The consumer VPN market is a challenging one, with more and more players joining the race to the top of the lucrative data privacy and security pyramid. This supply growth is fueled by the ever-increasing demand for avoiding geo-restrictions and protecting your mobile, desktop, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Couple that with more accessible pricing, and it becomes clear that VPNs are shifting away from a business-only or exclusively tech-savvy market to something that’s being adopted in wider use. Let’s take a closer look and see what’s happening in the industry in 2023 and which players are currently on top.
VPN market overview: 2023
Global Industry Analysts estimate that the VPN market value in 2022 was over $44 billion, compared to $32 billion three years ago. According to reports by Fior Markets, the VPN market is set to hit $71 billion by 2027. The compound annual growth rate set for 2020-2027 is 16.5%.
Certainly, this number will be boosted by the inevitable increase in cybersecurity attacks, data leaks, and ever-growing governmental surveillance.
China, which opened its VPN sector to foreign investments in 2021, is predicted to have the highest growth – 17.4% through 2026, followed by Canada (12.8%) and Japan (12%). However, Europe, the US, and other mature markets are still expected to hold the majority share in terms of revenue. After all, the US held more than a third of the global VPN market share in 2022, and that’s not going to change soon.
NordVPN is the industry leader with the proprietary NordLynx tunneling protocol, massive server network, robust security measures, and 24/7 live chat.
This is what we found after taking an in-depth look at the situation in the VPN market:
- The VPN market is projected to increase by almost 60% or $5.5 billion per year from 2020 to 2024. Then, it should slow down a bit to $5.3 billion annually until 2027.
- China will be among the fastest-growing VPN markets, expected to reach $11.2 billion by 2026.
- Europe will reach a $12.9 billion market size by 2026, with Germany growing over 12% per year.
- Japanese and Canadian VPN markets will be growing by 12-13% each year until 2026.
- NordVPN has the biggest B2C VPN market share based on brand recognition and awareness, high-intent keywords, momentum, and other metrics. Their current marketing strategy has placed them squarely in the #1 position.
- ExpressVPN’s monthly visits have dropped significantly (65%) in 2022 compared to the previous period. Not to mention both their organic traffic and traffic value has plummeted.
- PureVPN and PIA need to work harder on their marketing strategy to be considered serious contenders, while Surfshark VPN and Proton VPN have really stepped up their game to become strong competitors.
- Free VPN segment had a drastic change as Proton VPN started dominating almost every region. Other no-pay services (Hotspot Shield, TunnelBear) are becoming less significant since a majority of their users pay no money at all.
- Older VPNs, such as HMA and VyprVPN, are performing worse compared to the top VPNs. They are getting overshadowed by other rising competitors – Surfshark VPN and Atlas VPN.
To understand how we reached these conclusions, continue reading below.
Top 10 VPN market players
The question we want to answer is: which B2C VPN is dominating the market at the moment? Well, if you look around the software review sites and user opinions on Reddit, you’ll find a lot of varying opinions. However, most will list NordVPN, ExpressVPN, or even PureVPN as their #1 picks for 2023.
We understand how the game is played, and oftentimes money, sponsorship, affiliate commissions, and straightforward pay-to-rank schemes can muddy the waters. That’s why it’s hard to really find out which is the most popular VPN by scanning review sites alone.
For that reason, we’ll be looking at the most popular VPNs currently on the market and see how they’re performing in a holistic way. The 10 biggest B2C VPN market players are:
- Hotspot Shield
- Private Internet Access
- HMA (HideMyAss)
- Proton VPN
How we rated VPN popularity
In order to analyze these VPNs, we’ll be looking at 5 main criteria:
- How many people are actually searching for them
- Evaluate their momentum by looking at the increase in searches and servers
- Social media presence
- Number of installs and ratings on the Google Play and Apple App Store
- Monthly estimated website visitors, organic traffic, and its value
What we hope to find out at the end of this analysis is how popular these VPN providers actually are. For each section, we’ll crown the winner of the particular area. That way, we can find the one VPN that stands out as being the most popular, the most visible, and the most engaging provider on the market today.
Because we’re going with the 10 most popular VPNs, we had to eliminate a lot of VPNs that we feel are really great but haven’t gained a strong foothold yet. These VPNs include:
With that out of the way, let’s look at how the Top 10 most popular VPNs perform according to our five crucial criteria.
1. Most popular VPNs by keyword search
In this first part, we’re looking at VPN popularity by search term in two ways. The first is looking at how many branded searches (searches using the brand’s name) there is each month.
Secondly, we’ll check which VPN provider ranks highest for high-intent but unbranded, search terms, such as “best vpn,” “vpn for pc,” etc. We’ll do this for 5 countries, as the rankings can change from one location to another.
VPN popularity by branded searches
For this part, we’re using the Ahrefs keyword research tool to look at monthly keyword volumes for popular VPN brands.
