The consumer VPN market is a challenging one, with many players vying to be the top of the lucrative data privacy and security pyramid. According to a recent report by Global Market Insights, the VPN market is set to hit $54 billion by 2024.
Certainly, this number will be boosted by the increase in coverage of cybersecurity threats, Facebook data scandals, and much more. In fact, 2019 has already been rocked by news of Germany’s possibly largest (and highest-reaching) data breach on record.
According to the report, the growth is also aided by increases in mobile usage and IoT devices. Couple that with more accessible pricing by competitors, and it appears that VPNs are shifting away from a business-only or exclusively tech-savvy market to something that’s being adopted in wider use.
The Asia Pacific region is predicted to have the highest growth – 20% through 2024. Europe, the US, and other mature markets are still expected to hold the majority share in terms of revenue.
The most important takeaways
This is what we found after taking an in-depth look at the top 100 VPN providers:
- NordVPN is the VPN with the best 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 has more than twice as many monthly website visitors as NordVPN, although NordVPN has about 60% more organic traffic per month.
- PureVPN and PIA need to work harder on their marketing strategy to be considered serious contenders, while CyberGhost has really stepped up their game to become strong competition
- The free VPNs (Hotspot and TunnelBear) have good metrics, but essentially these are 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. VyprVPN especially seems to be stagnant, as they are on a flat or possibly downward slope
To understand how we reached these conclusions, continue reading below.
The 10 main players
The question we want to answer is: which VPN is dominating the market at the moment? Well, if you look around at the software review sites around the internet, you’ll find a lot of varying opinions. At the moment, most will list NordVPN, ExpressVPN or even PureVPN as their #1 picks.
However, 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 based on scanning review sites alone.
For that reason, we’re going to be looking at the 10 most popular VPNs currently on the market and see how they’re performing in a holistic way. The 10 VPNs are:
In order to analyze them, we’ll be looking at:
- how many people are actually searching for them
- what kind of momentum they have by looking at the increase in searches and servers
- how strong they are on social media
- their number of installs and ratings on the Google Play and Apple App Store
- their monthly estimated website visitors, organic traffic and organic traffic 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 crown the one VPN that stands out as being the most popular, the most visible, and the most engaging VPN 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 really 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.
The most popular VPN by keyword search
In this first part, we’re going to be looking at VPN popularity by search term in two ways. The first is by looking at how many branded searches (searches using the brand’s name) there are each month.
Secondly, we’ll be looking at 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 country to country.
VPN popularity by branded searches
We’re using the keyword research tool found in the Ahrefs suite to look at monthly keyword volumes for the popular VPN brands.
The analysis will look at 3 terms for each brand:
- the official brand name (such as “nordvpn”)
- a commonly misspelled or spaced variation (such as “nord vpn”) or shortened (such as “hma” or “pia”)
- a higher-intent keyword, usually the brand name plus “review” (such as “nordvpn review”)
We’ll look at the global search volume as well as the US search volume for each term.
The 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. We can estimate that each search represents a person searching for that term.
Therefore, 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 decisions every month.
With this information, we can then say that if a VPN brand has the most searches per month, then they have the most people searching for them per month, which means they are the most popular VPN by search engine.
As you can see above, NordVPN has the most searches per month for their 3 branded search terms, as well as the most from the US. Last year, Hotspot Shield had the most searches per month, but NordVPN has dominated that as well for the 2019-2020 period.
ExpressVPN is now in second place, with Hotspot Shield having fallen in the past year. It has a combined 1,129,000 monthly searches and about ⅓ of that is from the US market. While NordVPN leads in absolute numbers for both the global and lucrative US markets, when you look at how much of their monthly searches are from the US, NordVPN is bested by Private Internet Access (61% of searches from US), IPVanish (57%), and VyprVPN (52%), while Nord has 40%.
This is fairly logical, since both PIA and IPVanish are US-based. For a non-US provider, NordVPN does particularly well with their US presence. Even then, based on these 3 terms, we can see that NordVPN still has the most US-based searches of all these providers, and the biggest overall.
