Comparing Google Ads and AdWords: Understanding the Differences

Comparing Google Ads and AdWords Understanding the Differences

Navigating the world of online advertising can be overwhelming, with terms like Google Ads and AdWords often used interchangeably. Did you know that these are actually the same platform, known as Google Ads today? This article will provide clarity on this common misconception and dig deep into their features, benefits, limitations, cost structures, and more.

Stick around if you’re ready to unravel the mysteries behind Google’s powerhouse advertising programs.

Key Takeaways

  • Google Ads and AdWords are the same advertising platform, with Google rebranding AdWords to Google Ads in 2018.
  • Google Ads offers a more streamlined interface with advanced features like Smart Campaigns, while AdWords had a more traditional interface.
  • Both platforms provide targeting options such as geographic targeting, demographic targeting, keyword targeting, and more.
  • Ad formats available on both platforms include search ads, display ads, video ads, shopping ads, and app promotion ads.
  • In terms of bidding and budgeting, Google Ads allows for more flexibility in setting bids and budgets compared to AdWords.
  • The cost structure in Google Ads is based on pay-per-click (PPC), where advertisers only pay when someone clicks on their ad.
  • Understanding the differences between these platforms will help advertisers make informed decisions based on their specific goals and budget.

Understanding Google Ads and AdWords

Google Ads and Google AdWords are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to the same advertising platform.

What is Google Ads?

Google Ads, previously known as Google AdWords until 2018, is a powerful online advertising platform developed by tech giant, Google. This platform enables businesses and advertisers to reach potential customers through the use of paid advertisements that appear on Google’s search engine results page (SERP) and other Google properties like YouTube.

It operates on a pay-per-click (PPC) model where advertisers bid for keywords relevant to their business or service offerings. When users enter these keywords in their search queries, the advertiser’s ad may appear above organic search results offering high visibility.

A crucial aspect of this system is conversion tracking which can be done using either the Google Ads conversion code or importing goals from Google Analytics—a method provided by Google for resolving data discrepancies between the two platforms.

What is Google AdWords?

Google AdWords, now known as Google Ads, is an online advertising platform developed by Google. It allows advertisers to create and run ads on various Google platforms, including the search engine result pages (SERPs), websites within the Google Display Network, and YouTube videos.

With Google Ads, businesses can bid on specific keywords related to their products or services. When users search for these keywords on Google or visit websites that are part of the Display Network, relevant ads are displayed.

This targeted approach helps businesses reach potential customers who are actively looking for what they offer.

Advertisers only pay when someone clicks on their ad (pay-per-click) or when their ad achieves a certain number of impressions (cost-per-thousand-impressions). This flexible pricing model enables businesses to set budgets that align with their marketing goals while ensuring measurable results.

Key differences between Google Ads and AdWords

Understanding the differences between Google Ads and Google AdWords is essential to choosing the right platform for your advertising needs. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually point to the same service since Google rebranded AdWords to Google Ads in 2018. Here’s a look at some of their key differences:

Google Ads Google AdWords
Google Ads is the rebranded version of Google AdWords, introduced in 2018. Google AdWords was the original name of the service launched in 2000.
Google Ads has a more streamlined interface, designed for the modern digital marketer. Google AdWords had a more traditional, somewhat complex interface.
In Google Ads, you’ll find new features like Smart Campaigns, designed for small to mid-sized businesses. Google AdWords did not include these newer features at the time of its rebranding.
Google Ads provides a more unified advertising solution, integrating across various Google platforms. With Google AdWords, the integration across platforms was less comprehensive.
Google Ads emphasizes the importance of placing ads not only on Search, but also on other channels like YouTube and Google Maps. AdWords was primarily geared towards Search ads.

Remember, regardless of the name, the aim of both services is to assist you in creating effective online ad campaigns. Consider your business’s needs, your digital marketing strategy, and your resources when deciding which platform to use. Whether it’s Google Ads or Google AdWords, the service remains a powerful tool for reaching potential customers.

