Data shared exclusively with TechRadar Pro by Similarweb shows that the website builder and web hosting industry is reeling from a shocking post-COVID hangover. The web analytics company looked at the website traffic of some of the biggest names in that vertical and the results were telling.
WordPress.com is still the world’s biggest website builder platform but it is also the biggest loser of all the companies covered, both in percentage (-27.4%) and absolute visitor numbers (about 107 million) between June 2021 and May 2023. Its non-commercial counterpart, WordPress.org, is operated as open-source project by parent company, Auttomatic and powers 43% of the open web according to latest figures.
The second largest company, Japan-based FC2, also suffered a significant loss, shedding more than 88 million visitors over the same period (-24.6%). These two account for around 550 million visitors as of May 2023.
Wix, in contrast, has sat comfortably at number three and, while it was down (by around 3.7%), the Israeli-based company should be happy with its overall performance, especially compared to competitors; its latest earnings, published a few days ago, show that it has nearly 250 million registered users with its stock price jumping more than 12% since the beginning of the year.
One company that should pat itself on the back is Hostinger which saw its site traffic almost double in size to almost 18 million visitors, and that’s excluding a few million extra visitors from coming from its now-defunct website builder, Zyro. The Lithuanian company is the the only one in the top 20 that managed to experience such a meteoric rise, growing far faster than the rest of the industry.
Analysis: The end of an era?
However, the stats cannot explain why numbers are down so much overall across the vast majority of the web hosting/website builders included in this wide-ranging report. The absolute number of visitors to the top 25 websites tracked dropped from 1.06 billion to just under 942 million from May 2022 to May 2023, that’s about 11% in one year.
Similarweb measures - using its own proprietary technology - the web traffic to the specific domain (e.g. WordPress.com). The four biggest losers in the top 10 (WordPress, FC2, Weebly and Altervista) get most (or at least a lot) of their visitors from mobile platforms and all four provide subdomains to host members on their platforms as part of their free offerings. So one may argue that a drop in traffic is more reflective of an overall drop in general interest rather than a drop in search intent (i.e. people looking to build websites or purchase web hosting).
That drop in traffic could either be from search, direct, from referral or social. One of the most popular SEO tools on the market, noted in its annual state of the web report that “Web traffic continued to fall as we emerged from the pandemic: In early 2022, search traffic contributed to 16% of overall traffic for websites, compared to the same period in 2021 when search traffic accounted for 21%”. And it is likely that this trend is continuing rather than subsiding.
We may be witnessing two shifts in behavior that may be impacting traffic to these websites: A change of behavior from the audience that usually visits blogs and websites built on the four most impacted properties; possibly a move to other platforms (Tiktok, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube - remember that we’re competing for the same eye balls).
Remove the big four aforementioned players and we’re left with a clearer picture that doesn’t bode well for the industry. The average number of monthly visitors to the remaining 50 or so web hosting and website builder company has been remarkably stable (see graph below), at just under seven million. Zoom out and there’s a story of stagnation rather than growth with very few shining stars and a mature industry that is trying to reinvent itself.
It is facing stiff competition in the shape of closed ecosystems from the big players (Google, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon) and smaller ones (Shopify, Linktree) that are chipping away at the existing user base. They also attract a new generation of customers that would have otherwise gravitated towards traditional website builders and web hosting companies.
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Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.