When you start a Substack, you get both an email list and a website. That means you have twice as many ways to reach people, but also twice the numbers to look at.
What do all these metrics mean, and which ones are important to pay attention to? Start by visiting your dashboard, where you'll find three pages: Posts, Subscribers, and Stats.
The Posts page tells you about individual posts you've published and what people did with them.
Total views: The number of views on your post, similar to page views. They include both web and email views. If one person views your post five times, that counts as five views.
Free signups: The number of people who subscribed to your email list from that post.
Subscriptions: The number of people who signed up for a paid subscription from that post.
Shares: The number of people who clicked “Share” from that post.
Email recipients: The number of people who successfully received your post by email. This should be the same as your total email list size, minus any bounces or failed deliveries.
Open rate: The number of unique people who opened your email, divided by total email recipients. For the purpose of calculating open rate, if one person opens your email five times, that counts as one open.
Opens: The total number of times your email has been opened. If one person opens your email five times, that counts as five opens.
Click rate: The number of unique people who clicked a given link in your email, divided by the total number of unique opens. If one person clicks the same link five times, that counts as one click.
Likes: If you've enabled community features on your Settings page, you'll see the number of people who've liked your post. Only people who are signed up to your email list can like your posts.
The Subscribers dashboard tells you about who’s signed up to your email list and how it's growing.
Total email list: The number of people who've signed up for your email list (includes both free and paying subscribers)
Subscribers: The number of paying subscribers on your list. This includes gifts and complimentary subscriptions. To see a more detailed breakdown, click the "subscribers" tab on the graph, which will show you paid subscribers, comps, and gifts.
Gross annualized revenue: How much money you make per year, before Substack’s fees and credit card transaction fees (charged by Stripe). This figure is annualized, meaning that we look at your revenue at any given time and figure out what it would look like over the course of 12 months, assuming the mix of monthly and annual subscriptions remains constant.
For more detailed help with your Subscribers dashboard, check out our guide, which includes a walkthrough video.
The Stats page displays metrics for up to four categories: Traffic, Emails, Podcast, and Unsubscribes. The Unsubscribes tab is only visible for paid publications. The Podcast tab is only visible for publications with podcasting enabled.
The Traffic section tells you about new visitors to your Substack website, including where they came from and whether they sign up or subscribe. These numbers do not include visits from your existing free and paid subscribers.
Visitors: The number of unique visitors who've been to your Substack (includes any post, not just your homepage).
Source: Where your visitors came from, also known as referral traffic. "Free signup" and "Subscribed" tell you how many people from a given referral source signed up for your list or became a paid subscriber.
Under your referral traffic, if you see "about" or "post" in parentheses, such as "facebook.com (post)", it means your visitors came to that type of page on your Substack (e.g. your About page or a post you’ve published). Other websites can pass their own referral information through links, however, so not everything you see in parentheses is something that we track.
The Emails section provides a table of data for every post you send out, including the title, send date, audience, number of recipients and opens, open rate, new signups and subscriptions, likes, and comments.
By default, the table is sorted by most recent posts first, but you can sort it by different criteria by clicking on the relevant column header. For example, to see your posts with the highest open rate, click the “Open Rate” header and it will sort from highest to lowest. Click the same header again, and you will see your posts sorted from lowest to highest open rate instead.
If you have podcasts enabled, the Podcast section provides a table of data for your podcasts or audio posts, including the post date, audience, and number of downloads. This table can be sorted by column header in the same way as the Emails section.
If you have paid subscriptions, the Unsubscribes section provides you with a list of reasons why previous paid subscribers chose to unsubscribe from your publication. Your unsubscribe stats also include these users’ emails and unsubscribe dates.
Which metrics should I pay the most attention to?
As you continue to write on Substack, we recommend keeping an eye on your reach, engagement, and conversion rate.
Reach refers to how many people potentially see your posts. Take a look at your total email list, total views on your posts, and website visitors.
Your total list (combined with a good open rate) is valuable, because it represents people who've explicitly opted into receiving your posts by email. But post views will also tell you how much exposure your posts are getting beyond your mailing list.
If you consistently have high post views but a comparatively small list, that suggests you're not converting new traffic to your email list. A few suggestions:
Make sure your posts have a clear call-to-action that encourages new readers to sign up for your list. You may want to include a “Sign up” or “Subscribe Now” button in the post (you can find these in the “Buttons” dropdown list in your post editor toolbar).
Evaluate where your traffic is coming from. Try to reach better-targeted sources of traffic so those people are more likely to sign up for your email list.
Engagement refers to how many people interact with your posts. Take a look at your email open rate, post shares, and click rate, as well as community interactions such as comments and likes.
While reach matters, especially when you're just starting to build a following, engagement is just as important, because it tells you how many people are really paying attention.
We've found that open rates of 50-60% or higher are a good signal of engagement, although this number varies depending on how often you email your list. If you send out daily emails, for example, a 40% rate is also healthy.
Writers with smaller email lists but consistently high engagement are in a great place to keep growing their list and eventually add paid subscriptions.
Finally, if you’ve added paid subscriptions, look at your conversion rate, which you can calculate by dividing the number of paying subscribers by your total email list. We commonly see conversion rates of 5-10%.
If your conversion rate is lower, focus on improving conversions from your email list. Make sure you’re conveying the value of your paid offering and that your free list knows the option exists.
If your conversion rate is higher, focus on increasing the top of your “funnel” by growing your total email list.
While metrics only tell part of the story, they can help you make sense of how your Substack is growing and where to focus your efforts on next. Your list size matters, but so does writing high-quality content that resonates with your readers, whether you’re just starting out or offering paid subscriptions.