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Ad Rotate Pro: A Inside Look & Review

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Quick Summary of AdRotate Pro (ver 4.10)

Rating: 3.5 A decent advertising plugin for WordPress with a few flaws.

The Good: It's affordable, with lots of options, and decent support.

The Bad: Not very user friendly and the Selling system is terrible.

The Bottom Line: If you're looking to add adverts to your site and need a complex set up then AdRotate Pro is worth a look at. If you're looking to sell adverts, then you may want to consider a plugin with a better sales system.

AdRotate Pro (ver 4.10) Review

One of the simplest ways to start making money online is through the use of adverts on your site.

In fact, not only is it one of the easiest methods it’s also the most passive of income sources.

While making money with adverts certainly has its pros and cons, it’s still a popular method: just look at any of your favorite websites and you’ll see that most if not all of them sport adverts in one form or other.

As with most things website related, WordPress makes adding adverts really easy through the numerous advertising plugins available.

Today we will look at one of the most popular ones: AdRotate.

AdRotate Pro

AdRotate is one of the most popular advertising manager plugins for WordPress. Its free version has had over 1.7 million downloads in its lifetime and currently has over 50,000 installations

It scores a solid 4.3 out of 5 on WordPress.org.

AdRotate has been around for 9 years so it is certainly entrenched in the WordPress ecosystem.

AdRotate 9 years

9 years old and counting!

Initial Setup

Setting up the pro version of the plugin is no different to installing any other premium plugin; it just requires a manual install of the zip file.

AdRotate Pro has a swathe of settings. In fact it has so many it might be a little bit bewildering at first.

That being said you can pretty much start using the plugin without touching the settings, barring inserting your licence key.

It is still a good idea to set aside a little bit of time to check through the settings as there might be areas you’d like to tweak.

General

From handling scripts, to adblockers and bot filter. It’s all here.

Notifications

If you’re running paid adverts then you’ll want to keep on top of them and the notifications settings allow you to fine tune which person on your team receives notifications, and about what.

It’s quite granular and also provides 3 methods of communication: dashboard message, email, and push notifications.

Push notifications to your phone require a separate, third-party app called Pushover. This is a premium app that costs $4.99 per phone.

Still it’s a nice addition if you’re running a complicated advertising system.

Stats

Here you’ll find basic stat settings.

Geo Targeting

This area handles the geolocation settings: see below for more info on geolocation.

Advertisers

If you’re selling advertising space rather than just using Google Adsense etc., then this is an important section.

The settings here enable and manage advertisers. Advertisers are the people who are buying space on your site, so it’s good to check these out if you’re selling space.

Roles

I find it great to see a roles section built in. This makes it much easier for multi author and multi user sites to limit what different people can do and access in respect to the adverts. The last thing you want is authors playing around with settings.

Misc

The oddball setting section but most importantly this is where the W3 Total Cache setting is hidden. Without this your adverts could get cached and thus never rotate.

Tools

Just a bulk advert importer, but this could be a great timesaver for larger, more complex sites with lots of adverts.

Maintenance

I can’t decide if having an area dedicated to sluggish adverts is a good thing or a bad thing.

On one hand should the plugin cause the database to slow down in the first place?

On the other hand having these tools at your fingertips can be a boon when you’re trying to figure out an issue on a Saturday evening when support is not available.

One part of this section allows you to optimize the database which is great, as databases tend to grow out of hand if uncontrolled.

Creating Adverts

How you go about adding adverts to your site with AdRotate Pro depends on whether the advert is from a network or not.

Generally if you are using some advertising code such as that supplied by Google AdSense, then adding an advert is pretty simple.

AdRotate add advert basic

As you can see it’s more or less just adding a title, pasting in the code and then maybe enabling statistics and that’s it.

If you’re adding an advert of your own or creating one for an advertiser then you’ll need to use the Generator part of the Adverts section.

This is more complicated as you’ll need to “piece together” an advert from an image or other asset, link, etc.

That being said it’s not an overly complex system; however it could be made simpler and easier to use.

One example is adding a banner asset (media such as an image), you can’t actually upload content from this area, but have to make sure it’s already loaded via the specific media menu within the plugin.

You find this lack of polish when a plugin is created by a lone developer. It doesn’t stop the functionality, far from it, but it increases the learning curve.

The generator will then dump some hopefully viable code into a new advert area for you to finish off with a title and settings.

Again this could have been made into a single step rather than two.

Grouping Ads

Ad groups simply allow you to manage ads better by creating groups. So if you have 10 ads that you know you want to be in the sidebar, grouping them makes it easier to find them and swap them out.

It’s a fairly basic feature but a necessary one and AdRotate does a good enough job with it.

Groups also allow you to showcase multiple adverts in a block or to rotate through the adverts.

Advert Placement

Putting adverts on your site is what this is all about right? How then does AdRotate Pro handle this?

AdRotate placement1

There are 3 options:

  • Widget
  • Shortcode
  • PHP code

This seems like a very small number of options, and while these are established methods and good enough for most people it seems odd there isn’t more.

