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 four pages: Posts, Podcast, 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 raw number of readers that click on a link are displayed next to the percentage of openers that clicked a link within your post, that is 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.
How readers got here: The top traffic sources that readers found a post from. Most websites are grouped by domain, unknown sources are clustered into “Direct,” and sources that account for <1% of views are grouped into “Other.”
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.
You can view podcast-specific stats in the Podcast tab on your main dashboard. In the Overview section you will find average downloads 7/30/90 days after publishing an episode.
For publishers who have both free and paid podcast episodes, there is a toggle in the Overview section to see average downloads for all episodes or by audience segmentation: everyone, only free, or only paid subscribers.
In the Downloads section, the trend chart toggles allow you to view daily or cumulative downloads over time—30 days, 60 days, or all time.
In the Episodes table you can see first 30 days and total downloads, previews and first 30 days previews, paid subscriptions in 1st days and shares per episode.
Each podcast episode also has a corresponding Substack post which you can view on the Posts tab. Click to expand the post and see view and open rates (if sent as an email).
Note: Readers can view a post by going to your Substack publication on the web and never stream the episode. Alternatively, listeners can download or stream an episode via their podcast player and never view the post.
Top countries and Top players helps you get a sense of where people are listening.
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: Traffic, Emails, Subscriber report, and Network. Additionally free publications also have a Pledges tab and paid publications have Unsubscribes and Gift referrals tabs.
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.
Nurturing your publication’s audience is important as it grows, and gaining insights into the health of your audiences helps you determine where to focus your energy.
For paid publications, the Subscriber report is home to paid subscriber retention and paid growth rate. Together, these metrics help you understand how your audience is growing and how readily paid subscribers are sticking around.
This tab is also where you will find audience insights and audience overlap, which will appear for both paid and free publications.
Paid subscriber retention: The percentage of paid subscribers who are still subscribed after 30 days, 6 months, and 1 year.
Paid growth rate: The percentage change in total paid subscribers from 30 days ago.
Audience insights: Where subscribers are located around the world by country and state in the United States. These insights might inform where you host live events or cultural norms to be aware of when writing.
Audience overlap: The overlap of your existing audience with other writers on Substack. These insights signal opportunities for collaboration.
The paid subscriber retention and paid growth chart expand for more information.
In advanced stats about retention you can start to identify trends in when readers are renewing their subscriptions and when you’ve gotten burst of new paid subscribers.
In the advanced stats about paid growth rate to see when you’ve had high retention or more churn. Here the following information is visually displayed:
New subscribers refers to the number of individuals who were not free subscribers when they purchased a paid subscription on the specified date.
Existing subscribers upgrading from free refers to the number of individuals who were free subscribers when they purchased a paid subscription on the specified date.
Unsubscribes refers to the number of subscribers who unsubscribed from the publication on the specified date. Users who unsubscribe will still have paid access and be counted as a paid subscriber until their existing subscription expires.
Expirations refers to the number of subscribers who had previously unsubscribed and have now lost their paid access on the specified date. Expired subscribers may either downgrade to a free subscription or churn off completely.
Throughout these stats, you will see hover cards to help you contextualize the health of your publication in relation to other writers with similar subscriber count.
If you have paid subscriptions, the Network section tells you how many of your paid subscribers came via the Substack network. The Substack publication and payment ecosystem makes it simple for readers to find and subscribe to their favorite publications.
The chart and table break down your paid subscribers into four categories based on how they came to your publication:
Substack platform features: Subscribers who subscribed as a direct result of Substack’s platform features, such as the homepage features, Discover leaderboard, or blog spotlights.
Substack saved credit cards: Subscribers who could subscribe to your publication in only one click because they already had a payment method on file with Substack.
Substack existing accounts: Subscribers who could more easily subscribe to your publication because they already had a Substack account.
Imported accounts: Subscribers who you imported.
New accounts: Subscribers who came directly to your publication.
The referral program gives some of your paid subscribers the ability to gift free short-term subscriptions to your publication. Some of the recipients are likely to convert into subscribers. New and top paid subscribers will receive an email with a link to a Gift Rewards page on their Substack account.
The Gift referrals section gives you an overview of gifts that have been sent, accepted, and converted to paid subscribers.
Email: The email address of your paid subscribers who sent the gift to friends.
Last gift sent: Date the last gift was sent.
Gifts sent: The number of gift subscriptions the reader shared.
Gifts accepted: The number of gift subscriptions the reader shared and then were accepted.
Gifts sent: The number of redeemed gift subscriptions that then converted to paid subscribers.
Gifts expired: The number of gift subscriptions the reader shared and have since expired.
Pledges help writers build confidence that readers love and value their writing, and that they could succeed with the paid subscription model.
For writers who have enabled pledges, the Pledges tab in stats shows you how many subscribers have pledged, how much you could earn, and a collection of notes from subscribers on why they want to support your work.
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.
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Note: This post was last updated on April 19, 2023 to reflect the current metrics available to writers in the dashboard.
A guide to your Substack metrics