As the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world, WordPress serves as the creative springboard for web developers and creative professionals to craft websites of all shapes and sizes. 

Many WordPress Builders rely on the Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) plugin to help create superb digital experiences, and easily create new fields, custom post types, and taxonomies.

With ACF installed on over 4.5 million WordPress sites, its users are often at the forefront of WordPress development. Their insights offer a window into best practices and beneficial tips you can incorporate into your own site-building efforts.  

The recently conducted (and first of its kind) Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) Annual Survey reveals these insights, compiling responses from more than 2,000 respondents. The survey results showcase their preferred ways of working with WordPress and ACF, as well as the plugins, themes, and additional builder tools they use for mission-critical sites.   

In the following sections, we’ll break down the survey findings as well as the trends and development practices they illuminate. Let’s dive in!

Survey Demographics:
Who are ACF Users?  

Before we dive further into the survey results, let’s take a closer look at who exactly “ACF users” encompass, per the 2023 survey results.   

Out of the survey’s 2,031 total respondents, 81% described themselves as developers. Of those, 46% work at an agency, while 38% work as freelancers.

But ACF users aren’t limited to purely technical roles. Business owners and designers each made up roughly 7% of the sample, while editors, marketers, and a smattering of “other” roles rounded it out.

Nonetheless, it’s fair to say the bulk of ACF users are technically savvy and often involved in the business of building WordPress sites. 

When it comes to the size and scope of these users’ teams and responsibilities, just over 11% identified as solo developers, more than half (52%) represented small teams (of 1-3 devs), nearly 25% were from mid-sized teams (4-10 devs), and close to 5% were from larger teams (11-20 devs). 

Interestingly, that percentage went back up slightly (6%) with regard to teams of more than 20 developers. 

In terms of website management, more than 35% handle 0-10 client sites monthly, nearly 43% manage 11-50 sites, 18% oversee 51-200 sites, just over 2% tackle 201-500 sites, and less than 1% are responsible for managing more than 500 sites.

ACF: The Backbone of WordPress Projects

Imagine having a secret weapon in your WordPress arsenal that makes your sites stand out. For just over 70% of respondents, ACF is that secret weapon. They use it for every single one of their WordPress projects.

The remaining 29% opt for a more selective approach, reserving ACF for some of their sites.

When it comes to the way these websites are built, the survey revealed an interesting tapestry of approaches.

While a surprisingly large segment (56%) of developers are still using the traditional WordPress route (complete with PHP templates and the block editor disabled), nearly 34% also favor the block-based future. 

A slightly larger percentage (38%) takes a balanced path, incorporating aspects of Full Site Editing, block editing, and traditional WordPress development into their workflow.  

Devotees of page builders and those exploring headless WordPress were also represented in the results. It should be noted that users could choose more than one answer, so the different approaches aren’t exclusive. For example, many developers create traditional WordPress sites, block-themed sites, and headless WordPress sites, depending on the needs of the situation and the desires of the client. 

Block Editing: The Art of Building

Since the introduction of the Gutenberg (Block) Editor in WordPress 5.0, block editing has become one of the transformative features of WordPress, as it allows for wide customization and enables developers to create blocks specific to their unique needs.

The survey shows that more than 55% of respondents use ACF Blocks for this purpose, harnessing the power of ACF within the (still relatively new) WordPress block editor.

A smaller fraction (~4%) opts for React to craft custom blocks. Meanwhile, 28% stick with WordPress native blocks, while the “Other” category hints at the diverse ways developers are wielding their block-editing tools.

Preferred ACF Plugins and Fields

WordPress development wouldn’t be complete without a treasure trove of plugins, and the survey unearthed a list of commonly used third-party ACF plugins developers use to enhance their WordPress workflows. That list includes:

Make sure to check out the full list here

As for ACF fields, developers certainly have their favorites. The survey revealed that Text, Text Area, and Image fields are the most frequently used ACF fields, while Repeater, WYSIWYG Editor, True / False, and Link, also received a significant share of responses.

The Builders Behind the Blocks

Page builders play a pivotal role in the WordPress ecosystem by democratizing web design, allowing users of all skill levels to create visually stunning and functional websites without extensive coding knowledge.

They empower website creators to save time, enhance user experiences, and customize their online presence with ease, ultimately contributing to the widespread popularity and versatility of the WordPress platform. But which page builders are WordPress builders really using? 

Per the survey results, Elementor reigns supreme among page builders, followed by Divi, Bricks Builder, and Beaver Builder (with WPBakery and Oxygen not too far behind).

These tools help shape the WordPress landscape into the beautiful and functional websites we see today, and they continue to serve an important purpose, even as developers discover new ways of building with WordPress.

The Future of WordPress

When it comes to the future of WordPress, the outlook is bright.

76% of survey respondents said they are likely to continue building sites with WordPress, affirming the enduring appeal of the world’s favorite CMS. 

Meanwhile, keeping WordPress up to date is essential for security and functionality, and the survey found that most (75%) respondents are very comfortable updating their WordPress sites with the latest ACF version. 

It’s a sign of a vibrant and adaptable community— both among ACF users and the larger WordPress community as a whole.

Tools of the Trade

When it comes to additional tools of the trade relied upon by ACF users, the survey results reflect a number of interesting approaches. 

For example, version control is a standard practice in software development, and WordPress is no exception. The survey shows that more than 60% of respondents use version control in their site development, ensuring smooth sailing through code changes and updates. 

Multisites, which allow multiple sites to be managed from a single WordPress installation, are embraced by more than 40% of respondents, showcasing WordPress’s versatility.

When it comes to local development, nearly 40% of developers favor Local as their go-to tool, providing a stable environment for crafting and testing WordPress sites.

Meanwhile, Composer, a tool for managing dependencies, is used by 27% of respondents, streamlining the development process. 

Lastly, deploying WordPress sites requires a methodical approach. The survey reveals that FTP, Git Push on WP Engine, and WP Migrate are all top choices when it comes to launching websites.

Conclusion: Two Vibrant Ecosystems in One

The ACF Annual Survey paints a vibrant picture of the WordPress development ecosystem, as well as the wide world of customizable functionality and powerful extensions you gain access to with ACF. 

From the diverse roles of ACF users to the multitude of tools they prefer to work with, this community—of ACF and WordPress users— thrives on innovation and adaptability. 

As WordPress continues to evolve, these insights offer a valuable look at the strategies and preferences of those shaping the digital world, one WordPress site at a time.

See the complete survey results here, or learn how you can get started with the ACF plugin here.