How Google Ads Works

Google Ads works by offering advertisers a variety of targeting options, ad formats, and placements to reach their desired audience, while also allowing them to set bids and budgets for their campaigns.

Targeting options

Google Ads and AdWords provide a variety of targeting options to help advertisers reach their desired audience. Here are some key targeting options available on both platforms:

  1. Geographic Targeting: Advertisers can target their ads to specific locations, such as countries, regions, cities, or even custom-defined areas.
  2. Language Targeting: Advertisers can choose the language in which they want their ads to appear, ensuring they reach users who speak that language.
  3. Demographic Targeting: Advertisers can target ads based on demographic factors like age, gender, marital status, parental status, and more.
  4. Audience Targeting: Advertisers can create audience segments based on user behavior and interests. This includes targeting users who have visited specific websites or have shown interest in certain topics.
  5. Device Targeting: Advertisers can choose to show their ads on specific devices like desktops/laptops, mobile phones/tablets, or both.
  6. Time of Day Targeting: Advertisers can schedule their ads to run during specific times of the day or week when their target audience is most likely to be online.
  7. Placement Targeting: Advertisers can choose specific websites or apps where they want their ads to appear using placement targeting options.
  8. Keyword Targeting: With keyword targeting, advertisers can select relevant keywords related to their products or services so that their ads appear when users search for those keywords on Google.
  9. Remarketing: This feature allows advertisers to target users who have previously interacted with their website or app by showing them personalized ads as they browse other websites within the Google Display Network.
  10. Custom Intent Audiences: Using machine learning technology, advertisers can create custom intent audiences by entering relevant keywords or URLs related to what their ideal customers are searching for or viewing online.

Ad formats and placements

Ad formats and placements are important considerations when using Google Ads or AdWords for your advertising campaigns. Here are the different ad formats and placements available on these platforms:

  1. Search ads: These are text-based ads that appear in the search engine results page (SERP) when users search for specific keywords. They typically appear at the top or bottom of the SERP.
  2. Display ads: These are image-based or interactive ads that can be displayed on various websites within Google’s Display Network. They can be in the form of banners, rich media, videos, or even native ads.
  3. Video ads: These are video-based ads that can be shown on YouTube and other video platforms within Google’s network. They can include pre-roll, mid-roll, or post-roll placements, as well as in-stream or discovery ads.
  4. Shopping ads: These are product-focused ads that appear in search results when users search for specific products. They usually display an image of the product along with relevant information such as price and retailer.
  5. App promotion ads: These are designed specifically for promoting mobile apps and can appear within other apps on mobile devices as well as on the Google Play Store.
  6. Local search ads: These are targeted towards local businesses and appear prominently on Google Maps and relevant local search results.
  7. Call-only ads: As the name suggests, these types of mobile-only ads encourage users to call a business directly from their smartphones instead of clicking through to a website.
  8. Responsive display ads: These automatically adjust their size, appearance, and format to fit various available ad spaces across websites within the Display Network.
  9. Gmail sponsored promotions: These types of highly personalized email-style ad placements appear at the top of a user’s inbox in Gmail.
  10. Discovery Ads: Recently introduced by Google Ads, these visually rich ad formats combine elements from search, display, and video campaigns to reach users across multiple Google platforms.

Bidding and budgeting

Google Ads and AdWords have different approaches when it comes to bidding and budgeting. In Google Ads, you have more flexibility in setting your bids and budgets. You can manually set your maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid for each keyword or use automated bidding strategies that adjust bids based on various factors like conversion rates or target CPA.

This allows you to optimize your campaigns based on performance metrics that align with your goals.

On the other hand, with AdWords, you have less control over individual keyword bids. Instead, you set a daily budget for your campaign, and Google’s algorithm adjusts your bid automatically to maximize clicks within that budget.

While this simplifies the process, it may not offer the same level of fine-tuning as Google Ads.