The flip-side of that is PureVPN, which only has 268,000 searches worldwide, and a mere 83,800 coming from the US.
Branded search term conclusions
Since we’ve drawn a correlation between the number of monthly branded searches performed for a particular VPN and how popular that VPN is in reality, we can assume that NordVPN is probably the most popular VPN brand at the moment.
We can assume that NordVPN is probably the most popular VPN brand at the moment.
At the least, we can safely say that it’s the most searched-for VPN brand in the market today. 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 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.
The logic behind checking high-intent keywords by country
Google’s search results have grown more complex as their 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 rank the highest. 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 review and tech sites for such great keywords as “best vpn.” Instead, we’re looking for which VPN shows up first for any given keyword, which can provide valuable insight into how popular they are in the given location.
We’ll be looking at not just the lucrative US market, but also Russia, the UK, Australia and the emerging Turkish market.
|free vpn||NordVPN||Hotspot Shield||NordVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN|
|vpn for pc||NordVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN|
|vpn for mac||NordVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN|
|vpn for android||ExpressVPN||NordVPN||ExpressVPN||NordVPN||NordVPN|
If this were the finals in the NBA playoffs, we’d probably call this a blowout for NordVPN, which pretty much dominates here in the sample countries. Last year, there was a bit of a battle with ExpressVPN, but NordVPN’s marketing team seems to have really stepped up their game.
For “best vpn,” ExpressVPN wins in 3 of the 5 countries, while NordVPN takes up the rest. But NordVPN absolutely dominates the other keywords, even though it doesn’t offer any free plans.
Country-specific VPN search term conclusions
The field is a lot narrower, and it comes down to ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN. However, over the last year, NordVPN’s team has really improved their techniques, and NordVPN is now the clear winner.
NordVPN’s team has really improved their techniques, and NordVPN is now the clear winner.
The VPN with the biggest momentum
We’re looking at momentum in two ways. The first is front-facing, by using Google Trends to see by how much searches for a provider’s main branded keyword (“nordvpn,” not “nord vpn”) have increased or decreased over the last year.
Secondly, we’ll look at the pace at which each provider’s servers have grown.
The biggest VPN Google Trend
We’ll use Google Trends to see which brands have grown in their own branded keyword relative to the other brands.
The logic behind using Google Trends for momentum
The main thing we’ll be looking at here is comparing a VPN’s momentum to its other competitors’ so that you can see how it fares in the market in general. By putting all the brands on the same trend graph, we can make some good conclusions.
The leader again is NordVPN. In the past year, they were able to overtake the free giant Hotspot Shield, at least in terms of Google Trends.
This is very similar to last year, where Hotspot had a huge spike in interest around May , but it was quickly overtaken by our current trend-setter NordVPN. ExpressVPN’s interest, relative to these 2 other giants, seems to have increased only slightly, which is about the same as last year.
Other brands, however, have either had flat interest or lost interest as time goes on. This kind of trend doesn’t really bode well, as the interest in a brand (by which we mean brand awareness) is a strong indicator of future success.
VPN brands’ Google Trends conclusions
From these trends, we can safely assume that NordVPN will continue its brand awareness assault for the third year of our analysis. After all, it’s one of the few VPN brands that have TV commercials. ExpressVPN also seems to be on the upward trend, though not at the intensity of their arch-rival.
NordVPN is the clear winner and will probably continue its brand awareness assault for the third year of our analysis.
Hotspot Shield lost a lot of steam in the second half of the year, leveling out in the last few weeks. It will be interesting to see if they gain back their composure.
As for the other brands, it is possible that the flat interest will continue on into 2020.
Change in server counts
We’re going to be looking at server counts for the last 3 years for each VPN brand. We’ll be using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to do this. We’ll select the date closest to the end of the year for which a web page is available in the Wayback Machine (that could either be the last month or, in some cases, the middle of the year).
