The years come and go, Internet traffic continues to grow (at least so far and with some ‘help’ from the pandemic), and Internet applications, be they websites, IoT devices or mobile apps, continue to evolve throughout the year, depending on if they attract human beings.
We’ll have a more broad Internet traffic-related Year in Review 2021 in the next few days (you can check the 2020 one here), but for now, let’s focus on the most popular domains this year according to our data on Cloudflare Radar and those domains’ changes in our popularity ranking. With Alexa.com going away, if you need a domain ranking, you can get it from Cloudflare.
We’ll focus on space (NASA and SpaceX flew higher), e-commerce (Amazon and Taobao rule), and social media (TikTok ‘danced’ to take the crown from Facebook). We’ll also take a little ‘bite’ on video streaming wars. Netflix is a Squid Game of its own and January 2021 was at the highest in our ranking — probably lockdown and pandemic-related.
Chat domains (WhatsApp, what else) will also be present and, of course, the less established metaverse domains of sorts (Roblox took the lead from Fortnite late in the game). Come with us, let’s travel through 2021.
The following will show the way Cloudflare saw Internet traffic focusing on specific domains (some of which have many websites aggregated into them) and their highs and lows in our global popularity ranking.
Top Sites: Google dethroned by the young ‘padawan’ TikTok
Let’s start with our Top Domains Ranking and 2021 brought us a very interesting duel for the Number 1 spot in our global ranking. Google.com (which includes Maps, Translate, Photos, Flights, Books, and News, among others) ended 2020 as the undefeated leader in our ranking — from September to December of last year it was always on top. Back then TikTok.com was only ranked #7 or #8.
Top 10 — Most popular domains (late) 2021
Top 10 — Most popular domains (late) 2020
9 Instagram.com *
Amazon was #5 in November, but Netflix surpassed in December 2020 (on some days it was higher than Apple, in #4); Instagram and Twitter were constantly changing positions throughout November and December.
2021 told a different story. It was on February 17, 2021, that TikTok got the top spot for a day. Back in March, TikTok got a few more days and also in May, but it was after August 10, 2021, that TikTok took the lead on most days. There were some days when Google was #1, but October and November were mostly TikTok’s days, including on Thanksgiving (November 25) and Black Friday (November 26).
There are other trends we can see comparing both years — for 2020 we only show data of the end of the year, after September (Cloudflare Radar was launched that month). For example, Facebook.com was steadily number #2 across 2020, but with TikTok.com going up Facebook is now a solid #3, followed by Microsoft.com (Office365 and Teams numbers are included there) and by Apple.com (App Store and Apple TV+ numbers are included), the same trend as in 2020.
Amazon.com is the juggernaut that follows, but it is interesting to see that since January 2021 the e-commerce website (we will talk more about that category in a few paragraphs) jumped in front of Apple.com. But Apple got back in front, after September, with some exceptions like November 28, 2021, the day before Cyber Monday — and also December 1 and 6.
Christmas time, Netflix time
Another trend is that Netflix surpassed Amazon in December 2020, especially around Christmas week. On some days around 2020 Christmas, Netflix was even higher than Apple, in #4, that is the case with December 23, 25, and from December 29 to January 2, 2021.
February 2, 2021: The day YouTube (and an aerobics instructor) ruled the world
In our global popularity ranking we also saw another trend: YouTube, usually ranked #6 or #7, got to the top spot of our list on February 2, 2021 — and only on that day.
Why? One can only guess, but back then, although it was the week of the Super Bowl (some commercials, like the one from Doritos with Matthew McConaughey, were out on that day), there was another big newsworthy event: the Myanmar coup d'état on February 1, 2021. How can a coup in a Southeast Asian country have an impact on YouTube? A video of a fitness instructor who unwittingly filmed as the takeover unfolds behind her took the Internet by storm and became viral as the memes started to pour in.
