A look at the size and growth of the largest US hosting companies

Finding out which web hosting companies really are the largest ones can be difficult. This article takes a number of different factors into consideration to not just find out which ones are the largest today, but also which of them are growing the fastest. Today’s leader may not be tomorrow’s.

When we talk about the size of a hosting company we mean the number of real websites hosted by that company. Finding that out in an independent fashion is easier said than done, though, which is why we in this article attack the “size” problem from various other angles to give us a broad perspective on the matter.

This article looks at size and growth of the largest web hosting companies in the US based on:

  1. Number of domain names (our starting point)
  2. Website traffic
  3. Google search volume

Before crowning the winner(s), we will round the article off with some additional complementary facts and figures and also take a look at some of the factors that have made these companies so successful.

1. Size and growth based on domain names

Webhosting.info and some other sites relate the size of a web hosting company to the number of domain names that point to their DNS servers. This is why dedicated registrars to whom hosting is only a side business can often end up at the top of these hosting lists, because all domain names, hosted or not, are taken into account. It doesn’t tell us how many actual hosting customers they have or how many real websites they are hosting.

The number of domain names is also difficult to track in an exact fashion, since you need to know of all the DNS servers used by the hosting company, and any external DNS servers that customers use for websites hosted by that company will not be included.

However, the number of domain names is still a useful starting point, because what else is there? So, we used domain name numbers from Webhosting.info to pick out what we believe are the five largest shared web hosting companies in the US (as of August 4, 2008):

  1. 1and1 (2,366,517 domain names)
  2. Dreamhost (727,692 domain names)
  3. Bluehost (531,403 domain names)
  4. Hostgator (427,583 domain names)
  5. Hostmonster (360,902 domain names)

You may argue that GoDaddy should be included here, and maybe they should. However, they have such a strong focus on domain names (a market they dominate if you look at the statistics) that we decided to not include them here.

We also looked at how fast these companies have been growing over the last five weeks (which is as far back as Webhosting.info allows us to check). The list is sorted by growth in percent:

  1. Hostmonster +5.41% (+18,524 domain names)
  2. Bluehost +5.31% (+26,803 domain names)
  3. Hostgator +4.40% (+18,035 domain names)
  4. Dreamhost +1.82% (+13,000 domain names)
  5. 1and1 +1.20% (+28,050 domain names)

In other words, if you base things on domain names, Hostmonster and Bluehost have the largest growth in percent, closely followed by Hostgator. Dreamhost and 1and1 lag behind significantly. Still, five weeks is a relatively short space of time to show trends for, so the numbers should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt in relation to long-term growth.

Summary: 1and1 has a comfortable lead when it comes to the number of domain names, but if you look at the growth rate in percent, they end up last. Hostmonster and Bluehost are growing the fastest, followed closely by Hostgator.

2. Size and growth based on traffic to the company website

Since customers (and prospective customers) to web hosting companies are bound to visit the homepage of that hosting company, the website traffic should be a decent indication of how things are going for them. We used Google Trends for Websites (their new traffic trends addition to Google Trends) to get estimated traffic data:

Hosting traffic comparison

What we can see here is that Hostgator’s traffic is growing rapidly, and for much of 2008 they have surpassed all the other websites in the traffic department. Hostmonster’s website is also showing a good amount of growth. Bluehost has been at the top most of the time, but have not shown any significant growth in traffic over time.

Note that the order of these companies when ranked by website traffic is different compared to when you look at the number of domain names (based on the latest values in the graph):

  1. Hostgator (up from 4)
  2. Bluehost (up from 3)
  3. 1and1 (down from 1)
  4. Hostmonster (up from 5)
  5. Dreamhost (down from 2)

Of course, it would be too simplified an approach to say that traffic equals hosting company size, but it is interesting none the less. That Hostgator’s website is pulling in the most traffic (and that their traffic is growing) could well be an indication that they are growing the fastest of these companies. Whatever the case, more traffic to their homepage will give them more opportunities to sell their service, so they are doing a good job here.

Summary: When it comes to website visitors, Bluehost has been in the lead for some time, closely followed by 1and1. However, Hostgator has passed them both now. Another strong climber is Hostmonster, which seems to have caught up with Dreamhost now in July.