We’ll look at 3 search terms for each brand:
- Official brand name (“nordvpn”)
- Commonly misspelled or spaced variation (“nord vpn” or shortened, such as “hma” or “pia”)
- Higher-intent keyword, usually the brand name plus “review” (“nordvpn review” or “surfshark vpn”)
Then, we’ll combine the global and the US search volume for each search term.
Logic behind using search terms
The reason we’re checking each brand’s search terms is that they estimate how many searches are being performed each month for a particular keyword or phrase.
So if there are 1,000 monthly searches for “pizza with pineapple,” we can assume that there are about 1,000 people who make very bad gastronomic decisions.
With this information, we can then say that if a VPN brand has the most searches per month, then it has the most people searching for it, which means they are the most popular VPN by branded searches.
As you can see from the chart above, NordVPN has the most searches per month for its 3 branded search terms, as well as the most from the US. Compared to 2020, the number has increased by 8%.
ExpressVPN is in second place, with combined 1,340,000 monthly searches, an almost 20% increase since 2020.
In the third place, we find Private Internet Access, or PIA, in short. We also see a significant drop in total searches, separating NordVPN and ExpressVPN from the rest of the crowd. In two years, PIA has grown by 69%, reaching 860,000 monthly searches.
Another visible drop happens between Hotspot Shield and CyberGhost, with the latter having nearly 80% fewer searches. Finally, the Top 10 ends with HMA, which has two times fewer searches than IPVanish.
Since 2020 when we did this overview, some VPNs expanded their search engine presence while others took a big hit. The only winners were the Top 3 in reverse – PIA (+69%), ExpressVPN (+20%), and NordVPN (+8%). The rest of the providers shrank, with HMA (-78%), Hotspot Shield (-67%), and TunnelBear (-62%) falling the most.
We don’t have comparison data on Proton VPN and Surfshark VPN as they didn’t rank in the Top 10 three years ago.
The situation looks a bit different if we count the US and global searches separately. All providers have 10–18% of total searches from the Land of the Free, with a sole exception. IPVanish has a whopping 36% or at least two times more than any other competitor.
In 2020, we explained that the main reason is IPVanish being US-based. However, PIA has the same jurisdiction, but only 13% of searches in this country. On the other hand, Private Internet Access grew significantly while IPVanish shrank considerably, and the global audiences probably played the main role.
In total numbers, NordVPN is also #1 in the US (224,000), followed by ExpressVPN (155,000) and PIA (98,000). Interestingly, Proton VPN is Top 4 globally but gives away its US position for Surfshark VPN.
Branded search term conclusions
We can assume that NordVPN is probably the most popular VPN brand at the moment. Beyond that, it has the highest number of US searches than any other brand, which is the most lucrative region for the VPN industry.
VPN popularity by the country for high-intent keywords
We’re going to take a look at the biggest, most lucrative countries for VPN services and see which VPN providers rank higher for high-intent keywords. Once again, we’ll be using the Ahrefs tool.
Logic behind checking high-intent keywords by country
Google’s search results have grown more complex as its algorithm improves. Search results are now based on a combination of factors, including past user searches and location.
For that reason, we wanted to check the highest-intent VPN keywords to see which VPN providers’ websites rank the highest. We’ve chosen the same keywords as in 2020 for comparison purposes. Those include “best vpn”, “free vpn”, “vpn for pc”, “vpn for mac”, “vpn for android”, and a newly added “vpn for iphone”.
It’s important to note that we’re not looking for results in the first position or even on the first page necessarily. Those are usually dominated by VPN reviews and tech sites for such keywords as “best vpn.” Instead, we’re checking which VPN website shows up first for any aforementioned keyword. This can provide valuable insight into how popular they are in the given location.
Just like in 2020, we’ll be looking not just at the lucrative US, but also Russian, UK, Australian, and the emerging Turkish VPN market, currently #3 globally. For Russia and Turkey, we used the local language if the keyword had more volume. Also, if the provider has a local version of its website, it often ranks better for the local language keywords.
|free vpn||Proton VPN||Avira VPN||Proton VPN||Proton VPN||Proton VPN|
|vpn for pc||ExpressVPN||ExpressVPN||Avast VPN||NordVPN||Avira VPN|
|vpn for mac||ExpressVPN||ExpressVPN||ExpressVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN|
|vpn for android||VPN Unlimited||Proton VPN||NordVPN||TikVPN||NordVPN|
|vpn for iphone||ExpressVPN||Surfshark||ExpressVPN||NordVPN||Avira VPN|
From 30 possible wins, NordVPN took 10, leaving ExpressVPN second with 8. The third place belongs to Proton VPN, which won 5 challenges. Comparing these results with the branded searches, we see that neither Private Internet Access nor Surfshark had much success – the latter got 1, and the former went out empty-handed.
