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Partner Program subscriber quality guide
Partner Program subscriber quality guide

How to set up your Partner Program to acquire only high-quality, highly-engaged subscribers... with zero work.

Louis Nicholls avatar
Written by Louis Nicholls
Updated over a week ago

For smart newsletter operators, a SparkLoop Partner Program is the most effective way to grow your audience at scale.

It's a complete game-changer. The only channel where you can:

  1. Define what counts as a high-quality, engaged subscriber

  2. Set the price you're willing to pay to acquire these subscribers

  3. Be connected with thousands of good-fit newsletters to recommend your newsletter to their audience

  4. And pay only for genuine results — with zero work


Your Partner Program success hinges on one thing: Setting up effective quality controls.

In this guide, you'll learn how to set up effective quality controls for your newsletter's Partner Program. So you can sit back, relax, and watch the high-quality subscribers roll in.

Let's get started...

Step 1: Make the key mindset shift

As a smart newsletter operator, you know that "subscriber count" is just a vanity metric.

You aren't creating a Partner Program to just acquire lots of new subscribers... you want to acquire (only) lots of high-quality, engaged subscribers.

And this causes some newsletter operators to make a huge mistake: They go into "control-freak" mode.

Control-freak mode causes you to do silly things you think are "protecting" your Partner Program, but are actually setting it up for failure.

The two biggest red flags are:

  1. Trying to proactively review & restrict which partner newsletters can recommend your publication

  2. Restricting the use of recommendations channels, eg banning referrals via Magic Links or the Upscribe widget

The data on this is 100% clear: If you do either of these things, your Partner Program is almost certain to be a failure. Not only will you get a low volume of referrals but — ironically — the few referrals you do get will be worse quality.

So what should you do instead?

The right growth mindset

To get amazing results from your Partner Program, you need to adopt an "easy come, easy go" mentality.

This involves three key steps:

  1. Cast a wide net: Funnel as many new subscribers into your newsletter as possible

  2. Hook effectively: Create delightful, contextual welcome flows to convert as many of these new subscribers to loyal, engaged readers as possible

  3. Cut ruthlessly: If a new subscriber hasn't proved they're a high-quality, high-value, engaged reader in the first 7-14 days, unsubscribe them (and don't pay for them)

This wide→narrow funnel is the winning mindset for rapid newsletter growth, but it can be a hard one to adopt. Especially for smart newsletter operators who've used other platforms before SparkLoop, where the 3rd step "cut ruthlessly" wasn't possible.

Let's take a look at how to implement it for your own Partner Program.

Aside: How subscriber quality control works in a SparkLoop Partner Program

There are many different levels of quality control and anti-fraud which go into ensuring your Partner Program only acquires high-quality, engaged subscribers.

Here's a high-level overview of how it works — and how we keep our "fraud" level below 0.01% !


Step 2: Give partners enough context

Without exception, all partner newsletters in the Partner Network are heavily vetted.

They know they'll only earn payouts for referring high-quality subscribers. So they're completely incentivised to only recommend publications that are a good fit for their audience.

But it's your job to give partners the information they need to be able to decide if your publication is a good fit for their audience or not!

✏️ Take the time to create a useful Ideal Subscriber Profile

✏️ Include a link to a document where you give examples of how to effectively pitch your newsletter, and who to pitch it to

Examples for inspiration:

Step 3: Set clear geographical restrictions

To be approved for the Partner Network, partner newsletters must have a majority of their audience be English-speaking. Located in North America and Western Europe.

But that still means a significant minority of referrals they make to your publication may be subscribers from other locations around the globe.

It's likely that your publication, content or revenue streams make subscribers from certain countries very valuable, and others not valuable at all.

✏️ If this is the case for your newsletter, it's your responsibility to set clear geographical restrictions on which locations you'll pay for subscribers from, and which you won't...

To keep things fair for partner newsletters, you need to do this proactively. Before they recommend your publication.

Geographical restrictions = Geo-optimized Recommendations

Geographical restrictions ensure your publication is only displayed to users in approved locations, thanks to Upscribe's geo-optimized recommendations.

For example, if you accept worldwide referrals for your partner program, your publication is displayed to anyone in any country. However, if you only accept referrals from USA, Canada, and the UK, your publication will only be displayed in Upscribe to users in those locations.

Step 4: Set a screening period

When a new subscriber is referred by a partner, you can set a "quarantine" period, called the screening period.

Normally this is anywhere between 7-14 days after sign-up.

If the new subscriber unsubscribes during this time-period, they won't count towards payouts.

