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Understanding that CMS market share number

You’ll often hear it said that WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system, powering xx% of all websites. But where does that figure come from... and what does it really mean?

WordPress’s share of the CMS market is a continuing good news story for the platform. It’s the centrepiece of many presentations and pitches, as incontrovertible evidence that WordPress should be taken seriously. 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, right?

The primary source for the headline market share number, the one you hear quoted most frequently, is the rolling study conducted by W3Techs, an independent software consultancy based in Austria.

From a sample set derived initially from Alexa’s list of the top 1 million, then 10 million websites from June 2013, and supported since April 2020 by the Tranco list produced by European academics, they use publicly available information to collate statistics on websites’ usage of technologies and related services.

Sites are analysed ‘approximately once per month’, and data is updated daily. You’ll find plenty of enlightening data free of charge: W3Techs also sends monthly reports running to several hundred pages to paying clients.

Their website isn’t the most user-friendly or intuitive; but it allows you to analyse recent trends, drill into certain details, and combine metrics for some interesting insights.

So for example, I can call up a combined report showing how many websites hosted by major data centre providers use WordPress; or a comparison of recent market share across selected CMS options.

Each site they monitor gets a page of data on their website, listing the technology detected – for example, whitehouse.gov. There are free browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, which will let you call up this information on demand via a toolbar popup.

The W3Techs team are quite open about the challenges and limitations of their work. Their goal is to be ‘as accurate as one can possibly get’, based on what they can see; and they say with some modesty: ‘We believe that we are not too far away from that goal.’

Having observed them for many years now, I’ll certainly say their numbers have the ring of truth about them, and aren’t subject to the same wild fluctuations seen in certain other sources.

However, the data can sometimes be cited or interpreted incorrectly.

You’ll often hear people quote it as ‘X percent of the internet‘. Of course, there’s much more to the internet than just browsing websites. Strictly, you should say ‘X percent of the top ten or eleven million websites‘ – but it’s surely fair enough to trim that down to ‘X percent of websites‘ in conversation.

But perhaps the most important point to bear in mind, particularly where WordPress is concerned, is that W3Techs do not consider subdomains to be separate websites.

This can produce some initially confusing results: Craigslist clearly isn’t powered by WordPress, but it’s listed as a ‘popular site using WordPress’. You’ll see it stated on its site profile page, though, that WordPress is being used on a subdomain by a secondary site.

This also means that the many millions of websites at WordPress.com which do not have a mapped or custom domain applied, all count as a single site.

But since the analysis only covers the top ~10 million sites, and few of these sites still using the free .wordpress.com URL generate much traffic, it’s unlikely to be affecting the data to a significant extent.


Blog posts in this series:

I just quit my job. Because there’s work to be done.

The time has come for me to move on from Automattic, and the WordPress VIP team. I'm open-minded about what comes next. And open to offers.
On stage with Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg

I felt a sense of happy inevitability when I joined Automattic, the ‘foster parent’ company of WordPress, at the end of 2014. I loved working with the software, but more than that, I loved what it stood for – and Automattic provided the foundations it stood upon.

In Automattic, I could see a company committed to bold principles of user and employee freedom. One of the first companies to recognise and actively embrace the emerging realities of a hyperconnected world. A company with both the desire and the potential to shake things up.

I joined an Automattic of 300 people. Tomorrow, after five and a half years, I will be leaving an Automattic of 1,200 people.

In some ways, it’s a very different place: that’s good in some respects, not so good in others. In other ways, it’s remarkably similar: that’s also good in some respects, not so good in others.

I’ve been very happy to see many parts of the business – notably my own area, the VIP enterprise services team – growing larger, more mature, and more stable.

A few years back, I gave a talk at the annual all-staff meetup, drawing parallels with Ikea: founder Ingvar Kamprad’s 1976 corporate creed The Testament Of A Furniture Dealer maps surprisingly well to Automattic’s ethos. My conclusion was not simply that it’s possible to build a successful business on the principle of democratisation; but that if you want to deliver democratisation, you need to have a successful business model beneath it.

But there’s never been any doubt in my mind about where my own motivation lies.

Royal College of Art, 2016. Photo: John Maeda

Each year, Automattic runs an employee engagement survey. There’s a cheeky little kicker right at the end: ‘what’s the one thing that would make you leave?’ I always felt that was a dangerous thing to ask. It forced me to define what the test would be, if I ever suspected it might be time to move on.

My answer, each time, was that I would leave when I no longer felt I was in the best place to have the impact I wanted.

Returning to work earlier this year, having taken up Automattic’s very generous offer of a sabbatical after five years service, I found myself applying the test. With the clarity of mind that comes from three months away, and with a heavy heart, I concluded that my time had come.

I’ve been doing this thing long enough to know what I’m best at. But recent evolutions in my job description were moving me away from that, rather than harnessing it. Sometimes, what’s best for the team isn’t what’s best for every individual on the team.

I don’t have a next gig lined up yet; and I’m open-minded about what that next gig might be.

Perhaps it’s time to bring some truly internet-generation startup thinking to some larger, more established contexts. Perhaps I should be working through the second-order consequences of a world that has been transformed by open source and global connectivity. Perhaps a combination of those.

But whatever I end up doing, it feels like an exciting time for a fresh start.

