Is WordPress dying? The future of the world's most popular CMS

Is WordPress dying?

Today, I investigate whether WordPress is dying, or whether rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

WordPress is the most powerful content management system (CMS) on the web. It was launched in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, and has reimagined how we build websites and blogs. Incredibly, over 66% of all CMS websites are now powered by WordPress!

Recently, however, WordPress has been facing some challenges. These have sent shockwaves across the industry and led to concerns among key industry players about the possible death of WordPress.

According to 2022 reports, the top concerns remain the reduced market share of WordPress and a declining number of installs over the past few years.

However, WordPress is still the most popular CMS, with a strong community of users and developers. It is so popular that WordPress powers over 30% of the entire web, and 36.28% of the top one million websites by traffic.

Amongst such contradicting trends, questions around the future of WordPress are arising. Can WordPress resurrect itself back to its heyday, or will it forever lose its glory?

In this post, I will look at facts and figures to support this ongoing debate and answer questions like:

  • Is WordPress losing popularity?
  • Does anyone still use WordPress?
  • Will WordPress die?
  • Is WordPress losing market share or have declining users?

Read until the end to discover whether WordPress is dying or if there is still hope for its resurrection.

The rise of WordPress

WordPress was first created to replace b2/cafelog, a blogging platform that was discontinued.

Since its launch in 2003, WordPress has experienced tremendous growth and become the world's most popular content management system. It now powers over 60 million websites and is used by a wide range of users, from small business owners and bloggers to large enterprises and government agencies.

There are many reasons why WordPress makes up such a large part of the web. One of these is its open-source nature. Plus, it's:

  • Super-easy to use.
  • Very SEO-friendly.
  • Easily customizable.
  • Highly scalable
  • Supported by a huge worldwide community of experts, including designers and developers, theme and plugin companies, hosting companies, and many more.

There are a ton of WordPress tutorials freely available that answer anything and everything WordPress. This makes it easy to get started. Beginners and experts can quickly find answers to all their WordPress queries with a simple Google search such as:

  • Which WordPress version do I have?
  • What is the WordPress admin login URL?
  • Can WordPress handle millions of users?
  • Can WordPress be used offline?
  • Is WordPress bad for business?
  • Which WordPress theme are they using?
  • How to recover a lost WordPress username and password?
  • And lots more!

If you cannot find the correct tutorial or how-to, there are always the WordPress Support Forums, a great destination to learn, share, and troubleshoot. And hiring the right developer can transform your WordPress site into anything you can imagine.

Finally, there are many successful niches built on WordPress. For example, WooCommerce is the world's biggest e-commerce platform and powers over a quarter of online shops.

WordPress' market share is shrinking

When people wonder "Is WordPress dying?", they often quote the WordPress market share statistics.

Google Trends clearly shows that the number of people Googling 'WordPress' has been declining since 2014. Meanwhile, the popularity of new cloud platforms like Shopify, Wix and Squarespace is rising:

Google Trends WordPress search data
Historical Google searches for WordPress and other popular platforms

Latest WordPress market share data and statistics

Here's some inside scoop on the latest WordPress market share data and statistics. If we look at the CMS usage statistics published by W3Techs, we will see that WordPress' market share in 2023 is down 0.2% from its peak in Spring 2022:

WordPress and other CMS market share statistics 2022
Historical CMS usage statistics until January 2023

Now, let's look at W3Tech's WordPress market share statistics by year:

WordPress and other CMS market share statistics by year
CMS market share statistics by year, 2012-2023
2022-23 is the first year ever that WordPress' market share did not grow. In fact, it declined by 0.1%. While that's a tiny amount, it is concerning that the market share of WordPress stopped growing. Why?
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WordPress feels less dominant, too

The data shows that WordPress has plateaued compared to other CMS's, and is slightly losing market share. We can also see this anecdotally.

Based on our experience at Barn2, and our interactions with other plugin companies, we can confirm that most WordPress companies reported slower growth in 2022 than in previous years.

