For the last couple of years, we’ve been tracking and sharing the most popular WordPress plugins and themes installed on GoDaddy servers. In 2016, the WordPress Hot 100 tracked trends in plugin and theme installations by monitoring their relative growth month over month. At the end of the year, we ran a few interviews with notable developers whose WordPress products had topped the Hot 100 charts:
We changed our approach for 2021. At the beginning of each month, we looked at the most popular installations overall, showcasing the top 100 most-installed plugins and themes for the previous 30 days.
As with 2016, we excluded themes and plugins that aren’t licensed under GPL. We also began filtering out GoDaddy-specific plugins and themes as much as possible. Our hope was that this would make the WordPress Hot 100 listings more representative of the WordPress ecosystem as a whole.
Our new approach for 2021 didn’t begin until March, so while this year-end recap isn’t totally comprehensive, we do think that there are some insights worth sharing.
Note: The most popular WordPress plugins aren’t necessarily the best for your website. So before you commit to everything we mention here, do yourself a favor: test different plugins, including new ones and less popular ones, to find the one that you enjoy working with the most.
Let’s get into it.
The most popular WordPress plugins of 2021
The most popular WordPress plugins of 2021 cover useful features for most kinds of websites. We’re talking about things like website security, analytics, custom fields, images and widgets.
Top three plugins: Yoast SEO, Jetpack and Ninja Forms
Excluding Akismet, which comes pre-installed with WordPress, this trio of plugins have held steady as the three most popular WordPress plugins for most of the year. The last six months, in particular, have been very steady.
Yoast SEO is a powerful plugin for search engine optimization. In addition to letting you make customizations to things like meta titles and meta descriptions, you can also use it to improve the readability of your post or page content. It even lets you customize settings for social sharing on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
As an aside, for a cheat sheet on social media image sizes, check out the GoDaddy Garage.
Jetpack connects your self-hosted WordPress site with WordPress.com. This lets you leverage the WordPress.com service for things like image compression, CDN, lightweight email subscriptions, improved comments, and automated sharing of your posts on social media.
Ninja Forms is a plugin for building custom WordPress forms. While the free version alone does quite a lot, the premium add-ons (extensions) crank it up to another level, making Ninja Forms even more powerful.
Most popular eCommerce plugin: WooCommerce
Editor’s note: Psst… If you’re considering WooCommerce for your site, take a sec to learn about 15 free WooCommerce extensions for new eCommerce sites.
Most popular page builder: Beaver Builder
Page-builder plugins have grown in prominence over the last few years. They offer a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) experience that was once the hallmark of proprietary SaaS providers.
By bringing that user-friendly functionality into WordPress, page-builder plugins make it easy for non-technical users to create custom layouts and designs that would’ve otherwise been dependent on a theme or on writing HTML directly into the page/post editor.
Beaver Builder is a popular page-builder plugin available in both a free “lite” version and a paid premium version. The lite version includes basic modules, while the paid version includes advanced modules and additional features like custom modules, saved modules, page layouts, and premade templates.
Full disclosure: Some of our WordPress hosting plans come with Beaver Builder Lite preinstalled, which might skew the numbers and give Beaver Builder a boost in the stats.
Most popular security plugin: Wordfence
A robust security plugin is a must-have addition to any WordPress site, and Wordfence is one of the most comprehensive options available.
Wordfence includes Wordfence Firewall to block nefarious traffic from hitting your website; Wordfence Scan to proactively check if your site has been compromised; Live Traffic to report on site activity (including blocked intrusion attempts); and a suite of other tools for more detailed reporting.
And while we’re on the subject of security, are checking under the hood once? If not, it’s super-important you learn how to do your own website security audit.
Most popular backup plugin: UpdraftPlus
A good backup plugin goes hand-in-hand with a robust security plugin. Why? Because while a security plugin does its best to protect your site from something going wrong, the backup plugin is there in case something does go wrong.
At the basic level, UpdraftPlus lets you save copies of your WordPress site and database files on a recurring schedule. Those files can be stored locally on your hosting provider or remotely (e.g., on Google Drive, Amazon S3, Dropbox, or elsewhere).
UpdrarftPlus can also be used for migrating WordPress sites from one installation to another. It supports importing from other backup plugins, for example, and can also run search-and-replace on database imports, which is crucial for updating URLs.
Most popular analytics plugin: MonsterInsights
If you’re building a website for a business, you should know how the site is being used. Google Analytics is the de-facto standard for web analytics, especially on small business websites, largely because Google Analytics itself is free to use.
If you’re new to Google Analytics, fear not. While it does offer all kinds of insights, it’s not that hard to get started. In fact, take a look at this Google Analytics website traffic analysis 101 primer.
There’s that initial hurdle of setting up the Google Analytics account and installing the tracking code. After that, there’s the issue of gathering actionable insights from all the data and reports that Google Analytics provides.