That February day was also the one where Donald Trump announced his new legal team for the impeachment trial after the previous one quit, and Jeff Bezos announced he would step down as Amazon’s CEO. That was also the week prior to a record in YouTube’s history. On February 11, 2021, the video "Baby Shark Dance" from Korean education brand Pinkfong was the new most-viewed YouTube video of all time, surpassing the former record holder "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi.
Google Trends also shows that the week of February 2 was the one in 2021 that “YouTube” was more searched on Google.
Social media: There’s a new kid in town
In what was the second year of the pandemic, social media domains continued high on our ranking. The nine main social media applications were all in our top 100 list of most popular global domains — the only one out is Quora.com (during 2021 it was between #687 and #242).
We can see that TikTok (who also surpassed Google, as we explained before in the global #1 spot) took Facebook from its crown of the most popular social media website-domain in our ranking. So, that should mean that TikTok got more Internet traffic from our standpoint (our ranking is derived from our public DNS resolver 188.8.131.52 and so it's not related to the number of unique users or visitors it gets per month) — Facebook is, by far, the platform with more users worldwide).
Top 10 — Most popular social media domains (late) 2021
Top 10 — Most popular social media domains (late) 2020
The Facebook outage — that we explained from our standpoint extensively — on October 4, 2021, also had an impact on Facebook’s position in our ranking, leading to Facebook.com losing its #3 position (it was #4) for seven days in a row in that week. This number of days in #4 was something that never happened before (since September 2020) to the social media giant.
Looking to the top 10 list, it's also clear that, just looking to social media domains, YouTube comes third and Twitter got a bump up and beat Instagram in 2021, getting the #5 place (barely, in what was a very close race). Back in late 2020 Twitter was behind Instagram in our ranking.
LinkedIn is the ninth most popular social media domain in our ranking and is still in our top 100 and throughout 2021 it got higher in our list, especially in February and March. The social media for professionals then started to drop in June and July (in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer), starting in late August to climb again and by November it reached the #52 place, the highest of the year in our global ranking — in January it was ~#78. In a year when terms like The Great Resignation and the reset of people and organizations’ mindsets were talked about, it makes sense to see this social media platform growing.
Streaming: The (Squid) Netflix Game rules
The so-called video streaming wars got another important round in 2021 with new players appearing and old ones having amazing numbers — not only in subscribers, revenue, and content budgets but also in... Internet traffic. In our ranking, Netflix is still the undefeated hero.
We added YouTube.com (its most important service is free) to the list to compare with the big numbers from Netflix, and still, the Squid Game phenomenon platform won our ranking for most of the year. Amazon Prime is not included because the streaming service mainly uses Amazon.com (ranked #5 or #6 most of the year) as a domain.
The days of the year when Netflix was more popular? January was a great month with Netflix reaching the #4 spot in our global ranking in the first two days of the year (and also all the weekends of January, Fridays included), going through February in the #5 place. For the rest of 2021, the platform was mostly #7. Yes, on the weekends Netflix seems to have a better performance in our ranking.
Roku.com seems to be the next video streaming platform after those two traffic giants, getting around the #80 position in our ranking through 2021. In late 2020 Hulu.com was the next one, but HBOMax.com surpassed Hulu in July 2021 and entered our top 100 list. In 2021, Disneyplus.com also rose in our ranking and surpassed the app-based TV service Sling.com later in the year. Our top 10 chart also includes Iq.com (iQiyi), the Chinese online video platform.
Top 10 — Most popular video streaming domains (late) 2021
Top 10 — Most popular video streaming domains (late) 2020
Netflix vs YouTube
E-commerce: Podium to Amazon, Taobao and eBay
Since the pandemic started e-commerce has continued to strive and grow at an even faster pace than before. The top four e-commerce domains (Amazon, Taobao, eBay and Walmart) in our global ranking are all in the top 100 and that happens steadily throughout the year.
The fifth in the e-commerce list, the Chinese giant Jd.com had a few periods that it also entered the top 100 mainly in May and especially June — on the day of the 618 shopping event, on June 18, 2021, it reached #68 on our list, beating Walmart.com and almost catching Ebay.com.