It’s worth mentioning that both platforms require ongoing optimization to ensure optimal results. Regularly monitoring and adjusting bids is essential to maximize ROI and achieve campaign objectives.

Differences in Cost and Pricing Models

Google Ads and Google AdWords have different cost structures and pricing models that advertisers should be aware of. To learn more about how these differences can impact your advertising budget and campaign performance, continue reading.

Cost structure in Google Ads

The cost structure in Google Ads is based on a pay-per-click (PPC) model, where advertisers only pay when someone clicks on their ad. This means that you are charged every time a user interacts with your ad by clicking on it.

The amount you pay per click is determined through an auction system, where advertisers bid for ad placement on relevant search queries or websites. However, the final cost per click may vary depending on factors such as keyword competitiveness and quality score.

In addition to PPC, Google Ads also offers other pricing models such as cost-per-impression (CPM) and cost-per-acquisition (CPA). With CPM, advertisers are charged based on the number of impressions their ads receive, regardless of whether users click on them.

On the other hand, CPA allows advertisers to set a specific target cost for each conversion they want to achieve.

Overall, Google Ads provides flexibility in terms of budgeting and cost control options. Advertisers can choose daily budgets to limit their spending and adjust bids based on their ROI goals.

Cost structure in Google AdWords

Google AdWords, now known as Google Ads, offers advertisers various cost structures to choose from. One common cost structure is the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) model, where advertisers only pay when someone clicks on their ads.

This allows for greater control over budgeting as advertisers can set a maximum bid they are willing to pay for each click. Another option is the Cost-Per-Thousand-Impressions (CPM) model, where advertisers pay based on the number of times their ad is shown.

In addition to these cost models, Google AdWords also provides options for setting daily budgets and campaign budgets. Advertisers can set an overall budget for their campaign or allocate specific amounts to different ad groups within a campaign.

This flexibility allows businesses to manage their advertising costs effectively and make adjustments based on performance.

Comparison of pricing models

Google Ads and AdWords have different pricing models that advertisers can choose from based on their goals and budget. Google Ads operates on a pay-per-click (PPC) model, where advertisers only pay when someone clicks on their ad. This means that you’re only charged when your ad generates actual engagement with potential customers.

On the other hand, AdWords offers both CPC (cost-per-click) and CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions) pricing models. With CPC, advertisers pay for each click received, similar to Google Ads. However, with CPM, advertisers are charged per thousand impressions of their ad, regardless of whether or not users interact with it.

Both platforms provide flexibility in terms of budget control. You can set daily budgets in Google Ads to ensure you don’t overspend, while AdWords allows you to set overall campaign budgets.

Understanding these differences in pricing models can help you make an informed decision about which platform aligns better with your advertising goals and budget constraints. Whether you prefer paying only when someone engages with your ads or want the option to pay for impressions as well, both Google Ads and AdWords offer options to suit your needs.

Benefits and Limitations of Google Ads and AdWords

Google Ads offers a wide range of benefits, such as precise targeting options and various ad formats, providing advertisers with the ability to reach their desired audience effectively.

However, Google Ads also has limitations, including potential high costs and increased competition for popular keywords. On the other hand, Google AdWords allows for more granular control over campaigns but may require more time and expertise to set up and manage effectively.

Benefits of using Google Ads

Google Ads offers a multitude of benefits for advertisers looking to increase their online visibility and drive targeted traffic to their websites. Here are some key advantages of using Google Ads:

  1. Increased Brand Exposure: Google Ads allows you to reach a vast audience by displaying your ads on search engine results pages (SERPs), websites within the Google Display Network, and even on YouTube. This extensive reach helps increase brand exposure and raises awareness among potential customers.
  2. Targeted Advertising: With Google Ads, you have precise control over who sees your ads. You can target specific keywords, demographics, locations, devices, and even the time of day when your ads appear. This level of targeting ensures that your ads reach the right audience at the right time, maximizing the chances of conversions.
  3. Cost Control: Google Ads provides flexible budgeting options where you can set daily or monthly budgets according to your advertising goals. It allows you to choose between manual bidding or automated bidding strategies for better cost control based on performance objectives.
  4. Measurable Results: Unlike traditional advertising methods, Google Ads provides comprehensive data on ad performance and campaign metrics. You can track impressions, clicks, conversions, costs per click (CPC), return on investment (ROI), and other important metrics in real-time through intuitive reporting tools like Google Analytics. These insights allow you to optimize your campaigns for better results.
  5. Fast Results: With Google Ads, you can start seeing immediate results as soon as your campaigns go live. Unlike organic SEO efforts that take time to rank in search results, paid advertising through Google Ads ensures instant visibility for relevant keywords and boosts website traffic quickly.
  6. Ad Customization Options: Google Ads offers various ad formats like text ads, responsive ads, display ads, video ads, shopping ads, and more to suit different business needs and goals. You can create compelling ad creatives with engaging headlines and descriptions that attract users’ attention and entice them to click.
  7. Remarketing Opportunities: Google Ads allows you to create remarketing campaigns, targeting users who have previously interacted with your website or shown interest in your products/services. Remarketing enables you to re-engage with potential customers and drive conversions by showing them tailored ads across different platforms.
  8. Integration with Other Google Tools: Google Ads seamlessly integrates with other powerful tools like Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. This integration provides a holistic view of your advertising performance, website analytics, and tracking capabilities for better campaign optimization and insights.

Benefits of using Google AdWords

Google AdWords offers several benefits for advertisers looking to reach their target audience and maximize their online advertising efforts:

  1. Increased visibility: By using Google AdWords, you can bid on relevant keywords and have your ads appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). This increased visibility can help drive more traffic to your website, increase brand awareness, and generate more leads or sales.
  2. Targeted advertising: With Google AdWords, you can target your ads to specific geographic locations, demographics, language preferences, and even device types. This allows you to reach the right audience at the right time with the right message, increasing the chances of conversion.
  3. Measurable results: Google AdWords provides robust tracking and reporting tools that allow you to monitor the performance of your ads in real-time. You can track metrics such as click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, average cost per click (CPC), and return on investment (ROI). This data enables you to make data-driven decisions and optimize your campaigns for better results.
  4. Cost control: Google AdWords allows you to set a daily budget for your campaigns, ensuring that you have full control over how much you spend on advertising. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad (pay-per-click model), making it a cost-effective way to reach potential customers.
  5. Quick results: Unlike traditional marketing channels that may take time to see results, Google AdWords offers instant visibility. Once your campaign is set up and approved, your ads can start appearing within minutes. This makes it an ideal platform for time-sensitive promotions or product launches.
  6. Remarketing opportunities: Google AdWords also offers remarketing capabilities, allowing you to target previous website visitors who didn’t convert into customers with specific ads tailored to their interests or behaviors. This helps keep your brand top-of-mind and increases the chances of conversions.
  7. Integration with other Google services: Google AdWords seamlessly integrates with other Google services such as Google Analytics, allowing you to gain deeper insights into user behavior and track conversions more accurately. This integration also enables you to optimize your campaigns based on valuable data.
  8. Flexibility and customization: With Google AdWords, you have complete control over your ad copy, landing page experience, ad extensions, and targeting options. This flexibility allows you to experiment with different strategies and continuously optimize your campaigns for better results.

