WordPress is now the undisputed leader in content management

The open source publishing solution has passed the latest milestone in its continuing growth. But where do its ambitions end?

The latest data from independent analysts W3Techs, considered the most reliable source in the industry, reveals that WordPress now sits at the top of the ranking for Content Management System usage.

Hang on, you may ask, wasn’t it top already? Yes and no. WordPress has been the technology identified on the largest number of sites – or maybe more accurately, domains – for many years now. And for quite some time, it has been more popular than every other identifiable technology combined.

But there has always been one category smiling down from the top step of the podium: ‘None’. Or perhaps more accurately, ‘None that we could identify‘.

As I explained in a previous post, W3Techs has no special access to data or websites’ back-ends. They simply look at externally visible clues and signals, and work it out as best they can.

Their list covers literally hundreds of CMSes: but still, more than a third of the time, they come up blank.

That could mean a site has been produced using an in-house CMS, or conceivably, 90s-style with no content management solution at all. That’s what people often understand when they see ‘None’.

But equally, it could mean the developers have done a great job of covering their tracks, hoping for security through obscurity. Or increasingly, it could mean they’re using a decoupled arrangement, with the CMS connection reduced to mere API calls. (And of course, in these cases, it could still be WordPress behind the scenes – as leading static site-generating solution Gatsby is now doing.)

When I’ve talked about market share up to now, I’ve always been careful to soften my assertions. It’s theoretically possible that all those unidentifiables are using the same CMS. ‘Manual’ is a content management strategy of sorts. But today, with the WordPress number now higher than ‘None’, we can be a little more assertive.

So where do we go next?

Obviously, the next milestone coming into view is the nice, round 40% threshold. And then it’s 50%, when a majority of websites are identifiably running on WordPress.

But perhaps a more interesting number to look towards is 51%, an explicit objective for WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg for many years. He referenced it directly in the announcement of Automattic’s acquisition of Woo, back in 2015, when WordPress market share was a mere 23%.

Team 51 is also the name of a team within Automattic, originally formed to build market awareness of WordPress and its capabilities. These days, of course, market awareness is less of a concern; and they now prefer to be known, externally at least, as the Special Projects Team. The mission statement on their team homepage is rather woolly; Jeffrey Zeldman put it better in a 2019 blog post:

Team 51 is a design agency within Automattic. With a preference for clients who do good in the world, and for assignments with the potential to expand how businesses and agencies view WordPress, we make websites — for charity, celebrity, and influencer clients — that show off what WordPress can be.

In practice, the team operates as Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg’s private development team, offering design and migration services to projects he wants to work with, often on – let’s say – generous commercial terms. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course: but I often felt more could and should have been done to lever these as case studies.

Beyond that? Eyebrows were raised when, announcing Salesforce Ventures’ $300 million investment in Automattic, Mullenweg suggested that WordPress had ‘potential to get to a similar market share as Android, which I believe now has 85% of all handsets’. He later recast this as a ‘trailing indicator’ of user satisfaction, as others questioned the desirability of such market dominance.

But such things shouldn’t concern us for some time. WordPress has shown remarkable resilience over the past decade, maintaining steady growth month upon month, seeing off all challengers, whilst its historic rivals Joomla and Drupal fell into steadily decline.

50% doesn’t seem as far away, or as fanciful as it once did… and perhaps we should be thinking more about its implications.