Hotspot Shield and TunnelBear don’t offer their number of servers. For some reason, Private Internet Access has blocked access to the Wayback Machine. We were able to find server counts for PIA and Hotspot, but not for TunnelBear.
The logic behind using server count for momentum
Here, we want to check the server growth to determine company growth.
After all, the connection is pretty clear: if they have more customers, they’ll need more servers to serve those customers. If their server count is growing rapidly, it’s likely their user base is growing rapidly. And, alternatively, if it’s stagnant or decreasing, then their user base is similarly stagnant or decreasing.
|VPN provider/Year||2017||2018||2019||% increase|
|Private Internet Access (PIA)||3000||3180||3325||10.83%|
There are two important things to note here: the number of servers offered at the end of 2019, and the change in number of servers (from beginning to end). For the first number – the absolute value – we can see that CyberGhost has the most amount of servers, at 5,900, knocking NordVPN down from its throne claimed last year. VyprVPN is the lowest, at 700+ servers — the absolute same number of servers as last year.
But more interesting is the % change in server count. While Hotspot Shield has only 3,200+ servers at the moment, they started with only 200 at the end of 2016. That represents a 1,500% increase. NordVPN is second with a 394% increase, and PureVPN and CyberGhost have good increases as well.
Surprisingly, VyprVPN continues to have a flat 0% growth from 2017-2019. In fact, looking back to the furthest available date on the Wayback Machine, we can see that it’s been promoting its 700+ servers since 2013!
Interesting, to say the least.
VPN server count conclusions
In absolute terms, CyberGhost is now the best when it comes to server count. Their 5,900 is almost twice that of ExpressVPN’s 3,000 servers.
CyberGhost is the clear winner in our analysis this year when it comes to server count.
Hotspot Shield’s growth is amazing (+1500% over two years), but is less impressive in comparison to CyberGhost’s present numbers and overall growth. Nonetheless, it seems that PureVPN, NordVPN and ExpressVPN are doing quite well in terms of growth, while PIA, HideMyAss and IPVanish are still not doing very well.
However, VyprVPN’s stagnation is an issue that might need further investigation. What does it mean when a VPN provider hasn’t added to their server count in over 6 years, and counting?
One of two things:
- The number isn’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 other possibility is that it’s real and they haven’t had a need to grow their server count. That could be because they haven’t had the large user growth – over 6+ years – to warrant needing more servers. That’s probably bad for their revenue growth.
The VPN with the best social media presence
We are looking at each VPN’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube average views to determine their social media presence and popularity.
The logic behind using social media presence
We’re looking here at each of our brands’ entire marketing strategy and how that strategy is working. Now, we’re only looking at the big ones: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Of the first two, Facebook is more important for engagement, while Twitter seems to act as just a news-sharing tool.
YouTube helps us see how interested people are in the brand’s video content, as well as how much emphasis the VPN brand is placing on video marketing.
First of all, it may seem a bit strange that any VPN provider would have a particularly large social media following. After all, let’s be honest: VPNs aren’t very sexy. They’re technical, a bit harder to understand, and consumers generally need to be educated on their need and usage in order to appreciate them.
However, as we can see from the image below, some of the VPN brands are doing quite well on Facebook.
The top 3 VPNs in terms of Facebook fans are Hotspot Shield (4.1 million), Private Internet Access (1 million) and NordVPN (114,000).
The others hover between 30,000-70,000, with VyprVPN having the lowest at just 13,000 fans. This is surprising – or telling – seeing as Golden Frog’s VyprVPN is actually one of the older VPN providers here. These numbers haven’t changed substantially from our initial analysis last year.
When analyzing the average engagement in each brand’s 5 most recent Facebook posts, however, we noticed that there was something a bit strange with PIA’s page. Although they have 1 million Facebook fans, they have only about 10 interactions (likes, comments and shares) on each post. Hostspot Shield, with 4 times as many fans, averages 10 times the interactions (98 per post), while NordVPN – which has 10 times fewer fans – has 140 interactions per post on average.