Limitations of Google Ads

Google Ads, while a powerful advertising platform, does have its limitations. Here are some of the key limitations to keep in mind:

  1. Limited control over ad placements: While Google Ads allows you to target specific audiences and keywords, you have limited control over where your ads appear on the Google Display Network. This can result in your ads being displayed on irrelevant or low-quality websites.
  2. Ad fatigue: Over time, users may become immune to seeing the same ads repeatedly. Ad fatigue can lead to decreased click-through rates and less effective campaigns.
  3. Costly competition: As more advertisers join Google Ads, competition for top ad positions increases. This can drive up the cost-per-click (CPC) and make it harder for smaller businesses with limited budgets to compete.
  4. Ad blocking software: With the rise of ad-blocking software, many users are choosing to block online advertisements altogether. This limits your reach and reduces the effectiveness of your Google Ads campaigns.
  5. Limited targeting by device type: While you can choose between desktop, mobile, and tablet devices for your campaigns, there are limitations when it comes to targeting specific devices or operating systems within those categories.
  6. Learning curve for beginners: Google Ads has a complex interface with a steep learning curve for beginners. It requires time and effort to understand how to create effective ad campaigns and optimize them for maximum results.
  7. Dependence on search volume: The success of keyword-targeted campaigns on Google Ads relies heavily on search volume. If there is low search volume for your chosen keywords, it can limit the reach and effectiveness of your ads.
  8. Limited visibility outside of Google: While Google is one of the biggest search engines globally, relying solely on Google Ads means missing out on potential customers who use other search engines or social media platforms.

Limitations of Google AdWords

Google AdWords, now known as Google Ads, has been a popular advertising platform for many businesses. However, it also comes with its own limitations. Here are some of the drawbacks that advertisers may encounter when using Google AdWords:

  1. Increased competition: As more businesses use Google Ads to advertise their products or services, the competition for ad placements becomes more intense. This can drive up costs and make it harder to achieve a high position in search results.
  2. Limited targeting options: While Google Ads offers various targeting options, such as demographics and interests, it may not provide as granular targeting capabilities as other advertising platforms. This can make it challenging to reach highly specific audiences.
  3. Ad blindness and ad fatigue: Users have become accustomed to seeing ads on search engine result pages and websites. Consequently, they may develop ad blindness or ad fatigue, causing them to ignore or skip over ads altogether.
  4. Higher click costs for competitive keywords: Popular keywords in competitive industries can have high cost per click (CPC) rates on Google Ads. This could potentially limit the reach of small businesses with limited advertising budgets.
  5. Limited ad formats: While Google Ads offers a variety of ad formats, such as text ads, display ads, and video ads, there are still limitations compared to other platforms that offer more creative freedom and innovative ad formats.
  6. Complexity of campaign setup and management: Google Ads has a steep learning curve for beginners due to its complex interface and extensive features. Managing campaigns effectively requires ongoing optimization and monitoring.
  7. Inaccurate attribution models: Attribution models in Google Ads may not accurately attribute conversions across multiple touchpoints or channels. This can make it difficult to measure the true impact of your advertising efforts.
  8. Potential for fraudulent clicks: Click fraud is an ongoing concern in online advertising, including within Google Ads. Although Google takes measures to detect and prevent click fraud, there is still a risk of fraudulent click activity impacting your ad performance and budget.
  9. Limited customer support: While Google offers online resources and a support forum, direct customer support for Google Ads is limited. This can be challenging for advertisers who require immediate assistance with their campaigns.
  10. Ad policy restrictions: Google Ads has strict policies regarding ad content, including prohibited products/services, trademark infringements, and restricted content. Advertisers need to ensure compliance with these policies to avoid ad disapproval or account suspension.

Which One is Right for You?

Deciding between Google Ads and AdWords? Learn how to make an informed decision for your advertising goals. Read more about the factors to consider when choosing the right platform for you.

Factors to consider when choosing between Google Ads and AdWords

When choosing between Google Ads and AdWords, there are several factors to consider:

  1. Advertising Goals: Determine your advertising objectives and which platform aligns better with those goals. Google Ads is more focused on targeting a wide audience while AdWords allows for keyword-based targeting.
  2. Budget: Consider your budget and how much you are willing to spend on advertising. Google Ads offers more flexibility in terms of budgeting options, including daily budgets and bidding strategies, while AdWords has a more fixed cost structure.
  3. Target Audience: Analyze your target audience and their online behavior. Google Ads provides advanced targeting options based on demographics, interests, and browsing behavior, while AdWords relies heavily on keyword targeting.
  4. Ad Formats: Evaluate the types of ad formats you want to utilize for your campaigns. Google Ads offers a wider range of ad formats, including text ads, display ads, video ads, shopping ads, and more. AdWords primarily focuses on text-based search ads.
  5. Level of Control: Assess the level of control you want over your advertising campaigns. Google Ads provides more automation and machine learning capabilities for campaign optimization, while AdWords allows for greater manual control over keywords and ad placements.
  6. Reporting and Analytics: Consider the reporting and analytics features that are important to you. Both platforms offer extensive tracking capabilities but have slight differences in data reporting and integration with other tools like Google Analytics.
  7. Experience and Expertise: Evaluate your team’s familiarity with each platform and their ability to effectively manage campaigns. While both platforms have user-friendly interfaces, it may be easier to navigate through Google Ads for beginners.

Which platform is better suited for your advertising goals?

To determine which platform is better suited for your advertising goals, it’s important to consider your specific objectives and target audience. Google Ads offers a wide range of targeting options, ad formats, and placements that can help you reach a larger audience and generate brand awareness.

On the other hand, Google AdWords provides more granular control over keyword targeting and allows for advanced campaign management techniques. If you have a limited budget or want to focus on highly targeted campaigns, AdWords might be the better choice.

However, if you’re looking to maximize reach and exposure, Google Ads may be more suitable. Ultimately, it’s crucial to carefully evaluate the features and benefits of each platform in relation to your advertising goals before making a decision.

Making an informed decision

To make an informed decision between Google Ads and AdWords, it’s crucial to consider your specific advertising goals. Google Ads offers a user-friendly interface with advanced targeting options, allowing you to reach a wider audience and choose from various ad formats.

On the other hand, Google AdWords provides more control over keyword targeting and bidding strategies for experienced advertisers.

When deciding between the two platforms, take into account factors such as budget limitations, desired level of customization, and target audience demographics. Additionally, keep in mind that while both Google Ads and AdWords can increase brand visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs), they serve different purposes.

Google Ads focuses on paid advertising campaigns aimed at generating conversions, whereas SEO tactics aim to improve organic search rankings.

Remember that certifications for both platforms are available through Google’s certification programs. These programs provide professionals with the opportunity to showcase their expertise in utilizing these powerful advertising tools effectively.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between Google Ads and AdWords is crucial for advertisers looking to optimize their online campaigns. While they may be used interchangeably, Google Ads offers a more comprehensive advertising platform with advanced targeting options and a variety of ad formats.

On the other hand, AdWords provides a more traditional approach with keyword targeting and precise bidding strategies. Ultimately, choosing the right platform depends on your specific advertising goals and budget.

Take the time to evaluate your needs and make an informed decision that will drive successful results for your business.


1. What is the difference between Google Ads and AdWords?

Google Ads is the current name for Google’s advertising platform, which includes search ads, display ads, video ads, shopping ads, and app promotion. AdWords was the previous name of this platform and referred specifically to Google’s search advertising service.

2. Are there any differences in features or functionality between Google Ads and AdWords?

There are no significant differences in terms of features or functionality between Google Ads and AdWords. The rebranding from AdWords to Google Ads primarily reflected a shift towards a more holistic approach to online advertising across various channels.

3. Why did Google change the name from AdWords to Google Ads?

Google changed the name from AdWords to Google Ads to better reflect that their advertising platform extends beyond just keyword-based search ads. The new name encompasses a wider range of advertising options on different platforms such as YouTube, Gmail, and mobile apps.

4. Do I need an existing website or blog to use either Google Ads or AdWords?

While having a website or blog can greatly enhance your ability to make use of both platforms effectively, it is not strictly necessary. With both Google Ads and AdWords, you have the option to direct traffic directly to specific landing pages or even phone numbers for businesses that rely heavily on phone calls rather than online interactions.

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