Should Know How Big is WordPress Exactly

WordPress is aiming for 50% market share, in Matt Mullenweg’s own words from an interview with Kitchen Sink WordPress:

The next goal is the majority of websites. We want to get to 50%+ and there’s a lot of work between now and then. As the percentage increases, it gets harder and harder to grow the market share, and we have to grow the market share by doing things we haven’t done in the past – really thinking about the onboarding process, really thinking about the integration with social networks, and with how WordPress works on touch devices, which is going to be the predominant computing platform of the future. These things are going to be really important.

What got us here isn’t going to get us there. Once we get to 50%, we can decide something new we want to do.
Right now, WordPress claims a 24% share. We decided to dig through the statistics to try and find out a bit more about where they come from, what they really mean and how WordPress may need to adapt to hit its target – and if such a seemingly ambitious target is reasonable.
Of course, one must bear in mind the scale of the web: 24% market share is huge. As I began writing this post, WordPress 4.2 (the latest version) had been downloaded 48,258,660 times. In just the time until I finished it, that figure had risen to 48,282,215 (23.5k downloads).
So, now, the results of my research – beginning with what exactly makes up that 24% figure and what it means for WordPress.

24%: Says Who?

The figure of 24% (or 24.2%, more precisely) comes from W3Techs’ analysis. Of the websites they monitor, a quarter of all of them use WordPress CMS.
Obviously, not all websites use a CMS – in fact, 58.6% of the websites W3Techs analyzed aren’t using a CMS that they monitor for. There is a caveat here – they may not be able to detect it if the website has hidden it or if the CMS is especially obscure or bespoke. Since that’s not the case for most websites, the figure provided by W3Techs can by-and-large be taken as representative.
Out of the remaining 41.3% that do use a content management system, the figure of 58.6% (entirely coincidentally) resurfaces. So, in terms of market share among websites that already use a CMS, WordPress has already surpassed the halfway mark.

That becomes the case even more if you consider each separate WordPress.com website as an installation, which W3Techs largely don’t – they’ll only count a WordPress.com website as a separate WordPress website if it has its own URL, rather than a *.wordpress.com one.

Considering the next most popular CMS by W3Techs’ metrics makes the statistics for WordPress yet more impressive. While not insignificant, Joomla’s 2.8% of the web (as opposed to WordPress at 24.2%) rather pales in comparison – and while WordPress’ use is booming, Joomla’s is declining.
In this light, WordPress’ (and also Automattic’s) influence over such huge portions of the web – particularly the sections that publish – is extensive to say the least.
The figures W3Techs has compiled are, naturally, not a
complete reflection of the web. Even Google can’t know about every single website out there (as hard as it might try). W3Techs actually looks only at the top ten million Alexa-ranked websites on the web. That’s likely to discount quite a lot of WordPress-powered blogs (even active ones) and other websites, so while being a measure obviously designed to make statistical analysis practical, there’s no guarantee that it’s a representative sample of the web. Nevertheless, it does give the best reflection we can really hope to get.

Who Is (And Isn’t) Using WordPress?

As noted, the statistics we’re using are potentially not a completely representative sample, but within that sample, WordPress is by far the most used CMS platform. Although Drupal sites tend to have more traffic, WordPress is in line with most other CMS platforms on that front.

WordPress lags behind Drupal in high-traffic sites, though one could hypothesize that there could be a lot of high-traffic WordPress sites whose averages are pulled down by the sheer number of lower-traffic sites.
However, as I discovered when I looked individually at the top 250 Alexa sites, only six used WordPress and only two of those used WordPress to power the whole website – those two, incidentally, were WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
In terms of the highest ranked sites, the trend seems to be that media organizations were using WordPress (quite a common theme in some of the highest ranked sites anyway) to publish less formal content, often from contributors as opposed to the organizations’ editorial staff. The web is undoubtedly revolutionizing the media and these sorts of contributions are rapidly replacing full-paid editorial staff, not least because it’s much easier and cheaper to have subtly “sponsored” content. A prime example is The Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section which, although not WordPress, is a good example as one of the most-read online publications. The debate over whether this is a healthy state for traditional print media is one for another time, but this more “bloggy” content from large organizations is likely to make WordPress an increasingly viable option.
However, the big players are far from everything, and WordPress’ huge share comes from the millions using the platform for their smaller sites.

Even though it makes up ~0.00001% of W3Tech’s 24.2% figure, WordPress.com is a good indicator of what many other, smaller self-hosted sites are using WordPress for: creating pages on a website, often with blogs. Blogging is what WordPress started out for and while it has developed into a full CMS subsequently, this is what a big part of its use is still going to be about. Naturally, there are different interpretations of its blogging features – variously used for traditional blogging, press releases and organizational news – but in essence they’re doing the same thing.
Clearly, for running relatively simple sites, WordPress ticks all the boxes with its core features: ease in picking and changing designs, blogging, page, easy image and file integration, security and friendly UX. Then, of course, there’s the cost advantage.