This is useful. But smart newsletter operators go one step further and set custom engagement conditions — criteria a new subscriber must fulfil during the screening period in order to count towards payouts.

For example:

✏️ Choose whatever screening period and custom engagement conditions you like.

However it is your responsibility to:

  1. Set the screening period inside of SparkLoop

  2. Clearly explain the custom engagement conditions inside of SparkLoop

  3. Set up automatic filtering inside of your ESP, so that any subscriber who doesn't meet the custom engagement conditions is unsubscribed before the screening period expires

Here's a quick video overview of how to set up this last, automatic filtering step:


If you need support in figuring out or setting up your custom engagement condition filtering in your ESP, please reach out to your SparkLoop account manager.

We're more than happy to help with both strategy and implementation.

🚨 If a referred subscriber completes the screening period without being unsubscribed, they will be counted towards payouts regardless of what's written in your custom partner program conditions. There are no exceptions to this.

Step 5: Set up contextual welcome flows

Of all the steps in this guide, this step is the one newsletter operators are most likely to skip.

But that's a terrible mistake... because it's the most important step for unlocking huge quantities of high-quality subscriber growth.

Here's what you need to know:

Partners can refer subscribers to your publication via three acquisition sources:

  1. A "normal" partner link (where the subscriber signs up on your website)

  2. A "magic" link (where the subscriber opts in to your publication with one click from inside the partner's newsletter)

  3. Upscribe (where the subscriber opts in to your publication via a recommendations widget after signing up to the partner's newsletter

When used correctly, all of these acquisition sources result in extremely high-quality, engaged referrals.

By default, subscribers referred via Upscribe have lower awareness of your publication (because they haven't seen your website yet).

So they need a different, context-heavy welcome sequence, with a clear CTA to change their minds and opt-out.

Here's a video explaining how to set up this extra, contextual welcome sequence:


If you need help setting this up in your ESP, please contact your SparkLoop account manager who can help with strategy and implementation.

What to do if you have a problem with a partner's referral quality

Most Partner Programs who follow the steps above never experience even a single issue with the quality of partner referrals.

If you're one of the unlucky few who do, just follow this three step process:

  1. Take a deep breath... and remember that it's almost certainly a misunderstanding, not fraud. The Partner Network vetting process is extremely strict. There has only been one instance of "genuine" fraud (where a partner tried to cheat on purpose) in the entire history of the Partner Network. For context, that's less than 1 in 10'000 referrals.

  2. Get an understanding of why the quality of referrals was low. For example, did the partner recommend your publication because they misunderstood who your target audience was? Did you not have a good welcome sequence or filtering for referrals from a particular acquisition source?

  3. Once you understand the reason for the issue, take steps to fix and prevent in the future (see below)

How to handle different issues with partners

Nine times out of ten, the best solution to an issue with partner referral quality is to improve your filtering, welcome sequences, the info you share with partners, or your geographical restrictions.

If however, this isn't enough for a specific partner, here's what to do...

🚨 If you suspect a partner of fraudulent referrals (deliberately cheating)

Report them using the "report partner" button and our team will investigate and handle for you.

If there was a genuine instance of fraud, any referrals they've made will be rejected (even confirmed ones) and they'll permanently be banned from the platform.

🚨 If you just don't want that partner to refer you anymore

You can archive their campaign. Any referrals they have already made (pending + confirmed) will count towards payouts as normal, however they won't be able to make any referrals at all in the future to your publication.

🚨 If the referrals just don't seem quite as "valuable"

Depending on your publication's target audience, it's possible that a partner newsletter might be obeying all the rules. And sending you genuine, engaged subscribers from the right locations, who love your newsletter.

But — for whatever reason — you might look at those email addresses (or the partner) and just have a feeling in your gut (or your Business Intelligence dashboard) that the subscribers they're sending you aren't *quite* as valuable as others.

In this case, you don't have to ban them completely though.

Instead, you can adjust their budget or CPA to a level that better reflects how valuable you think their subscribers are!

✏️ Quick setup checklist

You've read the guide, now you want to implement your Partner Program — without forgetting anything important!

Here's the checklist:

  1. Get in the "wide → narrow" funnel mindset

  2. Create your Ideal Subscriber Profile and a Partner Resources document (optional)

  3. Set the correct geographical restrictions

  4. Set a screening period (we recommend 10 days)

  5. Add your custom engagement conditions

  6. Set up filtering in your ESP to unsubscribe anyone who doesn't meet the conditions

  7. Add a custom welcome sequence for subscribers referred via Upscribe

  8. Make sure that welcome sequence includes an obvious "unsubscribe me" button

  9. You're ready to grow!

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