I have a WordPress custom query:

$args = array(
    'posts_per_page' => 2,
    'meta_key' => 'pworks_popular_posts',
    'paged' => $page_nr

$query = new WP_Query($args);

if($query->have_posts()) {
    while($query->have_posts()) {
        $pworks_post_meta = get_post_meta(get_the_ID(), 'pworks_popular_posts', true);
        $pworks_post_list[get_the_ID()] = $pworks_post_meta['Post visited'];

I am using this method to sort an array of post ids and post visits which then I sort using arsort and display a list of posts by the number of visits they got:


However, I realized that pagination will be a nightmare if I continue to do it this way, as there is no way to go to a specific page of the sorted results, only the unsorted ones.

To accomplish this I have to order my posts by meta_value and ditch the arsort() method.

The problem is - the meta value is an array that looks like this (I did it this way because I will most likely be adding more fields to that array later):

array(1) {
  ["Post visited"]=>

Is there a way to order the query by this "Post visited" array field in WP_Query?

I would appreciate your help greatly.

  • That's not possible. Why not save each meta value with its own meta key? It's not like there are any downsides for doing that. There are, however downsides to saving post meta as an array, and you are experiencing one right now. Nov 30, 2015 at 1:54
  • @MateuszHajdziony I was afraid that too many separate meta keys might flood the database a little, especially that this functionality is for a plugin. If somebody has a ton of posts those separate meta keys might create quite a crowd in the database.
    – NakedCat
    Nov 30, 2015 at 2:34

1 Answer 1


At query level? Not possible.

{db_prefix}_postmeta has only one field for value. WP serializes arrays before inserting them and deserializes after they're out. So you have three choices here:

  1. If you really need this sorting at query level (pagination, maybe?) you have to rethink your information architecture and start using a separate custom_post_meta field for each field that you want to sort by.

  2. Forget sorting.

  3. If your number of items is limited and it's going to remain limited, you could pull them all out with (posts_per_page=-1) and sort them with array_multisort(). As you might expect, this will slow the page down a bit (depending on the total number of posts that have that particular custom_post_meta).

As a variant to option 1, for performance reasons, depending on number of items and complexity of data, you might consider not using custom_post_meta at all, but store it in a separate custom table.

  • Your answer is awesome, I am going to accept it. Could you just tell me whether those separate meta fields can flood the database (as there would be a few more meta values per one post than with the array approach) when there is a ton of posts that have those fields?
    – NakedCat
    Nov 30, 2015 at 2:37
  • I don't think you can flood _postmeta. Of course, it all depends on the hosting plan, number of simultanious requests, meta per post and number of posts but it will clearly be faster than the serialized data option.
    – tao
    Nov 30, 2015 at 3:08

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