Proton VPN dominates the “free VPN” keyword in 4 out of 5 countries. In the meantime, NordVPN got the same result with “best vpn.” ExpressVPN got 3 out 5 wins with “vpn for mac” while “vpn for pc”, “vpn for android” and “vpn for iphone” were the most eclectic categories where no VPN won more than two.
For us, the most surprising winner was TikVPN which holds the top spot for “vpn for android” in Australia – despite us not having its review yet. Strangely, it has almost no searches in this country.
But how about the year 2020? Well, NordVPN dominated with 19 wins, leaving ExpressVPN with 5. The only other provider that got points, or one point to be exact, was Hotspot Shield. Surprisingly, NordVPN got 4 out 5 in “free vpn” category without offering one.
High-intent VPN keyword search conclusions
The field became much more diverse, though it still comes down to ExpressVPN vs NordVPN. The results were quite different from those we’ve got in branded search analysis, where PIA and Surfshark took third and fourth place. This time, however, they won in 1 out of 30 categories combined.
2. VPN momentum
We’re looking at the VPN momentum in two ways. The first is front-facing, by using Google Trends to see how much searches for a provider’s main branded keyword (“nordvpn,” not “nord vpn”) have increased or decreased in 2022.
Secondly, we’ll look at the pace at which each provider’s server list has grown. More servers usually mean adding clients, and overcrowded infrastructure leads to losing subscribers.
VPN Google Trends
We’ll use Google Trends to see which brands have grown in their own branded keyword relative to the other brands. To give a better perspective, you’ll see a graph from 2022. Moreover, we’ll compare the results with the 2019 trends.
Logic behind using Google Trends for momentum
The main thing we’ll be looking at here is comparing each VPN’s momentum worldwide to its other competitors so that you can see how it fares in the global market. By putting all the brands on the same trend graph, we can make some good conclusions.
The leader in Google Trends is NordVPN, with an average interest score of 74 out of 100 during the period. Surfshark won a close battle for 2nd place, beating ExpressVPN (34 out of 100) by two points. However, the latter and Proton VPN (17 out of 100) have been seeing a spike since September 2022.
2019 was the year when NordVPN overtook the Hotspot Shield’s top position, and ExpressVPN was steadily climbing towards #2. Like in 2022, the rest of the providers were way below the 25 Google Trends interest mark.
Let’s also take a look at the geographical specifics of the Top 5 services. NordVPN dominates the Americas, Europe, and Australia. Surfshark is the most popular keyword in Russia, and ExpressVPN has a strong presence in China. In the meantime, Proton VPN is trending in Iran, while IPVanish has a name in Nigeria.
VPN brands’ Google Trends conclusions
From these trends, we can safely assume that NordVPN will continue its brand awareness assault for the 2023. After all, it’s one of the few VPN brands that have TV commercials.
In the meantime, ExpressVPN’s position as the #2 seems shaky, given that Surfshark left it behind not once in 2022. Proton VPN’s surge in September will make the challenge even tougher.
As for Hotspot Shield, we might see a downfall and welcome a new rising VPN in 2023.
Global VPN coverage: servers and countries
We’ll look at the server and country count of each VPN brand from the 2020-2022 period. For that, we’ll be using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
Unfortunately, some VPNs, such as ExpressVPN or PIA, no longer display the size of their fleet. Also, quite a few providers block the Wayback Machine service. In such cases, we looked at the data from VPNpro.
When possible, we gave the numbers from 2021 or 2020, which at least shouldn’t be lower today. Also, our research took into account server upgrades because expanding your virtual server fleet is much easier than reaching the same number with bare-metal hardware, which is more secure.
Server count for momentum
Here, we want to check the server growth to indirectly determine company growth. After all, the connection is pretty clear: if a VPN has more customers, it’ll need more servers to offer quality service. And if it’s stagnant or decreasing, there probably aren’t many new subscribers that the current infrastructure can’t handle.
VPN server count comparison: 2020–2022
|2020||2021||2022||Server increase, %|
There are two important things to note in the table above: the number of servers offered in 2022 and the change in the number of servers since 2020.
For the first number – the absolute value – we can see that CyberGhost has the most servers, with 9275. The second place goes to PureVPN (6500), while NordVPN sits in third (5666). Actually, CyberGhost had more servers in 2020 than the other two have today.
VyprVPN has the fewest servers, just over 700. That’s the same amount they had in 2013 or even before, but that’s how far the Wayback Machine could take us. Two other providers with the smallest fleets were HMA (1040) and Proton VPN (1751).
But a more interesting moment is the change in server count over three years. In this category, PureVPN is the absolute winner with a 225% increase from 2020 to 2022. What’s even more fascinating is that they did this not by adding virtual servers as PIA did but by turning their whole fleet bare-metal!
The next biggest growth spurt belongs to Surfshark, which had an 88% increase. Then we have CyberGhost with 40%, which is amazing given that they already had 6600+ servers in 2020.