That’s where Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights comes into play. This goal with this plugin isn’t to just give users a way to add Google Analytics to their websites. MonsterInsights site has a place among popular WordPress plugins because it goes a step further, pulling reports into the WordPress dashboard, and giving users simple one-click options for tracking important stats like form submissions and eCommerce transactions.
Most popular custom fields plugin: Advanced Custom Fields
Custom fields are a useful WordPress feature used primarily by developers for storing additional information about posts and pages. (You can learn more about custom fields in the WordPress Codex.)
Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) makes it easier for developers to create sets of custom fields that site users can then populate.
There are basically three sides to ACF:
- The ACF admin interface within WordPress, where fields can be created and managed.
- The ACF user interface within WordPress, appearing in the post and page editor, where fields can be filled.
- The ACF function calls and template tags, used by developers usually within a custom theme, that fetches and displays the ACF data that’s been entered by a user.
Advanced Custom Fields is ridiculously useful for web developers who are looking to use WordPress as a true content management system.
Most popular image gallery plugin: NextGEN Gallery
Image gallery plugins are useful for all kinds of websites. For creative professionals like artists and photographers, an image gallery can power an online portfolio. For realtors, the image gallery can showcase property photos. For restaurants, the gallery can show off food and venue space. The list goes on and on.
NextGEN Gallery comes to us from Imagely, a company that specializes in creating WordPress themes and plugins for photographers. NextGEN’s premium upgrades unlock a bunch of additional features, including different gallery layouts and eCommerce capabilities.
Most popular image slider plugin: Meta Slider
Image sliders, also referred to as carousels, are a popular solution for sharing limited page space (e.g., a page header) with different content assets. They’re popular on eCommerce websites for showcasing product images, or rotating through promotional banners.
Meta Slider is a responsive image slider plugin for WordPress. The free version includes basic features. Paid upgrades unlock additional features like video slides and HTML overlays. Meta Slider plays nice with other plugins, too, like WooCommerce, Events Calendar and WPML.
Most popular image compression plugin: Smush
Site speed is one of the most important ranking factors for SEO, and images can have a big impact on how quickly your site loads. Compressing images is one way to speed up the load time of your WordPress posts and pages. In essence, image compression works by reducing the file size of the image without reducing the perceived quality of the image.
Smush Image Compression and Optimization optimizes images uploaded to your WordPress media library, but it can also optimize images stored elsewhere, which means plugins like NextGEN Image Gallery are supported as well.
If the above sounds unfamiliar, hop over to the GoDaddy Garage for help understanding page load speed and website performance.
Most popular caching plugin: WP Super Cache
As already mentioned, how quickly your website loads has a direct impact on your search engine rankings. But beyond SEO, the speed of your website also affects user experience. (Nobody likes using a slow-loading website.)
Out of the box, WordPress fetches content from the website’s database every time someone loads a post or page. It’s not an efficient process, and it gets slower and slower as more people visit the website.
Caching plugins work by saving a pre-loaded copy of a post or page so that, when someone accesses it, they’re accessing the saved (cached) copy instead of hitting the database. This means that your posts and pages load faster.
WP Super Cache is a free caching plugin developed by Automattic, the team behind WordPress.com and Jetpack. You can choose from a small set of caching options and, if you’re comfortable with code, layer in additional custom configurations via PHP. It also includes support for CDN setups and REST API endpoints.
Pro tip: Most Managed WordPress hosting plans already include caching, so you might not need to install an additional caching plugin. In fact, some Managed WordPress hosting providers might blocklist caching plugins entirely to avoid conflicting functionality.
Most popular widgets plugin: SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle
Widgets are discrete blocks of functionality that you can add to “widget areas” on your site. The specific widget areas will depend on your theme, but they most commonly include the sidebar, footer and header.
There are standard widgets that ship with WordPress. Some plugins, like Jetpack, come bundled with additional widgets of their own. SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle goes even further, packing 13 useful widgets into a single plugin.
Pro tip: If you’re using a page builder plugin like Beaver Builder, you can add these widgets as a module to your page layouts.
Most popular shortcodes plugin: Shortcodes Ultimate
Shortcodes are a way to embed additional functionality within the WordPress post or page editor. While the up-and-coming Gutenberg plugin aims to do away with shortcodes entirely, the reality is that many WordPress websites are built with shortcodes, and users have come to rely on shortcodes over years.
It includes 50+ shortcodes that can be embedded into any post or page. The shortcodes are designed to be responsive and mobile-friendly, and their design is neutral enough to work with almost any theme.
A premium upgrade unlocks additional shortcodes, plus more options for styling, and the ability to create custom shortcodes of your own.
Most popular “coming soon” plugin: Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd
It’s not uncommon for new WordPress sites to be developed “live” — that is, they’re installed on, and worked on, a live server. Anyone who knows the website URL can access the site, even if it hasn’t been launched.
