Analysis of the most popular WordPress plugins in 2021 suggests growing interest in Gutenberg.

Published by Vic Drover

Most Popular Wordpress Plugins Gutenberg

We have been monitoring the most popular WordPress plugins in the Watchful platform for the last 2 years. For each plugin, we measured its usage on thousands of websites and calculated the change in 2021 compared to 2020.

Our analysis shows that page builders —like Elementor and WPBakery — and SEO tools — like Yoast and Rank Math — had a good 12 months. The data also suggest that resistance to the Gutenberg editor might be thawing ever-so-slightly.

Below you’ll find our methodology and the full list of the 25 most popular WordPress plugins. We’ll also dig into a few key plugin categories to explore some industry trends over the last 12 months.

An embarrassment of riches

Searching the web for the phrase “most popular WordPress plugins” results in tens of millions of results. Even if you filter the search for the exact phrase, more than 96,000 results are found. There are so many results, it can be difficult to decide which of these is authoritative and authentic.

The paid ads at the top of the search results, and ongoing questions about sponsored content, only adds to the confusion.

Notably, some posts on this topic have attempted a data-based approach using download counts from the WordPress plugin repository. Posts like this are useful and accurate.

But analyzing download counts from the WordPress repository is limited in three important ways:

  1. The data is cumulative. It relies on the total number of plugin downloads over the lifetime of the plugins and may not represent current trends in the industry.
  2. The data doesn’t reflect active installations, simply downloads.
  3. Professional or paid plugins are absent from these analyses as they are not listed on the WordPress repository.

Data from real WordPress websites

Here at Watchful we manage thousands of WordPress websites. These sites are built by professional designers and engineers that make up the majority of our users. By anonymously aggregating the installed software across the entire platform, we can get an accurate, real-world list of the most popular WordPress plugins.

Our data includes both free and paid plugins, and we can compare plugin usage rates from year to year to look for trends in the industry. In this case, we are reporting data from two separate 12-month periods starting in the month of May: 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

Many of the usual suspects appear on our list of the most popular WordPress plugins. But some are new and surprising. And the trends over the last 12 months are very interesting.

2021 RankPlugin NameCategory2020 RankChange*
1 (54.2%)Yoast SEOMarketing1 (50.3%)0 (4%)
2 (39.4%)Classic EditorPublishing2 (40.8%)0 (-1.5%)
3 (37.6%)Akismet Anti-SpamSecurity3 (38.9%)0 (-1.3%)
4 (37%)Contact Form 7Forms4 (36.6%)0 (0.4%)
5 (27.6%)Wordfence SecuritySecurity5 (28%)0 (-0.4%)
6 (25.7%)Really Simple SSLUtility6 (24.5%)0 (1.3%)
7 (18%)Yoast Duplicate PostUtility12 (13.5%)5 (4.5%)
8 (17.2%)WooCommerceE-commerce8 (15.3%)0 (1.9%)
9 (15.8%)RedirectionUtility7 (15.4%)-2 (0.5%)
10 (15.1%)UpdraftPlusBackup11 (13.7%)1 (1.5%)
11 (14.7%)Slider RevolutionDesign/Layout9 (14.8%)-2 (-0.1%)
12 (13.5%)ElementorDesign/Layout24 (8.8%)12 (4.7%)
13 (12.7%)WPBakeryDesign/Layout17 (11.4%)4 (1.3%)
14 (12.4%)Advanced Custom
Fields PRO
Custom Content13 (13.4%)-1 (-1.1%)
15 (12.2%)Ninja FormsForms16 (11.5%)1 (0.8%)
16 (11.3%)WP Mail SMTPUtility21 (9.3%)5 (2.1%)
17 (11.1%)Duplicate PageUtility15 (11.6%)-2 (-0.6%)
18 (10.9%)Better Search ReplaceUtility14 (12.6%)-4 (-1.8%)
19 (10.6%)Gravity FormsForms10 (14.2%)-9 (-3.7%)
20 (10%)WordPress ImporterUtility18 (11.1%)-2 (-1.2%)
21 (9.9%)Advanced Custom
Fields
Custom Content23 (8.9%)2 (1.1%)
22 (9.3%)JetpackUtility20 (9.4%)-2 (-0.1%)
23 (9.1%)Disable CommentsUtility19 (9.5%)-4 (-0.4%)
24 (8.8%)Elementor ProDesign/Layout33 (6.3%)9 (2.5%)
25 (8%)Google Analytics
by MonsterInsights
Marketing22 (9%)-3 (-1.1%)
Rank is calculated based on percentage of plugin installs detected across the entire Watchful platform. * ‘Change’ is calculated by comparing the 2021 data to the 2020 data.

The usual suspects

Probably no one is surprised that top six most popular plugins have not changed their ranks in the last 12 months. They are Yoast, Classic Editor, Akismet Anti-Spam, Contact Form 7, WordFence Security, and Really Simple SSL.

