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Two of the biggest names in the VPN industry are NordVPN and ExpressVPN. Depending on the VPN or tech review website you’re on, either one of these will be named as the #1 VPN for any given time.
Often there’s a third option in the #1 spot that’s more like a wildcard: PureVPN, IPVanish, Perfect Privacy VPN, Astrill VPN or some other contender – but these ones rarely have the staying power of the two VPN giants.
However, understanding that rankings and listings are often the result of pay-to-play marketing efforts, we wanted to see which one of these giants – ExpressVPN or NordVPN – was the most popular. Not based on subjective analyses and speed tests and all that jazz, but on the power of the people.
Or, more specifically, we’re going to base our analysis on a popularity contest made for the digital age: using search volumes, trends, social media following, app popularity, etc., we’ll see which one can win the VPN popularity contest.
Here’s a quick look at the methods we’re using to decide the winner of this popularity contest. Today’s matchup will be looking at which VPN provider has:
- more monthly searches – we’ll use Google results to see which is the most popular at the moment
- more momentum (increase in searches) – using Google Trends, we’ll see which is the trendiest
- the bigger social following – this shows their community-building prowess
- more installs – this shows their app popularity on iOS and Android
- more website visits – using SimilarWeb, we’ll see how popular their websites are
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s see what the results are.
The higher search volume: ExpressVPN or NordVPN?
For this, we’ll be using Ahrefs to research monthly search volumes for the keywords “expressvpn” and “express vpn” and compare that to “nordvpn” and “nord vpn.”
What will we get from the results? The VPN provider with the higher search volume will be the one that most people are searching for. Therefore, they’ll be the more popular VPN – at least in terms of online searches.
ExpressVPN monthly searches
So let’s see what the data says for ExpressVPN:
As you can see, for the unspaced term “expressvpn,” we get 465,000 monthly worldwide searches, with 33% of those coming from the lucrative US market.
For the term “express vpn” (with a space), we get 386,000 monthly worldwide searches:
That gives ExpressVPN a total of 851,000 global monthly searches – at least according to Ahrefs – for both its spaced and unspaced branded searches.
NordVPN monthly searches
Now let’s see how NordVPN fares in the same way:
Here, we can see the first sign that Nord is more popular than Express – almost twice as much, if we’re going on monthly search volumes alone. The term “nordvpn” has 868,000 monthly searches (almost double Express’ 465K), with 41% coming from the US.
For the spaced term “nord vpn,” we see something different:
We see that Nord actually has lower search volume when there’s a space between “nord” and “vpn,” with 368,000 monthly global searches – 18,000 less than for Express.
Nonetheless, putting it all together, NordVPN has a total monthly global search volume of 1.2 million, whereas ExpressVPN has 851,000.
NordVPN has more total monthly searches than ExpressVPN – therefore, they win this one.
The momentum battle: is NordVPN or ExpressVPN more trendy?
Taking a snapshot of the current climate gives us a lot of information, showing that more people search for NordVPN than ExpressVPN each month all around the world.
But that’s not the entire picture, and it may change quickly. In order to understand the real popularity of these giants, we need to take a wider view and see how they’re trending over time.
For that, we’ll turn to Google Trends. Again, we’ll use both the spaced and unspaced varieties for these brands.
“nordvpn” vs “expressvpn”
It seemed appropriate to set Nord to blue and Express to red when looking at worldwide trends for the last year:
As you can see, NordVPN was steadily popular for the first part of 2018, increasing the gap for the second half, and then really taking off at the end of 2018.
But it’s also quite interesting to see how the trend developed over the last five years. You can see that ExpressVPN was actually leading NordVPN, trend-wise, until about March 2017 when what we’re calling “The Great Flip” happened and Nord overtook Express:
It’s also interesting to see in which areas these VPN giants are more popular. According to Google Trends for the last year, NordVPN dominates the American, European, Australian and Russian markets, while ExpressVPN has the Middle East, China, South Africa and some parts of South America:
“nord vpn” vs “express vpn”
The situation is reversed when you add the space between the brand and “vpn.” Express wins in this regard, both as a trend:
And by looking at regions, where Nord still has North America and Russia, but Express owns everything else:
Nonetheless, the unspaced term has more searches, and Nord still leads here by a wide – and widening – margin.
