Earlier today, carrying out some research about WordPress plugins, I discovered a trove of interesting data, via the Advanced View which can be accessed on each plugin page in the WordPress.org repository.
This discovery was well worth an article, reviewing the downloads & activation rates of the most popular plugins and some rising stars. Let’s dive in.
How many downloads for Elementor on WordPress.org?
At time of writing (Nov 4, 2021), Elementor has been downloaded 139,472,275 times.
It’s important to note that this number includes the UPDATES which trigger a download when accepted by the users. In other words, Elementor hasn’t been downloaded by 139M different users. All we can say is that it has triggered 139M downloads from the repository.
And from the stats above, we see that there are 5+ million active installations, which would give us an activation rate of 3.6%. (FYI, BuiltWith records 4.5M active installs for Elementor). But the actual net activation rate is probably much higher if we exclude the impact of updates on the download count.
Unfortunately it’s impossible to compare the frequency of updates of all plugins we’d like to analyse. So the ratios in this article will compare “Downloads All Time” with “Active Installations”, just for the exercise and to have a single point of comparison, to be taken with a pinch a salt.
If we look at Downloads History for Elementor, we’ll notice that each wave of updates has an impact of roughly 1.5M downloads, spread on 2 to 3 days.
And many people don’t update the plugin, as we can see on this graph of the active versions at time of publication.
Elementor is currently the 4th most popular plugin on WordPress.org, after Contact Form 7 (#1), Yoast SEO (#2) and Classic Editor (#3). It reached 5M active installs in May 2020, one of only 4 developers who reached that milestone. Remember that there are currently 28M websites running WordPress.
Let’s see how many downloads we get for Yoast SEO, the #1 SEO plugin for WordPress.
Yoast has been downloaded 370M times over the course of its history (the company was founded in 2010).
According to BuiltWith there are currently 7.9M websites running Yoast, which gives us a current activation rate of 2.1%. Bear in mind that Yoast has been around for 11+ years so many sites which, at some point, activated Yoast have either gone dark or picked another solution.
Via the Advanced View you can also get a sense of the downloads dynamics. The huge peaks are due to plugin updates, quite frequent for Yoast as you can see on the graph below (with a negative impact on their “activation rate”, as we calculate it for this article).
Contact Form 7, currently at the top of the repository ranking, has been downloaded 197,075,238 times.
BuiltWith tells us that there are still 9,812,837 WordPress sites running the plugin, which gives us an “activation rate” of 5%.
Let’s have a look at the stats of a few other plugins, in various categories.
First Beaver Builder, one of Elementor’s main competitors: 6.4M downloads vs 235,185 active websites = 3.7% “activation rate”.
Then WordFence, a popular security plugin for WordPress: 216.5M downloads vs 927,962 active websites = 0.4%.
On BuilWith, we can see that WordFence is losing ground in the Top 1M websites bracket.
Let’s see how Optin Monster is performing.
61.8M downloads for 1M active websites, 1.6% “activation rate”.
The first caching plugin currently in the WordPress.org leaderboard is LiteSpeed Cache (#18 out of 59,298 plugins), boasting 22.7M downloads (all time) for 2,160,658 active websites. That could be the sign of a good 9.5% activation rate but, as we said earlier, the frequency of updates has an impact on the download count. In this case, as you can see from the graph below, we don’t have that many updates. In other words if the plugin had been updated more frequently, we would have had a lower activation rate.
Yoast SEO’s main competitor, All In One SEO, has been downloaded 86.2M times for 3+M active installs according to WordPress.org, which would give an “activation rate” of 3.4%(vs 2.1% for Yoast, an older player).
I’m also curious to see the numbers of ACF (Advanced Custom Fields).
24.2M downloads vs 2+M active installations, that’s a very healthy 8.3% “activation rate“.
SiteGround Optimizer is an interesting one. The plugin is shipped by default with all WordPress installations on SiteGround. So far it’s been downloaded 31.9M times and has apparently retained 1+M uses, just above 3%.
Better Search Replace, which enables you to search for strings in your DB and replace them by a new one, has been downloaded 5.8M times, with still 1+M active installations (17.2% “activation rate”).
Dynamic.ooo, one of the most popular add-ons for Elementor, marketed by an indie developer, has been downloaded 111,574 times with 20,000+ active installations, which translates into a c. 20% “activation rate”.
What can we learn from the stats collected on WordPress.org?
As you can see, there’s a huge difference between the download count and the ultimate activation.
1° you only retain a fraction of your downloaders as active users (As in most download schemes. The same challenge is faced by mobile app developers for instance.).
2° the more frequently you update your plugin, the more you’ll lower the proportion of active installations VS overall downloads. And WordPress.org doesn’t give us any indication of the UNIQUE downloaders.
We would be curious to find out the actual ratios between unique downloaders and active installations.
Some plugins perform better than others because they’re stickier by nature, either because you can’t simply uninstall them without damaging your site (ACF) or because they’re of the “install & forget” type (LiteSpeed Cache).
Some plugins are downloaded for episodic usage, such as Better Search Replace, and left idle on the site, which explains their fairly high net activation rate.
Some plugins are a lite or trial version of the full service, which obviously impacts their final conversion rate (even if, usually, plugin developers maintain both a fully functional lite free version and a premium one).
When looking at the net current activation rate, you also have to bear in mind the age of the plugin (as for Yoast vs Dynamic.ooo) and the impact of the law of diminishing returns (the yield usually decreases at higher levels).
If you want to get a more accurate comparison between 2 players, you should compare their download numbers outside of the update windows. And to get an idea of the effectiveness of their conversion, see whether there’s a significant discrepancy between download counts differences AND active installations differences.
For instance if 2 plugins have a fairly identical amount of downloads per day outside of update windows BUT a 1 to 5 difference in active installations, you can assume that the lowest one isn’t converting as well as its competitor, provided of course that they were founded roughly at the same time (otherwise a smaller number could be explained by younger age).
Have fun playing with the numbers, bearing in mind the methodological caveats mentioned above (the impact of updates and age on the ratios)!