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HTTP Archive

Growth of the Web in 2020

paulcalvano profile image Paul Calvano ・11 min read

For the past 10 years, the HTTP Archive has tracked the evolution of the web by archiving the technical details of desktop and mobile homepages. During its early years, the Alexa top million dataset (which was publicly available until 2017) was used to source the list of URLs included in the archive and the number of sites tracked increased from 16K to almost 500K as testing capacity increased. To keep the archive current and include new sites, towards the end of 2018 we started using the Chrome User Experience Report as a source of the URLs to track.

Throughout 2019 the size of the HTTP Archive dataset was mostly constant. However, the sample size has grown quite a bit in 2020 as you can see in the graph below! Additionally, if we combine both desktop and mobile URLs, there was a recent peak of 7.5 million sites!

HTTP Archive Sample Size Trend

How are sites Included in the Chrome User Experience Report

The Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX) is sourced from performance data collected from real Chrome users that have opted into syncing their browser history and sharing anonymized usage statistics reporting.It’s essentially real user measurement (RUM) data for Chrome users.

You can read more about CrUX on Google’s Developer website, as well as this informative blog post from Rick Viscomi. I’ve also written about it previously here.

While Google doesn’t publish a definitive list on what it takes to be included in the Chrome User Experience Report dataset, they have indicated that:

  • Origins are automatically curated based on real-user Chrome usage
  • Websites must meet a traffic threshold to be included.
  • Websites must be publicly accessible

Essentially, a website’s inclusion in the Chrome User Experience Report indicates that they’ve reached a certain threshold of activity. According to the CrUX changelog, there have been no changes in the methodology. So it can be inferred that analyzing the number of websites included in this dataset should provide some interesting insights into the month on month growth of the number of websites being visited by real users.

Note: The Chrome User Experience Report does not contain traffic details, and as such this analysis should not be interpreted as growth of traffic on the internet. This analysis is specifically about the growth in the number of websites that people are visiting.

Global Growth of Origins Accessed in 2020

The graph below illustrates the total number of websites that the Chrome User Experience reported across all form factors during the previous 12 months. There are a few interesting observations we can make:

  • In both 2019 and 2020 there were increases in the number of websites at the start of the year.
  • There was a linear increase in the number of websites through the first half of 2020.
  • The drop in March and April 2020 is interesting, since that coincides with the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

CrUX Origins Per Month

There is a similar pattern with the total number of registered domains. This indicates that much of the growth is new domains and not necessarily subdomains of existing domains.

CrUX Registered Domains Per Month

When we look at the month over month rate of change, you can see that the max change in 2019 was +/- 5%. The number of sites tends to fluctuate month to month. For example, between August and December 2019 there was an 8.6% decrease in sites. However at the start of 2020 there was a 7.5% increase.

When comparing the number origins between December 2019 and August 2020, the total number of origins increased by 28.9% this year alone! That’s huge!

CrUX Month/Month Change in Origins and Registered Domains

Mobile vs Desktop Growth

Looking at this by device type, we can see that there are consistently more mobile websites compared to desktop websites. And over the past year the fluctuations between them have been fairly consistent. The one exception is between May 2020 and June 2020, where desktop increased by 0.7% and mobile increased by 6.2%.

CrUX Origins Per Month by Form Factor

Overall, there are 22.9% more mobile websites in the CrUX dataset compared to desktop. We know from sources like statcounter that mobile usage has grown significantly over the years, and consistently surpasses desktop. But why are mobile users navigating to so many more websites compared to desktop users?

Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet Market Share

Is there something about the mobile experience (such as social media links, email marketing, etc) that increases the change a user may navigate to an unfamiliar website?

Or could it be growth in regions where mobile is more dominant?

How Has this Varied by Region?

At the start of 2020, most regions of the world saw an increase in the domain of sites. The exception to this was western Asia. The regions that had the most substantial increase at the start of the year were Northern Europe, North America and South America.

Between May and June there was another large uptick in the number of sites. This appeared to be mostly South-East Asian and Western European countries

The tables below detail the number of sites included in the CrUX dataset during December 2019 as well as January, May and June 2020. This first table contains the top 10 regions, most of which saw an increase of 15% to 25% during the previous six months!

Number of Sites Included in CrUX dataset
Sub Region Dec 2019 Jan 2020 May 2020 June 2020 August 2020
Northern America 1,257,159 1,406,284 1,676,120 1,681,454 1,730,260
Western Europe 713,202 768,644 874,164 908,560 943,891
Eastern Europe 640,145 694,632 821,024 913,037 926,202
Eastern Asia 720,926 740,767 871,854 882,322 901,008
South America 486,894 540,685 668,604 726,410 784,854
Southern Europe 506,054 541,526 661,416 710,543 724,323
Northern Europe 453,591 516,527 601,459 638,744 661,790
South-Eastern Asia 473,962 485,143 524,249 584,214 629,815
Southern Asia 403,325 419,118 441,328 462,282 500,600
Western Asia 274,339 273,610 327,425 351,186 362,340
Percent Change of Sites Included in CrUX dataset
Sub Region Dec 2019 - Jan 2020 May - Jun 2020 Jun - Aug 2020 Dec - Aug 2020
Northern America 10.60% 0.32% 2.82% 27.34%
Western Europe 7.21% 3.79% 3.74% 24.44%
Eastern Europe 7.84% 10.08% 1.42% 30.88%
Eastern Asia 2.68% 1.19% 2.07% 19.99%
South America 9.95% 7.96% 7.45% 37.96%
Southern Europe 6.55% 6.91% 1.90% 30.13%
Northern Europe 12.18% 5.84% 3.48% 31.46%
South-Eastern Asia 2.30% 10.26% 7.24% 24.75%
Southern Asia 3.77% 4.53% 7.65% 19.43%
Western Asia -0.27% 6.77% 3.08% 24.29%

