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Can we really claim that 40% of all websites run on WordPress?

As WordPress breezes past another market share milestone, and the next comes rapidly into view, it’s worth pausing a moment to consider what the most commonly cited figure really means, and how we should communicate it.

It counts ‘domains with WordPress’.

As I explained in an earlier post, W3Techs considers a site to use WordPress if it finds evidence of WordPress on the main domain, or any subdomain.

I cited the example of Craigslist: online since 1997, currently ranked no 142 by Alexa, clearly not running WordPress as its primary technology. But it has a blog, running on a subdomain. And that’s enough for W3Techs to count Craigslist.org as a WordPress site.

So it’s wrong to say that ~40% of the world’s top ten million websites are built on WordPress. It’s more accurate, albeit less impressive, to say that 40% of the world’s top ten million websites use WordPress for at least part of their overall online presence.

It isn’t uniform.

W3Techs offers a tantalising breakdown of WordPress usage by popularity of site domain, on its pages comparing one CMS with another (eg WP-Drupal). As I write this, it shows:

The overall WordPress market share, across more than ten million sites domains is 63.8%: but the more you concentrate on the bigger and busier properties, the lower it goes. Or to put it another way: WordPress is stronger in the ‘long tail’.

But there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Indeed, for a project whose stated mission is the democratisation of publishing, one might argue it’s a good thing: putting easy-to-use, powerful tools in the hands of the many.

And anyway, ‘more than half of the world’s top 1,000 websites using WordPress for at least part of their service’ is not to be sniffed at.

It may not reflect active usage.

One of the many charms of WordPress is how easy it is to get started. The project still boasts of its ‘famous five-minute install process’: these days, it’s often a lot faster – and in many cases, pre-installed before you arrive.

But it’s also very easy to abandon. As free software, often running in cheap hosting space or alongside other code, there is often no hefty annual invoice to remind you of its existence, inviting you to wonder if it’s still ‘worth’ paying for.

Let’s take that Craigslist blog as our example again. The last post on the site was April 2017, three and a half years ago. The site is still running the Kubrick theme, which first appeared with WordPress version 1.5 – released in February 2005. It’s hosted by Automattic, on WordPress.com, and probably only costs them a handful of dollars per year.

But it still works. As it’s on a hosted service, it gets regular software updates – and of course, with auto-updating now in WordPress core, the same would apply these days if it were self-hosted.

So it’s probably more human effort to take a site down, than to simply leave it up. The site may be dead to all intents and purposes; but whether it’s admirable dedication to the cause of permalinks, or sheer laziness, dead sites still count.

So, a little humility.

None of this is to question the success of WordPress in its space. Regardless of the measurement’s weaknesses, WordPress is still far and away the most used CMS out there. And even if a large corporate user only uses it as a secondary solution, it’s still a valid endorsement of its capability.

There’s plenty of pride to be claimed for WordPress, and with ample justification. But we owe it to the industry, and ourselves to be accurate in what we claim.