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How to Display Popular Posts by Views in WordPress without a Plugin

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Elegant Themes
How to Display Popular Posts by Views in WordPress without a Plugin

In the past we have shown you how to create a popular post tabber in WordPress using a plugin. That plugin works great out the box for tabbers. However, we wanted more customization in our layout, so we decided to do it without a plugin. In this article, we will show you how to track and display popular posts by views in WordPress without using any plugins.

An example of our custom popular post display is shown in the screenshot below:

Popular Posts Example

First thing we need to do is create a function that will detect post views count and store it as a custom field for each post. To do this, paste the following codes in your theme’s functions.php file or better in a site-specific plugin:

function wpb_set_post_views($postID) {
    $count_key = 'wpb_post_views_count';
    $count = get_post_meta($postID, $count_key, true);
    if($count==''){
        $count = 0;
        delete_post_meta($postID, $count_key);
        add_post_meta($postID, $count_key, '0');
    }else{
        $count++;
        update_post_meta($postID, $count_key, $count);
    }
}
//To keep the count accurate, lets get rid of prefetching
remove_action( 'wp_head', 'adjacent_posts_rel_link_wp_head', 10, 0);

Now that you have this function in place, we need to call this function on the single post pages. This way the function knows exactly which post gets the credit for the views. To do this, you would need to paste the following code inside your single post loop:

wpb_set_post_views(get_the_ID());

If you are using a child theme or you just want to make things easy for yourself, then you should simply add the tracker in your header by using wp_head hook. So paste the following code in your theme’s functions.php file or the site-specific plugin:

function wpb_track_post_views ($post_id) {
    if ( !is_single() ) return;
    if ( empty ( $post_id) ) {
        global $post;
        $post_id = $post->ID;    
    }
    wpb_set_post_views($post_id);
}
add_action( 'wp_head', 'wpb_track_post_views');

Once you have placed this, every time a user visits the post, the custom field will be updated.

Note: If you are using a caching plugin, this technique will NOT work by default. We are using W3 Total Cache, and it has the feature called Fragmented Caching. You can use that to make this work just fine. Here is what needs to be changed:

<!-- mfunc wpb_set_post_views($post_id); --><!-- /mfunc -->

Now, you can do all sort of cool stuff such as display post view count, or sort posts by view count. Lets take a look at how to do some of these cool things.

If you want to display the post view count on your single post pages (often next to the comment count or something). Then the first thing you need to do is add the following in your theme’s functions.php file or the site-specific plugin.

function wpb_get_post_views($postID){
    $count_key = 'wpb_post_views_count';
    $count = get_post_meta($postID, $count_key, true);
    if($count==''){
        delete_post_meta($postID, $count_key);
        add_post_meta($postID, $count_key, '0');
        return "0 View";
    }
    return $count.' Views';
}

Then inside your post loop add the following code:

wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID());

If you want to sort the posts by view count, then you can do so easily by using the the wp_query post_meta parameter. The most basic example loop query would look like this:

<?php 
$popularpost = new WP_Query( array( 'posts_per_page' => 4, 'meta_key' => 'wpb_post_views_count', 'orderby' => 'meta_value_num', 'order' => 'DESC'  ) );
while ( $popularpost->have_posts() ) : $popularpost->the_post();

the_title();

endwhile;
?>

To add other WP_Query parameters such as time range, refer to the WP_Query page on Codex.

We hope that you enjoyed this post.


Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress lovers led by Syed Balkhi. Page maintained by Syed Balkhi.

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  • Denis

    Hello,
    thanks for this nice tutorial. It works on my page!

    - how can I exclude robots and spiders that hit my posts?
    - May be I can set a timer of 10 seconds. after that the count should rise. So the people who only click thourgh the posts are not counted.

    Cheers,
    Denis

  • Sarah

    You have no idea how much time you saved me. Thank you, works perfectly! :)

  • Clay Hickman

    Thanks for the tip. Will use.

  • Jenni B

    Hello – thanks so much for this! I noticed the question regarding the W3TC workaround, but have a slightly different question: does that still apply if I’m hooking into wp_head from functions.php, and if so, how exactly do I implement it there? Thank you!