In 2020, the pandemic sparked a huge rise in the number of people using WordPress and plugin companies saw increases of up to 2x for their existing products. That was almost impossible to achieve in 2022. The companies who are growing the fastest (such as Barn2) are the ones that are continuing to innovate by releasing new products and launching into new markets, instead of just growing their existing products.

Here's what Joost de Valk, founder of Yoast SEO, has to say:

"If WordPress is shrinking, something else must be growing, this is, after all, a zero-sum game. The very clear winners at the moment are Wix and Squarespace."

And it's no wonder that Yoast is also diversifying its business and has recently released its Yoast SEO for Shopify plugin. Other successful companies in the WordPress space such as WeGlot are also expanding outside of WordPress.

It's a scary time.

What is behind the decline of WordPress?

As we can see, there is a slight decrease in WordPress dominance as a CMS. How can we explain this?

Despite still being the most popular content management system on the web today, WordPress is (slightly) losing market share because of several key challenges.

Increased competition

At the top of the list is the emergence of new competitors in the CMS market. For instance, until a few years ago, WordPress (thanks to WooCommerce) powered most small business e-commerce websites. But today, many people are moving to Shopify, Squarespace, and similar niche cloud platforms.

Unlike WordPress, these hosted platforms are expensive. However, they offer better security and require less maintenance when compared to WordPress. They also have a reputation for being quicker and easier to set up.

Security concerns

According to Sucuri, WordPress-powered websites were the most hacked websites in 2021. Interestingly, over 90% of the affected websites detected by Sucuri were powered by WordPress.

WordPress websites definitely have a reputation for being at greater risk of hacking than other platforms. This puts a lot of people off.

Poor usability

WordPress provides a genuine opportunity for absolutely anyone to create a website. However, that doesn't mean that it's easy to use!

The platform has been heavily criticised for being less beginner-friendly than hosted systems like Wix. That's largely inevitable because the more flexible a platform is, the harder it is to use. However, this was made worse by the fact that until recently, WordPress didn't have a built-in page builder. To create fancy page layouts, you either had to hire a developer or install a third party page builder plugin, which may or may not be user-friendly.

And when a page builder was finally added to WordPress, it was heavily criticised for a long time.

Negativity over Gutenberg

Sadly, the Gutenberg block editor has generated a lot of negative feelings among the community. This has caused a growing feeling that the leadership of WordPress is undemocratic despite it being an open-source CMS.

Just look at the reviews of the original Gutenberg plugin, which has now been added to WordPress core:

Gutenberg plugin reviews

The hatred towards Gutenberg is equally obvious from the download stats of the Classic Editor WordPress Plugin. Today, Classic Editor is one of the most downloaded WordPress plugins. More than 5 million website owners are currently using it to disable Gutenberg and revert to the original WordPress editor.

However, this doesn't mean that WordPress is dying!

As a member of the WordPress community, it's scary to see WordPress losing market share. However, to see the true future of WordPress, we need to look at the other side of the story.

To come to an accurate conclusion, we need to re-examine the data and consider whether there are other ways to interpret it. We also need to look at the things that WordPress still has in its favor. We'll do this next.

Look at WordPress usage statistics, not market share

So far, we have only looked at the WordPress market share statistics - not at the number of people who are actually using the platform. A lot of people only focus on market share, which leads to skewed results.

For example, Joost de Valk reported a 0.4% drop in market share in May 2022, and Alex Denning pointed out that this doesn’t really matter. I'll illustrate this further by looking at the total number of WordPress sites.

If you're wondering "Does anyone still use WordPress?", the answer is a resounding "Yes!". This is obvious from the latest WordPress usage statistics from BuiltWith.
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Let's look at the total number of WordPress websites between 2000 and January 2023

WordPress usage statistics 2023

That's a HUGE number - more than 30 million websites still use WordPress! And while the total number of WordPress sites has remained static since the start of the pandemic, it's not in decline. In fact, there have been other static periods such as 2018-19, which we can now see were only temporary.

