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How to Get the Actual Number of Active Installs of Your WordPress Plugin

In the WordPress Plugin Directory, plugins have an Active Install metric, but it isn’t anywhere near accurate. It only shows a heavily rounded value and not the actual number, values like 10+, 500+, 10,000+ active installs.

I’ll show you how to get the actual number of active installs of your WordPress plugin using some investigation and a simple spreadsheet.

Update September 12, 2020

My plugin Stackable just hit 30,000 active installs today. I’ve been using this method religiously and I’m happy to report that this method estimated this jump this week! I would say that’s plus points for accuracy.

Why Do You Need to Know the Active Install Count?

As a WordPress plugin developer and business owner with a Freemium product, one of my goals is to have my plugin be used by a lot of people. The more people that use my product, the more people who can convert into paying customers.

I’d like to think that all the marketing and feature updates we do would get more people on board with our plugin.

However, I won’t know whether what we’re doing has an impact if we can’t find out how many people are actually using my plugin.


If you have your plugin hosted in the WordPress Plugin Directory, then you’re at their mercy when it comes to data gathering.

In the Plugin Directory, there’s no Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, or any data tracking that you can add or you can access. The only things that’s available to you is the Advanced View of your plugin.

Advanced View of Stackable

Unfortunately, the Advanced View can only provide so much insight about your plugin’s performance.

Probably the most prevalent metric in there is the Active Install count. However, this metric has some issues.

A Brief History of the Active Installation Count

A few years ago the WordPress Plugin Directory started displaying a new metric called Active Installs for each plugin.

Prior to this, the only metric plugin authors had was the Download count. If you wanted to know how many users were using your plugin, then you’d pretty much have to guess.

Plugin Download chart

Clearly, the download count wasn’t helpful and wasn’t indicative on the usage of a plugin. Downloads doesn’t necessarily translate into usage.

Plus, this number could easily be bloated by pushing out a constant stream of updates because a lot of people would update their plugins immediately (some people used auto-update mechanisms).

As you can see in the image above, there are huge spikes in the download chart, those were the times when I pushed out an update to Stackable.


In other words, a newer plugin can quickly surpass the download count of a more established plugin by rapidly updating their plugin with very small bug fixes.

The download count can be easily gamed, but nonetheless, a lot of people were using it as a measure of the popularity of a plugin.

The active installation count was a breath of fresh air when it was introduced.

How the Active Installations Count Is Computed

The Active Install count is computed by taking advantage of the plugin update checker. (Which I think is an ingenious way of doing it)

Active Installations metric

Paraphrasing Otto’s explaination on how it works: Every day, active WordPress websites check against the Plugin Directory whether the plugins they have installed have updates or not. All those checks are aggregated into an Active Install count. The number is then trimmed down to the first significant digit.

While the Active Install count is indeed a helpful metric to have, but it’s only helpful up to a certain extent because it’s not an exact number. As your plugin install count gets higher and higher, it becomes less and less accurate.

The main problem here is the extreme rounding to the first significant digit. It’s mainly done in order to remove tiny fluctuations in the number of installs.

Why? Because a WordPress website only checks for update if it’s active, meaning it only does this when someone visits the site. So if a WordPress site doesn’t get any visitor for the day, it isn’t included in the count. Things like this can yield small changes to the number.


However, as a business owner, I want to know my active installations as accurate as possible so I can crunch my numbers and perform decisions.

I find myself always asking: I should’ve hit the next active install count milestone by now, am I closer to 1,000 active installs, or 2,000 active installs?

Unfortunately for us, the exact number is hidden away. And only a select few of the WordPress Meta team can see those numbers.

😡

If you want to know the performance of your active installs, then you’d have to resort to another sort-of-helpful tool: the Active Install Growth Chart.

The Active Install Growth Chart

The Active Install Growth chart was introduced after the Active Installation number was added in the Advanced View, and it looks like this:

Active Install Growth chart

It’s quite intimidating at first since it’s showing percentages that seem to be from deep inside the Plugin Directory database.

It’s also a bit confusing since if you keep track of the chart daily, the last value constantly changes, so that’s also a surprise to anyone who’s seeing the chart for the first time.

Let me break down how the chart works:

Every entry in the Active Install Growth chart is the week’s growth rate. Every week, the (accurate) number of active installs is kept in record, then the amount the figure changed per week is plotted as a percentage change.

Clearly, this growth chart a better representation of the performance of a plugin.

If you see the percentage is above 0%, then that means your plugin has growth. If it’s in the negative, then people are uninstalling your plugin.