Looking at the next 10 in the list, we can see significant growth in Central America, Australia as well as West, Southern and South Africa. Overall the regions with the most growth during the 7 month period was Australia and New Zealand, South America, and Central America.

Number of Sites Included in CrUX dataset
Sub Region Dec 2019 Jan 2020 May 2020 June 2020 August 2020
Central America 155,057 179,295 236,255 242,132 257,043
Australia and New Zealand 124,763 141,523 194,212 196,841 214,757
Northern Africa 68,754 69,497 83,312 88,672 88,606
Southern Africa 50,618 59,139 64,978 66,392 70,218
Central Asia 45,932 49,192 57,098 57,508 62,112
Western Africa 44,692 49,868 47,834 51,257 50,853
Caribbean 33,840 37,445 44,090 45,910 45,395
Eastern Africa 31,010 34,822 36,073 37,388 38,609
Middle Africa 8,873 9,149 9,121 10,057 10,032
Melanesia 2,733 2,991 2,580 2,779 2,818
Percent Change of Sites Included in CrUX dataset
Sub Region Dec 2019 - Jan 2020 May - Jun 2020 Jun - Aug 2020 Dec - Aug 2020
Central America 13.52% 2.43% 5.80% 39.68%
Australia and New Zealand 11.84% 1.34% 8.34% 41.91%
Northern Africa 1.07% 6.04% -0.07% 22.40%
Southern Africa 14.41% 2.13% 5.45% 27.91%
Central Asia 6.63% 0.71% 7.41% 26.05%
Western Africa 10.38% 6.68% -0.79% 12.12%
Caribbean 9.63% 3.96% -1.13% 25.45%
Eastern Africa 10.95% 3.52% 3.16% 19.68%
Middle Africa 3.02% 9.31% -0.25% 11.55%
Melanesia 8.63% 7.16% 1.38% 3.02%

Many of the regions that had an increase in sites visited (based on CrUX data), also have a high percentage of mobile visitors compared to the global population (based on statcounter). So while it’s difficult to say for certain, it’s entirely possible that location is a large factor in the gap between Desktop and Mobile.

Analyzing by Top Level Domain

The .com top level domain accounts for 43.7% of all websites tracked in the Chrome User Experience report. The next largest top level domain is .org, which consists of 3.7% of all sites. Overall there were 4111 TLDs in the dataset, and the top 20 of them represented 75% of all websites.

Distribution of Websites by TLD - Chrome User Experience Report

Most of these top level domains experienced a > 20% growth in active websites since December 2019, with the exception of .info and .net. The domains with the largest percentage growth were co.uk, com.au and de.

% Growth in Websites by TLD - December 2019 - August 2020

If we look at the month to month growth trends for these TLDs, we can make a few interesting observations:

  • There was a significant drop across all TLDs in March 2020.
  • The largest percentage drop was for .it domains in March 2020, although that rebounded with increases in April, May and June.
  • In February 2020, there was a 23.9% increase in .edu domains receiving traffic.
  • In May 2020, more than a dozen popular TLDs saw a double-digit increase in the number of sites.
  • In August 2020 there was a 10.4% increase in edu domains

Month/Month % Growth of Websites in CrUX

Conclusion

The web is constantly growing and evolving, and clearly it’s rate of growth can vary quite a bit. During this analysis we explored a public dataset that Google provides to show how the web has grown during 2020, and which regions are growing the most. While this doesn’t speak to the traffic levels experienced in these locations, the number of websites can be used as a proxy for understanding usage of the web. As this analysis shows, 2020 has been a year of substantial global growth for the web.

If you are interested in seeing some of the SQL queries and raw data used in this analysis, I’ve created a post with all the details in the HTTP Archive discussion forums. You can also see all the data used for these graphs in this Google Sheet.

Originally posted at paulcalvano.com

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Paul Calvano

@paulcalvano

Paul Calvano is a Web Performance Architect at Akamai Technologies, where he helps businesses improve the performance of their websites

HTTP Archive

The HTTP Archive tracks how the web is built. We crawl millions of websites monthly and make the results available in public datasets, online dashboards, and annual reports.

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Thank you, good read. A tiny comment that CrUX websites also need to be publicly crawlable in addition to publicly available, i.e a robots.txt with no-index will stop the origin being available in CrUX. (Just learnt of this recently)