NordVPN has more momentum at the moment than ExpressVPN.
Who’s winning the social popularity war?
Ok, so let’s take a survey of the followers for Nord and Express on their social channels. We’re only including Facebook and Twitter here since – at least for now – it doesn’t make sense that Instagram and Pinterest would hold a lot of interest for VPNs.
On Facebook, ExpressVPN has about 46,000 likes. Their average post gets about 4-10 likes (not including pinned posts). Their “happy holiday” post received 99 likes and reactions.
NordVPN has much better metrics: it has 97,000 likes and the average post gets anywhere from 200-700 likes. Their “happy holidays” post also received 8.5K likes and reactions. It’s obvious they’re using Facebook better, including post engagement ads (VPNs don’t get 8,500 reactions in a few days naturally on Facebook — there’s just no way).
On Twitter, it’s much closer, but Nord still edges ahead: NordVPN has 19.7K followers on Twitter, and ExpressVPN has 18.9K.
NordVPN wins the social media battle.
App installs and website visits
For this last section, we’ll look at some other public stats to determine which VPN service is more popular.
We’ll start with the app installs for both Android and iOS.
On Google’s Play Store, NordVPN has about 71,000 installs with a 4-star average rating. ExpressVPN has nearly 63,000 installs, and the same 4-star rating.
On Apple’s app Store, NordVPN has more than 15,000 installs and a 4.5 rating, while ExpressVPN has more than 25,000 installs with the same 4.5-star rating:
As far as app installs and ratings go, we can safely call this one for ExpressVPN, seeing as their App Store installs is almost twice that of NordVPN.
They have similar Play installs, but ExpressVPN has more App Store installs
Lastly, we’ll look at the statistics from SimilarWeb to see how many people visit NordVPN’s and ExpressVPN’s sites.
According to SimilarWeb’s stats, NordVPN has quite good number. There are specifically two items that are most interesting: it’s global ranking and its monthly visitors.
NordVPN is the 4,068th most visited site on the internet all over the world. It gets about 16.07 million visitors to its website each month, at least up to November 2018.
Compare that to ExpressVPN:
While their rank is lower (they come in at 4,145th in the world), they have more monthly visitors: 16.9 million.
So what gives? Let’s dive deeper into the website stats. Comparing ExpressVPN and NordVPN, we see the following:
NordVPN’s traffic sources
ExpressVPN’s traffic sources
Based on these images, we can make a few conclusions:
- NordVPN has better social presence, as we can see from our social check above
- ExpressVPN has more organic keywords, which is probably why they have more traffic overall
- NordVPN has more referrals – affiliate sites probably – than Express
- NordVPN spends more on ads (Display)
Nonetheless, based on the app installs being a tie, we can say that ExpressVPN wins this one based on it having almost a million more monthly visitors than Nord.
ExpressVPN has slightly more monthly visitors than NordVPN.
VPN market share and overall popularity winner: Nord or Express?
Based on everything we’ve looked at so far – at least the publicly-available information – we can see that NordVPN is the clear winner here.
Overall, NordVPN is more popular and has more market share, based on publicly available information.
They have more monthly searches, bigger momentum, better social presence, better internet ranking and similar app installs. ExpressVPN seems to only have more website visitors, as well as more installs on the App Store.
However, that’s only so far as statistics are concerned. In another analysis, we also look at the creative viral video strategies that each VPN is using to get word out about its services.
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Jan is a cybersecurity and consumer protection specialist focused on investigations that help readers navigate the complex infosecurity sphere. His research and commentary has been featured in Forbes, ComputerWeekly, PC Mag, TechRadar, ZDNet, The Mirror, Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications around the world.