Just like your other marketing strategies, a referral program should be optimized regularly for the best results. If you’ve already started a referral program and you’re looking for ways to maximize its success, you’ve come to the right place. We’re sharing our expertise to help you optimize your referral program and scale your growth. 

Why optimize your referral program?

Even though referral programs have many automated elements, you shouldn’t just leave your program to run without checking on how it’s performing. If you do, you won’t experience its maximum potential. 

Data-driven optimization helps you take your program to the next level – and maximize the number of new customers you attract. For best results, you should be checking your referral program data regularly, to see what works well and what you can improve. Then, act on the data and tweak the parts of the program that need a revamp. Here’s how to optimize your referral program as part of your larger marketing strategy. 

What does optimizing your referral program involve?

At its core, referral program optimization means optimizing two metrics:

  • Share rate, or the percentage of customers who share your referral program
  • Conversion rate, or the percentage of referred customers who make a purchase

These factors help you optimize:

  • Referral rate, or the percentage of all purchases that come from referrals
  • Referral revenue, or the money you make that results from referrals. 

Tracking these metrics, and others, gives you visibility on what you can improve about your referral program. 

Optimizing your referral program: Best practices

Whether you’ve started your referral program fairly recently or have had your program for a while, there are several best practices you can apply to take its performance up a notch. Here’s what we recommend. 

✅ Reward both the referrer and friend

Rewarding both the referrer and friend both motivates the existing customer to refer friends and the new customer to make a purchase. This structure is called a 2-sided or double-sided reward – but you’ll need to choose each reward carefully.

Rewards for the referrer should tie back to your business if you expect them to purchase again soon, but should be unrelated to your business if purchases are infrequent. Meanwhile, rewards for the referred friend should always tie back to your business, to encourage the first purchase. Rewards that tie back to your business include discounts, store credits, upgrades, or free products. 

bokksu subscription referral program

✅ Consider changing up your rewards

Adding or changing up rewards can help re-engage customers if you think they aren’t as motivated to refer as before. Make sure rewards are something your customers want to earn! 

Often, the best way to figure out what customers want in a reward is to ask them directly. But be sure to strike a balance – referral rewards need to be both motivating for customers and cost-effective for you to pay out.

You might also consider a tiered structure, where rewards increase in value the more referrals someone makes. Morning Brew and The Hustle both apply this tiered structure, and change up their rewards regularly to keep things fresh.

hustle referral rewards

Generally, you should only give rewards when the referred friend converts (purchases or subscribes). But if you’re a B2B or another business with a longer sales process, it might be more motivating if you offer a smaller reward when a lead is qualified, and then a larger reward if that lead ends up purchasing. 

✅ Add in a referral contest 

Contests are a great way to ramp up referral program engagement, especially at crucial sales periods or slower times. There are two main ways to implement a referral contest:

  • You could run a contest where people with the most referrals in a given period earn an extra reward.
  • Or, you could hold a valuable prize drawing where every referral earns an entry. This means the more referrals someone makes, the more chances they have to win.

If you choose to add a contest, be sure to still give out smaller rewards for every referral (or tiered rewards whenever anyone meets certain referral milestones). Making the contest prizes the only rewards can easily backfire, as people may be reluctant to refer if they think they have no chance of winning. 

morning brew referral program macbook tweet

✅ Ramp up your program promotion

Giving customers well-timed reminders of your program can help optimize its performance. Even if you’re telling customers about your program well through one avenue, you might be overlooking other channels where you could promote it. 

Here’s how you can promote your program:

  • A hero image or banner on your website homepage
  • Buttons in the top and bottom menus of your website
  • In mass emails focused on your program
  • In personal referral emails sent to your most loyal and satisfied customers
  • In news/update emails, confirmation emails, and other emails that aren’t directly related to your referral program
  • Through social media posts – consider shouting out top referrers for added social proof!
  • In email signatures 
  • In social media bios
  • If you have one, in your customer portal

✅ Send out strategic engagement emails

The timing of your referral program emails is also something to optimize. Regular and strategic email reminders of your referral program can help increase engagement and keep the program top of mind. But don’t send out these emails too often, or else they might overwhelm your customers and deter them from sharing.

What’s the optimum timing? We recommend reaching out to all existing customers every 3-6 months with an email promoting your referral program. You might also send emails to individual customers when they have “aha” moments and increased understanding of your product’s value. For instance, you might send an email right after customers purchase, after they complete onboarding, or after they give positive feedback. 

The right referral software will automate email sending for increased engagement with your program – whether you want to send emails on a cadence, after customers complete certain actions, or both.

✅ Make sharing easy with a quick login

With the right referral software, you can record a customer’s login information from their account, so they don’t have to log in again before sharing. You can also give them email access links that record their info, without them needing to fill out a form – they’re registered for the program right from the link. Or, you can let them register and sign into their referral program from their Facebook or Google account.

✅ Provide multiple sharing options

Give multiple quick sharing options, including one-click shares via email and social media, to reflect where customers normally share cool and exciting things with friends.These sharing options should include a prefilled message, with an option for the referrer to add more information if they wish. This streamlines the process and removes a barrier to referring, but allows the referrer to personalize the message if they desire.

