The official WordPress plugin directory is one of the most important and popular sources for finding extensions for this content management system. There, you will find more than 50 thousand plugins available to do everything you can imagine with your website.
WordPress plugin developers sometimes ask ourselves questions about what data we can get from the plugin directory. What trends are there currently? What is the next plugin to become popular? All this is very difficult to know with the naked eye.
A few days ago, I tried to analyze some data about the WordPress plugin directory. So I got down to work. This article that you are reading shows the most relevant things that I could get with the data that I have. I hope you find it interesting.
Extracting Data From The Official WordPress.org Plugin Directory
The first thing we need for an analysis is to have some data to analyze. Obviously, I could have used a bit of web scrapping of the WordPress.org plugin directory, but this is not necessary because we have an API.
It is true that it is not the most complete nor well documented API in the world, but it is something we can make use of. There is some data that the API does not provide, such as the specific number of active installations of each plugin. Instead of giving us this, the API gives us a rounding value in absolute numbers. There was some discussion at the time about it, but since it seems almost nobody uses this API, things turned out like this.
It’s a shame that for each plugin we don’t have all the complete information. Or maybe some other API endpoints to get more statistics and thus be able to say whether a plugin is growing or not (with more detail than the graphics that appear in the plugin directory). Related to this subject, David presented this talk at WordCamp Europe in Paris, back in 2017:
Back to the main topic, I made a small program in NodeJS that gets the information from the plugins using the WordPress.org API. Specifically, it does the following:
- Asks for the data of all the plugins in order of relevance.
- Saves this data into a JSON file.
- Inserts the JSON data into a relational SQLite database.
- Exports the SQLite data to an SQL file so that you can upload it to the MySQL server you like most (I use Local as server and execute queries with SequelPro).
You have the whole project uploaded to my GitHub. You can download the code and follow the README instructions to get the data yourself, or modify whatever you want.
If you have any interesting idea about it, feel free to comment down below with your feedback.
Now, let’s get into detail with the analysis that we have done once the data has been extracted and stored into a relational database. Time to execute some SQL queries…
Relevant Data From The Official WordPress.org Plugin Directory
⚠️ Warning: all the data shown here were collected in February 2020. If you visit this article in the future, please note that things may have changed.
The Most Popular Tags in WordPress Plugins
One way to see what is trending in WordPress is to analyze the tags that plugins in the official WordPress.org directory are tagged with.
For this purpose, I have counted for each tag how many times it appears in plugins, and the result is what you can see in the following table with the most popular tags:
A bit of post-processing of tag data could have been done by applying stemming so that tag tags like ‘post’ and ‘posts’ accumulate in a single row, but for this article, I didn’t want to go further with it.
If we want to refine the table a little more, we can take into account only the tags among the top-100 most popular plugins:
From this analysis, and by seeing the full results, the most popular topics in the WordPress plugin directory are the following:
- Web security.
- Performance optimization.
- Design and content generation.
And it makes sense. If we think about what problems an average WordPress user has, what comes to mind is the following:
- Create a nice-looking website easily.
- Having a fast, secure and easy-to-maintain website.
- Having a well-positioned website in search engines.
- Sell online easily.
Therefore, if you are a plugin developer and you want to be successful, you should try to solve a problem that is included in one of these topics.
The Best and Worst-Rated WordPress Plugins Amongst the Most Popular Ones
The WordPress.org API allows us to get the rating of each plugin, which is what you see as stars that each plugin gets in the official plugin directory. However, this is partial data. If you only have one 5-star rating in the directory, the rating the API provides is 100. This is why in the following table I have taken the rating value of each plugin (on a scale of 0 to 100, as the API provides) and then I multiplied it by the number of reviews the plugin has (a value also obtained through the API).
If we only analyze the 100 most popular plugins, this is the table with the most valued plugins according to WordPress users:
|12||Contact Form by WPForms – Drag & Drop Form Builder for WordPress||98||5,961||584,178|
|16||All-in-One WP Migration||94||6,176||580,544|
|61||WordPress Shortcodes Plugin – Shortcodes Ultimate||98||5,213||510,874|
|7||Elementor Page Builder||98||5,073||497,154|
|26||Smush – Compress, Optimize and Lazy Load Images||96||4,730||454,080|
|38||Coming Soon Page, Under Construction & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd||100||3,816||381,600|
|28||W3 Total Cache||86||4,393||377,798|
|9||Really Simple SSL||100||3,738||373,800|
As I said before, the column “Value” is the result of multiplying the columns “Rating” (which is the value from 0 to 100) and “Reviews” (which is the number of reviews the plugin has).
Here what has surprised me a lot is the difference in the number of reviews (column “Reviews”) of the Yoast SEO plugin. Maybe they did some campaign to get reviews? I have no idea, but if anyone knows, let me know. 😉
On the opposite side, we can see within the top-100 plugins in the official WordPress directory which plugins have the worst rating. They are as follows:
|78||Facebook for WooCommerce||32||47|
|22||Google Analytics Dashboard for WP by ExactMetrics (formerly GADWP)||44||1,083|
|52||WooCommerce PayPal Checkout Payment Gateway||46||72|
|69||Mailchimp for WooCommerce||60||254|
|75||WooCommerce Stripe Payment Gateway||68||67|
This is very interesting, because being in the top-100, they are plugins with a lot of active installations (more than 100,000), so they can help you when you find ideas of new plugins to develop. If you do better than them and fix the problems that they try to fix in a more accurate way, your plugin may get more popular.