There isn’t much to say about Twitter here as far as engagement is concerned:
However, you can see that generally everything is similar as with Facebook with the exception of TunnelBear, which has the strongest presence on Twitter.
We checked the average views of the 5 most popular videos on a brand’s YouTube channel (these do not include sponsored posts). This is what we discovered:
As far as enjoyment of the brands’ videos, we see that NordVPN’s YouTube channel has lost some big-number videos. Whereas last year they had 1.3 million average views (based on the 5 most popular videos), this year they’re only averaging a bit more than 400,000 views on average. This time, ExpressVPN is topping them, with a whopping 5.2 million views on average — did NordVPN and ExpressVPN’s YouTube channels switch bodies?
In perhaps a similar turn of events, IPVanish went from 512,000 average views last year, to an amazing 2.6 million average views this year, helping it to claim this year’s second place.
Hotspot Shield is a distant third with 1.3 million average views on average.
Social media conclusions
Hotspot Shield and PIA are far and away leaders when it comes to Facebook, with PIA also faring quite well on Twitter.
When it comes to YouTube, we’ve written before how impressed we were with NordVPN’s viral video marketing tactics, and last year they earned our praise. But for the 2019-2020 period, they seem to have placed less emphasis on their own channel’s welfare – and seem to have lost some big-number videos.
ExpressVPN seems to have done the opposite, with a 660% increase, only to be rivaled by IPVanish’s 516% increase. However, in third place is Hotspot Shield.
Because they were able to place for all three measurements, we feel safe once again giving the best social presence award to Hotspot Shield.
For the second year running, Hotspot Shield has the best social presence of all the VPNs listed here.
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.
The logic behind using app installs and ratings
This gives us insight into how many users have installed mobile clients for any particular VPN provider. We can make a safe assumption that the more users a VPN has, the more mobile installs they’ll also have.
Therefore, by looking the install numbers, we can see which VPN brand may have more users and therefore be more popular.
When it comes to Android clients on the Google Play store, we see that while Hotspot Shield had (unsurprisingly, because it’s free) the highest number of installs with 1 million, they now only have 152,000 installs. The VPN with the highest number of Play installs is now NordVPN, with more than 893,000 installs according to SimilarWeb.
The second most downloaded VPN is, surprisingly, not the free VPN TunnelBear, but actually CyberGhost with about 328,000 installs, while ExpressVPN comes in third (just like last year) with 315,000. In fact, TunnelBear is beaten by not just NordVPN, CyberGhost and ExpressVPN, but also IPVanish.
Ratings-wise, HideMyAss was able to get a 4.6 average rating, while NordVPN and TunnelBear both have 4.4 ratings. The worst rating goes to PureVPN, which gets a 3.5 on average.
The lowest installs go to PureVPN, with only 11,300 and VyprVPN, with only 7,200.
On the App Store, we see immediately that PurePN and VyprVPN both have zero installs.
Beyond that, the most popular VPN on the App Store is CyberGhost, which had a 10-fold increase from last year — from 22,600 in last year’s analysis to 239,000 this time. In second place is Hotspot Shield, then comes NordVPN with ExpressVPN in 4th place.
Surprisingly, all the apps have the same 4.5 rating on this platform, with the exception of PureVPN which has a 3.5 rating.
App install conclusions
NordVPN has the best installs on Google Play, while CyberGhost wins for Apple’s Appstore. While CyberGhost is 2nd place for the Play store, NordVPN is only 3rd place for the Appstore.
For that reason, we can recognize CyberGhost as having the most app installs for both platforms.
We can recognize CyberGhost as having the most app installs for both Android and iOS.
The VPN with the most valuable website visitors
We’re looking at how many estimated monthly visitors each VPN brand’s website has. These estimates come from SimilarWeb for December 2018 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 amount of current users and almost-users that are visiting the VPN’s domain for various reasons.