There are a variety of methods for keeping a site under wraps while it’s in development. One of the most common methods is to use a “coming soon” or “maintenance mode” plugin. The Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode plugin by SeedProd stands out among popular WordPress plugins.
What sets this plugin apart from others like it is the amount of thought that’s been given to marketing and promoting a site while it’s under construction. The plugin integrates with email marketing tools, social media and tracking + rewarding viral shares.
In a way, it’s turning a boring “coming soon” page — something that you’d probably not want people to know about — into a tool for building hype and getting people excited about what’s about to launch.
Other popular WordPress plugins worth checking out…
These popular WordPress plugins cover more niche use cases and so they don’t have a lot of competitors, but their popularity speaks to their usefulness.
Duplicate Post: Make a copy of any post or page. Useful if you’ve drafted posts or pages as templates. Just duplicate the template to get a head start on publishing new content.
Disable Comments: On-site comments have declined in popularity, especially for small business websites. If you’re not planning to use comments on your site, disable them all in one click with this plugin.
Redirection: Create simple 301 redirects through the WordPress admin interface, and track the number of times each redirect gets used. Useful for SEO and for tracking marketing links. For example, yoursite.com/fbpromo could redirect to a specific Facebook post with a long, complicated URL.
Instagram Feed: Adds an Instagram widget that you can use in a widget area or page builder.
Image Widget: Adds a simple image widget that you can use in a widget area or page builder.
That’s it for popular WordPress plugins. Now, let’s take a look at the themes.
The most popular WordPress themes of 2021
Top three themes: Divi, Zerif and Sydney
Excluding the default themes that come pre-installed with WordPress, these three themes were the most popular throughout the year.
You’ve probably heard of Divi. Divi is like a standalone website builder product that just happens to be running on WordPress. For most of Divi’s existence, the editing capabilities were relegated to the back-end WordPress admin. As of Divi 3.0, the front-end editor has made WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) site design the priority.
Speaking of, the Divi drag-and-drop builder is also available as a standalone plugin, adding the functionality of Divi to any WordPress theme.
Divi is supported by a large community of web professionals who specialize entirely in building Divi-powered WordPress sites.
Zerif Lite touts itself as a one-page WordPress theme. This basically means that the homepage contains all the content you’d otherwise find spread throughout sub-pages. Clicking through the primary navigation jumps you between sections of the homepage. Out of the box, Zerif includes compatibility with WooCommerce, plus demo content and mega menus.
The paid upgrade to Zerif Pro unlocks more “sections” (homepage blocks), like background video, pricing tables and Google Maps. Check out ThemeIsle to learn about the differences between the free Zerif Lite and premium Zerif Pro themes.
Sydney is a theme designed for business websites. You can deploy it on a new WordPress installation and start customizing to build a simple business website without a lot of fuss — the homepage blocks system is a lightweight alternative to robust page builder plugins. The paid upgrade to Sydney Pro unlocks more page template options, WooCommerce integration, single post/page options, additional customizer settings and extra widgets.
Most popular eCommerce theme: Storefront
Storefront is the flagship theme from and for WooCommerce. The base theme is free to use and comes with a basic set of customizer options. Paid extensions add functionality and customization options, for example by adding support for social product sharing and hero images. Storefront also works well as a parent theme framework, so developers can get a head start on building a custom WooCommerce experience without starting from scratch.
Most popular blog theme: Hemingway
Many of the most popular WordPress plugins and themes are either geared toward businesses, or act as a one-size-fits-all solution that can be customized to suit any type of site. Hemingway, created by designer Anders Noren (who I had the pleasure of interviewing last year), takes a different approach.
As with most of Noren’s themes, the Hemingway theme was designed for bloggers. Out of the box, it places a strong emphasis on typography and whitespace.
Most popular magazine theme: ColorMag
Magazine themes like ColorMag are a popular choice for online publications that run a high volume of content across multiple categories. These themes are designed with publishers in mind and make space for ad units that would otherwise have to be “squeezed in” on a traditional theme.
ColorMag relies heavily on widgets to achieve its complex page layouts. The theme includes 15+ widget areas and a set of custom widgets for displaying groups of posts, images, and ad units. A paid upgrade to ColorMag Pro unlocks more design options and additional widget types.
Most popular portfolio theme: Argent
Wrapping up our category callouts for the year is Argent, a portfolio theme created by Automattic for WordPress.com.
Automattic-made themes tend to favor simple layouts, ample white space and strong typography. Argent is no exception. There’s no feature bloat with this theme. It’s a simple, clean and fast theme designed explicitly for showcasing your creative work.
Looking ahead to 2018
Our approach for 2021was to look at the most popular WordPress plugins and themes — overall. For 2022, we’ll switch back to tracking trends, looking at the rise and fall of plugin and theme installations over time.
To stay in the loop, keep an eye on the WordPress Hot 100 page for the latest updates.