WordPress top tech: Under the hood of the world's most popular CMS

According to cloud host WP Engine WordPress is used on over 30% of the world's top-trafficked websites. A recent white paper explains why the open source software is so popular with small business.

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You use the internet, right? Right. Let's pop the hood and take a look at the software driving millions of SMB sites, ecommerce shops, and enterprise blogs.

The engine driving much of the web is WordPress. In February, developer Automattic released an estimate that the open source content management system is used on 27% of all websites. Last week WP Engine, a cloud host, published a white paper that reaffirms the ubiquity of WordPress and offers insights on how the software is deployed. "WordPress has evolved significantly over the past decade," said David Vogelpohl, vice president of web strategy at WP Engine. "It started as blogging software but is more of a content management system these days."

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"Massive" is not a hyperbolic claim. According to the WP Engine data, WordPress is used on 32.7% of the top 500 most-trafficked websites, including enterprise brands like Walmart.com, Washingtonpost.com, Samsung.com, WST.com, and Bloomberg.com. WP Engine and Automattic knew WordPress was big but were surprised to learn the software is pervasive across business sectors. "Sixty-seven percent of the highest-trafficked websites," the report said, "were built on many different platforms, but no other platform was represented as predominantly as WordPress."

Image: WP Engine

WordPress has grown substantially, Vogelpohl said, in large part because the software is nimble and extendable. "As technology trends change, WordPress evolves," he said. "It runs on your phone, it can support multi-sites with thousands of users, and can handle secure transactions. If your company has a specific need, odds are high a reputable developer has created a solution. That's really powerful."

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Unsurprisingly Google Analytics is one of the most popular integrations and is used on 410 of the top 500 most-trafficked sites. By category the top WordPress integrations are advertising, analytics, security, and SEO. The top technology integrations in WordPress are Viewport Meta, SPF, DoubleClick, PHP, Nginx, Facebook, and RSS. Where WordPress shines, Vogelpohl said, is optimization and customization within plugins. "The most powerful and popular websites are often custom-built and tricked out with upgrades and improvements that turn a standard site into an engaging, highly trafficked one," the report said.

Image: WP Engine

The top WordPress optimizations are plugins that interoperate with content delivery networks (CDN), establish SSL, set static pages for the Google search index, and distribute content via RSS. For many publishers, these optimizations are in service of advertising and many plugins connect with programmatic services like DoubleClick, AdSense, AppNexus, and OpenAds.

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Because WordPress is so accessible, Vogelpohl said, the top integrated programming languages act as a barometer of coding trends. "PHP, SQL, CSS, and AJAX libraries have been WordPress staples for years," he said, "and JavaScript and jQuery came on strong and remained popular with developers." Rounding out the top WordPress tech are Google Hosted Libraries, Conditional Comments, and Modernizr.

"JavaScript is the most popular programming language used to build the internet's top 500 websites," the WP Engine white paper said, because "JavaScript Libraries help developers get a jump start on building the right code for a website." Modern and accessible tools, Vogelpohl said, are why WordPress is likely to remain attractive for small and large companies alike.

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Automattic's Chris Taylor agrees. "[This] speaks to what makes WordPress so special and why the open web is so important for businesses in 2017," he said. "You can go to thousands of different websites that are all powered by WordPress, but they each look completely unique. This is why businesses love it."

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Image: iStock / BernardaSv