  • rafi

    this is really easy and very helpful! thanks man!

  • Kosmos

    Hello, thanks for this snippet.

    I have a problem, the orderby don’t work. I have five posts :
    - Post 1 : 85 views
    - Post 2 : 35 views
    - Post 3 : 165 views
    - Post 4 : 1 view
    - Post 5 : 1 view

    When i displayed it the order was : 1, 2, 4, 5 and 3

    Do you have an idea please ?

  • Iftekhar

    following your article I am using post view count in my site since 6 months. It was working fine, but recently I am having problem with this. If a visitor view a post the count is increasing by 1 but the problem is the count is increasing in all other posts. I have w3 total installed and I m using mfunc according to your article. Please help me if you have any idea about this issue… Thanks.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      Iftekhar can you check what happens when you turn off w3 total cache?

      • Iftekhar

        The problem seems to w3. Post view count is OK since deactivated. But I want to use both of them :(

  • ivan

    Hello,
    I am wanting to switch from using the plugin because it doesn’t support the polylang language (the author’s not getting back to me and I don’t really know if it’s possible to filter functions for the plugin..)
    Two questions:
    - I examined the code a bit and I’m not sure if this code starts counting posts from when it’s implemented? Or does it somehow retrieve where the post counts are currently?
    - The current code on this website uses the get_posts() function so it creates an args array instead of using WP_Query(). Is this the same thing? I’m guessing not. And if it isn’t is the code below correct to get the array? I tried implementing this but it didn’t seem to work.
    $args = array( ‘meta_key’ => ‘wpb_post_views_count’, ‘orderby’ => ‘meta_value_num’, ‘order’ => ‘DESC’,’numberposts’ => 6, ‘post_status’=>”publish”,’post_type’=>”post”,’lang’ => ‘en’);
    thanks!

  • Tomas

    This approach is very basic. If you want to count clicks from the same user (same IP) only every 5 minutes or 10 minutes etc. you need to have a separate table for that and before adding a new row in db you need to check the ip and time. If there is a record saved 3 minutes ago, the click is not added. Otherwise, it is added. Also this aproach allows you to create custom list of most viewed articles in 7 dyas, month, all time etc. Or even by category, user etc. (if you store appropriate values in appropriate table columns.

  • boson

    i am trying .. when you say put code wpb_set_post_views(get_the_ID()); inside of single post loop, does that mean use this code inside of the theme single.php anywhere?
    thank you for your help

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      No it means paste the code inside the loop between

      <?php if ( have_posts() ) : while ( have_posts() ) : the_post(); ?>
      

      and

      <?php endwhile; else: ?>
      <p><?php _e('Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.'); ?></p>
      <?php endif; ?>
      
  • Cory Dobson

    Is there a way of restricting when the post views are collected from? For example, I am looking to display the posts with the most views in the last 24 hours, how would you do something like that using this code?

    Great post by the way, really helpful!

  • igor

    how can I paginate the results.

    10 results by page lets say

  • Mark

    What if your single-xxxx.php doesn’t use the loop but custom fields. How can I use this code if I don’t use the loop?

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      single-xyz.php means that file is used for a single post with xyz slug. You can still add the last code snippet in your template just where you think that the template ends displaying content.

    • quocminh86

      comment policy,

  • Dusan

    I’m confused as to where to put the mfunc code?

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      If you are using W3 Total Cache then you can add this code just before wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); in your templates where you want to display the popular posts. The purpose of this code is to allow W3 Total Cache to dynamically display popular posts and not cache it.

    • Waqas Munir

      Dear, i am really confused about that… I am trying to add this to my blog, but I have no experience in all this.

      • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

        Then perhaps you should try using WordPress Popular Posts plugin instead.

  • Aleksander

    What about using update_post_meta function instead of delete_post_meta and add_post_meta ?

