Working Session: Growing Substack with Referrals
I heard Packy McCormick was using referrals to grow his substack, so we set up a working session to dive into the program.
The result is this video which goes into lots of details. Please subscribe on YouTube. I put a timed transcript below, along with the notes I used to prepare for the session.
0:26 What is "Not Boring"?
2:21 Who is your audience?
3:11 The goal is growth, while retaining quality.
4:35 The economics of syndicates vs fund
7:08 How to configure content for premium vs free subscribers
9:45 Exploring the new DIY media trends
11:30 Writing about small vs large companies
12:22 What tools do you use for your Substack?
14:25 Webflow vs other landing page tools like Landen.co
15:50 Ivan's stack at Tango.vc
16:55 How does Growsurf help?
19:20 Start diving into the user flow
19:55 Guessing Hunter Walk's name on the leaderboard
20:30 Powerlaw distribution of the referrer leaderboard.
21:15 Launching your Substack on Product Hunt
22:55 Ivan Kirigin's background helping run growth at Dropbox and founding YesGraph to help startups grow
25:45 Getting subscribers vs getting referrers, and optimizing the related call to action
27:15 What to send in a welcome email? Too many links is confusing.
28:40 Feature request: AB testing calls to action in Substack welcome emails. How Dropbox ran AB tests for referrals
31:00 How stickers and t-shirts are surprisingly motivating.
31:25 Don't make the user do more work. For example, if you already know who they are, don't ask for their email again
32:35 Why the referral sharing channel matters. You could break down successful shares across channels like Facebook, Dropbox, and Twitter
34:45 The challenge of writing copy that will put words in a user's mouth
36:15 Why importing contacts and send-all is bad. Ivan shares a story from Dropbox about removing send-all.
38:00 Personalizing landing pages helps improve conversion.
39:25 How social proof improves landing page conversion.
40:15 How to break down startup metrics.
42:45 Why to measure viral loops continuously not in average aggregate.
44:45 How Substack building their own referral features would help the ease of the flow.
46:45 How tracking invites helps optimize the flow.
47:15 Why the biggest mistake is not promoting the referral program enough.
48:45 What should Substack put in a referral program? After including a referral link, earning a paid subscription would be incredible.
50:40 Allowing you to test which posts bring in the the most new users.
51:50 How good content matters for the amount of growth, with Y Combinator's YouTube channel used as an example. 1/3 of all their traffic is from 3 videos about Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.
Profile Link (or tweet, or elsewhere)
Two links: domain and substack.
Substack landing page
Obvious goal: subscribe
Individual Post Landing Page
no links to referrals
link to referrals, with 6 other links
Referral sending page
- Slow to load
- No way to participate above the fold, but obvious to scroll
- Not obvious those are stickers to win
Enter email form to participate
This is an extra step. Many already have given you the email, you’re just not saving it.
- Nice subject
- Clear call to action
- Editable by user, without the UI
Referral landing page == subscribe page
- Who is the inviter?
- Subject works no matter who invited
- Product hunt general social proof, along with “6000+”
These are for each time period, meaning they are a loop
- On referral program / all subscribers # put links in newsletter - or their referral link
- Invites / inviter # is this transparent in GrowFlow? Your analytics? Eg URL grsf=*
- New / invites #
Track total referrals right before each newsletter is sent.
Put each in a spreadsheet, with (date, total, new).
Include total subscribers to get
- aggregate growth rate: new subscribers / total subscribers
- total referral growth rate: new subscribers from referral / total subscribers
- percent of growth from referrals: new subscribers from referral / new subscribers
Interpolate if you need to get standard dates, eg weekly referral growth
Run longitudinal AB tests on (positioning, copytext, color) of referral prompts
- If total referral growth rate increases, good
- Even if percent of growth from referrals increases: good
- Caveat: longitudinal tests will have conflating variables. Examples:
- Marginal subscribers might default to lower referrer rates.
- Marginal potential audience might be less eager to subscribe, lowering all channels
- Your content varies!