And if we look back a few years, we see that the number of WordPress websites sharply declined at certain points in around 2012 and 2014. That must have seemed even more scary at the time. Let's zoom in on the above chart and imagine how it would have looked to people in 2014:

WordPress shrinking decline in 2012
WordPress usage 2000 to 2014

If you saw this chart in 2014, you'd naturally have wondered "Is WordPress dying?" However, when you add the data for 2015 onwards, it's clear that 2012 saw a temporarily blip in WordPress usage, followed by many more years of steady growth.

Sure, the number of WordPress sites has levelled out since the sudden growth in 2020. However, there's no reason to think that this is permanent, and the overall upwards trend of the graph continues upwards.

This should answer the question "Is WordPress losing popularity?" Even if WordPress is (slightly) losing market share, it doesn't have declining users.

It's not a decline, it's a course correction

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought a sense of panic amongst people who lost their jobs or were furloughed due to the lockdown. There was a sudden surge in the number of people building new websites, creating WooCommerce stores and starting online businesses. It was a terrible time for the world, but an incredible time for entrepreneurship!

This accelerated trends that I think would have happened anyway over the following years. We saw this very clearly with the sudden popularity of Zoom meetings during the lockdown. Online conferencing was already a growing trend, and this was sped up by the pandemic.

Similarly, lots of people built WordPress and WooCommerce websites in 2020 which they would otherwise have done later.

At Barn2, we experienced this first-hand with our WooCommerce Restaurant Ordering plugin. Our plugins were already popular with restaurants who were moving to online ordering before the pandemic. However, they saw a huge increase in April 2020. Restaurants were suddenly closed during the lockdown and forced to either switch to online ordering or go out of business. I expect that most of these restaurants would have got an online ordering system eventually - but Covid brought this forward.

I see WordPress' lack of growth in 2021 and 2022 as a course correction rather than a true decline. It brought WordPress usage back to where it would have been if Covid hadn’t happened.
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Without Covid, we would still be seeing a steady growth in WordPress usage rather than a sharp increase followed by a stabilization.

The future of WordPress

So, if we look at actual WordPress usage statistics then we can be reassured that the platform isn't currently in decline. However, that doesn't get rid of the problems and challenges for WordPress that we talked about earlier.

The truth is, it's easy to criticise the biggest player - however, WordPress still has plenty going for it. Beyond the data, there are lots of reasons to trust in the future direction of WordPress and the momentum which will take it from strength to strength.

Blocks are the future

The folks behind WordPress are well aware of the challenges. That's why they are continuously innovating and introducing new features like the block-based editor Gutenberg, full-site editing, Rest API support, and more.

The WordPress leadership has a clear vision for its future development. This is largely centered around the Gutenberg editor and blocks. The goal of the Gutenberg editor is to make it easier for users to create and customize their websites, without needing to know any coding or programming. This directly tackles limitations of earlier versions of WordPress.

While earlier versions of Gutenberg were heavily criticised (and for good reason), that's because it has been released in multiple stages. It keeps getting better and better, and it's important to see the long term vision of the project.

By simplifying the process of creating and customizing websites, Gutenberg will make it easier for absolutely anyone to use WordPress and build the websites they want. This will help it to compete with other platforms. As a result, WordPress can continue growing and evolving as the leading content management system.
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There are still plenty of upward trends in WordPress

Earlier, we looked at a Google Trends chart showing that the number of people Googling for the term 'WordPress' has been declining since 2014. However, there are plenty of areas which continue to grow.

For example, after a huge bump during the pandemic, searches for 'WooCommerce' are still above pre-pandemic levels:

Google Trends searches for WooCommerce
Historical Google searches for WooCommerce

Searches for WordPress learning management systems (LMS) are seeing a similar pattern:

Popularity of WordPress LMS search term
Historical Google searches for WordPress LMS

It's important not to write WordPress off after focussing on just one type of data, such as the number of people searching for the word "WordPress". It's a hugely diverse platform and the truth is much more subtle.