  • George

    Thanks for this post! Really really good.
    I’ve two question:

    1. Is there any possibility to count just one visit for each IP adress? How?.
    2. Can i show the most popular posts by a specific period of time? For example, most visited posts this month, or the most popular posts from 1 of may to 1 of june…

    Thank you!

  • Igor Gumush

    thanks , working great :)

  • shishir umrao

    Hi,
    This code is working but whenever i reload the page , it is adding “2″ to the total page count. For example if page count is 14 and after reloading total page count is 16 … can anyone guess where’s the problem ?

    Shishir Umrao

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Its happening because the function is loading twice somehow.

      • shishir umrao

        Yeah. I figured out this piece of code was responsible for this.

  • Nick

    Very useful post, I managed to make my Tag pages to order posts by a custom field value similar to post view count, however, I ave pagination on my tag pages and it keeps showing the same top ranking posts on all pages, even after I have removed this code:

    ‘posts_per_page’ => 4,

    How do I fix the pagination so it show other posts on subsequent Tag pages?

    • Chris

      How did you manage to make your Tag pages order posts by a custom field value similar to post view count?

      It looks like the popular posts plugin only takes categories as a parameter.

  • Mike

    Thanks for the very detailed instructions. Will using this to display the most popular posts cause a lot of additional server load if a site has significant traffic? Some of the WP plugins for this sort of thing tend to have this problem.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      How much is significant traffic? We’re using it on WPBeginner.

  • Ryan Karpeles

    Uh, awesome! Just awesome. THANK YOU for this!!! Works perfectly!

  • Lowell

    I’m still learning this stuff so pardon my ignorance.

    How do you allow the user to choose between queries like they do on codecanyon when they allow you to sort by price, sales, date etc.?

    Thanks so much.

  • saeed

    How can I change number of popular posts that display?

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Change the posts_per_page to whatever number you like.

  • Adam Davies

    Thank you so much for this. Life saver and a great tip that I definitely will be using more often.

  • Md. Ariful Islam

    Hey, Really , Many Many thanks for this useful tips. I am highly glad to you.

  • Ar Ya

    Hi , that’s great !
    But ‘orderby’ => ‘wpb_post_views_count meta_value_num’ not working.
    please use : ‘orderby’ => ‘meta_value_num’
    thnx

  • nick

    Thanks, it works for me, just with one important exception – popular posts are not as links, just their titles. How can I fix this, please?

  • Preston

    I added this code in the manner described in the article and upon activation, I saw this….

    The plugin generated 2 characters of unexpected output during activation. If you notice “headers already sent” messages, problems with syndication feeds or other issues, try deactivating or removing this plugin.

    • Preston

      Fixed. I did two things:

      1. Switched my permalink structure to a custom structure /%category%/%postname%/
      2. Check through all of my pages for extra spaces.

      One of them worked.

      …go figure

      Preston

  • Jose Vega

    Hi, I think it´s necesary add – wp_reset_query(); – at the end of the query to destroys the previous query used on a custom Loop.

    I hope It helps somebody.

  • Jon Edwards

    I have this working to 95% using a custom WP Query to display popular posts from each category.

    The only bit not working for me is the order – mine won’t display in descending order of views.

  • Cameron

    Thanks for the post! This really helped.

    I’m not sure if anyone else ran into this issue, but when you set up the arguments for WP_Query, you have orderby => ‘wpb_post_views_count’. This was a problem for me because I wasn’t sure how it was ordering my posts. In the codex it says that if your using numbers they will only sort by the first digit. To fix this, you can simply replace the ‘wpb_post_views_count’ with ‘meta_value_num’. This basically will tell the query to reach inside the post’s meta value and probably cast it to an integer before it sorts. Hope this helps anyone running into the same issues.

    Overall, it works great! I have the 4 most popular posts in a slider on the home page. Thanks again!

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Good suggestion. Updated the article with this.

      • efishinsea

        Hi. Your code sample up top is *not * updated.

        Instead of this:

        ‘orderby’ => ‘wpb_post_views_count meta_value_num’

        you should have this as suggested :

        ‘orderby’ => ‘meta_value_num’

        if you want to sort by “Most to Least”

  • Minh

    Why it only shows posts which have count view < 100?

