Some factors matter more than ever when searching for a VPN

You know you need a VPN, but do you know what you’re looking for? Do you know what matters and what doesn’t? VPNs love to advertise things that sound good but don’t amount to much in terms of actual privacy and user experience. Fortunately, we exist to help internet users parse all the marketing spiel and figure out what’s what. What VPNs are worth the investment and what VPNs would best be avoided?

Admittedly much of this question comes back to you: only you know your specific situation.

But we can help you learn what to look for to find it. So, with that in mind, here are the biggest factors to consider when shopping for a VPN.

What VPN Protocols Does it Support?

Functionality is key when it comes to your VPN, after all, if the service can’t make the kind of connections it needs – what good is it to you? For every type of network connection there is a corresponding VPN protocol(s). They facilitate the connections made by the VPN and ensure your privacy and security. So, before you even begin shopping for a VPN, figure out what type of connections you need to make and what protocol you’ll need to use. Then figure out what VPN services support it.

How many servers does the VPN service have?

When you use a VPN, you’re logging into and using one of its servers. There’s a calculus that each VPN needs to consider that factors in the number of users and the number of servers – that determines bandwidth. While you can’t look at a high server total and come away with a good idea of performance, you can look at low total server number and safely assume that speed isn’t going to be a strength. More servers generally equates to more speed. It also increases your options in terms of locations to tunnel to, which factors in streaming and accessing blocked content.

Where are the servers geographically?

Tying back into the last factor – server quantity – server location is equally important. And not just servers in distant lands that you can tunnel to, servers nearby your actual location. Server proximity has an impact on connection speed. The closer you are to a server, the fewer hops your connection needs to make in transit and the faster things will move. If you live on the East coast of the US and the VPN service’s closest server is in California, that might not be a good fit.

How was FAST is the VPN?

The previous two questions factor heavily into this one. But speed matters. It really does. And some VPNs can really slow down an internet connection. If you’re paying for 100Mbps internet speed from your ISP and your VPN isn’t even giving you minimum broadband speed (25Mbps), then you’re really losing a lot. Generally, the closer to the server you are, the faster the connection speed is going to be – like we just covered. But that’s not the only factor, server power and capabilities also factor heavily into the equation. If your VPN has server nearby but they’re some bargain bin model that can’t hack it – your proximity isn’t going to mean a whole lot. Pay careful attention to the fine print with speed, too. Some VPNs will advertise one speed, but give you another. Don’t fall for the maximum, because that’s performance under optimal conditions – a far cry from how it performs out in the wild.

Does the VPN service log any of your information?

When you use a VPN, there are only two parties that know fully what it is you’re doing: you and the VPN service. That’s not a problem if the VPN isn’t logging any of the data from your session. But not all VPNs do that. Some log information for a certain amount of time before deleting it, others save that info in perpetuity. Others, mean well but still leak IP addresses on accident. You need to vet the VPN you’re considering and figure out what, if any, information gets logged and whether or not they’re leaking IP addresses or other identifying information. A good place to start is the privacy policy and terms of service.

What operating systems does the VPN service work on?

The device you’re using to access your VPN uses an operating system. It may be Microsoft Windows, Google Android, Linux, etc. but before you sign up for any VPN you need to verify that it supports the OS you’re using. Most of these services have their own clients built out for the various OSs, so finding out what they support shouldn’t be difficult. Just critical.

Does the VPN cater more to business or personal use?

You can gather a lot of information about a VPN based entirely on the clientele they serve to. A personal VPN may gear itself more towards amplifying streaming services and helping users access blocked content. A business-minded VPN on the other hand may pay more attention to business-critical considerations like reliability and encryption strength. Learning who the intended target for these services is will help you figure out whether or not they might be the right fit.

What content does it unblock?

Let’s be honest, one of the biggest reasons people use VPNs is to get around blocked or censored content where they live. Maybe it’s a repressive regime censoring the news or maybe you’re just trying to access Netflix content while you’re traveling, it’s good to know what your VPN can unblock for you ahead of time. Most VPNs will have a list of websites and services that they can unblock that includes some of the most popular options. If you have questions about a specific site or service, reach out to customer service and ask. They should be able to tell you, and if they can’t maybe that’s a sign that you should keep looking elsewhere.

Does the service offer residential/streaming IP addresses?

Piggybacking off the last question, one of the best indicators as to whether or not a VPN is capable of unblocking premium content, i.e. getting around NetFlix’s notoriously finnicky blocking. VPNs that are geared towards that kind of activity oftentimes offer an option to use a residential or streaming IP address to get around certain bans, for instance the Netflix VPN ban. They can’t come right out and say “this feature gets around Netflix policies,” but that’s what residential/streaming IP addresses are for.

Still, need some help deciding?

If you don’t have the time or inclination to do a comparative analysis yourself, you don’t have to. We’ve done it for you. And best of all, we’re experts that are unbeholden to anyone VPN service. We’re beholden to you, the VPN user. So we’ve taken the time to rank the best VPNs in terms of value. Check it out.

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If you want, we’ve got VPN specialists standing by 24/7, just waiting to help guide you through the process.