3. Size and growth based on Google searches for the company name

This is probably the factor so far that has the least to do with the number of hosted websites, but we included it since it’s yet another factor that can add some perspective. Just as above, this data is from Google Trends:

Hosting search comparison

Here 1and1 is by far the most searched-for company, which may not be surprising since they are the largest corporate entity with a history of being “the largest hosting company in the world”.

It is also interesting to see how, after having been heads and shoulders above the rest in search volume (aside from 1and1), Dreamhost is now almost on the same level as the others, and if the trend continues Bluehost will soon have passed them.

Note that while a high search volume (i.e. many searches) does indicate interest in a company, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s something positive. It just gives an indication of how many people are googling for that specific term, not the reason for why they are doing it.

Here we have also compared the results to the initial list based on the number of domain names. (Totally unscientific, we know, but bear with us.)

  1. 1and1 (no change)
  2. Dreamhost (no change)
  3. Bluehost (no change)
  4. Hostgator (no change)
  5. Hostmonster (no change)

Interestingly, this order is identical to the initial list based on domain names. It could be a side effect of the fact that existing customers google about help and facts about the company they are with, which could sway the results here. I.e. a larger customer base will render more search traffic (if this theory is correct).

Summary: The results for search volume mirror the results we got when looking at the domain name numbers. 1and1 is firmly in the lead, with Dreamhost being second. However, Dreamhost is losing search volume, and will soon be caught up by Bluehost.

Additional notes, facts and figures

Bluehost and Hostmonster appear to be two brands handled by the same company. If you count them as one, that would actually put them ahead of Dreamhost and Hostgator based on the data in this article. On June 21, Matt Heaton, president of Bluehost, said in his blog that the combination Bluehost/Hostmonster was hosting one million websites.

In comparison to that, Brent Oxley, CEO and founder of Hostgator, estimated in March that they were hosting around 800,000-900,000 websites. (He posted this information in a comment to an earlier article in this blog, where you can find his full explanation.)

Key factors to growth in the hosting industry

What are these companies doing that has put them in such a dominant position? Remember, they are competing with thousands of other hosting companies and have somehow managed to stand out from the crowd.

Aside from traditional approaches such as advertising, we have outlined in earlier articles what we consider some of the key factors for effectively growing a hosting company. This is of course for hosting companies aiming for volume. Here is a short recap, though you can read a more detailed explanation in an article we published in March.

  • Affiliate programs.
  • Reseller programs.
  • Blogging and general openness about the company.
  • Low hosting prices (and letting people know about it).
  • Low domain name prices (and letting people know about it).

For example, according to Brent Oxley, Hostgator has over 18,000 reseller hosting clients. Another good example is Dreamhost, a company that has been very good at leveraging its blog to provide insight and create debate, which has raised their visibility.

There are bound to be other important factors than the ones we mention here, so please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments. Or maybe you think we’re entirely wrong. Let us know what you think.

And the winner is…

When looking at the three criteria we listed above: domain names, website traffic, and search volume, 1and1 still has to be considered the largest web hosting company in the US (which would also match the common conception that they really are the largest web hosting company in the world).

However, looking at growth rate, two companies stand out. Hostgator is growing rapidly, and if you count the combination Bluehost/Hostmonster as one company, they are arguably doing even better.

The different numbers and trend graphs above would in our opinion indicate that Hostgator and the Bluehost/Hostmonster combination are gunning for the crown held by 1and1, though they still have some way to go before they pass them. Dreamhost seems to have lost some of their previous momentum, especially in 2008, and if this keeps up they may very well be further down the list a year from now.

What other conclusions can you draw from the information we have presented in this article? We would love to hear what you think.

4 comments

  1. We read your blog regarding the size and growth of the largest U.S. hosting companies . We appreciate your noting the reason you excluded Go Daddy, thank you – but are disappointed.

    Go Daddy has more than 3 million active hosting accounts. In fact, Go Daddy is the largest hosting provider in North America, according to Netcraft Ltd. We have multiple teams in our hosting division whose sole focus is Web hosting.

    Best regards,

    Melanie Schmitt
    GoDaddy.com

  2. For facet 2 “Size and growth based on traffic to the company website”, traffic will also reflect how many users need support. I use 2 of these companies and I regularly go to the homepage of one of them because I need to look for support!

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