The VPN market is still constantly growing and, according to what MarketWatch says, should reach $69.2b by the year of 2025. We have no doubt that the amount could be even bigger, as personal privacy and security is becoming a bigger and bigger concern each day. VPNroom.com prepared a deep VPN market research so continue reading to find out about the most popular VPN providers.
The total market value is constantly growing because of a few reasons – data breach scandals occur each day and people are looking for ways on how to maximize their own privacy and reduce the risks of being hacked online. That’s when a VPN comes in handy. Some people say that VPNs took over the place of anti-virus software and that could be accurate as well.
If you are not familiar with what a VPN means, those three letters stand for Virtual Private Network. VPNs are servers that allow you to access the internet safely and more importantly, privately. It accomplishes this by routing your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to another server. Basically, it conceals your online activity and location and you would want that for many reasons. We also have a full VPN guide here, which in detail explains use cases and everything you need to know before making your decision.
Many people nowadays ask themselves is a VPN really worth using. And well, it depends. You have nothing to stress over if you’re just browsing the internet for fun. As the data isn’t of personal nature, it doesn’t matter if someone peeks at it. On the other hand, if your use is personal, such as for business emails and online banking, then the situation changes completely.
Privacy and security issues can be resolved through a VPN in various ways. Not only does the VPN conceals your data through encryption when transferring your ISP to its VPN server, but it also gains access to the webpage on your behalf.
So, back to the topic, the goal of this VPN research which was made by VPNroom.com security experts is to quickly wrap up the year of 2019 for the VPN industry and to see which VPN providers were the most popular ones, which VPN providers spend the most on their marketing and which of them are trending between internet users.
We gathered lots of interesting data about TOP10 most trending VPN providers. Our report includes such data:
– The most popular VPN provider by the amount of website traffic and its sources;
– Which VPN provider has the most valuable traffic;
– How many visits come from paid search ads;
– Paid traffic spend (TOP10 branded keywords, according to 2019 Dec. data);
– Number of reviews on the App Store;
– Number of reviews on the Google Play Store;
– Average rating on the App Store;
– Average rating on the Google Play Store;
– Jurisdiction (where each VPN provider is based in);
– 2019 Google Trends interest in each VPN provider;
– The country with the most interest;
– When the VPN provider was founded;
– Official audit information (whether there were any).
Before diving into our VPN research, here are the main points of what might be an interest for each internet user or a VPN enthusiast:
– ExpressVPN receives the most website traffic from all of the VPN providers (total 215.1M per year). The second most popular VPN provider is NordVPN, which received “only” 115.1M visits per year (according to similarweb.com data).
– NordVPN has the biggest traffic value among all the VPN providers (total organic traffic worth is $3.3M). ExpressVPN, who received almost twice bigger amount of visits is in second place with the traffic value of 2M. The traffic value is calculated by the total amount of organic keywords + positions in each geo around the world.
– ExpressVPN is leading in terms of paid visits per year. According to our sources, ExpressVPN received around 9.01M paid ad clicks per year, which is around 4.1% of their total traffic.
– NordVPN is the biggest spender when it comes to PPC (paid per click) advertising. According to their TOP10 branded keywords and their prices, the provider should’ve spent around $413k per year. Although they received fewer clicks than ExpressVPN, it means that their branded keywords (keywords where their brand is mentioned in any form) are more expensive than any other VPN provider.
– Only four out of the ten most popular and reviewed VPN providers are based outside the 5/9/14 eyes jurisdiction alliance. – The oldest VPN is Hotspot Shield, which was founded in 2005. The newest is Surfshark, which was founded only a little bit more than a year ago in 2018.
– Only three out of ten VPN providers have official privacy and “zero-logging” audit.
Total web traffic per year
So the first thing we wanted to evaluate is how popular the VPN provider actually is. We believe that the amount of website clicks is a great indicator to understand the real interest of the people and we were quite surprised by the results.
ExpressVPN and NordVPN are clearly leaders when it comes to total website traffic. According to SimilarWeb data, ExpressVPN received around 215.1M visits per year (that’s around 18M visits per month!! The whole population of The Netherlands visit expressvpn.com each month). However, around 68% of the yearly traffic comes from a platform called “focuusing.com”.
We did a little research on what kind of traffic source is this and it seems that ExpressVPN might be advertising through paid pop-up ads. We do not know whether this is true or not, as we have never seen such ads by ourselves. According to malwaretips.com, traffic.focuusing.com might be an AdWare source.NordVPN, which is the second most visited VPN provider receives around 9.59M visits a month (115.1M per year).
The bigger part of the traffic comes from various torrent-related websites. It is not a secret that VPN services and torrent sites are quite familiar with each other. By the way, it seems that NordVPN also receives a bunch of traffic from the same focuusing.com platform, but it plays way smaller role than in the ExpressVPN’s case.