Here we see one of the biggest changes compared to last year’s analysis: while NordVPN had 20 million monthly visits compared to ExpressVPN’s 16.5 million, this time, NordVPN only has 10 million compared to ExpressVPN’s 27 million monthly visits.
Again — did they switch bodies? I’m pretty sure this has something to do with the non-scandal NordVPN scandal that we mentioned before, costing NordVPN about 10 million in visitors. At the same time, ExpressVPN stepped up their game and earned about 13 million more monthly visitors.
Besides these giants, the other VPNs fall way behind in terms of numbers. The closest is HideMyAss, which gets roughly 3.5 million visits per month and IPVanish close behind with 2.6 million. (These are much lower than last year’s, by the way.) The lowest performer is still VyprVPN, which has only 844,000 million monthly visitors – much lower than last year’s 2.2 million.
However, that’s only half the picture. We can’t really see from these numbers how much monetary value that traffic brings. For that, we’ll turn to Ahrefs.
Here we can see Ahref’s own estimates for how much organic monthly traffic the VPN domain brings in. Beyond that, it also shows us what the monetary value of that organic traffic is. According to Ahrefs:
“This metric shows the equivalent value of the organic search traffic, should that traffic have been acquired via Google AdWords.”
Using that, we can get a fair understanding of each VPN’s success in not just bringing traffic, but also valuable traffic.
As we see from the results, again in a switch from last year, NordVPN now dominates – in stark disagreement with SimilarWeb’s stats. NordVPN’s monthly organic traffic value is estimated at $3.3 million, whereas the #2 ExpressVPN brings in $2 million. PIA brings in almost half of that, with $1.1. million. None of the other VPN apps have managed to cross the million-dollar mark. This is surprising, seeing as both Hotspot Shield and HMA have organic traffic in the millions.
The worst performer here is – again – VyprVPN which has just 115,000 monthly organic traffic that’s valued at $110,000 — even less than last year’s $114,000.
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 has more organic traffic, and that traffic is also good traffic, so that NordVPN has the highest monthly traffic value of all the others. ExpressVPN is now a close second. However, while ExpressVPN has more overall traffic, they lost the SEO game since NordVPN now has more lucrative keywords in its arsenal than ExpressVPN does.
We can’t claim with 100% confidence that NordVPN has more revenue than ExpressVPN, because we can’t really see the conversions for this traffic (from browser to buyer). What we can see is that NordVPN does valuable website traffic better than anyone other VPN brand here.
We can clearly state that NordVPN has more valuable website traffic than anyone other VPN brand here.
Conclusions: which VPN has the greater 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 a current trajectory that we predicted last year would place it in the #1 position. That prediction has now come true. It has gained a lot in some places, and surprisingly lost a lot in other places. However, it still has the most wins overall.
- ExpressVPN has greater success in overall traffic. However, while last year they were able to win at least one of these categories, they didn’t come on top in anything this time.
- While PureVPN is often listed as a contender for the top VPN position in many review sites, from these metrics we can see it has a long way to go to be #1 in any practical sense
- The free VPNs (Hotspot and TunnelBear) have good metrics, but essentially these are less significant since a majority of their users pay no money at all
- Some of the older VPNs, such as HMA and VyprVPN, have not performed very well in the intervening years and their growth is almost flat, which can be dangerous for them going forward
- The other VPNs (PIA and CyberGhost) need to do a lot more work if they want to reach the top
- VyprVPN seems to be in a very long-term rut, in terms of almost every single metric we’ve looked at here. That seems quite bad for their business, as an apparent 0% growth rate in an increasingly competitive market doesn’t mean many good things.
Overall, we’re confident giving the crown for the VPN with the greatest market share (based on publicly available information) to NordVPN. While last year, Hotspot Shield contended with NordVPN for the crown, we can see this year it’s pretty much between NordVPN and the out-of-nowhere CyberGhost. Will they continue their rise next year? We’ll see.
In the meantime, we can give this year’s overall best metrics award to NordVPN – again.
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!