In the following list it is easy to see that Jd.com surpassed Shopify.com in 2021, occupying the #5 place, and also Bestbuy.com and Target.com rose from one year to another.
Top 10 — Most popular e-commerce domains (late) 2021
Top 10 — Most popular e-commerce domains (late) 2020
Shein.com went ahead of Bestbuy.com and Target.com from December 19 to 24, 2020
Here are other trends:
- Amazon.com is a domain, as we already explained, with more than e-commerce services (that’s why globally it ranks between #4 and #6). In 2021, it had some good days in January and in late April 2021, reaching #4, but by the end of the year it got its best days in our ranking, especially on the day before Cyber Monday, November 28, and on December 1 and 6 — it reached #5.
- Taobao.com had its best day of the year in our global ranking on August 20 — #15 — and by the popular Chinese shopping day, Singles' Day, November 11, it was #17.
- Ebay.com had a solid year and a good late August (#29 on August 31) and grew more after Cyber Monday, peaking on December 1, reaching #27.
- Shopify had a great August (reaching #100 on August 18), the same with Etsy.com that peaked at #128 on August 21. Walmart had a great June (#66) and also end of November (it reached #70).
- Ikea.com had a big increase in importance throughout the year and got very near to Homedepot.com’s position in September (peaked in the #695 position in our global ranking), staying up through November.
- Best Buy peaked on October 6 and had a high growth throughout November, also matching Shopify in December.
- Shein.com, the global Chinese online fast-fashion retailer, went high in our ranking for the Christmas of 2020 — it went ahead of Bestbuy.com and Target.com from December 19 to 24, 2020, reaching the #253 position. In March, it had another peak, and it got the best position in 2021 in our ranking after Cyber Monday — it reached #301 on December 1, 2021.
2021: A Space Odyssey (for NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic)
This year was also a big year for space travel with several achievements. Spacecraft from three Mars exploration programs from the United Arab Emirates, China, and the United States arrived at Mars in February — NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on February 18, 2021, and after that the Ingenuity drone made history, being the first powered aircraft flight on another planet in human history. And there is also another big space event just around the corner — the James Webb Telescope launch.
Virgin Galactic (July 11), Blue Origin (July 20) and SpaceX (September 16 — but with several other events before that regarding satellites and reuse of space capsules) also stormed the Internet with space tourism achievements with different scopes. Only SpaceX offered an orbital ride.
In terms of domains, NASA.gov was way ahead of the others, but Elon Musk’s SpaceX.com was definitely second in our global ranking, followed by Blueorigin.com. Virgingalactic.com only appears once in our top 100k ranking on July 17 and 18 (a few days after Richard Branson’s spaceflight).
Since last year NASA is high on our global ranking, in the top 1,000 domains of our list, but after the rover Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18 NASA.gov entered our top 700 ranking — the highest day of that month was February 25, when it reached #657. In the summer it went down in our ranking, but it picked up in late September and on October 13, 2021, reached the highest position of the year (#637). That was the day the press conference about NASA's Lucy mission, the agency’s first to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, took place (the launch was on October 16).
SpaceX.com had a great start of February, it entered our top 8,000, a month with a launch of 60 new Starlink internet satellites into orbit amidst a missed rocket landing and a fresh $850 million of new investment. And then it was after September 16, 2021, with the first orbital launch of an all-private crew, Inspiration4, that it flew again in our ranking.
For Blue Origin, after a strong start of the year — it reached our #32,000 on January 10 (a few days before New Shepard 4’s first test flight) — it went up between July 20- 27 after its first crewed flight, with Jeff Bezos onboard. It also went up in our ranking a few days after October 13, 2021 (the day William Shatner flew aboard a Blue Origin suborbital capsule).
Messaging or chat: WhatsApp, what else?
There aren’t as many messaging or chat platforms as there are popular social media sites, video streaming, or e-commerce platforms. So, this ranking is slim, and even slimmer because Messenger (uses Facebook.com) or iMessage (uses Apple.com) aren’t included. Snapchat is both a social media platform and a messaging app — the same with Instagram — and we added them in the social media ranking.
