What Is a Referral Link, and Do I Really Need One?

What is a referral link? How is it different from a referral code? Here's the inside scoop on what makes a referral link unique and why you need one.

Updated August 28, 2020



Referral links are the fuel of a rewards program. They allow businesses to see exactly which customers have referred others to their site, and which leads successfully come in from those shares.

Referral links are assigned to every customer after they sign up for a referral program. They’re unique to each individual and intended to track the referred visitor’s actions across the website.

After being assigned, these links are then used to track each step of your entire referral program – from customer sign-ups, to sent referrals, to converted leads, and more.

Is a referral link the same as a referral code?

Not quite. The referral code is, however, a piece of the referral link. Typically, the referral code is the unique identifier within each referral link.

The referral link contains the exact page (the URL) a referral will be brought to, and holds all the identifying information of the referrer (the code).

share your referral link

How does a referral link work?

Using a referral link is pretty simple. In fact, after an easy set-up process, a link can be used in one fell swoop (thanks to automation). Most of the time, people can’t even tell that a number of steps actually go into the referral process.

Step 1: Give customers a referral link

Customers will get their referral link upon signing up for the referral program. In each link, there are a few unique identifiers that will make that link specific to them.

If you’re using a referral software program, assigning codes (identifiers) can be automatic. In this case, every customer is ready to refer right after they sign up.

Step 2: Have the customer share their link

Once your customer is assigned their unique code, the code will be added to their referral link. This referral link can then be shared in a variety of ways. The easiest and most common ways are usually through email or social media, although sending a link through text message is also becoming more popular.

Referral software makes it as easy as possible for a customer to share their referral link. In fact, it’s often a behind-the-scenes process. In most cases, the customer gets to select their sharing option and the link will be automatically added for them.

groupon referral link

Step 3: Get referred leads to click the referral link

The biggest step is getting the referred individuals to actually click the referral link. Most of the time, the link is disguised or even embedded into an image.

For example, if someone shares a referral link from their profile on Facebook, their Facebook message most likely won’t show a link. Instead, the viewer will click on an associated image and be directed to the corresponding landing page.

Here’s a referral link sent out for Groupon. Whenever someone clicks on this message from Groupon, they are actually clicking on a referral link without even knowing it. If the person clicks on the referral link, and then makes a purchase, the link ties that purchase back to the referring customer. This makes it easy to give the referring customer credit for their friend’s purchase.

groupon referral link 2

Do you have to use a referral link?

Yes, if you want to make things easy on yourself. A referral link is what customers share with their friends, and is directly connected to their referrals. Without this link, there’s no way to track all the activity in your referral program – unless you plan on doing all the legwork yourself.

Of course, you can run a referral program without the link at all. This means you won’t know which customers are sending referrals, which of your new customers were referred, and which customer was responsible for a given referral.

You also won’t be able to instantly tell which referring customers have earned rewards, or credit them with rewards as soon as one of their referrals becomes a new customer. Without a referral link or tracked data, there’s not much benefit in running a referral program. Plus, a referral link makes it much easier to turn customers into your brand advocates.

How are referral links generated?

The easiest way to create referral links for your customers is with referral software. Automating the process from the get-go saves you considerable time and effort. Imagine having to track links for every single customer… that would be a headache.

To help you track your referrals, we’ve also created a referral tracking spreadsheet that can be easily customized for any referral program. Read more about how to set up referral tracking here.

Wrapping up

A referral link is an essential part of any referral program, especially one that is run using software. Without the link, a customer or partner is not able to refer others easily. In addition, a business cannot reward these loyal customers instantly, and thus loses the opportunity to build a strong relationship with their market.

Keep everything organized and in one place with our free referral tracking template

Watch referrals roll in automatically instead of hoping they magically appearFind out how
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