WordPress Plugins Running on Pantheon: An Analysis of 10k Sites

Find out which plugins are top performers, which plugins are underutilized, and which WordPress plugins are must-haves for sites running on Pantheon.


Ever wondered what everyone else is doing with their WordPress sites? Which plugins are essential? Or maybe you have a favorite plugin that you wish everybody would use? 

The Popular plugins list on WordPress.org provides great general usage data, but I wanted to take a look and see what makes WordPress + Pantheon a winning combination. I took a peek into 10,000 sites on our platform, examining which plugins were making the cut, which were underutilized, and more.  

The Methodology 

I analyzed 10,000 WordPress sites on our platform. To be included in our analysis, a plugin had to: 

  • Be on a site with our WordPress or WordPress Site Network upstreams
  • Be publicly available (free or paid, but not custom)
  • Be active on the live environment 
  • Be on a paid site (not sandbox) 

I also filtered out any must-use plugins. Many plugins have both paid and free versions, and I elected to keep them separate since the experience is different for each. 

Unsurprisingly, the Pantheon plugin appeared in the No. 1 spot. This plugin, which provides tighter integration with Pantheon platform workflows, is included with the upstreams, so let’s skip that one — meaning it’s time to dig into the following results. 

Top 10 WordPress Plugins

1. WP Native PHP Sessions 

The No. 1 spot went to WP Native PHP Sessions, installed on 9,457 of the 10,000 sites surveyed. This handy plugin adds native sessions support to WordPress Core (instead of the cookie-based sessions used by default). Our documentation dives deeper on the how and why behind this plugin, but most customers install the plugin after encountering this error:

Warning: session_start(): user session functions not defined

In a serverless WordPress environment (like what you find here at Pantheon), cookie-based sessions can fail when a user lands on a different server from one request to the next. This plugin implements the native PHP session handler for more consistent sessions. While WordPress core doesn’t use PHP sessions, sometimes they are required by your use-case, a plugin, or theme.

Though this plugin is maintained by the Pantheon team, it can be used on any distributed or serverless WordPress hosting platform to improve functionality.

2. Yoast SEO 

The No. 2 spot went to Yoast SEO — not too surprising! This plugin helps you manage meta descriptions, title tags, breadcrumbs, and much more. SEO is critical to a site's success and our customers understand that. 

Yoast's comprehensive feature set and ease of use have made it a critical part of so many sites. Here at Pantheon, we recommend Yoast as an alternative for other sitemap plugins. You’ll want to be sure to select the PHP redirect method when setting this one up on Pantheon.

3. Advanced Custom Fields Pro

Advanced Custom Fields Pro allows you to extend and enrich the content editor experience by adding custom fields. The Pro edition includes some fancy things like repeatable fields, PHP blocks, and gallery tools. 

The free version of this plugin lands at No. 12, so whichever version you choose, you’ll be in good company.

4. Classic Editor

From our 10,000 sites, a little over half are still using the Classic Editor plugin for WordPress. As we found a year and a half ago, many developers rely on Classic Editor rather than Gutenberg.  

This one really surprised us. There definitely was a lot of anxiety and concern around the inclusion of the new Gutenberg editor, starting in WordPress 5.0, but our perception is that many sites and professionals have gradually adopted it as the preferred way to edit content. 

However, it’s possible the Classic Editor is still being used for certain posts or users, hence it remains a popular choice on our list. Getting to the bottom of this would require further analysis to see if that’s actually the case.   

5. Redirection

No, I’m not talking magic tricks — although there is something magical about not having to set up your own redirects. Redirection is totally free, and it's no wonder it's popular on Pantheon as an alternative to writing your own redirects

Our documentation notes that this plugin can create large database tables with 404 logging, but we have lots of happy users so that’s clearly not too much of a problem. 

6. Gravity Forms

Over half of the sites use Gravity Forms, which help WordPress developers build full-featured, gorgeous forms. They have a long list of integrations you can use to further power up your forms, and we all know good forms sit at the heart of a strong online business presence. 

7. Pantheon Advanced Page Cache

46% of the sites use this plugin, but we think that number should be a lot higher! Pantheon’s Global CDN serves up cached content faster than Zeus can throw a lightning bolt, and it works out of the box on every site.  But the Pantheon Advanced Page Cache module powers up the Global CDN even more, using surrogate keys to purge the cache at a more granular level. 

8. Yoast Duplicate Post

Team Yoast makes a second appearance with Duplicate Post. This handy plugin duplicates pages and posts — an essential element of any site that is generating a ton of content. As WebOps teams become more cross-functional, developers are building more sophisticated editorial workflows, and this plugin is a great asset to those teams.

9. Contact Form 7

This free, form-building plugin is a great asset to most WordPress sites. It’s a free alternative to Gravity Forms, and sometimes the more simplified Contact Form 7 is exactly the tool you need to get the job done.

Quick note: If you want to use this awesome contact form on Pantheon, you’ll want to check out our documentation for some helpful tips

10. WordPress Importer

This importer plugin handles posts, pages, comments, taxonomy terms, authors, and more. If you are redesigning a site, this plugin will help migrate content correctly.

Surprised by what’s found here? Wonder where your favorite plugin is? Tune in next week for a follow-up post about plugins that were curiously absent from this list and other mysterious discrepancies from the popular plugins list. 


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Topics WordPress