The WordPress community is alive and kicking

Importantly, the WordPress community is as strong as ever. It was heartening to see how closely people throughout the community collaborated online during 2020 and 2021 when in-person events were cancelled. And then in 2022, I could physically see the community growing even stronger as people started meeting face-to-face again.

If you attend a WordCamp anywhere in the world in 2023 (and you should!) then you'll find it very hard to argue that WordPress is dying. 

a group of people cheering in front of super block arena in Porto during WordCamp Europe 2022
WordPress Europe 2022. A dying community? I don't think so!

The world leader in open source

Powering over 30 million websites, WordPress is the most popular open source CMS by a very, very long way. Its main competitors are not open source. There are lots of reasons why this puts WordPress in an even stronger position for future survival:

  • Open source software like WordPress is more adaptable and flexible than proprietary software. Because the source code is freely available and can be modified by anyone, it can be more easily customized and extended to meet the needs of a wider range of users. This makes it more appealing to a larger user base, which can help to ensure its long-term viability.
  • Because anyone can contribute to the development of open source software, it can attract a larger pool of developers who are interested in improving and maintaining the software. This is proven by the size and dedication of the WordPress community! This helps to ensure that the software stays up-to-date and continues to evolve over time. Fundamentally, an open source project is not dependent on one leader or company.
  • Finally, open source software is often more transparent and trustworthy. Because the source code is freely available and can be reviewed by anyone, it is easier to identify and fix any issues or vulnerabilities. This helps to increase user confidence and make it more likely to be used in the long term.

WordPress is secure

As we saw earlier, people often worry that WordPress is the subject of more hacking attempts than other platforms. To me, this is testament to the popularity of WordPress.

The main reason why WordPress-powered websites were the most hacked in 2021 is that it is the most loved and used CMS on the web. This inevitably makes it a target.

Of course, you should take security measures such as keeping everything up to date and only installing themes and plugins from reputable companies. However, WordPress is a very secure system and doesn't deserve the bad press.

WordPress has a commanding lead

But for me, here's the most important point.

Over 28% of the world's top one million websites are powered by WordPress. It's fair to say that WordPress is the undisputed market leader when it comes to CMS, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Its sheer popularity make it hard to claim that WordPress is dying.

According to Malcolm Gladwell's tipping point theory, WordPress has reached a point of such dominance that it would be nearly impossible for it to die. Any other content management systems faces a significant challenge in trying to surpass WordPress because of its huge market share.

Just look at this chart from W3Techs:

WordPress market share graph 2023

This is a chart of CMS's that power more than 1% of the web. And look how far ahead WordPress is! It would have to decline a lot before any other CMS could even begin to rival its popularity - and yet people are freaking out at tiny decreases of up to 0.4%!

Of course, new CMS platforms might emerge in the future. Existing ones will continue to grow. However, WordPress will remain the go-to CMS for developers due to its market dominance.

You should remember this when you ask yourself questions like "Will WordPress' CMS dominance continue?" or "How much growth is left in the WordPress themes market?" As free open source software, the number of WordPress users will only continue to grow. It’s unlikely that WordPress is going away anytime soon.

Conclusion: Is WordPress dying?

A lot has been said about the ongoing fluctuations in WordPress market share and the popularity of other CMS software. While there is no denying that WordPress has faced challenges in its growth, it remains the most loved CMS by a large community of people for its open-source nature, ease of use, plugin support and scalability.

There’s too much momentum and too much riding on WordPress for it to fall off the radar or lose its loyal users across the world. No other platform can rival the size and maturity of the WordPress community - as well as the amount of passion that keeps it growing.
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As a result, I don't think WordPress will keep losing market share moving forward. I also believe that WordPress is well beyond the tipping point, making it a clear leader that is very difficult to kill. To me, there is no doubt that WordPress will continue being the go-to CMS for another ten years and beyond.

If you work in WordPress - whether it's as a product or service provider - then there's lots of hope for the future. And if you need a website, then WordPress is still the most future-proof choice.

The simple answer to the question "Is WordPress dying?" - A BIG NO!

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