Referral links are the backbone of your referral program. They allow businesses to track exactly which people have sent referrals to your site, and which of those referrals end up as new sales.

How to create referral links? We’ve got all the info you need in this guide, including why referral software is the easiest way to create and manage them.

For a quick run-down, check out our video:

What is a referral link?

Referral links are unique URLs used in a referral program to track and reward people for sharing a product or service.

Every advocate (existing customer, employee, partner or brand ambassador) who participates in the referral program receives a unique referral link, which traces that person’s referrals back to them.

Advocates send their referral links to invite friends to check out your brand. Referred friends can use the unique link to visit designated webpages you select, and hopefully purchase or sign up for your products or services.

If a referred friend becomes a new customer (or meets any other program requirement, such as requesting a demo or signing up for a trial), the link tracks a successful conversion, and the advocate gets a reward.

honey referral link

The role of referral links within a referral program

On the surface, a referral link looks like any other URL link. But instead of just leading to a specific landing page or home page, it also contains a unique identification code that tracks who the referral came from, as well as the referred lead’s movement across the site.

When people join a referral program, they are immediately assigned a personal referral link or invite link – their own unique URL, usually generated by referral program software.

They can then share the referral link with their friends, family, or anyone else they know who might benefit from the brand’s products or services. This link directs referred friends to specific webpages, where you can further share the benefits of your products or services with them.  The link will also keep track of referrals, and activate rewards when those referrals are successful.



Why are referral links better than referral codes?

A referral link contains the URL of the page a referral will be brought to, plus the unique referral code that holds all the identifying information of the referring advocate.

cartloop referral link

Referral links are similar to referral codes, but links are much more powerful. The URL element allows for lots of features and benefits that you can’t achieve with just a referral code. Referral codes let you run a basic referral program with simple tracking but referral links take it to the next level with greater control and personalization, more advanced tracking, and a much better digital experience.


Referral links are more powerful than referral codes, because:

1. Referral links are easier to share.

Advocates can instantly share referral links over social media, email, text message, via QR codes, or anywhere you can paste a link.

2. Links let you reward the correct person after a successful referral.

Thanks to the unique URL and tracking features, you’ll always know who sent the referral and when they earn the rewards. Add tracking parameters into the links that instantly send rewards to advocates.

3. Links let you personalize the experience for referred customers.

You can send people to a page with a personalized message, drive people to different landing pages based on the person referring, or even change where the link goes after it’s already been shared

4. Links allow for more detailed tracking. 

Referral links give you powerful insights into how your referred leads engage with your business. 

You can track the:

  • Web pages referrals view
  • Behavior and activity on your website
  • Returning vs. first-time visits
  • Sales funnel progression
  • And much more!

How to create a referral link?

There are four ways to create referral links:

  1. Manually: You could create referral links using your own website. But be careful, as this requires you to change your domain settings and setup new links.
  2. Use a Free URL shortener (like to create and manage links.
  3. Use Referral Rock’s Free Referral Link Generator. Our generator lets you easily set your link destination and add unique identifying information for each advocate.
  4. Use a dedicated referral software, such as Referral Rock. This is the easiest way to create referral links. Software automatically generates a unique referral link for every advocate, with the parameters to track referrals already in place. No coding needed! Whenever someone makes a purchase (or becomes a qualified lead) via a referral link, the software registers that, and automatically pays out the referral rewards.

Automating referral links with software saves you considerable time and effort. The other three options won’t give you the advanced features of referral software, but they can work well if you’re just getting started or only need a few links.

How to track referral links?

Referral links contain information that attributes a referral back to the advocate who sent it, but that’s not enough to track referrals on its own. You’ll need to set up parameters to track the referral link.

Manually tracking referral links.

If you create links manually or with a link generator tool, you’ll need to set up referral tracking and attribution on your own.