In contrast, HMA VPN was the only one to shrink its fleet, even if by just 5%. Three providers that stayed flat since 2020 were ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, and VyprVPN. In the meantime, NordVPN was the slowest grower, with a 5% increase.
VPN’s country count for momentum
The majority of VPNs have most of their servers in North America and Europe. The other regions tend to be underrepresented due to smaller userbases or purchasing power. Despite that, some providers go the extra mile by offering at least virtual servers in Africa or South America.
By looking at the country selection change, we’ll be able to determine which VPNs have expanded their clients’ geography. After all, there’s not much point in paying for servers, especially physical ones, if nobody uses them.
VPN country count comparison: 2020–2022
|2020||2021||2022||Country increase, %|
Once again, we recommend checking not only the current country numbers but also their fluctuation since 2020. Most providers increased their global coverage, but there are also some instances of stagnation or even shrinking.
For the third year in a row, HMA VPN offers servers in most countries – 210, to be exact. No other service is even close – Surfshark is in second place (100), while Hotspot Shield is third with 99. Here’s the time to remind you that HideMyAss and Hotspot Shield use virtual servers, which makes expanding the country list much easier.
TunnelBear offers servers in only 48 countries, and that includes the virtual ones. Then we have IPVanish with 50. Finally, NordVPN takes third place with 59. However, these two providers use physical servers only.
When looking at the VPNs that added the most pins to their world map since 2020, we find TunnelBear with an impressive +109% country count increase. On the other hand, they are still offering the smallest location selection. Proton VPN could be named the winner with +88% because it doesn’t use virtual servers. The same goes for Surfshark, with a +57% growth, which is now offering bare-metal servers in most countries.
PureVPN reduced its country selection by -44%, which could be a big red flag. However, this came as a result of moving to 100% physical servers and vastly improving their numbers in 2021. Should we not take this into consideration, the second place belongs to IPVanish with a -6% decrease.
In the end, we have four providers that stagnated during the 2020-2022 period: NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, and VyprVPN.
VPN server and country count conclusions
In absolute terms, CyberGhost has the biggest momentum, offering 9275 servers in 91 countries. But once more, that includes the virtual ones. When counting the bare-metal fleets, Surfshark rises to the top with 3200+ servers in 100 countries.
The fastest-growing provider is Surfshark, with a combined server and country list increased by nearly 73%. Proton VPN is not far behind, with almost 56%. No other competitor grew more than 20%, though some might see PureVPN as the absolute winner with a 225% server increase, mathematically negating the impact of country selection shrinking by 44%.
Among the most stagnant VPNs, we find ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, and VyprVPN, all with no change in server or country lists. However, VyprVPN’s situation might need further investigation. What does it mean when a provider hasn’t improved its global coverage in over 9 years and counting?
Two scenarios come to mind:
- VyprVPN’s server and country numbers aren’t reflective of reality, and they’ve just been using it as a marketing tactic. That’s bad on their part for misleading the customers.
- The numbers are real, and they haven’t had a need to grow. That’s probably bad for their userbase growth. However, the latest increase in VyprVPN pricing seems they’ll be trying to make more with less.
3. VPN with the best social media presence
We are looking at each VPN’s Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and YouTube subscribers, together with average views, to determine their social media presence and popularity. Additionally, we’ll check how many posts and tweets have been published recently.
Logic behind using social media presence
Increased presence on social media helps connect with potential and existing customers. Moreover, it lets the provider share its message, be it Black Friday discounts or new apps. Finally, social media presence shows that a VPN has enough resources to stay active on various platforms, especially when it comes to sharing videos on YouTube.
Since we have historic data from 2019 for all providers except Proton VPN, we’ll be also making a growth comparison where applicable. That means we won’t crown Surfshark because it was only starting, and increasing from 1,000 to 10,000 likes is probably easier than from 10,000 to 100,000, even though the percentage is the same.
First of all, it may seem a bit strange that any VPN provider would have a large social media following. After all, let’s be honest: VPNs aren’t very sexy. Consumers generally need to be educated on their needs to appreciate these tools and feel the desire to connect with the brand.
That being said, as we can see from the graphs below, some of the VPN brands are doing quite well.
The absolute winner is Hotspot Shield, with 3.9 million Facebook likes. It’s followed by Private Internet Access, with “just” below one million. The rest of the VPNs are nowhere near the leaders, with NordVPN taking third place (138,000).
However, both Hotspot Shield and PIA have lost about 5% of their Facebook fans since 2019, and while that might not seem much, we’re talking about 240,000 and 54,000 likes, respectively. It’s also a bad sign showing that the old users are leaving and the new ones are not enough to stay afloat.
TunnelBear and VyprVPN suffered about 6% losses as well. All other VPNs have grown their userbases, with NordVPN (+24,000) and ExpressVPN (+21,000) taking the forefront.
