How to track list growth (and why)

We all want our email lists to grow. Fast. If you are like the rest of us, you probably get a quick glance at how many subscribers you got yesterday, or this week.

“uuuh… 200 subs last week, awesome!”

But adding subscribers is not the same thing as measuring growth. See, looking at how many subs you added las week is like counting sheep, but measuring growth can tell you a lot more…

  • Are you simply growing or are you growing at a faster rate?
  • Are you slowing down because your freebie is no longer relevant?

Understanding how to measure growth can answer a few questions for you.

Why Growth is important

Your list should always be growing for 2 reasons:

  • More chances of selling your products
  • Most sales are done in the honeymoon period of the subscription (New subscribers)

So you need to know that your list is growing, and it’s growing in a healthy way.

Counting sheep versus measuring growth

Counting sheep

You are probably familiar with how big networks like Facebook or Google often come out and say “we have 1 billion users.” This is nothing but counting the number of users they have at that moment.

What you don’t see is how fast they are growing. For example, at this point, Instagram and Pinterest are probably growing at faster rates than Twitter or LinkedIn.

There is nothing wrong with saying “Hey, we hit 10,000 subscribers today”

Counting sheep

Measuring growth

Measuring growth is a whole different animal. You’ve probably heard startups say something like “we’re growing at a 15% monthly rate.” That’s how you know that startup is hot or not, or if it’s healthy.

You need to do the same thing with your list.

How ESPs measure list growth

Most ESPs will give you a chart showing how your list is growing in terms of number of subscribers, but they don’t focus on growth rate.

Here is Aweber, which also includes the number of unsubscribes in its chart.

List growth - Aweber

GetResponse show a simple line chart with the number of subscribers in the list.

Lis growth - GetResponse

Mailchimp take it a little further by showing the number of existing subscribers in the light blue, the number of subscribers imported to the list a little darker, and then the number of new subscribers that signed up that month.

This is much better, but it still doesn’t show the percentage of growth for each period.

List growth - Mailchimp

While this is useful, you can’t really tell how the list os growing.

How to measure growth the right way

The correct of measuring growth is not complicated. Here is the formula:

New subscribers – New unsubscribes / List subscribers at the beginning of the period.

Since the ESPs will not provide this, I recommend you track this data on your own. For this, we are going to use a spreadsheet like this:

List growth report

You can access the spreadsheet here. In case you forgot how to get it…

  • If you use Google Docs, go to File > Make a Copy (once it is on your own Google Drive, you can edit it)
  • If you want to download to your computer, go to File > Download

There is one more thing you need to consider here: the “Hard Bounces.”

We talked about this back in module 4 when I explained the difference between “soft” and “hard” bounces.

  • Soft Bounces is when your emails are bouncing due to a temporary issue, like a full inbox or a problem with server at that moment. You do not delete these accounts
  • But Hard Bounces are due to permanent issues, like a typo in an email address or a closed account. There will be no way of ever delivering to these subscribers and they should be removed from the list

What this means is that they should be subtracted in your growth report.

Important: You have to be careful. If you subtract these account from your report, you also have to delete them from your list, or you will be counting them in your next month report again.

All you have to do is add a column to your spreadsheet, similar to your unsubscribes.


Start measuring growth!

  1. Get your spreadsheet in place
  2. Go back a few months (maybe the beginning of this year) and start by filling out how many subscribers you had each month
  3. Now feed the new subscribers and the unsubscribes and hard bounces
  4. Make it a habit to do this every month and observe how your list is growing

When you see that your growth rate is slowing down, it’s time to review your strategy. You might find that people have been seeing the same message for too long, your freebie is outdated, your forms need a makeover, etc.