Why There’s No Stopping WordPress Hitting 50% Market Share
“I am powering a bank’s website using WordPress. What security measures should I take?”
This question attracted a lot of attention – both positive and negative – when an anonymous user took to Quora seeking advice. He/she probably wasn’t expecting Matt Mullenweg to reply with some advice, and of course reassurances that WordPress is secure:
“I agree there’s probably not a ton of benefit to having the online banking / billpay / etc portion of a bank’s website on WordPress, however, there is no reason you couldn’t run the front-end and marketing side of the site on WordPress, and in fact you’d be leveraging WordPress’ strength as a content management platform that is flexible, customizable, and easy to update and maintain.”
“WordPress is also trusted to run sites for some of the largest and most security-conscious organizations in the world, including Facebook, SAP, Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, eBay, McAfee, Sophos, GNOME, Mozilla, MIT, Reuters, CNN, Google Ventures, NASA, and literally hundreds more.”
All of this got me thinking – how big can WordPress be? Could it ever reach the stage where it’s powering the majority of the web, rather than the 25% or so it does now? And what would it take to get there?
Some of the World’s Largest Brands Use WordPress
As Matt Mullenweg said his reply to the original question, some of the world’s most recognized brands run on WordPress. And they use it in all sorts of ways.
Let’s look at a few of those names Matt mentioned, as well as a UK newspaper’s website, which is powered by WordPress and seen massive growth over the past few years.
Facebook uses it to power the company blog. You can read it here.
The content on the blog dates back to 2006, but the Newsroom domain has only been around since 2012, and Facebook started using WordPress in early 2014. Before then, the Facebook blog looked just like Facebook.
The blog covers just about every change Facebook has made to the News Feed, the hows and whys of the various product launches and changes, as well as keeping readers up to date with what’s going on inside the company.
Alongside the blog, there’s company info, products, and a directory section featuring some interesting Facebook pages.
I reckon anyone who’s used WordPress for a little while would know straight away it’s powered by WordPress – the content sidebar layout gives the game away.
The Google Ventures part of the Google brand is a funding arm for startups. At the time of writing GV partners with 280+ companies. Some of which you might recognize:
There are many more. And they’re not all from the online space. Some are from the life, science and health sector. Including Foundation Medicine, which is “leading a transformation in cancer care.”
Techcrunch started in 2005 and grew very quickly to become one of the hottest technology blogs on the internet.
You can trace the moment the world became aware of Techcrunch to October 2006 when the site’s then owner, Michael Arrington, broke the news that Google had acquired a video sharing startup called YouTube.
The revelation landed TC on the homepage of the Wall Street Journal’s Marketplace section.
Since then, the site has continued growing and is now owned by AOL. It employs more than 40 people and updates numerous times a day.
WordPress powered Techcrunch in those early days, and it’s still powering the site today.
Sophos, a company focusing on all types of security in these modern connected times, uses WordPress to power its blog.
It’s hosted on a sub-domain away from the main site and regularly publishes content about staying secure online, how to avoid hacking attempts and how to steer clear of all things slightly iffy.
Metro is a free UK newspaper dished out to commuters in several large cities as they make their way to work each day.
At the end of 2012, it implemented a responsive design and switched hosting to the WordPress VIP service.
Since that time it’s saw tremendous growth, which is mainly down to social media, but WordPress and fast page-loading times must take some credit in providing a positive user experience.
You can read more about the development process and growth here.
Introducing WordPress VIP
You’ve probably heard of WordPress VIP, but in case you haven’t it’s a managed hosting service provided by Automattic – and it doesn’t come cheap.
It’s aimed at the larger brands and enterprises using WordPress to power their websites, blogs and microsites. Most of the sites I’ve talked about in this post, and that Matt mentioned in his reply on Quora, are hosted on WordPress VIP.
The WordPress.com grid, which uses over 3000 servers in three SSAE16 certified data centers, powers WordPress VIP. That’s a lot of power and a lot of speed you’d have at your fingertips if you can afford the minimum $5000 starting price.
Clients who you will have heard of, but who I haven’t mentioned so far, include NBC Sports, TED, CNN, TIME, Dow Jones, and UPS.
It’s worth pointing out that must apply to become a WordPress VIP client. You can’t sign up at your leisure.
What you get as a member is access to people who know the platform inside-out; people who know how to write clean code and configure servers for optimum performance.
That’s quite a selling point for businesses who want fast websites, no downtime, and competent support. Compare that to your typical shared hosting account, where users complain of slow-loading times and poor service.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for your typical small business. The gap is closing between the enterprise-level service offered by WordPress VIP and some of the new specialist hosting services popping up in the WordPress space: WPEngine, Rainmaker Platform, and Traffic Planet to name just three.
There’s a long way to go, but many of us don’t need the power of VIP as long as our sites load quickly. And as WordPress becomes ever more popular, service providers are realizing they must step up to the plate and meet our expectations or we’ll take our business elsewhere.