As we’ve mentioned before, we won’t be crowning Surfshark (+1100%) because it had just 1,000 likes in 2019. Instead, we name ExpressVPN the winner with a 39% increase in Facebook likes. It’s followed by CyberGhost (+29%) and NordVPN (+21%). The latter two were on top when taking into account both absolute numbers and percentages.
When counting the followers on Twitter, TunnelBear is still reigning with 208,000. Next comes Private Internet Access (147,000), followed by NordVPN (126,000). ProtonVPN is the last one in the six-digit zone with 105,000.
IPVanish (15,000), HMA (16,000), and CyberGhost (17,000) have the fewest Twitter followers. Sure, CyberGhost grew exponentially, but that didn’t help much in general.
We got an entirely different feeling after checking how these numbers have changed since 2019. Turns out, NordVPN grew its Twitter fanbase by a whopping +186%. Proton VPN is not far behind, with a 133% increase. Then we have ExpressVPN with +50%.
Looking at the total follower growth, we get yet another perspective. NordVPN is once again on top with +82,000 new followers, followed by Proton VPN with +60,000. In contrast, Hotspot Shield lost 6,000, while HMA and PIA said goodbye to 1,000 apiece.
It took four years for TunnelBear to add 8,000 followers, a modest 4% increase. The always stagnant VyprVPN welcomed just 1,000, even though it looks kinda OK at +10%. Overall, NordVPN was the most successful in expanding its Twitter userbase in absolute numbers and percentages.
When looking at Twitter and Facebook research results combined, we can conclude that NordVPN is the brand to beat. It was mentioned among the leaders when it comes to total numbers and increases in percentages.
We checked the number of subscribers and average views of the 5 all-time most popular videos on a brand’s YouTube channel (these do not include sponsored posts).
Creating your own videos needs much more investment when compared to other social media. So if a VPN doesn’t have a YouTube channel with regular uploads, it’s probably because it simply cannot afford it. Here’s what we discovered:
Just like in 2019, NordVPN has the most YouTube subscribers, with 66,000. In the second place, we find ExpressVPN (37,000), followed by PureVPN (15,000). The only other provider in the five-digit zone is CyberGhost (11,000).
Half of the VPNs don’t have (Proton VPN), no longer have (TunnelBear), no longer link (IPVanish, VyprVPN), or link to a no longer existing YouTube channel (Hotspot Shield). It’s a sad but unsurprising situation. On top of that, there’s VyprVPN with 404 subscribers.
NordVPN saw the biggest growth in total subscribers (+26,000), leaving ExpressVPN (+18,000) in second place. PureVPN takes third place for the second time and is once more seriously behind (+9,000).
In contrast, it took four years for VyprVPN to lure 38 people to their YouTube channel. HideMyAss and IPVanish also weren’t doing great, with 500 and 1,000 extra subscribers, respectively.
Percentage-wise, PureVPN put the competition to the rest with a 150% increase in YouTube followers. ExpressVPN has the next best result (+95%), followed by PIA (+67%) and NordVPN (+65%). Just like in the Facebook section, we’re not including Surfshark, which had 400 subscribers in 2020, so growing twenty times wasn’t much of a challenge.
From those providers that added at least some YouTube subscribers, VyprVPN is again dead last with +10%. Then we have HMA VPN and IPVanish, both with +25%.
Now it’s time to check how eager those subscribers were to watch and share each VPN’s videos. As mentioned, we took the Top 5 YouTube videos of each channel and calculated how many views, on average, did they get.
Unsurprisingly, older videos that still performed well were the key to scoring high. We excluded IPVanish and VyprVPN because they no longer link to their YouTube channel, and there were no uploads in 2022.
ExpressVPN has the most YouTube views on average, with a massive 8.1 million. Next comes HMA with “just” 1.42 million and Private Internet Access with 1.4 million. For the latter, a funny ad with UFC’s fighter Johnny Walker helped substantially – that video alone has 3.9 million views.
Surfshark VPN has the lowest number of average views – 153,000. CyberGhost is doing twice as well with 307,000. On the other hand, Surfshark was just starting in 2019 with 400 subscribers, while CyberGhost already had over 7,000 – more than HideMyAss or PIA have today.
Youtube views (average)
But which VPN’s YouTube channel added the most views on average in the 2019-2022 period? Once again, it’s ExpressVPN with 2.87 million. IPVanish could have been second with 2 million, but for some reason, they are no longer video-active. Instead, we find PureVPN with 887,000 extra views.
The least-watched VPN YouTube channel belongs to CyberGhost – just 43,000 extra views since 2019. NordVPN is doing three times better but is still near the bottom with 121,000. However, CyberGhost has six times fewer subscribers, so in one way, both providers are dead last.