Other plugins provide more automated solutions to adding adverts such as:

  • Before or after content
  • Inside content after X paragraphs
  • Content only on certain categories
  • Popups
  • Corner peels
  • Background ads
  • Ads on hover
  • In post archive lists
  • Header bars
  • In RSS feeds
  • Buddypress/bbPress integration
  • And many more

I eventually found out that you can actually add adverts into other places such as before and after content and injected into the content after X paragraphs but these are tied to the ad groups, not individual ads.

AdRotate placement2

While this allows for more flexibility it was unclear that these features even existed at first, and AdRotate still has fewer options than some of the competition. That being said these options will cover most placement needs.

Scheduling Ads

Whether you’re selling adverts or just want to control what adverts show over a certain period, you need scheduling.

It’s a pretty standard feature across most advertising plugins and very much a necessary one as it allows you to stop micromanaging your adverts.

Schedules can be created that run over a set period such as the 1st to the 30th and can be further fine-tuned by allowing the adverts to only show on certain days or at certain times.

You can also include in the schedule a maximum impressions option so the advert will end either when the end date arrives or the max number of impressions is hit.

One noticeable missing feature is the lack of a straight forward schedule for number of days, e.g. 14 days from now.

Advert Analytics

Like any decent advertising system, AdRotate has a statistics section.

The stats shown are clear and easy enough to understand, which is all you really need.

The stats will also show the best and worst performing adverts and you can export data by month as well.

AdRotate stats

Selling Adverts

If your site has enough traffic, it’s often possible to sell adverts direct to advertisers rather than using one of the large ad networks like Google Adsense.

This is usually a more profitable venture but is also more work. As such having a solid advertising platform can help ease the burden.

In my opinion AdRotate Pro doesn’t do a great job at this.

Firstly, advertisers can only buy adverts if they are logged in and in the WordPress admin area. The plugin does limit their access, but it can seem unprofessional to let what is effectively customers see the admin area.

AdRotate advertiser admin

AdRotate does have a front end dashboard for advertisers but its read only currently though this is expected to be improved in the future.

AdRotate advertiser frontend2

Once an advertiser submits and advert an Advertiser Budget is set by you the admin.

This amount is the amount paid by the advertiser. This can either be a flat fee for the period or you can set it so that every impression or click reduces the budget by a certain amount.

In theory this can work well, but not having the option to simply create a time period in days and give a flat cost is poor. I mean why does it need to have the advertiser make an advert, submit it, have it OK’d then pay then have it published? It seems like way too many steps.

The whole setup for selling ads is very much reminiscent of how ad agencies work and this may not be a good setup for you, especially for a smaller site, but even for larger sites.

The only documentation I could find outlining the process was a forum post from 2015 before the payment system was even built!

AdRotate payment system

It doesn’t look like much has changed from then either.

Overall, the selling part of AdRotate is by far the weakest I have seen after reviewing multiple advertising plugins.

I consider myself a WordPress expert, but I spent a good 30 minutes trying to figure out how an advertiser is meant to buy an advert and I’m still not sure even now while writing this review.

If I can’t do it then the average WordPress user has no chance!

Geolocation

For sites that get a large international visitor set, geolocating your adverts could help maximize click through rates and conversions.

For example if you get a lot of traffic from the UK promoting US based adverts to them is likely to not work very well.

The plugin comes with its own service of 30,000 lookups per day which is powered by MaxMind a well-known geolocation service.

This is ideal for smaller sites but larger ones will east through 30,000 lookups quite quickly. As such you can also connect to your own MaxMind or CloudFlare geolocation accounts.

This better targeting can not only make your own ads more effective but is also a great selling point to tempt advertisers with.

Support

Responses to the WordPress.org plugin page aren’t guaranteed but on my last check all the support queries there were resolved.

Arnan, the guy behind the plugin, suggest people to use his forum for faster replies.

Replies to support queries generally occur within about 24 hours, but sometimes there are several days before a response is noted by support.

It looks like the developer is the support as well, so this can be forgiven and it compares to most plugin support on average.

Developer Friendly?

Not a code geek? Well skip this section then!

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty with PHP then you’ll be disappointed with AdRotate Pro.

There are literally zero action hooks and only a handful of filter hooks as of version 4.10.

AdRotate developer

There’s also no codex or documentation that I could find.

On the bright side I saw that the 5 template files in the plugin can be copied to the theme (well, child theme) in order to be over-ridden.

The Bottom Line

AdRotate is a capable advertising plugin for WordPress. It has most of the features you’ll need to get going with adverts on your site.

There is a bit of a learning curve involved with this plugin as it’s seemingly not designed with ease of use in mind. One would expect a 9 year old plugin to have matured and become more user friendly, but it seems not.

If you’re just adding adverts from large networks like AdSense  or creating your own custom banners for affiliate programs etc., then honestly you’ll be fine with the free version of the plugin.

If you need more features like weighting adverts, previews, injecting ads into content and geotargeting, then the pro version is a must.

While certainly popular and certainly capable I found AdRotate Pro fell down in two main areas: ease of use and selling adverts.

These really can be lumped together because selling adverts was mind bogglingly hard to do. In fact I never got it set up!

Overall for individual use it’s good, for selling ad space I’d look elsewhere.

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