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5 Easy Ways To Supercharge Your Substack Writer Recommendations & Subscriber Growth
Quick wins to help you reach more people
My name is Scott Britton and I am a technology entrepreneur who now writes on Substack I guess! I joined Substack and began writing again 5 months ago after the sale of my company Troops to Salesforce.
These 5 suggestions are responsible for:
Adding 1000’s of additional subscribers since joining the platform
Driving ⅓ of my writer recommendations
Increasing my on-site subscriber conversation rates by 4X
1.5x the number of likes on every post
Creating my 5th biggest source of traffic
Obviously, critical to all of this potentially working for you is that you are creating high quality content! These strategies are only an amplifier to great work.
My ask to you 🙏
If it benefits you, it’d be amazing if you would support my work if these topics interest you. I have 2 publications:
- - my main publication on the pursuit of expanded consciousness while living a modern live
- - this publication which is all about sharing my own experimental learnings & data on how to grow on Substack and other creator platforms.
Like you, I am passionate about the things I am creating in the world and seek to reach the largest number of people who I might be able to help.
Let’s get into the main event!
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1. Understand Who In Your Subscriber Base Writes
If you look at the data and top writers, it seems like the best way to grow on Substack is to have other authors recommend your work.
The easiest place to find other authors who might recommend you is in your own subscriber base!
Unfortunately, Substack doesn’t make it easy to understand who in your audience is writing automatically. But one trick you can do is look in your subscriber notification emails using this search in order to see who else is active on substack that might be writing.
It’s my experience, that about ⅙ of the people who have taken the time to subscribe to many substacks and create a profile are also writing.
By searching which profiles have the words “Reads” in the body via your email, you can then identify who is active on substack.
Here is an example of an email I clicked through using this search.
Once you’ve identified these people, you can click through the email to their profile and you will see if they have a publication or not via the gray box underneath their name
From here, you can make a list of these people and their email addresses, and ask them if they would be open to recommending your work.
Here is a sample email you might send to someone:
Hey [ ] - It looks like you've been subscribed to my newsletter for awhile 🙏. Thank you for your support. I am excited to check your content out!
I am trying to reach more people with my content through recommendations from other writers on substack. If you're up for it, a recommendation would be amazing, and no worries if not : )
Using this technique, I was able to identify over 30 people who are reading my content that have their own newsletters and easily get 10+ recommendations from people that were happily excited to help spread my work.
This may sound labor intensive, but my experience was going through all my subscribers using this search took me less than an hour.
You can set this up as a monthly process to see which new readers it might make sense to engage with that are also writing. I’ve built a process where I have an outsourced assistant that I use through a company called AthenaGo use a tool like Front or Missive to get access my inbox. From here they can run this manual search process and identify new writers who are subscribing to my work.
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**Note, I originally enriched my email list with a tool called Clearbit bulk upload enrich which gives me the twitter bios of everyone on my email list along with other additional information associated with someone’s email. I wanted to see if there were lots of people with substack URLs. I found the data quality and hit rate to be much lower then this manual method**
2. Test Out New Publication Names and Images
Once I realized that the platform was driving most of the growth, I understood that it was important to capture people’s attention.
If they saw 10 tiles on a page, I needed to make mine stand out in an authentic way so that people would click through.
Here’s an example of how someone might discover you by looking at an Author’s reading list 🤯
Thumbnails and titles for a long time have been critical to even get a chance at someone engaging with your content on most other platforms like Youtube. Substack is no different regardless of where someone is exposed to your publication.
My original publication was just my picture and my old blog name Life-LongLearner.
Original publication tile:
I decided to run a test by changing the name to something that characterized what I was writing about in a more direct and interesting way, as well as use AvatarAI.me to create a more interesting photo.
I ran this test for 2 months and by looking at the visits / subscribers ratio from the different sources, I saw my conversion rate in the substack app go from 5% to 20.7%.
This means that for the same amount of work I am already doing, I now get 4X the number of subscribers then I did before with a few simple tweaks. If you’re working off of a small base, this might not seem like a lot, but the numbers really compound over time.
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3 - Engage and Stay On Top of the Top Writers In Your Niche
As mentioned earlier, it seems like the best way to grow on Substack is through connecting with additional writers and having them recommend your work.
When I realized this, I was curious to understand who the best writers were. What were they saying and were there any out there that I wanted to start subscribing too and begin build a long term relationship with?
It turns out that Substack has a kind of hidden leaderboard feature that allows you to find out this information. If you go to the browse section, you can select your category that interests you and scroll down to the “See All” section.
From here, you can then see who both the top paid and free authors are in any niche to subscribe to their publication and begin building a relationship with them by engaging in their content.
This is a great place to see what the best people are doing and how these writers position their work. It also helps you understand the potential interests in your niche. For example, I found it fascinating that in spirituality the blogs about the end of the world and Tarot card readings were top 5 publications. I don’t think I’m going to be writing about these topics, but nonetheless interesting to know what people are seeking out these days.
One thing you can do is if you have a podcast that matches some of the top authors' subject matter, you can ask if they would like to be a guest on your show to start to build your relationship that way or ask to do a written interview.
4 - Ask Your Readers for Help
One thing I found interesting was that I’d get all these people reaching out to me and telling me that they loved my post over text and they wouldn’t just like the post in the app.
I noticed that Substack has a “recommendations” section that appears to just be posts that get a ton of likes.
One small thing, I did was start including this blurb at the end of my work and I’ve seen a decent uptick in likes despite the content being of similar quality and audience being relatively the same size:
If you liked reading this, feel free to click the ❤️ button on this post so more people can discover it on Substack 🙏
It’s a quick thing that has seemed to increase my likes by 1.5x.
One thing you can do is even consider adding this to your footer in your settings so you don’t have to remember to do it every time you post.
5 - If You Have A Website, You Benefit From Publishing In Both Places
One of the biggest lessons from growing my last blog so quickly was that 90% of my readership and subscribers came from google search (SEO). Though I had written hundreds of posts, it was really just a few that were driving such explosive growth because they ranked at the top of search for terms like “cold email”.
Unfortunately with Substack their platform is not optimized for SEO and google search (YET). This is because they don’t allow you to specify keywords as an author and much of the content is gated unless you join the site.
I was curious to run an experiment of posting on both my own Substack as well as my wordpress hosted website while doing some very basic SEO using the yoast plugin to see which platform provided better results - one with network effects or optimized for search.
What I found was that:
Substack had a more compelling growth engine primarily driven by their platform and writer recommendations
You could still reap the benefits of SEO by publishing on your website if you had a separate blog
So for now, what I have been doing is making Substack my primary publishing platform and then just copy+pasting on my posts to website blog to take advantage of google search. Again, when I do this, I do very basic SEO by picking a keyword and making sure the post is a 🟢 in Yoast.
Some people have worried about doing things like adding "rel=canonical" tags to avoid duplicate search indexing for these posts, but I have not been doing this and it seems to be working just fine.
This simple task which I did once a month for about 20 minutes before handing off to a virtual assistant, has resulted in my old blog and website being the 5th highest referral source of traffic and subscriptions ahead of Google, Twitter, and Instagram.
I Hope You Found This Helpful 🙌
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And if you enjoyed this write up and would like to recommend my substack, I would certainly welcome it! : )
Lastly, if you have other suggestions on how we might be able to help each other grow on Substack let me know! My email is email@example.com