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      If you are using a caching plugin, then it doesn’t always update.

  • George

    Thanks for the tutorial. How do you exclude current posts from displaying?

  • Kris

    This looks great on my home page but it seem to want to display on my single.php or anywhere else on my site. I tried creating a sidebar-single.php and inserting the code but still no luck. Any idea why it wouldn’t work on other areas my theme?

    • Kris

      i got it working. Thanks for this.

  • Anderson

    Dont work, its show randomic posts :S and i use post_type = > ‘post-type-name’

    • Mody

      This usually happens when meta key wpb_post_views_count is not available for posts, make sure you add the function that tracks views within wp while loop, otherwise it will keep showing random posts.

      - Mody

      • Bent

        Hello,
        I’m using your code for track post view in the wordpress theme.

        function wpb_get_post_views($postID){
        $count_key = ‘wpb_post_views_count’;
        $count = get_post_meta($postID, $count_key, true);
        if($count==”){
        delete_post_meta($postID, $count_key);
        add_post_meta($postID, $count_key, ’0′);
        return “0 View”;
        }
        return $count.’ Views’;
        }

        The problem is that when I use W3 Total Cache the track view is not working right.

        Is there a way in the W3 Total Cache’s Options to put ignore only on this function, but in the same time I want the code to work with W3 Total Cache?

        Thank you!

        • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

          Read the article again. We have already covered this “Fragmented Caching”.

  • Vaibhav

    Hello
    i followed your tutorials and have done exactly what u said.
    i also added ur snippet
    php query_posts(‘meta_key=post_views_count&orderby=meta_value_num&order=DESC’);
    in index.php

    i am facing a little error,
    i am using infinite scrolling
    when i put this snippet in index.php
    the infinite scroll instead of loading next set of post
    loads the same sets of post

    For better Understanding u can check it live here
    blog.newgags,com

  • Henry

    For some reason my post views are incrementing by 2 on each page refresh. What could be happening there?

    • Henry

      I do apologise. I had added the tracker to both the WP header and also to the single post body. Very stupid on my part :}

      Nice tutorial, very easy to follow.

  • Brandon

    First of all thanks for this post. Second I have been using this script for a few days now and for some reason it started out fine and now it is not displaying the most viewed posts, I don’t see any rhyme or reason to what posts are now being displayed. The last I checked the post that it is displaying at the top has 8 page views. I know there are posts with 25+ recorded page views. I would like to figure this out. Can you possibly point me in the right direction. I followed this post word for word. The post views are being recorded properly.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Not sure what could be going wrong. The WP_Query is suppose to list the posts with the highest counts first.

  • http://twitter.com/einsiol Einar Ólafsson

    Hi. This works grade up until the view count gets over 999. All post with more view counts than 999 are not displayed, the query never post them. The latest post is the one with exactly 999 and the rest are under that. I have over 100 post that have more than thousand and are not being included.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Interesting. We have posts with over 10k views and it seems to be working just fine.

  • Martinbeasnunez

    Guys you rockkk

    Quick question:
    If i have add a custom post type in your code ?
    (popular post from especific custom post type)

    Regards (:

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      This should work with CPTs as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3207613 Artem Russakovskii

    This is a good basic tutorial, but be warned: it’s not going to work if you use caching strategies that bypass PHP (like wp-supercache, W3TC, nginx/varnish, etc). The only way to count those would be via Javascript or log parsing.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Hey Artem, Thanks for dropping by. Actually using W3 Total Cache, you can use fragment caching and it works just fine. Going to update the article for those who are using the caching plugin.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3207613 Artem Russakovskii

        Interesting. However, I run nginx in front of W3TC, and it does a whole lot of its own caching, so it’s always safer/more reliable to use an AJAX approach. Nice info on the fragment caching though, I had no idea W3TC had it.

  • Ramon Fincken

    Why use
    //To keep the count accurate, lets get rid of prefetching
    remove_action( ‘wp_head’, ‘adjacent_posts_rel_link_wp_head’, 10, 0); ?

    if you can use the main loop or the footer ?

