How do you measure success on your YouTube channel? Likes? Views? Ad revenue? If you’re like most YouTubers, the key metric you’re tracking isn’t any of these; it’s your total subscriber count.

It’s the one number that you can easily compare to other YouTube channels. Just about every YouTuber discloses their subscriber count freely. And while it’s not too difficult to get access to a channel’s views, everyone knows viewers are transient. You might get lucky and have a video go viral, gathering thousands or millions of views, but those viewers aren’t necessarily part of your loyal audience. Even if they like the video they watched, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever watch one of your videos again.

And so YouTubers tend to assess the value of their channel by looking primarily at the subscriber count. Yet, as time goes on, it seems more and more like the number of subscribers you have on your youtube channel is more for ego building than an actual measure of YouTube success.

The number of subscribers you have doesn’t really tell you much about how successful your channel is or even how it compares to other channels. Some channels rely much more heavily on having a large subscriber count than others. To illustrate this, Social Blade, a YouTube data aggregator, has ranked Câmeras Escondidas Programa Silvio Santos the third most influential channel on YouTube even though it has nearly 25 million fewer subscribers as the fourth most influential channel, ZeeTV.

So we know subscriber count is not the main factor in Social Blade’s influence ranking, but there’s more. It’s also not an indicator of how popular you are. It won’t tell you how many views you’ll get on your next video. It’s not a measure of how much your viewers like you or your content. Finally, it can’t predict how much money you’ll make.

The only thing the subscriber count represents is the number of people who have, at one time or another, declared that they would like to watch at least one more video that you have yet to post.

Over the last few years, YouTube has been putting more emphasis on serving viewers videos via that home page and video recommendations. The algorithm that determines what videos to recommend is now better at knowing what viewers want to watch than the viewers themselves. The result is that the subscription page has become less relevant as the algorithm gets smarter.

In your YouTube Analytics, look a the Traffic Sources Types report. If the majority of your views come from “Browse features” congratulations! You have a great audience of subscribers that are watching videos when you post them. But my guess is that for the majority of you, “Browse features” is not the biggest source of your views.

In all likelihood, the majority of your views are coming from Suggested videos, YouTube Search or both. 

If this is the case for you, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with you or your channel. YouTube is simply relying more on their algorithms in their quest to get viewers to watch more videos. What it does underscore is the importance of defending your channel against YouTube’s constantly evolving usability strategies.

To do this, start by diversifying your audience across all the major social platforms and try to get them to give you their email address. That way, if one day YouTube does something that prevents your audience from seeing your videos, you’ll have other ways of alerting them about your content.

And as you grow your channel, don’t spend too much time or emotional energy focusing only on how many subscribers you have. It’ll blind you to more important indicators of performance.