Putting average views growth in percentages, we have a winner in PureVPN with a mind-boggling +381%. Mind you, they also won in the new YouTube subscribers category. ExpressVPN is second but nowhere near, with only +55%, whereas HMA VPN sits third with +42%.
On the opposite, we find PIA with a pedestrian +12% growth in four years. CyberGhost shouldn’t be laughing at their colleagues with +16% of their own. The average growth of new views is skewed by PureVPN, so we took the median (36%) as the middle ground.
Social media conclusions
In 2019, the Biggest Social Presence Award went to Hotspot Shield. But four years is a long time, and the situation has changed drastically with the former alpha dog staying on top in just one category – total Facebook likes.
Now, NordVPN is the new social media patriarch, winning 5 out of 12 categories. It has the strongest presence on Twitter and YouTube, taking the two top spots a piece. The fifth win was on Facebook, with the biggest likes growth in total numbers.
The second place belongs to ExpressVPN. This provider has three wins, one under Facebook and two under YouTube. PureVPN ended up third, with two YouTube victories, leaving Hotspot Shield and TunnelBear with one for each.
4. App installs and ratings
We’re looking at VPN apps on the US Google Play and Apple App Store in terms of installs and their average ratings. Unfortunately, Apple no longer shows the former stat, so we’ll be also counting the reviews to determine the VPN’s popularity in relation to the competition.
The logic behind using app installs and ratings
This gives us insight into how many users have installed mobile clients of each VPN provider. Since most smartphone owners also have a computer, we can make a safe assumption that the more mobile installs the VPN has, the more popular it is overall.
Average ratings can be used to predict how users evaluate each provider. However, most VPNs are rated either 5 or 1, with other scores making up a small part of the votes. This also means that some votes were likely bought by the provider or its competitors. After all, if you’re spending money, you want the best result, and here it’s tied to those that one digit.
The number of reviews is also a sign of popularity, especially because it correlates reliably with downloads. Yet, Google App Store and App Store reviews don’t seem to have a strong relationship. On the other hand, we’d need to test at least 80 VPN services to get statistically valid results.
Let’s start with the most objective criteria – Google Play Store installs. According to it, the most popular VPN for Android is Hotspot Shield (thanks to the free version), with over 100 million downloads. It’s followed by NordVPN and ExpressVPN, which both fall under the 50+ million category.
The rest of the VPNs are on a wide scale of 5+ to 50+ million. And the least popular provider is PureVPN, with just over 1 million. Once again, these are not precise numbers, so PureVPN might have 4.9 million and VyprVPN just 5.1 million.
On average, one VPN has over 21 million installs. But if we take the median, the number quickly shrinks to 7.5 million. So the Top 3 in Hotspot Shield, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN, are at least 5 times more popular than your run-off-the-mill service.
Google play store reviews
Now let’s try adding the Google Play Store review numbers to get a better understanding of the VPN disparities. Hotspot Shield continues to reign with 1.53 million comments. The second place once again belongs to NordVPN, which has 641,000 reviews, leaving the rest of the competition far behind.
In the third place, we find TunnelBear (295,000), which also has a free version but 10 times fewer installs than Hotspot Shield. Meanwhile, the least reviewed VPNs are PureVPN and IPVanish, both with less than 40,000. Now, let’s evaluate the reviews together with the downloads to see the “true” winner.
Google Play store downloads per review
When counting the number of downloads per review (the lower, the better), PureVPN emerges with 30. Right beside is TunnelBear (34), leaving Hotspot Shield third (65). For reference, the average score is 87, meaning people really have something to say about the free services.
Much to our surprise, ExpressVPN (171) was the least commented provider. Not far behind are Proton VPN (147) and IPVanish (125).
apple app store reviews
Now, let’s see what’s the situation with Apple App Store review numbers and whether they correspond with Google’s. Unsurprisingly, the latter has a more than two times bigger review section. However, the two lists are noticeably different.
On Apple App Store, ExpressVPN has the most reviews (220,000), followed by Hotspot Shield (155,000). There’s also a significant gap between all VPNs, with PIA (93,000) and IPVanish (92,000) practically tying for the third spot. PureVPN and NordVPN are the ultimate losers, with less than 5,000 comments apiece.
Hotspot Shield, CyberGhost, Surfshark, and PureVPN have relatively the same amount of reviews on both Stores. We don’t see any pattern here, only that Hotspot Shield and its free version interest both Android and iPhone owners.
In contrast, NordVPN is #2 on Google and second to last on the Apple Store. In contrast to that, IPVanish is #4 on Apple and #11 on Google. Once again, we don’t see any reason for that and would gladly hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Apple app store review scores
The review score range in both Stores is pretty short, starting with 4.0 and peaking at 4.8. Apple users are happier with the selected VPNs, ranking them at 4.6 on average, in contrast to Android fans with a 4.3 score.
