Does Market Share Matter?

By David Bisset and Dan Knauss • May 13, 2022 🗓

Is the WordPress market share beginning to shrink? How do we assess market share? What metrics matter? It’s time we asked these questions.

This week brought some attention to WordPress’s market share, at least as it gets reported by W3techs. For the first time, the WordPress market share appears to have declined — by 0.4% since February this year. David noticed this as soon as the first numbers were published and tweeted about it on April 25th. This week, Joost de Valk broke down the numbers and gave his take on the causes of the decline.

You should read the whole thing, but in Joost’s opinion, the main cause of this multi-month trend is “out innovation” from Wix and Squarespace, even though both have had almost flat growth recently. Joost feels these centralized platforms can update customer sites with enhancements and best practices faster than WordPress can.

Is Pointing Fingers at Full Site Editing Fair?

Unsurprisingly, Full Site Editing (as distinct from Gutenberg / the block editor) has come in for a lot of renewed criticism, with Joost leading the pack:

“The Full Site Editing project is simply taking far too long. That’s causing the rest of the platform to lag behind current web trends.”

Others have suggested one or more primary causes: the whole Gutenberg project, COVID, loss of in-person events, emphasis on PHP, emphasis on React/JavaScript, a decline in volunteering, and not enough core contributors. Sure, these are all possible influences in any downward trend. But it’s an avalanche of anecdotes, speculation, axes to grind — and not a few potentially useful insights.

A popular and reasonable opinion is that competing publishing platforms can handle some (typically simpler) use cases faster or easier than WordPress. If you don’t care about the tool you use (or owning your own content, the GPL, open source, etc.) then WordPress isn’t the first choice quite as clearly as it used to be for some use cases, like blogging or simple websites.

In Context, an Overreaction?

The global economic context right now is one of alarm over recession and “stagflation” indicators — flat or negative growth plus inflation. Many other CMS platforms are trending down or flattening in growth too. Under these conditions, a tiny 0.4% decline shouldn’t ring any alarm bells.

But as you can imagine (and as David predicted), many people are quick to offer dramatic opinions, but for others, it’s an opportunity for the WordPress community to do some self-examination.

Is WordPress the iPod or the iPhone?

Joe Casabona compares WordPress to the discontinued iPod — an innovative breakthrough in its day that eventually became obsolete.

We believe WordPress might be closer to the iPhone, however. Growth stops at some point for a dominant player that is still winning. The WordPress community should stop obsessing over growth and using it as our only measure of health and success.

Brian Coords takes a similar view and suggests WordPress should start thinking like a platform again.

What do we know anyway?

That’s not to say a reported 0.4% drop over 2-3 months is clearly a decline at all. Will it prove a lasting trend?

As Alex Denning observes, year over year W3Techs shows the overall WordPress market share is up 1.7%. Moreover, W3techs has been our only measure of CMS market share. Their primary data comes from Alexa rankings, a defunct service as of this month. Alex lays his finger on our biggest challenge:

“We had no idea why the market share was growing, and we accordingly have no idea why it’s shrinking.”

We need to know! How can we find out?

There are many other things alongside market share that we ought to be researching, like indicators of the project and the community’s health — the whole ecosystem and specific parts of it.

Jordi Cabot asked earlier this year, What if Five for the Future funded WordPress research? He also put out this call for proposals: What are the most important questions to ask?

Tired of wandering in the dark?

We’d love to hear your ideas about the questions we should be asking, the metrics we need, and how we can get them. Send them to us or bring them into Post Status Slack.

Post Status hosted and recorded a community conversation about the State of the WordPress Market Share as a Comments episode on Twitter Spaces on May 13th with Joost, Alex, and Jessica Frick as invited guests.

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