Category: Market share

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 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, 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.

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.

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, 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.

I’ve confirmed with W3Techs directly: this means that is counted as a site running WordPress, even though ‘Craigslist proper’ isn’t. But I’m told I shouldn’t expect this to make a big difference: ‘very few of the smaller sites bother to use a subdomain, and even less bother to use more than one CMS for their website.’ (I’d love to see hard data on this, though.)

This also means that the many millions of websites at 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 URL generate much traffic, it’s unlikely to be affecting the data to a significant extent.