Of course, you should also include the customer’s unique referral link among these sharing options, for easy sharing anywhere the customer wishes. 


✅ Optimize your program landing page

The referral landing page is the page where customers make referrals. This “page” could also be a pop-up or a page within your customer portal. Since this page is the center of your referral program, take care when you design it. You want referring to look easy – if the page is too complicated, customers might bounce without sharing with anyone.  

Here’s how to streamline and optimize your referral landing page:

  • Make sure it’s clear that you want customers to share you with friends
  • Put the rewards and other benefits in a prominent spot, so customers know what’s in it for them
  • Explain how the program works in a few simple steps
  • Keep form fields to a minimum 
  • Add in an image to help keep customers’ attention
  • Make sure the page is uncluttered, so it’s not overwhelming
  • Include a visible CTA above the fold – customers shouldn’t have to scroll to find it

omsom referral landing page

✅ Optimize the referred friend’s experience

On the other end, the message the referred friend receives through your program is often their first impression of your brand.  Here’s how to optimize this message for highest conversion rates: 

  • Mention the referrer’s name somewhere in the message to build trust (and in the subject line if the message is an email).
  • Make sure the whole message sounds like it’s coming from a peer
  • Ideally, at least part of the message should be in the referrer’s own words (a personalized, typed message that the referrer adds before sending to a friend) 
  • But you can also use a prefilled message that sounds like the referrer wrote it
  • Show the rewards that their peer has sent them
  • Explain the main points of what makes your brand great, but concisely, in a conversational way, and from the referrer’s perspective
  • Include an eye-catching CTA above the fold, that the friend will click to make a purchase

✅ A/B test your program

What to do if your key metrics are lower than you expect? Try A/B testing, or testing two different variations of a referral program element (you can do this with any aspect of your messaging, copy, and layout). 

Run A/B tests on both the referrer’s end (the landing page) and the friend’s end (the message).

Measure the results and apply the changes that offered the best results to the version of the program that everyone sees. Then, test the new changes against yet another variant, and keep improving. 

How to Optimize Your Referral Program: 12 Pro Tips 1


✅ Track your program regularly

At the heart of referral program optimization is monitoring your metrics and making changes based on the metrics you need to improve. 

Be sure to set specific, measurable, and time-bound performance goals for these metrics, and keep tracking these metrics for the most accurate picture of how your program performs:

  • Referral rates, or the percentage of total purchases made that come from referrals
  • Conversion rate, or the percentage of referral link clicks that result in a purchase
  • Share rate, or the percentage of customers who use your referral program to share
  • Average purchase value from referrals vs. overall 
  • Total purchase value from referrals, and percentage of overall purchase value that makes up
  • Average customer lifetime value from referred customers vs. overall 
  • Brand awareness generated through the program

✅ Apply your findings

What metrics need improving, and what exactly can you do to improve them? Here are our suggestions for the program components to focus on optimizing.

  • If you want to improve referral rates, focus on optimizing the referral rewards, engagement aspects, and the message sent to referred friends. Remember that all aspects of the program influence the referral rate, though. 
  • If you want to improve conversion rates, add rewards for the referred friends and optimize the message these friends receive. 
  • If you want to improve share rates, optimize the rewards, engagement aspects, program promotion, and referral program landing page
  • If you want to improve the average purchase value from referrals, consider giving a discount or store credits for the referred friend’s reward.
  • If you want to improve the brand awareness generated through the program, optimize the landing page so people will send more referrals, and the message sent to the referred friend so friends will click through.

Why you need software to optimize your referral program

If you’re currently running a DIY or manual referral program, referral software can help you take the program to the next level. And if your software is very basic, consider switching to a software that allows for more strategic data collection and optimization – like Referral Rock. 

The right referral software will automate engagement emails, to make promotion easy and motivate referrals. Software also automates reward fulfillment, to keep customers happy and  ready to continue referring. It simplifies the program design process, so you can make changes quickly to improve referral rates.

And since it tracks all your results and returns robust data, it’s easy to see if your key metrics have improved. Plus, it’s simple to A/B test your program, and see what’s working and what needs changed, thanks to data. 

Optimize your referral program with Referral Rock 

Why not rely on the right referral software to make your program better? Referral Rock lets you optimize your program in a variety of ways: 

  • It’s flexible enough to handle complex reward structures, including tiered rewards, contests, and multi-step structures for businesses with longer sales processes.
  • It lets you set up engagement emails and messages – both those set to send at given time intervals and those that send after someone completes an action. 
  • With the One Click Access feature, customers can click a unique link and they’re registered for the program right away – no need to enter their info. They can also re-access the program with this link, without entering info into a form.
  • You can also let customers register and sign into their referral program from their Facebook or Google account.
  • Referral Rock is the only referral software that tracks the number of referral visits – referred friends’ link clicks and website views that happen before a purchase – so you know how well your program is increasing brand awareness.

Optimize your referral program with confidence

Ready to optimize your referral program? Follow our best practices, and be sure to keep collecting data on key metrics so you know what works well and what needs improvement.

At the heart of successful referral program optimization is the right software. Referral Rock can help you optimize your program in ways other software can’t match.