If they were here they would be higher than Telegram but behind WhatsApp — Instagram actually started 2021 (it got to #8) in front of WhatsApp until February and went as low as #13 and Snapchat went between #29 to #16.
Top — Most popular chat domains (late) 2021
Top — Most popular chat domains (late) 2020
From our standpoint, WhatsApp is the undisputed leader of the messaging apps ranging from as low as #13 in our global ranking to as high as #8. Its best parts of the year were late March, late April, late October and then late November going through December 2021 as #8 in our ranking.
The only that is closer is Telegram.org, ranging from #170 to #88 (peaked in October 2021) throughout the year.
How Signal skyrocketed in January (and WeChat in February)
All the others are far away in our ranking, but 2021 brought three trends we should highlight:
- WeChat.com also had an amazing jump in our ranking, but more in February and by April it surpassed Signal.org — it went from #3142 at the start of February to #979 by April 25 and by October both of the messaging apps were almost tied at ~#370 and had a significantly higher place in our ranking than in late 2020. Telegram.org on the other hand started the year on a high note, #107, and rose to #102 after the first week of January, but lost positions in our ranking after that. In August started to grow more to reach the #88 spot we already mentioned — by then, WhatsApp was #10 in our ranking.
“You can't just materialize anywhere in the Metaverse, like Captain Kirk beaming down from on high. This would be confusing and irritating to the people around you. It would break the metaphor. Materializing out of nowhere (or vanishing back into Reality) is considered to be a private function best done in the confines of your own House.“
― Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992)
Metaverse: Don’t mess with Roblox
Back in November, we heard in the halls of Web Summit — the 42,000 in-person tech global event in Lisbon — that in a way the metaverse is already here (Roblox’s Global Head of Music had some thoughts on virtual concerts). But we’re still far from the promise of almost living in the virtual world that books like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash or Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One showed us.
Oculus shipped a lot of headsets and there are immersive experiences out there that are Metaverse-like (a step further than the now-usual-for-most spending all day working, learning, communicating through a screen) and we focused on that ones, like Fortnite, Roblox, Second Life (the oldest, from 2003), Minecraft and Oculus. But Oculus.com doesn’t have enough direct traffic (playing games using Oculus headset could direct the traffic elsewhere) to be in our top 100k domains ranking, and the same happens with Minecraft.
Top — Most popular metaverse domains (late) 2021
2 Epicgames.com (Fortnite)
Oculus.com and Minecraft.net are not in our 100,000 ranking
Top — Most popular metaverse domains (late) 2020
1 Epicgames.com (Fortnite)
Oculus.com and Minecraft.net are not in our 100,000 ranking
The (short) list from 2020 and 2021 shows us that Roblox.com surpassed Epicgames.com (the home of the popular Fortnite) for the first time in July reaching back then #27 in our list. But it was after late September that it was consistently in front of the rival game platform, ending the year on a good note reaching #20 in our ranking.
Epicgames.com (Fortnite) started the year a lot better, reaching #14 on January 5, 2021, but it started to lose importance in February and that deepened after May, but mostly in July and August. It never truly recovered and ended the year between #26 and #47, depending on the day.
Conclusion: Human (online) trends
The Internet is not a quiet place, the same way humans on Earth (especially during a pandemic) aren’t quiet or passive but active and reactive. Although on the top of our domain ranking there don’t seem to be drastic ups and downs throughout the year (TikTok, and YouTube, were the exceptions), we saw how an event like the Myanmar coup and the subsequent viral video may have brought YouTube to #1 on our ranking. We also saw how e-commerce was affected throughout the year, how space-related websites had a big (online) year with important events, and how Netflix rose around Christmas time.
And remember: you can keep an eye on Cloudflare Radar to monitor how we see Internet traffic globally and in every country.
(Update 12/22/2021: We have corrected the data about Telegram.org — the domain that was used initially wasn’t the right one.)