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Configuration Is the Key
The success of both WordPress.com and the other various high-traffic sites we’ve covered shows that WordPress is more than capable of handling sites at true scale.
With their decade of experience and expert domain knowledge, Automattic have an inherent advantage in delivering these sites, but it’s also within the reach of any other company with access to major in-house technical resources who are prepared to obsessively tune every layer of the stack.
WordPress is, at the end of the day, merely one link in a chain when it comes to the architecture of a high-performance, high-traffic sites, and in many ways it’s one of the less relevant ones when it comes to dealing with things at scale.
If you’re looking for an accessible account of exactly how much behind the scenes blood, sweat and tears can be involved in getting a site tooled up for web-scale traffic, have a read of Paul Ford’s excellent recent piece on how PAPER magazine’s engineers scaled their backend for Kim Kardashian to handle over 30 million pageviews in just a few days.
The editorial interface in that instance was Movable Type rather than WordPress, but if you read the article you’ll see that the choice of CMS is way down the list of concerns for delivering this type of traffic.
If you’re expecting the world to show up at your virtual door, you’ll need an expert team administering a highly optimized setup in terms of some or all of the following:
- Underlying server hardware and RAM
- Caching and load balancing
- Content Delivery Network
- Web server tuning
- Multiple, well-tuned databases
Smashing Magazine had a great roundup a few years ago of how large-scale WordPress sites have dealt with many of the items on that list if you want to start diving into the technical specifics of how to implement.
And, if you’re trying to get a handle on current best practices in the space, there’s no better starting point than WP Engine’s Scaling WordPress for High Traffic white paper.
“I reached a point where I realized it was far more cost-effective to invest in more hardware than to spend huge amounts of time squeezing small performance gains out of a theme or plugin’s WP queries at the subatomic level.”
To sum up, assuming you’re working with a well-optimized WordPress setup to begin with, the big gains in performance at scale are likely to be elsewhere in the stack these days.
How Versatile Can WordPress Be at Scale?
Another point often raised against WordPress for truly large and complex sites is that it’s not really a versatile CMS, more an overgrown blogging solution with a bunch of extra bells and whistles bolted on.
There was certainly some truth to this accusation in the dim and distant past.
Many experienced developers will be familiar with the pain of trying to force WordPress to do something it wasn’t specifically designed to handle back in the day in order to handle a business requirement handed down from on high.
Secondly, the imminent integration of the REST API into core officially opens the door to the rest of the online world on a defined programmatic level.
The implications of this second point are huge and we’ve covered them in some detail in our recent The REST API (and How It Could Change WordPress Forever) article.
It’s time to start challenging our assumptions of what WordPress can be. The software will shortly be making the leap to being a fully-fledged application framework in its own right.
And if the flexibility it can offer isn’t enough for your particular project, integrating another solution with WordPress via API is going to be an increasingly straightforward and popular option.
Audacious Automattic Goals
Another point to bear in mind is Matt Mullenweg’s stated goal for WordPress of reaching 50% of market share.
Speaking with Adam Silver on the KitchensinkWP podcast, Mullenweg targeted 25% market share as a short-term goal but made clear the platform is committed to pushing for overall dominance:
“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.”
As Sarah Gooding pointed out over at WPTavern, tools such as Jetpack are going to play a big part in attempting to hit that goal and there has been some slight unease in the open source community about the dominance of Automattic – a commercial entity – in driving this progress.
The reality is that Automattic’s involvement with WordPress has been a key factor in moving the platform forward from the get go. Their recent $160 million funding round shows they’re now in a position to put even more muscle behind the project.
That kind of access to resources and Mullenweg’s willingness to go on the record with the 50% market share target both suggest that it could be very much a possibility over the course of the next five to ten years.
WordPress Takes Over the World
Most of brands using WordPress VIP are based in North America. That means there’s still huge swathes of the world to conquer.
Just a few short years ago, WordPress couldn’t get a look-in during development plans for large websites and blogs. That’s not the case anymore.
In 2015, media companies, web developers and brands must surely consider WordPress as one of the best options for building a scalable and secure platform for their online presence.
What it boils down to is making sure WordPress is setup correctly. To the point where servers operate at maximum capacity and at speeds able to deliver pages as quickly as the modern web user expects.
This is the question that inspired this post: How big can WordPress be?
I see no reason why WordPress can’t hit Mullenweg’s target and run the majority of the world’s websites in just a few short years. It covers all bases: it’s a blog for those who want to blog, it’s a CMS for anyone wanting to build a website, and if you want to get into eCommerce, you can use WordPress for that too.
Due to the plethora of businesses operating around the WordPress platform, releasing themes, plugins and support services, the whole organic mass just keeps growing and growing, and I can’t see anything stopping it for quite some time. If at all.
Do you think WordPress will reach 50% market share? How big do you think WordPress will get? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.