ad network. Since it’s launch in 2003, AdSense has been helping websites of all sizes to earn money by serving ads on their websites. It’s biggest strengths are a combination of a huge number of advertisers (through Google AdS – formerly AdWords) and being incredibly easy to set-up and manage for publishers.
What is an ad network?
An online advertising network or ad network is a company that connects advertisers to websites that want to host advertisements. The key function of an ad network is an aggregation of ad supply from publishers and matching it with advertiser's demand. Wikipedia
What is Ad Manager
Ad Manager is still often best known by it’s old name DoubleClick for Publishers (or simply DFP). Ad Manager is an ad-server. It’s primary purpose is to give publishers to tools to control how ads are served on a website, wherever those ads are sourced from, as opposed to providing the ads.
What is an ad server?
An Ad Server is a web based tool used by publishers, networks and advertisers to help with ad management, campaign management and ad trafficking. An ad server also provides reporting on ads served on the website. TubeMogul
That sounds simple. Why the confusion?
The difference between an ad-network and an ad-server isn’t hard to grasp. Ad Networks are the middle-men between publisher and advertisers. Ad Servers are the software that dictates how ads (from networks, or anywhere else) are served. Unfortunately, things are rarely so clear-cut in the world of online advertising, so the lines are a little more blurred than that:
Google Ad Manager can also give publishers access to ad demand from AdSense or Google AdX. Because Ad Manager integrates closely with both Google Monetization products, this creates overlap between Ad Manager and AdSense in particular. Publishers can log into AdSense to create ad units that server Google Ads. They can also log into Ad Manager to do the exact same thing. What’s important to remember is that this is an additional function. Ad Manager is an Ad Server than also allows you to manage demand from Google’s products.
Enough theory. What is the real difference for publishers?
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 on to 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 content only to only have AdWords 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 it’s own in in being able to manage multiple demand channels – helping 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.