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Some browsers prefetch the rel links with the next value. So technically when a user views one post, it can act as if they had viewed both posts. This will cause inaccurate count. If you like inflated views, then don’t take it off.

  • Nino Blasco

    Great article! Explanation useful and easy to understand.
    Thank you.

  • Connor Crosby

    Yay! A tutorial that doesn’t require a plugin!

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      Yeah we try to balance things out for our audience. This was requested by the users, and we were using it on our own site.

      • Zach

        Please stop saying stuff like this. Plugins aren’t bad, it’s articles like this that make them look bad. Enough articles have come out over the past few weeks to fully explain this – it’s getting a little embarrassing.

        • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

          How would you suggest titling future posts instead? DIY prefix? These are different then just using a pre-made plugin. Also, if you read the article, there is no where in our article that we say “plugins are bad”. We clearly state that the only reason why coded this was to get more customization. It is up to a user to take either stance. Some can think that plugins are bad… whereas others like yourself can think that we are saying that plugins are bad…

        • Zach

          I don’t think any type of prefix is needed. It’s one of the great/scary things about WordPress. You COULD put this code in your theme, but then begs the argument about needing to either, 1) Loose those customizations when you change your theme, or 2) have the knowledge to properly pull those over to another theme.

          A lot of the users here are beginners (hence the point of this site), so many will just copy/paste what you give them. WP Beginner is obviously a fantastic resource (reason why I follow you on Twitter), but you have a responsibility to not put a false notion about how plugins/themes work.

          Correct, you don’t flat out say, “Plugins are bad, put this in your theme instead!”, but the original commenter to the thread I replied to, said, “Yay! A tutorial that doesn’t require a plugin!” – so even though you didn’t say it, that’s how it was taken.

          I’d suggest doing was Pippin does for his plugins – he has a simple starter plugin he uses for all of his tutorials. Why not create a blank “Starter Plugin” download, with just the basics, so others can download and put their customizations in there instead? Reference it in each article you do and it takes out some of the confusion. Thanks.

        • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

          We have been following Otto’s advice on site-specific plugin for quite some time. It is probably similar to what Pippin does. If you read this article, site-specific plugin is hyperlinked. It is in most other articles as well. That article shows users the importance of site-specific plugin and advise users to not put everything in functions.php file. At the bottom of that article, the sample “starter plugin” is there for anyone to start with.

        • codekipple

          In fairness this tutorial helped me out. I wanted a simple solution for popular posts after trying some of the plugins and not being able to fully control the markup. This tutorial helped me quickly implement some popular posts functionality into my own plugin.

          So i agree that using pre-built plugins is not a bad thing, but at times tutorials like this are useful to take control and build out a plugin that works the way you need it to instead of fighting against an already built plugin.

    • Pippin

      As Zach said, please stop using “without a plugin”. Sure, it’s cool to see how to code this yourself but there is literally no difference between this code and the code in a plugin. You could place this code into a plugin and it would function identically to placing it in your theme.

      • Ruben

        If you say there’s no difference, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Lets say your are working on a site and don’t have access to the plugins directory, making a solution that works “without using a plugin” would be a viable alternative.

        As for the title, semantically the title should reflect the content of the post and could be “How to Display Popular Posts by Views in WordPress with or without a Plugin”.

        However, taking SEO in to consideration, lets say he would like this post to reach a specific audience, for example, people who don’t want to or can’t use a plugin, the title would probably be best as is.

  • Gautam Doddamani

    i am using genesis child theme..can u tell me which all functions and codes to use..i am sorry i am a noob to genesis…

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      For child theme users, the wp_head solution would work to track post views. Not sure what else you meant.

      • Gautam Doddamani

        is it true? as artim told, does this code become unresponsive when we use a caching plugin?? for example i currently use W3 total cache and i want to use this method to build my custom popular post by views widget…i read this kind of post on wpsnipp.com and the users suggested it does not work when we enable caching plugins…reply soon…

        • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

          Read the comment reply to Artem. You can use fragment caching to make it work just fine.