Manually creating referral links can be done using your own website, by creating a unique URL for each referring customer. You’ll need to be careful, as this requires you to change your domain settings and set up new links. Still, if you only have a few links, then this is relatively easy to manage manually. You need to: 

  • Create a referral link for each person
  • Send it to a tailored landing page (one page per link, so referrals get attributed to the right person)
  • Set up tracking so leads coming from that page count as referrals

Manual tracking can be done via Google Analytics, a form you have referrals complete, or a cookie system.

Referral Rock’s Free Referral Link Generator is the easiest way to set up referral links manually. Our generator lets you easily set your link destination and add unique identifying information for each advocate. Then, track who uses referral links with our Referral Tracking Spreadsheet and the form you direct referrals to.

Automated referral link tracking

As your program scales, it may become difficult to create large amounts of referral links manually, and immediately reward each person when they make a successful referral. It’s also challenging to manually track qualified leads and sales that come through referral links, if your business would like to go this route. Even with the help of developers, figuring this out generally takes months, and tends to be costly.

An easier way is to let referral software automatically create and track referral links. Referral software generates a unique referral link for every advocate, with the parameters to track referrals already in place.

These automated referral links can send people to the same form or checkout page and properly credit the person referring, with no need to manually create separate pages for each link. Whenever someone makes a purchase (or becomes a qualified lead) via a referral link, the software registers that referral, and instantly pays out the rewards to the right person.

For the most streamlined experience, you’ll need a referral software that integrates with your existing tools and proceses, including your CRM and/or e-commerce platform. That way, the tracking data from the links can move seamlessly through your sales and marketing funnels.

Referral Rock software has the most complete referral tracking features. Use our referral links to track member (“referrer”) engagement and referral website visits generated by your program, and reward advocates for both qualified leads and sales. Set up your program in days, not months. Here’s how it works >

How does a referral link work?

Using a referral link is simple. All the advocate has to do is save their referral link and send it to a friend, family member, or anyone they want to refer. In fact, most people don’t even realize the number of steps that actually go into the referral process.

(If you want to generate referral links, look no further than our free referral link generator)

Step 1: Assign referral links

Give customers, employees, ambassadors or partners their referral link as soon as they join your referral program. You’ll need each link to contain a unique identifier, so you can track any referrals or sales that come from that specific link.

Referral program software uses automation to assign links immediately and get your advocates ready to refer a friend. In some referral programs, participants must fill out a form to get their link. But with Referral Rock’s One Click Access emails, advocates can access their referral link right away, with no signup form or password needed.

Step 2: Encourage advocates to share their link

Once an advocate has their referral link, they can already start sharing with others. The most common ways to send a referral link are through email, text message, or social media platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, X.). Sharing within private social media groups and chats, like Whatsapp or Facebook groups, is also popular.

Make it easy for people to find and share their referral link. Provide them with easy sharing options, like social media buttons or pre-written email templates. Send follow up reminders to encourage repeat sharing.

If you’re using referral software, the sharing process is even easier. All an advocate has to do is select their preferred sharing option, and the referral link will be automatically added for them. groupon referral link How to encourage referral link sharing? You’ll need to plan out how you’ll promote your referral program, and offer motivating referral rewards for sharing, so your advocates will start using their links.

Step 3: Get referred leads to click the referral link

This final step is the biggest in the entire referral process: getting the referred individual to click the referral link. Ideally, the individual is already looking for or at least interested in the product or service. An attractive referral reward – like $25 cash back, a free product, or a coupon for 20% off their first purchase – could also entice them to click on the referral link. Sometimes, the link is even disguised or embedded into an image.

For example, if someone shares a referral link from their Facebook profile, the message might not show the actual link. Instead, the referral sees an associated image that directs them to the referral landing page.

Below is a referral link sent out for Groupon using Facebook Messenger. Whenever someone clicks on the message, they’re actually clicking on a referral link without even knowing it. If the person ends up making a purchase, the referral link ties that purchase back to the referring customer, applies any coupon you’ve offered during the checkout process, and credits them for their friend’s purchase.

groupon referral link 2

An example of how referral links work

How do the above steps work in practice? Check out what happens when advocate Anna shares Omsom, one of her current favorite brands, with her friend Rex.