Compared to ExpressVPN and NordVPN, other VPN providers receive way less website traffic and the closest competitor to NordVPN is IPVanish with 32.39M visits per year. Please see the infographic below:
Which VPN provider has the most valuable traffic
VPN provider websites rank on many organic keywords. The more keywords you have – the more your traffic is worth. For example, domain nordvpn.com has more than 410k keywords (according to ahrefs.com) and its traffic is worth more than $3.3M. Impressive, right?
ExpressVPN takes the second spot and with 417k organic keywords has traffic worth if $2M. If you are wondering why the value is tremendously lower, although the competitors have almost the same amount of organic keywords the answer is simple – NordVPN has way better positions on Google. Also – the keyword volumes that NordVPN rank on are bigger. Here is the full report of the total web traffic value per year:
Total paid traffic and yearly PPC spend
While reviewing each VPN provider’s total amount of traffic per year, we also took notes of what part traffic is coming from various display ad campaigns. In percentages, NordVPN has the biggest total traffic/paid traffic ratio – the provider received 6.28M paid clicks which is 5.45% off their total yearly traffic. ExpressVPN took the second place, although it received more than 9M paid clicks with a ratio of 4.18%.
It is worth to mention Windscribe, as the paid/total clicks ratio is super small – paid clicks consist only 0.33% of providers total traffic. However, this has a logical explanation. As we already mentioned in our best free VPN review, Windscribe has a free option available. Of course, it has specific limitations, but the free client user base should be pretty big and you can’t expect that a VPN provider would spend incredible amounts of cash for its marketing campaigns.
Now another, and we believe the most interesting angle is the VPN provider advertising spend. There are lots of discussions on various forums and social media sites that VPN providers spend huge amounts of money to advertise, but is it true? We did deep VPN research on the current branded PPC advertising prices and their volumes (ahrefs.com data) to see which VPN provider is the biggest spender of all. Of course, you should not rely on this data 100% but it can definitely give you an idea of what is going on.
Here is how the calculations were made: we took TOP10 branded keywords in terms of volume and percentage of the total web traffic and we multiplied it by current Google Ads bids (Dec. 29 data). If you are not a marketing person, here’s a quick explanation of what branded keywords mean according to goup.la: a branded keyword, or a branded search, is any query via a search engine that includes the name of your company, business or brand, such as ‘Go Up’. This can include other words too, like ‘Go Up agency’ or ‘London Go Up’.
The leader yet again was NordVPN. Due to our calculations, NordVPN spent around 413K USD per year on its branded keywords only. There were lots of manipulations about the provider, as some of the people were saying that it spends more money on its marketing than on the service, but we could definitely argue with that. The second-biggest spender is… Yes, you are right – ExpressVPN. Although it received more paid clicks, branded keywords made up the smaller part of its total paid visits. Due to our calculations, ExpressVPN spent around 384k USD per year on its branded keywords.
An interesting thing of what we noticed is how the PPC advertising varies for NordVPN and ExpressVPN: NordVPN branded keywords are way more expensive, while ExpressVPN is doing a lot of PPC bidding on very generic VPN keywords.
Another interesting highlight is Surfshark ad spend: although the VPN provider is relatively new, it seems that the company has enough money to spend decent amounts of money for its PPC campaigns and their branded keyword bids are constantly growing. Please take a look at the infographic below:
VPN provider ratings and reviews on the App Store
As smartphones and other smart devices play a big part in our daily lives, VPN providers can’t exist without its apps for the major smartphone OS’es. Unfortunately, not all major VPN providers have dedicated apps for each operating system, but we’ll try to overview of what is available.
Some of the VPN providers have lots of reviews, some of them don’t. Some of them have incredibly good ratings, some of them don’t. So which VPN app has the best rating and the biggest amount of reviews on the App Store for iOS users?
Well, to begin with, Hotspot Shield is a true leader when it comes to the total amount of user reviews on the App Store. The provider has more than 110k real user reviews and that is 30k more than the second place which was taken by NordVPN (80.3k reviews). ExpressVPN was third with 52.4k reviews, however, it is worth to highlight PureVPN, as the provider has only 750 (!!!) reviews on the App Store. Unfortunately, Perfect-Privacy does not have an iOs app so obviously there are no available reviews.
Now another interesting trend that we noticed while completing our VPN research is the rating of available apps. Without reference to the total amount of reviews, most of the ratings range from 4.3 (e.g. Surfshark) to 4.7 (Windscribe and Private Internet Access). Unfortunately, we would like to separate PureVPN, as the provider has a noticeably smaller rating compared to its competitors – only 3.7. Please see the infographic below:
VPN provider ratings and reviews on the Google Play Store
According to The Verge, there are now more than 2.5b active Android users. Obviously the number of VPN app reviews is higher, so which VPN providers have the highest rankings and the biggest amount of reviews?
