$635.5 billion…That’s “billion,” with a “B.” Let’s look at the size of the universe inhabited by our market of markets of cathedrals and bazaars: the WordPress ecosystem. How should we think about WordPress’s market share or, maybe more accurately, its shares? Are we selling them short and dampening growth?
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
The value of the WordPress ecosystem at the end of 2021 was estimated by an independent team of economists and researchers for WP Engine last year, and the figure they came up with was around $635.5 billion (USD). This news wasn’t received with the open attention and analysis one would normally expect in the larger tech world.
The report, The Value of WordPress: The World’s First Study of the WordPress Economy, noted that $635 billion is in the range of Tesla’s market cap. Tesla’s value was already on the downslope from its peak at that time, but even so — $635 billion dollars! And with one more crazy tweet by Elon, who knows? WordPress could surpass Tesla and approach the value of the top six companies by market cap — in the world.
This puts the value of WordPress alongside a much more stable genius — the long-bet-taking “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffet, and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A), which has a board member in common with Automattic. Long a model and now a peer for Matt Mullenweg — and arguably everyone else in the WordPress ecosystem — this is the end of the pool we find ourselves in, at the lower end of the top ten publicly traded global corporations. Or do we? What does that even mean for such a decentralized, non-proprietary, open, fractious, and collaborative project as WordPress?
That’s “billion,” with a “B.”
Let’s start with the projected late 2021 valuation of the whole WordPress space: $635.5 billion. To give this number a little more context, it’s a couple hundred billion dollars larger than the market cap of Meta/Facebook ($445.73 billion) — and it’s bigger than the market cap of McDonald’s ($188.59 billion), Disney ($173.41 billion), and Nike ($166.77 billion) combined. It’s close to the total billing and sales of Apple’s App Store ecosystem in 2020. (Apple, as the highest valued company — or neck and neck with Saudi Aramco — has a market cap of about $2.5 trillion.)
Many of us in the WordPress community don’t fully realize the massive financial presence that WordPress has. That WordPress is. Instead, we see WordPress from the vantage point of what it was five to ten years ago.
The last decade has seen staggering growth.
About a decade ago, 76% of all websites didn’t use any content management system. That number has plummeted and possibly leveled off at 33%.
Among the sites that did use a CMS, 13% chose WordPress. That was only 3.12% of all websites with or without a CMS. Today WordPress 4.9, 5.4, 5.5, 5.7, 5.8, and 5.9 all have more sites using them. (That’s not the greatest news — please update your sites folks! — but obsolescence is better than exiting.)
The important number today is that WordPress has a 64% market share relative to other publishing platforms. That translates to 43% of all websites — a massive market share. You don’t have to be an expert in statistics to see that this is an enormous gain over just a few years.
How big is this universe? Is it expanding or stable?
Though the facts and figures around WordPress have changed substantially, what hasn’t changed much is the number of total active websites in existence. That population has stayed relatively constant, rising by only 30 million over the last ten years to reach 200 million active sites today.
You can find the data discussed here with lots of helpful charts and explanations at WordPress, BuiltWith, WorldwideWebSize, Netcraft, and W3Techs. Rami Yushuvaev at DisplayWP has dynamic displays of WordPress data he’s sharing with an open API. Jack Flynn, Nick Huss, SEJ, and Kinsta all have written up detailed reports on WordPress’s market share as of 2021-22.
Why does it matter that the number of active websites is stable? In a mature industry, one of the primary drivers of profitability is market share. It makes sense — if the overall market size changes a lot, you can’t really know what your share in it is. Instability indicates an immature market — or worse — a dying market. Founders and investors will avoid instability because it’s not clear if growth and maturity — or death lie ahead. The stability of the total market and growth within it indicates a safe bet.
Given that WordPress came to its dominant position today over the same ten-year period that saw relative stability in the total number of active websites, with or without a CMS, we can attribute this achievement to WordPress and its ecosystem drivers, not the overall growth of the web.
Congratulations — to us!
Some people like Pepsi. Some people like Coke.
To better understand why market share matters to WordPress, let’s look at the example of Coca-Cola and Pepsi — but not because they’re big Fortune 500 and Global 500 companies. The WordPress ecosystem is worth more than the beverage market shares commanded by both of those companies combined.
In 2018, these two beverage giants spent about $276 million on advertising. They did this with no intention of converting non-soft drink consumers because the total population that drank soda hasn’t changed for decades. (That is, before the latest anti-sugary drink trend.) Growth for Coke and Pepsi is mostly limited to the market share they take from each other and their next biggest competitors.
Coca-Cola’s Fortune 500 rank is #93. It holds 45% of the American soft drink market and 21% of the global market. Coke ranks #370 in the Global 500.
Pepsi is #45 in the Fortune 500, has 26% of the US market, and ranks #131 in the Global 500 with a 10% international market share.
Like soft drink consumers, the number of active websites is relatively stable. Like Coke and Pepsi, we know the size of the WordPress ecosystem, and we can measure WordPress’s dominance relative to its competitors. That’s why we can compare those fizzy beverages to our own industry — and why WordPress’s market share is important and meaningful.
Internal versus external (ecosystem) growth
If WordPress’s total market share grows, and the “no CMS” category continues to sink, growth for WordPress must increasingly come from competitors and clients/users who have active sites on a platform other than WordPress.
And whenever outward expansion of WordPress’s market share stabilizes, as it eventually must, WordPress companies within the ecosystem are mostly restricted from growth beyond WordPress’s market, so as they fill the space the competition between them will increase.
Of course, it’s not a competition of all against all, because there isn’t just one WordPress that exists in just one market. It might be more accurate if we spoke of WordPress markets and shares in the plural.