What Else Could WordPress Do?

Automattic has been going to a great deal of trouble to expand what WordPress can do, because one of the platform’s greatest strengths is obviously the range of extra features its plugins can add; from forums, to social networks, to eCommerce. The latter is especially important given that Automattic just bought the company behind WooCommerce for US$30,000,000. It’s significant because these are areas where WordPress isn’t used; platforms like Magento, specifically built for eCommerce, has 2.8% of the CMS market share (1.2% overall Web share), with nearly a quarter of a million users. This is one area where WordPress doesn’t control the market as much as it could, and it seems Automattic wants to remedy that.
And who else isn’t using WordPress? Well, that 58% not using any measured CMS at all is quite a large audience to target. There are all sorts of different websites under the “no measured CMS” banner. Many will be using bespoke solutions, perhaps because they feel that WordPress can’t be flexible enough to cater to their individual site’s needs.
It would seem logical that going forward, it’s going to gradually get more difficult to attract more users to the platform. This is because increasingly narrow features will need to be added to attract more difficult users, without undermining the simplicity of the systems its existing users enjoy.
In saying that, the market segment that will obviously have to be tackled since it occupies more than half (even if some gains are made from other CMS platforms) is those websites not using tracked CMS (ie. including bespoke solutions).
Reaching 50%: A Worthwhile Target?

It’s worth asking if that 50% web share is a worthwhile target to pursue, in a number of senses.

Firstly, WordPress and its most influential affiliates (i.e. Automattic) have made clear aims to “democratize publishing”. It could quite well be asked whether this big aim can obtained by achieving an even larger market dominance, potentially pushing out other innovation. Of course, everyone on the internet is free to use whichever platform they please, but aiming to move to what could become an oligopoly or even effective monopoly market could arguably stifle any innovation through new platforms. Many states will regulate, or at least monitor, this in most industries and it could be suggested that this 50% aim could be irresponsible – leading to a less desirable position than the market as a whole is currently in.
Perhaps a more pertinent question is how achievable this particular target is; it’s arguably beyond pointless to have an unrealistic target, even putting aside questions about the consequences of such aims.

While the number of people not using a CMS is decreasing and WordPress is filling the gap, plenty of websites with more custom features – such as eCommerce – will need a lot of convincing to move to WordPress. Many still feel that platforms designed specifically for their needs are better than WordPress with a plugin – and this might apply, for instance, to community sites too: would vBulletin users consider abandoning such a mature platform for bbPress?
That’s not to say that it’s impossible to convert these users from other established platforms, or their bespoke solutions: WordPress just has to offer the best functionality as well as the obvious attraction of the cost savings it provides. Again, that’s not impossible, but it will require a lot of hard work, and potentially more marketing than has been required for the first quarter share. WordPress’ best advocates are its own users, so breaking through into these new areas – a charge apparently being led by Automattic – is going to require a steady stream of people converting.
It seems then, that the 50% target may well be achievable with huge investment in plugins to develop new functionality and resources on top of a modern, future-ready core platform.

Theseus’ paradox is often brought up with regard to the future of the WordPress platform. It’s a thought experiment that asks whether something with all its components changed is still the same thing. But actually, the future seems to lie not necessarily in what the Core platform becomes, other than essential modernization to make it completely fit for a mobile web. The success of the platform in breaking into new areas of the market, as Automattic seems to recognize in its huge investments in companies like WooThemes, is going to be adding the extra functionality with the quality people will need to be convinced that WordPress is better for their needs than the established providers’ services.
Summary

The 24% share WordPress has right now isn’t determined by a flawless metric, as we’ve seen. Within the CMS marketplace, it has already surpassed the milestone of half the market share, and now it’s aiming to do that with the web as a whole. It will be up against it to break through into bespoke CMS and non-CMS users’ marketplace though, although it will be essential to tackle this if WordPress is to succeed in what it has set out to achieve.

To do this, it’s going to need to be able to continue proving its worth as a modern platform, something it’s already able to do well, improving with every new version release. More importantly, it’s going to need to show that it’s better than the standalone platforms, by providing functionality through improved plugins. A big focus will obviously be on eCommerce, as more and more businesses take to the web with its growing number of users.

While some questions still remain as to whether WordPress’ and Automattic’s plans are advisable, if it goes about it the right way there shouldn’t be too much doubt that WordPress will extend its influence across the web even more. With its growing support for many languages, there’s a good chance it will become internationally and widely-used for an even more diverse range of purposes.