Finally, we get to the review scores part. To get some context, we found out that the average score for a productivity app in the Apple App store is 3.8. Interestingly, the average Google rating is 4.0, which is probably because that’s the number for all apps, including games and highly-rated weather applications. Almost 62% of Google apps are rated 4.0 or higher.
On Google Play Store, five VPNs have the highest 4.5 rank – that’s NordVPN, Proton VPN, PIA, VyprVPN, and IPVanish for you. In the meantime, PureVPN and HMA have the worst score at 4.0 out of 5. Hotspot Shield is also sitting at the bottom with a 4.1 score.
On Apple App Store, Surfshark is the leader with 4.8 – no other VPN has such a high rank. And then we have five runners-up with 4.7 – that’s NordVPN, PIA, VyprVPN, TunnelBear, and ExpressVPN. At the very bottom, we find CyberGhost with 4.1.
Surprisingly, Apple’s #1 Surfshark is considered just average (4.3) by Android users. What’s more, Apple’s worst VPN – CyberGhost – is also average on Google Play Store. According to our VPNpro writers, we almost agree with Apple on Surfshark and confirm Google’s verdict on CyberGhost.
When combining the ratings from both App Stores, we find that seven VPNs have an average score of 4.6, meaning there’s no real winner. However, we can easily pinpoint the losers – that’s CyberGhost and PureVPN with 4.2 each. The former, together with Proton VPN, was the only provider that had a lower rank on Apple App Store, which is known for higher average scores.
Changes in app installs and ratings 2019–2022
It’s time to evaluate the growth of our VPNs by checking their average ratings and installs in 2019. Once more, we used Wayback Machine and chose the date closest to mid-October 2022, the time of writing the major part this research. If there was no caption before early 2020, we skipped that provider.
Overall, most apps have improved their Apple Store ratings a bit since 2019, but there were no big ups or downs. The most impressive “jump” belongs to VyprVPN, which went from 4.5 to 4.7. Others improved by 0.1, with HMA VPN and Hotspot Shield staying flat.
|VPN service||Apple App Store rating 2019||Apple App Store rating 2022||Difference|
The situation is way more interesting in Google Play Store. PIA’s rating improved by a massive +0.7 in two years. ExpressVPN, Proton VPN, and IPVanish saw a modest growth of +0.3. In the meantime, Surfshark retained its 4.3 rating unchanged.
HMA had the biggest fall from grace in Google Play Store, going from 4.5 in 2019 to 4.0 in 2022. The other two with a slight decrease of -0.1 were Hotspot Shield and PureVPN. Interestingly, both were flat in Apple Store, which has higher scores in general.
|VPN service||Google Play Store rating 2019||Google Play Store rating 2022||Difference|
VPN app installs and ratings conclusions
Hotspot Shield is the most popular VPN app on Google Play Store with 100+ million downloads. However, that’s mostly because it has a free version. Among premium providers we find NordVPN and ExpressVPN with 50+ million downloads each.
Hotspot Shield also has the most user reviews on Google Play Store, with more than 1.5 million. NordVPN is second with over 640,000 pieces of feedback. In contrast, ExpressVPN ranks first in Apple App Store with 200,000+ comments, with Hotspot Shield coming next (150,000+).
There’s no winner in ratings category after combining Apple and Google results – seven VPNs have 4.6 on average. CyberGhost and PureVPN come out as the losers, each rated 4.2 on average.
5. VPN with the most valuable website visitors
We’re looking at how many estimated monthly visitors each VPN brand’s website has. Plus, we’ll analyze organic traffic and traffic value in USD. These estimates come from SimilarWeb and Ahrefs.
The logic behind using website visitor numbers
The more popular a brand is, the higher the website visits are, at least for digital services. This is due to the number of current users and almost-users that are visiting the VPN’s domain for various reasons.
SimilarWeb will show us an approximate number of monthly visits. While Ahrefs will demonstrate how much organic monthly traffic the VPN domain brings in. Beyond that, it also shows us the monetary value of that organic traffic.
VPN website visitor count
Things have changed quite a bit since our last analysis. The biggest switch is between NordVPN and ExpressVPN. The former provider had an increase in traffic by 46%, hitting 14 million monthly visits. However, things didn’t go as well for ExpressVPN, as its monthly traffic has plummeted from 29 million to 10 million visitors per month.
So, NordVPN snatched first place, leaving the other competitors in the dust. Besides these giants, the other VPNs fall way behind in terms of numbers.
HMA and IPVanish lost their high positions and ended up at the bottom. Both of their monthly visits dropped by over 50% throughout the years. Additionally, they got outnumbered by two rising stars – Surfshark VPN (6.2 million visits) and Proton VPN (4.6 million visits). Some providers stayed in similar positions (TunnelBear, PIA, PureVPN, CyberGhost), while VyprVPN got completely pushed out of the Top 10.