WordPress has market shares of 43%, 36%, 20%, and 14%.
The total (active and inactive, CMS and no-CMS) website universe and WordPress’s share within it break down into very different sub-markets, each with its own size and value. (We ought to pay more attention to these.) WordPress’s 43% market share is situated in the top ten million websites. Among the top million websites, WordPress powers 36% of them. In the top 100,000 sites, WordPress is used by 20%. And in the top 10,000 sites, WordPress has a 14% market share.
There’s lots of room for growth at the top, but it’s with different platforms commanding their own supporting ecosystems — like Adobe. The competition there is stiff and will one get stiffer. The same is true in the lower and mid-market pieces of the total pie. These sub-markets are worlds apart in terms of their customers and competition. (We ought to pay more attention to this too.)
Entry-level WordPress hosting, Wix, and Squarespace sites are a universe apart from WordPress as it’s used by and served to megacorporations like The Walt Disney Company. At that level, the only flavor of WordPress being counted in the top 15 contenders by the analysts at Gartner and Forrester is Automattic/WordPress.com VIP, although we should hope to see others like Human Made’s Altis break in.
What’s a DXP? What’s a Magic Quadrant? Back in 2018, Gartner’s industry analysts recognized WP Engine in its Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. (It’s now listed with other major managed WordPress hosts in Gartner’s Peer Insights.) Steve Burge interviewed Jason Cohen then — the founder and CTO of WPEngine — about why he thinks his company belongs next to Adobe and Oracle
In the enterprise arena, WordPress competes as a headless or hybrid omnichannel Agile CMS or Digital Experience Platform (DXP) with Acquia, Adobe, Contentful, Contentstack, Magnolia, OpenText, and a dozen more “enterprise-class,” mostly proprietary and closed-source, heavyweight companies whose brands are not household names.
WCEU as a benchmark for WordPress’s achievement
Many of us had an amazing time at WCEU in Porto, Portugal last month. Without such a robust ecosystem of businesses — which is made possible by WordPress having such a large market share — an event on the scale of WCEU would not have been possible.
Here are some numbers from that event that you might not have heard about:
- €1,030,000 in sponsorships.
- €110,000 in ticket sales. (Remember, general admission tickets are always “priced far below the real cost of attendance” at only €50.)
- An estimated €8,000,000 in local economic impact that the conference made in and around Porto. (This estimate is based on another from a comparable event in Porto over a similar time period with a similar number of participants, not counting media impact.)
This means WCEU, especially at its peak size pre-COVID, is equal to or greater in size by attendance than Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference — whose tickets cost 32 times as much. WWDC is comparable in economic impact as well ($9 million USD in San Jose, California, in 2017.)
But Apple itself spends in the ballpark of $50 million hosting their conference for a very centralized ecosystem — and they don’t have volunteers.
WordPress Imposter Syndrome
Have you ever thought of WWDC as a peer to WordCamps?
Probably not. But why not?
Look at the numbers throughout this article again.
Then ask yourself, do WordPress events, practices, and models fit the reality? Or are our maps too small for the terrain?
Are we hurting growth and diminishing value by holding onto the wrong models?
Do we need to evolve in how we serve the business ecosystem to reflect the realities of market size?
Would it be
weird completely unethical if Apple had their signature event totally run by volunteers? Y-E-S!
Do we need to do things a little more like the PHP community (and get more involved in it) as Milana Cap has suggested? Devote some main stage attention to our most accomplished experts and biggest contributors — while still being open, inclusive, and welcoming to all comers?
Does $50 or €50 a ticket still make sense — for everyone? For major, continental events that do and ought to draw deep pockets? Who else should subsidize scholarships and support the lower costs for those who really need them other than the deep pockets?
Are ROIs and 5% in the way of the future?
Short-term thinking about ROI on things like WordCamp sponsorships is not new. People are doing their due diligence and trying to justify budgets internally. That’s great. But it’s completely disengaged from the reality of what WordPress is — and how it needs to be presented and seen in the larger tech space to create the conditions where invaluable deals and partnerships are forged. Beyond brand awareness, you do not expand your market share without ponying up to push those walls outward.
If WordPress as an ecosystem is going to attract and retain the talent and investment of the people and companies it needs, haggling over the 5% is a costly distraction from thinking together about a common future.
Humility, inclusivity, and giving back — without holding WordPress back
Of course, there are apples-to-oranges differences between Apple and WordPress. There’s no “Apple community” like the WordPress community. There are no “contributor days” at Apple events even though “open source software is at the heart of Apple platforms and developer tools.” To be fair, COVID seems to have helped bring back a sense of community participation and learning together for Apple developers at WWDC. That’s something WordCamps have always had at their core and should never give up but keep extending to every type of contributor.
The unique, welcoming, community-focused qualities of WordPress and WordCamps coexist with and are supported by incredible scale and growth. Valuing “big” also means valuing the “small” it comes from, is supported by, and exists alongside. That is Open Web, ecosystem thinking.
In a similar way, we are no less qualified (but actually better as) WordPress professionals for also being an inclusive community of amateurs — and many markets.
Do we still sell WordPress short?
It’s a time of overall economic uncertainty when all trendlines seem to be pointing down. There’s concern about the post-COVID recovery of local WordPress meetups and WordCamps. It will take time, effort — and money. And it will happen. Let the stability and size of the WordPress ecosystem assure you of this. It’s not going to just break down. But we may also be our worst enemy by thinking small, acting fragile, and dampening our advantages as parts within a much bigger whole.
Four future-facing questions we hope you’ll ask out loud:
- Do the ways we organize industry events work?
- Do our business models work?
- What if we ask some hard questions like these?
- Can we afford not to?