Ever since she got some as Christmas gifts, Anna has loved Omsom’s bold flavor packets for authentic Asian home-cooked meals. She figures that her friend Rex would enjoy the packets as well, because he has a similar taste in food and loves to cook.

So, she joins the company’s referral program to share Omsom with Rex. The rewards on offer – $5 towards Omsom for each of them if Rex makes a purchase – provide extra motivation to join.

omsom referral link 1

Anna immediately gets a unique referral link. Right after joining, she sends the referral link to Rex via email, to tell him about Omsom.

Rex sees the referral link that Anna has sent him. He notices that he’ll get $5 off his first Omsom packets if he follows the link Anna sent and makes a purchase.

He’s intrigued by Omsom’s promises of bold flavors – and the discount – so he clicks the link and starts browsing the site.

omsom referral link 2

As he browses, the referral link’s tracking is active. It’s ready to tie any purchase he makes back to Anna thanks to the unique tracking code embedded inside.

Eventually, Rex sees the Korean Spicy Bulgogi packets and his mouth starts to water. He purchases a set of the bulgogi packets and receives the discount.

omsom referral link

omsom bulgogi

When he purchases, the referral link’s tracking feature communicates with the referral software Omsom is using, and gives Anna the credit for bringing in new customer Rex. This immediately triggers an email to Anna, containing a $5 off reward good for her next purchase of Omsom.

It’s a win-win-win! While the two friends get discounts, Omsom gets a new customer – and was easily able to identify Anna as the source of the new customer thanks to the referral link.

Referral link FAQ

Still have questions about referral links? Or, still on the fence about whether you should use them? Our FAQ will help you out.

Why are referral links vital?

A referral link tracks each step of your referral campaign in real time, from customer sign-ups to new referrals to converted leads, and more. By showing a clear picture of your entire referral process, a referral link can help you improve and maximize your referral marketing efforts.

Referral links make the entire referral process easier, as they let businesses track all the referrals each person makes, show exactly where all referrals are coming from, and ensure advocates are rewarded for all their successful referrals.

Do you have to use a referral link in your program?

Yes – if you want to make things easy for you and your advocates, you’ll need to use referral links. A referral link is what advocates 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 any link at all. But you won’t know which people are sending referrals, which new customers were referred, and who was responsible for sending the referral. You also won’t be able to automatically see which advocates have earned rewards, or send them their referral bonus when one of their referrals becomes a new lead or customer. Without a referral link to track data, you lose out on a lot of benefits of having a referral marketing strategy.

What channels can advocates use to share referral links?

Advocates can share referral links nearly anywhere, including via email, SMS, WhatsApp and social media (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and X). They can also copy the referral link directly, and share it wherever they want.

Based on our data, advocates copy referral links to their clipboard (41%), and share via direct emails (21%) most often.

What’s the difference between a referral link and an affiliate link?

Fundamentally, referral links and affiliate links work the same way. Both referral links and affiliate links track purchases that result from word of mouth. And both are unique URLs that attribute new leads or customers to the advocate who sent them.

However, the difference lies in the people each type of link is shared with.

Generally, advocates use referral links to share a brand with people they know, such as friends and family. In contrast, most of the people who click on an affiliate link aren’t people the affiliate knows personally. As part of an affiliate program, content creators will place an affiliate link on their own channels (say, their website, blog, or social platforms), and anyone who visits an affiliate’s channels can follow the affiliate link.

Referral link wrap up

Referral links are a small but essential part of any referral program. Without a link, your customer or partner won’t be able to quickly refer others to your business. In turn, your business will have a hard time rewarding these loyal advocates and might even lose out on building strong relationships within the market. Make the entire process easier by integrating referral links and automatically tracking every new lead and sale your business gets through its referral program.