Ahrefs organic traffic and traffic value
Now let’s see what Ahrefs will tell us about organic traffic and traffic value.
While every other VPN lost organic traffic, NordVPN completely dominated the scene. This provider managed to grow its traffic by 109%. While it had a slight loss (-5%), HMA managed to hold onto second place and keep ExpressVPN (-10%) in the bronze zone.
Interestingly enough, Hotspot Shield had the biggest loss (-74% of traffic). That is most likely due to Proton VPN’s freemium version. Not to mention, Surfshark outgrew its competitors and ended up in the Top 5. As for PureVPN, it lost around 3% of its traffic but managed to stay pretty high.
As for value, Hotspot Shield took the biggest hit again and lost almost 80% of its traffic value! The majority of old-timer VPNs got outshined by Surfshark VPN. CyberGhost managed to crawl its way up to the 4th place, even though it lost 6% of its traffic value.
Furthermore, HMA replaced PIA and won 3rd place. Lastly, ExpressVPN got silver, as it lost 25% of its traffic value. So, that leaves NordVPN, which managed to grow and increase its traffic value to almost 40% compared to previous years.
VPN website visitors and traffic value conclusions
Of all the other metrics in this article, this one is closest to the pure measurement of success in any market: money.
NordVPN completely dominated this section as it managed to grow significantly, while others lost in almost every category. We can clearly state that NordVPN has more valuable website traffic than anyone other VPN brand here. ExpressVPN kept its dignity, staying in second place.
Hotspot Shield was completely demolished in 2022 and took the biggest losses overall. Lastly, we had some new providers entering the Top 10 (Surfshark VPN and Proton VPN). Most likely, they will make an even bigger change next year.
Conclusion: which VPN has the biggest market share?
You’re probably aware of how difficult it is to make such a conclusion based on any of these factors alone. Nonetheless, when you put the parts together, you begin to get a picture that may very well be close to reality.
So, what’s that picture? Based on these factors, we feel confident in concluding the following:
- NordVPN has grown like we predicted last year, now firmly sitting in the #1 position. It has gained a lot in some places and lost surprisingly little in other places. So, it still has the most wins overall.
- ExpressVPN is a solid runner-up. It managed to gain a lot of popularity on the App Stores and social media. Nevertheless, their organic traffic and value have dropped quite a lot.
- PureVPN is often listed as a contender for the top VPN position on many review sites. From these metrics, we can see it has a long way to go to be #1 in any practical sense.
- Surfshark VPN and Proton VPN have entered the race and outshined some of the previous frontrunners. It’s especially visible with Proton VPN, as it became one of the most popular free VPNs globally and stole the crown from Hotspot Shield.
- Some older VPNs like HMA and VyprVPN are falling behind and are not performing as well as other competitors. They haven’t shown much growth throughout 2022, which can be dangerous for them going forward.
- PIA and CyberGhost need to step up their game as well, as they can get outranked by other new competitors in the VPN market.
Overall, we’re confident in giving the crown for the service with the greatest VPN market share to NordVPN. While last year, Hotspot Shield and ExpressVPN tried their best to push NordVPN out of the first place, their plans failed. In addition, we have some up-and-coming VPNs (Surfshark VPN, Proton VPN) that are causing a pleasant ruckus in the Top 10.
And who knows what the future holds for the VPN market? Only next year’s analysis will show…
We’re giving this year’s overall best metrics award to NordVPN – again.
What do you think of our in-depth VPN market share analysis? If you’re a VPN brand, is there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
How popular is VPN?
More than 30% of the world’s population has used a VPN service. According to Atlas VPN research, various virtual private networks were downloaded 616 million times in 2021. The VPN market is expected to grow for at least until 2024.
Which VPN has the most customers?
NordVPN has the biggest market share in 2023. It has the most significant organic traffic and installs on Google Play Store while dominating Google Trends. For more data, check our in-depth VPN market share report above.
How big is VPN market?
VPN market value in 2022 was $44.6 billion. It’s expected to reach $77 billion in 2027. Asia Pacific region is predicted to have the biggest growth.
Which countries use VPN the most?
India has the most VPN users – 45 million, followed by Indonesia with 42 million. If we count the population percentage, UAE (61%) and Qatar (53%) use VPNs the most. In comparison, only 30% of US citizens use virtual private networks.
What VPN is the best on the market?
According to extensive research, NordVPN is the best, industry-leading VPN. It offers a plethora of handy features. Not to mention, NordVPN offers excellent server selection and performance. And it’s the #1 choice for many users globally.
- Global Industry Analytics, Inc – https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/4845864/virtual-private-network-vpn-global-market
- Fior Markets – https://www.globenewswire.com/en/news-release/2022/05/19/2446528/0/en/Virtual-Private-Network-Market-to-Set-a-Steady-Growth-of-USD-70-88-billion-by-2027-Fior-Markets.html