Support In The Most Popular WordPress Plugins
With the data I have from the official directory, these are the plugins with more support threads among the 100 most popular plugins:
|1||Contact Form 7||82||438|
|11||Wordfence Security – Firewall & Malware Scan||96||330|
|7||Elementor Page Builder||98||244|
|64||The Events Calendar||88||230|
|5||Jetpack by WordPress.com||78||196|
It is clear that WooCommerce is one of the plugins that required most support. Online stores are a critical sector and need more help when something doesn’t work properly.
Always looking for the opportunity, we have to look at the opposite: which plugins have the worst ratio of resolved support threads with respect to the total number of threads. Again, if we only analyze the 100 most-popular plugins, these are the results:
|Position||Plugin||Rating||Support threads||Solved threads||Ratio|
|49||Better Search Replace||90||14||0||0%|
|18||Google XML Sitemaps||98||29||1||3.4%|
|19||WP Super Cache||86||28||1||3.6%|
|33||Cookie Notice for GDPR & CCPA||100||30||2||6.7%|
|44||iThemes Security (formerly Better WP Security)||94||42||4||9.5%|
|21||Advanced Custom Fields||98||38||5||13.2%|
It surprises me here that some plugins of a certain reputation, with more than enough resources to dedicate to support, do not solve the support threads that their users open. Even more when the number of open threads in most cases is not so large as to not do it. That’s very weird!
Updates On The Most Popular WordPress Plugins
It is also interesting to analyze among the 100 most-relevant plugins, which are the ones that have not been updated for the longest time. You have them in this table:
|32||Limit Login Attempts||92||2012-06-01|
|80||Force Regenerate Thumbnails||94||2016-09-05|
|49||Better Search Replace||90||2019-05-08|
|54||One Click Demo Import||92||2019-09-05|
|88||AddToAny Share Buttons||94||2019-10-16|
Except for the first two, all the top-100 plugins were updated at least in 2019. And it is very important that your plugin receives constant updates so that it does not give the impression of being abandoned.
The Evolution On The Creation of WordPress Plugins
One thing I always wondered is when the most popular WordPress plugins were created. Finally, I was able to answer this question. Here are the newest plugins among the 100 most popular plugins:
|78||Facebook for WooCommerce||32||2019-02-22|
|96||Essential Addons for Elementor||98||2017-07-20|
|69||Mailchimp for WooCommerce||60||2016-10-03|
|29||Limit Login Attempts Reloaded||96||2016-08-03|
As you can see, only two plugins from 2019 have managed to reach the top-100 (one of them is from Automattic and the other from Facebook). This is a bit heartbreaking for new independent developers who want to put their foot inside the WordPress plugin market.
In the following graph we see the summary of the year of creation of the plugins that currently form the top-100 in the WordPress.org directory:
Wanting to be more optimistic, we are going to try to widen the range and not only keep the top 100, but also those with at least 100,000 active installations, which is quite a bit and can be used to (if you can monetize it in any way) support a business. Here is the data:
As you can see, there is little variation. Most of the plugins that are popular today were released between 2012 and 2014. Does this mean that if we launch a plugin today it will take years for it to become popular? Yes and no. If you can hit the nail on the head and your plugin goes viral, you will go up fast. Unfortunately, the chances of this happening are low, as we see in the graphs.
Is It Easy To Achieve Success With WordPress Plugins?
No. This is my answer. It is not easy and it will not be in the future. I don’t know if we have reached the point in which everything has already been invented or not. I want to think that this is not the case and that there are still opportunities, but after seeing these data, pessimism has grown on me (it may also be because I am writing this article from home, in Spain, in the middle of quarantine due to Covid19, where we are not allowed to leave home). But the data is the data. And data don’t lie.
If we look at the following historical graph, where we see the number of new plugins that are released each month in the WordPress.org directory, it seems that we have reached the peak of the curve:
Perhaps WordPress is losing its charm for new developers? Is it something circumstantial, or less and less new plugins are going to be developed? I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I’ve tried to be honest with you throughout the article.
Developing plugins for WordPress is complicated, especially if you want to live on it alone. Of course, you can choose other aspects such as the design and development of web pages in WordPress, something that may have exploited lately with the appearance of multipurpose themes and page builders.
In order not to leave you with a negative aftertaste, I have to say that at Nelio we have been developing WordPress plugins since 2013 and we make a living from it. So if we are able to survive, you can. Of course, if in 2013 we had a crystal ball and were developed a page builder, maybe now we would be bathing in a bathtub full of dollars. However, this is only a demonstration of hindsight bias.
As my partner David says –and I’d like to finish with this– luck is a very important factor for your business to be successful, but luck must catch you working or, otherwise, it is of little use. So you know what you need to do: get to work!