Automattic’s magic formula of distributed working, radical transparency and global cooperation once seemed pretty bold.

Right now, as we ease out of the coronavirus crisis, and remember the various crises we all put on hold, it seems like the only reasonable way forward for the entire planet.

I’m available. We should talk.

Update:
So many lovely responses to my news on Twitter. Thank you all.

What I’ve been up to on my sabbatical

One of the perks of working at Automattic is the offer of a 2-3 month sabbatical after five years service. Most people take the opportunity to travel, to disconnect, or to achieve an ambition. I triggered mine pretty much on the fifth anniversary of my joining the company; and I've spent the first half of it doing... web development.

I’ve always been interested in politics and elections: even as a kid, I’d stay up late to watch the live coverage of by-election results. So as it became obvious that a general election was looming in the UK, more or less at the time I’d become eligible for my sabbatical, I saw an opportunity to get involved in the digital efforts of my favoured political party, the Liberal Democrats.

I had hoped to find a party machine into which I could slot for a month or two; but that wasn’t really how it worked out. Instead, I got in touch with leading Lib Dem digitalist Mark Pack, with whom I’d worked in the past, to seek his support for a few ‘independent’ experiments.

Continue reading “What I’ve been up to on my sabbatical”

How Leavers and Remainers get their news

Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism recently published a report on the media habits of UK consumers: they took 2019 research data from YouGov, and broke it down by whether they voted Leave or Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

With Brexit framing the entire election campaign, its lessons must have at least some relevance to the next few weeks.

For both camps, the most used news sources, in order, were the BBC, ITV and Sky: the three national TV broadcasters, although of course, they all also have online presences.

But in the context of content sharing ahead of the election, it’s especially interesting to note the mismatches between the brands people use to get their news, and the brands they trust.

REMAINTrustUsage
BBC7.3285%
Channel 47.1213%
ITV7.0531%
FT6.986%
Guardian6.7327%
Independent6.5610%
Times6.5619%
Sky6.3928%
LEAVETrustUsage
ITV6.6746%
FT6.423%
BBC6.3878%
Times6.310%
Channel 46.2410%
Telegraph6.2311%
Sky6.2135%

Remainers have a high degree of trust in Channel 4 and the Independent, but they are highly unlikely to get their news from them. Both sides have a high degree of trust in the (pro-Remain) FT, but few people actually read it.

So if you’re targeting Remain voters, and you find favourable articles on these sites and feeds, it’s well worth giving them some social amplification.

The pattern of usage of different social networks is remarkably consistent between the Leave and Remain camps: Facebook and Twitter are first and second for both, but Twitter is a much closer second among Remainers. Leavers are slightly more likely to use YouTube for news. The two sides are equally (un)likely to share and comment on news in the average week.

Lessons from Trudeau’s re-election

Montreal’s McGill University published a series of reports on Digital Democracy, in the run-up to October’s Canadian federal election, which saw Justin Trudeau’s Liberals lose their majority, but hold on to power.

Unsurprisingly, they recorded a tremendous surge in social media activity around Canadian politics, coinciding with the start of the election period: they found political activity on Twitter was up by 800%, and 250% on public Facebook posts.

One of the most explosive stories of the campaign was the emergence of photos and video of multiple instances of Trudeau wearing ‘blackface‘ makeup: he said he was ‘wary of being definitive’ about how many times he had done it, but acknowledged ‘how racist and hurtful this type of thing was’.

The revelations were at odds with Trudeau’s nice-guy image, and created a storm on social media. But the researchers noted that: ‘the general public’s discussion (of the story) dropped dramatically after three days. Tweets on the topic from journalists and election candidates had a similar decline… By one week after the story broke, there was very little general Twitter interest in the story. The pattern on Facebook is similar, although the volume of public posts is much smaller.’

The researchers also offered some interesting findings on the topic of polarisation. Survey respondents showed ‘dislike of parties or their supporters on the other end of the political spectrum simply because they belong to an opposing group’ – with no distinction between official party representatives and supporters.

For a number of social groups, they asked how comfortable people would feel about a member of the group becoming their neighbour, or being a close friend; and how upset they would be if a son or daughter married someone from each group. They found: ‘the social distance partisans feel towards supporters of the (other) party is higher than all of the other social groups listed, except for Muslims.’

They also looked at partisan media outlets, finding that they only reached ‘a small percentage of Canadians who share those partisan leanings. What makes someone more likely to consume these news sources is not how partisan they are, but how much time they spend on social media.’

As we’ve seen in the UK at the peaks of the Brexit debate, fact-checking articles grew in popularity and effectiveness as the battle heated up. But interestingly:

  • They found that fact-checking articles were more likely to be helpful to people who already had a base understanding of the issue in question.
  • ‘Fact-checking improves individuals’ belief in their capacity to understand and participate in politics, particularly among those who have their correct beliefs reinforced by fact-checks. There is no evidence of a corresponding decrease in efficacy among those who had incorrect beliefs on the subject of the fact-check.’
  • When it came to fact-checking articles, ‘there was no significant difference in responses to fact-checks from the journalist, the politician or the random Twitter user’ – so politicians shouldn’t be shy about writing and publishing articles themselves.
  • Fact-checks were not found to reduce trust in politicians.
  • People on the right of politics were ‘slightly less supportive’ of fact-checking than left-leaning partisans.