However, this is still lacking. While I know the percentage of new active installs, I wouldn’t know how many installations that really is. I still want to know how many my active install really are!

How to Compute Your Actual Active Install Count

The reason I explained how both the Active Install count and Active Install Growth chart worked is because those are the keys to computing your actual numbers using some basic algebra.

Now let’s get into the real computations.

I’ll also show my own computations for my own plugin Stackable as an example to make things clearer.

Step 1: Get Your Current Active Installations Count

Just head over to your Plugin Directory plugin page and take note of your Active Installations figure. We’ll use this for later.

For example, in my case it’s 10,000.

Active Installations metric

Step 2: Find the Date of Your Latest Significant Active Install Change

Earlier, I mentioned that the active install count is rounded up to the first significant digit. What you need to do is figure out the date when your active install count last went up.

For my example, it’s currently at 10,000 active installs, so I’ll have to figure out when it went from 9,000 to 10,000.

To do this, you can use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to view the older versions of your plugin page to check your old metrics.

Use the URL of your WordPress Plugin Directory plugin page, and browse its history and find the date when your last install count changed.

For example, for my case, I entered https://wordpress.org/plugins/stackable-ultimate-gutenberg-blocks/ and found out that my plugin stepped up to 10,000 active installations some time in April 2019

Internet Archive Wayback Machine of Stackable

Step 3: Get All the Active Install Growth Numbers Starting From the Date You Got

Now head to your Active Install Growth chart, and get all the growth percentage values starting from the date you got from the previous step up to the present.

You can hover your mouse over the line in the chart to get the numbers:

The chart displays only a data from the last 267 days. So if the date you got from step 2 is longer than that, then you’ll have to use the WordPress.org plugin API to get your active installation growth numbers.

It’s easy though, so don’t worry.

To get the numbers, open up a new tab and open the URL below. Change the {PLUGINSLUG} to the slug of your plugin. You can also change the limit to a higher number if needed, I placed there 1000 to get data from the last 1,000 days.

https://api.wordpress.org/stats/plugin/1.0/active-installs.php?slug={PLUGINSLUG}&limit=1000

That URL should show you all the active installation growth percentages that you need.

Step 4: Gather All the Numbers in a Spreadsheet

Here comes the fun part.

Create a Spreadsheet using this format:

  • Column A – Date
  • Column B – Active Install Growth
  • Column C – Active Installs

Add all the active install growth percentages from step 3 in Columns A and B; and place your current active installations count you got in step 1 as the first entry in Column C.

I ended up with something like this:

Step 5: Compute!

To perform the calculations, we’ll basically do the reverse of how the growth percentage was computed.

In equation terms, Otto explains how the growth percentage works as:

Growth = ( Active Installs this week - Active Installs last week ) / Active Installs last week

So to get the active installer per week, some simple algebra manipulation would yield us:

Active Installs this week = Growth * Active Installs last week + Active Installs last week

Which in spreadsheet talk converts to:

=ROUND(B3*C2+C2,1)

Place that formula in cell C3, and copy it down to the rest of the rows.

Now, you should end up with more accurate active installation numbers:

Conclusion

The Plugin Directory doesn’t really provide us plugin authors and developers with accurate usable metrics, which I hope would change in the future.

But for now, at least there is a way to get a more accurate active installation count, which can lead us business owners to produce better data-driven decisions when it comes to our plugins and products.

Let me know if you ever use this method and about your results.

By Benjamin Intal

Benjamin is an avid WordPress plugin developer, a full-stack developer, owner and lead developer of Gambit, founder of Stackable Blocks, Page Builder Sandwich, and creator of more than 30 WordPress plugins in CodeCanyon.

Connect with me on Twitter @bfintal

6 replies on “How to Get the Actual Number of Active Installs of Your WordPress Plugin”

Do you still have access to that? It doesn’t show anything for me anymore. Or it’s possible that this isn’t available anymore for newer plugins.

I couldn’t find any information aside from the limit argument to pull older data for a plugin. Probably someone in the WordPress Slack channels knows 🙂

I agree that one of the things that really matters is your weekly growth, although I usually like to know also my raw numbers and current standing and I’m sure other people do too.

I’ve mentioned before in another discussion an analogy that if you were driving and you only had the growth chart, it would be like knowing that you were at 100/kph five minutes ago, and your speed increased by 10% a few seconds ago and now your speed increased yet again by 5%. While you can get an idea that you’re going faster, it’s hard to visualize what your current speed is.

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