However, there are some interesting trends in usage.

SEO plugin usage is on the rise

For example, Yoast usage is up 4% while the broader SEO category is mixed. All in One SEO is down 0.5% while Rank Math is up 1.5%. Overall, it appears that SEO plugin usage is increasing, but the free version of Yoast is taking more of the market.

Plugin Name2021 Rank2020 RankChange*
Yoast SEO1 (54.2%)1 (50.3%)0 (4%)
Yoast SEO Premium51 (5%)42 (5.3%)-9 (-0.4%)
All in One SEO76 (3.5%)61 (4%)-15 (-0.5%)
Rank Math SEO84 (3.1%)154 (1.6%)70 (1.6%)
Usage of plugins in the seo category.

Classic Editor does not appear on many “top plugin” lists but it’s usage remains very high. Analysis of download counts from the WordPress repository also bear this out. Despite this popularity, Classic Editor usage is down 1.5% in 2021, perhaps indicating that the initial resistance to Gutenberg is slowly fading.

Coincidentally, the Gutenberg plugin is in use on 1.5% of websites. However, we could not calculate the change in usage for this plugin. Our analysis is limited to the top 200 plugins and Gutenberg was below this threshold in 2020.

However, the 0.4% drop in Disable Gutenberg usage is consistent with less resistance to the block-based editor.

2021 RankPlugin Name2020 RankChange*
2 (39.4%)Classic Editor2 (40.8%)0 (-1.5%)
52 (4.9%)Disable Gutenberg40 (5.3%)-12 (-0.4%)
188 (1.5%)GutenbergN/AN/A
Usage of plugins in the editor category.

Page builders FTW!

Page builders are among the fastest-growing category of WordPress plugins and 2021 has been no exception. Elementor jumped from 25th place to 12th place in the last year with a nearly 5% increase in usage (one of the largest jumps we observed).

Elementor Pro usage also increased 2.5%. These changes are due in no small part to the massive funding round announced by Elementor in 2020 and the noticeable uptick in online advertising.

WPBakery and Beaver Builder also showed solid but more modest increases in usage. Page Builder by SiteOrigin the only plugin in the category showing a drop off.

Clearly, interest in page builder plugins continues to grow. It will be interesting to see how full site editing with Gutenberg impacts the existing dominant players in the coming years.

2021 RankPlugin Name2020 RankChange*
12 (13.5%)Elementor24 (8.8%)12 (4.7%)
13 (12.7%)WPBakery17 (11.4%)4 (1.3%)
24 (8.8%)Elementor Pro33 (6.3%)9 (2.5%)
125 (2.2%)Beaver Builder135 (1.8%)10 (0.5%)
142 (2%)Page Builder by SiteOrigin94 (2.4%)-48 (-0.4%)
Usage of plugins in the page builder category.

What’s up with Gravity Forms?

Forms software are always well represented on lists of most popular WordPress plugins. In our data set, 5 plugins in the top 25 offer forms functionality (that includes Elementor and Jetpack).

If we look at dedicated forms plugins, Contact Form 7 is by far the most popular. Although limited in functionality compared to the full-featured form builders, it does exactly what it says on the tin and does it well.

As a category, we see modest increases for most of the solutions in the top 200 plugins. Surprisingly, Gravity Forms usage dropped nearly 4%. It will be interesting to revisit this next year to see if the trend is continuing or if their recently revamped UI can draw users back into the fold.

2021 RankPlugin Name2020 RankChange*
4 (37%)Contact Form 74 (36.6%)0 (0.4%)
15 (12.2%)Ninja Forms16 (11.5%)1 (0.8%)
19 (10.6%)Gravity Forms10 (14.2%)-9 (-3.7%)
53 (4.7%)WPForms Lite64 (3.8%)11 (1%)
105 (2.7%)Formidable Forms100 (2.3%)-5 (0.4%)
145 (2%)WPForms138 (1.8%)-7 (0.2%)
163 (1.8%)Formidable Forms Pro163 (1.4%)0 (0.4%)
Usage of plugins in the forms category.

Honorable mention — WordPress needs a duplicate post feature!

Except for Elementor, the largest jump in usage for the top 25 plugins was Yoast Duplicate Post. With an increase in usage of 4.5%, it went from a rank of 12 in 2020 to a rank of 7 in 2021.

This increase is perhaps not surprising given that Yoast acquired the plugin in June of 2020 — the start of the 2020-2021 reporting period for our data set. The ability of Yoast to drive interest in this plugin can not be underestimated.

But even at that time of the acquisition, the plugin had over 3,000,000 installs. Clearly, the WordPress community has a strong interest in this feature. Save a copy is a popular feature in other CMSes as well as desktop publishing software. Adding this feature to the core of WordPress would be a welcome addition.

What are your top WordPress plugins?

We’d love to hear what plugins you use on all your sites. Or about the hidden gems that fit your niche.

Drop a note below to share your favorites!

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