The same as for the App Store, HotSpot Shield remains as a leader in terms of total app reviews. Being the oldest VPN provider in the market, Hotspot Shield has more than 1.5M user reviews on the Google Play Store and leaves no chance to anyone else. However, we noticed that the amount of reviews ranges and in practice this usually happens when the platform removes reviews with a reason. Could it be that Hotspot Shield has a lot of fake/bot generated reviews? Might be, although we don’t have any real proof, so you have to decide by yourself.
In terms of average Google Play Store ratings, the situation is a bit different compared to the iOS App Store. NordVPN has the best rating (4.3) here and we can confirm that the provider is totally worth it. Having more than 180k Google Play Store reviews, NordVPN is definitely a great option for Android users who are looking for a reliable VPN service.
Five VPN providers have an identical rating: ExpressVPN, Surfshark, Cyberghost and Perfect Privacy have a four-star rating. It is worth to highlight that Windscribe, that had the best rating on the App Store also has a very decent rating of 4.2, which allows the provider to take the 2nd spot between all.
Please see the infographic below to compare Google Play Store ratings and amounts of reviews:
VPN research: where are the VPN providers based?
We always said and recommended to pay attention to VPN provider location and jurisdiction. It is super important to be sure that the VPN provider you are ready to rely on is based in a safe location – outside the 5/9/14 eyes jurisdiction alliance. There are many reasons for that and we definitely suggest you read our blog post where we covered everything related to countries inside the 14-eyes jurisdiction alliance.
As we already reviewed many VPN providers, we can clearly say which ones are reliable and which ones are not. Unfortunately, only a few VPN providers are based outside the 14-eyes jurisdiction alliance countries. Of course, it always depends on the reasons why you are looking for a VPN provider. If you only want to stream geo-restricted content or access blocked websites – almost any VPN provider will fulfill your needs. However, if you are privacy orientated internet user you must pay attention if your VPN provider is based in a “safe” location in terms of internet law.
As mentioned, only four out of ten reviewed VPNs are marked as “safe”: NordVPN is based in Panama, Surfshark & ExpressVPN are headquartered in The British Virgin Islands while Cyberghost is officially based in Romania, east of Europe.
We would like you to pay attention to PureVPN, which is based in Hong Kong. That is a huge red flag. First of all, remember all the protests that recently happened there. As you probably know, Hong Kong as well is China is not the most friendly country when it comes to privacy, so you should really ask yourself if a VPN based in such location can really be trustworthy?
Google Trends & Countries interest
If you didn’t know, Google Trends is a website made by Google which allows analyzing the popularity of search queries country/worldwide. It is a super useful tool to check what is going on around the World. Also – you can select different time periods and in our case, we took the report for the whole year of 2019.
As you could’ve probably guessed, this data strongly correlates with the total traffic that VPN providers receive. Of course, the leading providers in this graph are NordVPN and ExpressVPN, however, there is a pretty big gap in terms of brand searches on Google.
NordVPN is leading with the total search interest of “91”. This means that the provider is extremely trending in terms of Google searches, although NordVPN is not the leader when it comes to total website traffic. ExpressVPN, which took the second place had the result of “60” while Hotspot Shield is only “half” trending with 50.
According to the wordstream.com explanation, the numbers show how frequently a given search term is entered into Google’s search engine relative to the site’s total search volume over a given period of time.
We also had a look at where those specific queries trend the most and four out of ten VPN providers (NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, and PureVPN) have the highest search volumes in China. Unfortunately, many VPN providers struggle to do its job specifically in this country, but due to our information, NordVPN and ExpressVPN work perfectly fine in China. According to Google Trends, Cyberghost had the biggest search queries in the United Arab Emirates, while other VPN providers were the most popular in countries such as Sudan, Nigeria or Canada.
Many VPN providers declare their no-log policies, however, how true is that? After the research, we found that only three of the TOP10 VPN providers (NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark) that have a real 3rd party company audit, which proofs their no-log policies. Here are the URLs to those audits:
Is the audit a big deal? We believe it is. In the VPN industry, reputation is everything. Users trust VPN providers, they rely on them with their anonymity, privacy, and personal security so the best VPN providers must prove why they have to be trusted.
Conclusion: what happened during 2019 and what to expect in 2020
To wrap up the VPN industry in 2019 – it’s been quite a ride. There were incidents (NordVPN breach, PIA & Cyberghost alliance), hacks and new laws that stimulated the need for a VPN in our daily lives. Some of the VPN providers (such as Surfshark) managed to skink poses and become one of the market leaders. Others (like Cyberghost) started strong, but disappeared and stopped improving during the year.
If you would ask VPNroom.com team what are our expectations from the VPN industry in 2020, it would be hard to guess. We do not think that any new VPN providers will join the industry, as the competitive market is full of great options.
It would be interesting to see if new coalitions will be formed, but we strongly believe that at least the TOP2 providers will remain the same – ExpressVPN and NordVPN will not yield their positions.
We are entering the year 2020 full of expectations and with the hope to have a more secure and private life on the internet.
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