2016’s trendiest WordPress plugins and themes

WordPress Hot 100: One year in

The WordPress Hot 100 lists the WordPress themes and plugins that are trending on GoDaddy’s servers (i.e. Linux web hosting, Managed WordPress, VPS and Cloud). The system looks at the week-over-week change in installations, rather than total installations.

What many don’t realize is that the WordPress Hot 100 is manually maintained. Since I’ve had the pleasure of looking after it for the past year, I wanted to give everyone a look at how it’s done.

Managing the WordPress Hot 100

The raw data hits my inbox on Monday morning. We don’t want to skew the list too much with our internal plugins and themes, so I comb through the list, line by line. (Themes built for our new WordPress Websites product are excluded, for example.) From there, I upload the list to get parsed by our Hot 100 web app.

The next step is the hardest. For every new plugin and theme that appears on the list, I need to run a bit of recon using the slug/ID. In most cases I’ll find a match on WordPress.org or a commercial theme marketplace. (We periodically get themes and plugins for which we just can’t find a matching site.)

Could all of this work be automated? Sure. But I don’t mind the weekly ritual. Maintaining the list is a wonderful opportunity to learn about new themes and plugins, and about the talented designers and developers who create them.

I ran a quick analysis last month to see which themes and plugins appeared the most often on our WordPress Hot 100 lists over the past year. The analysis was rough, but nonetheless it provides an interesting look at what our customers are using.

The trendiest plugins

Let’s start with the plugins. As I skimmed over my compiled list, I noticed a few distinct “buckets” that we can sort the plugins into: Design, eCommerce, Forms, Backups, Security, Performance, Media, Publishing and Analytics.

Design plugins

Design includes plugins that affect the appearance of a site. A few popular examples from the WordPress Hot 100 lists include Page Builder by SIteOrigin, Beaver Builder, and Simple Custom CSS.

Beaver Builder WordPress PlugineCommerce plugins

eCommerce is for selling stuff online, of course, and WooCommerce is the most popular choice by far. I also saw recurring WooCommerce-related plugins from YITH.

Form plugins

Forms had the most variety of popular plugins. Ninja Forms, Formidable Forms, Gravity Forms and Contact Form 7 appeared the most often. Contact Form DB, a plugin for capturing form submissions, appeared frequently as well.

Backup plugins

The popularity of backup plugins has been reassuring. Backups from your host — like the ones available through Managed WordPress — are essential, but you should also make redundant backups that get saved elsewhere. That’s where a dedicated plugin comes in handy. Week over week, we regularly spotted BackupBuddy, BackWPup and UpdraftPlus.

Security plugins

Security had three main contenders for complete solutions: WordFence, iThemes Security and All In One WP Security and Firewall. Limit Login Attempts and Clef were also frequently trending plugins for securing WordPress user logins.

Performance plugins

Performance, like security, has a few popular choices. W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache were trending the most often. WP-Optimize (database optimization) appeared quite a bit, as did WP Smush (image optimization), with EWWW Image Optimizer popping up less frequently.

Yoast SEO for WordPress topped the WordPress Hot 100 list of popular SEO plugins.

 

Yoast SEO for WordPress was the most popular SEO plugin, but All in One SEO Pack appeared quite often as well.

Media plugins

Media includes any plugins that help you manage or present images, videos and files. The most frequently trending media plugins were Regenerate Thumbnails, Force Regenerate Thumbnails, Image Widget, Instagram Feed, Meta Slider and Photo Gallery.

Publishing plugins

For the purpose of this post, I consider “publishing” to encompass any plugin that assists in the creation, management, presentation and promotion of content. (Broad, I know, but I’d have too many categories otherwise!) Advanced Custom Fields was the hottest plugin by far. ACF Repeater Field, a legacy companion plugin, frequently appeared alongside it.

Related: Q&A with Elliot Condon, the creator of ACF

Other hot publishing plugins include:

Advanced Custom Fields WordPress Plugin

Analytics plugins

Analytics plugins, in my experience, are a bit contentious. Some swear by offloading all duties to the native app (Why have reports in your dashboard when you can log into Google Analytics directly?), while others prefer the easy access of configuring and viewing stats in the WordPress dashboard.

That aside, the following plugins were hot throughout the year: Google Analytics, Google Analytics Dashboard for WP, MonsterInsights (formerly Google Analytics by Yoast) and WP Statistics.

Misc. plugins

There are a number of other frequently appearing plugins that don’t fit neatly into the above categories, but I want to make sure they’re recognized as well:

WordPress Hot 100: Trending themes

On the theme side, the first thing I noticed is that minimalism dominates. Themes like Sparkling, Spacious and Hemingway are all well suited as blank slates. If you tweak the colours and fonts and add your own images, you can create a unique look and feel without any difficulty.

Related: Q&A with Anders Norén, developer of the Hemingway theme

Hemingway WordPress Theme
The second thing I noticed was the popularity of page builders. Customizr, Optimizer, GeneratePress, Make and Divi are all betting on the strength of building a custom website without touching a line of code. And based on their trendiness, those bets are paying off.

I got into WordPress when Kubrick was the default and customization meant forking an existing theme or creating your own child theme. These days, I can’t help but feel like most new users will opt for a drag-and-drop builder solution instead.

Builder themes keep WordPress competitive with the likes of Squarespace and Wix.

 

Third, I was surprised by the popularity of non-GPL commercial themes. I’m used to seeing these get chided at WordCamps, WordPress meetups, and in various online forums. You might be familiar with the criticisms: these commercial themes are bloated; they’re not compliant with GPL and the spirit of WordPress; they don’t follow WordPress best practices; and there’s too much functionality that should be isolated as plugins.

Despite all of that criticism, these themes appear to be doing very well. I’ve come to think of them as standalone products that use WordPress as a framework. And that’s got me wondering — maybe those users don’t know about the rest of the WordPress ecosystem? Maybe we mistake them as misguided WordPress users when they really don’t think of themselves as WordPress users at all? (Or maybe they just don’t care? Maybe they’re just looking for a tool to get the job done?)

Final thoughts

The weekly WordPress Hot 100 routine is worth it. I have a greater appreciation for the broader WordPress ecosystem. I’ve discovered useful plugins and beautiful themes that I never would’ve known about otherwise.

One caveat is that these lists only provide a look at what’s happening on GoDaddy. And while we’ve got quite a few WordPress sites running on our servers, we’re not the only hosting provider out there. As a WordPress user and community member, I’m very interested in seeing what’s trending elsewhere.

So I’ll leave you with this: If you’re hosting WordPress sites, start tracking the trending themes and plugins on your servers, and share those insights with the rest of the WordPress community.

Here’s to another year of watching the charts!


Also published on Medium.