Referral Marketing Do’s and Don’ts

referral marketing tips

I’ve seen quite a few great referral programs. That’s one of the perks of working at Friendbuy – observing many (thousands of) campaigns.  It’s pretty easy to identify common traits shared by the best of them. What I see, over and over, is that the marketers behind exceptional referral campaigns focus on three key areas: location, promotion and optimization.

Here’s a handy Venn diagram of those pillars.


Location refers to the visibility of your referral program.  Placing referral widgets in many areas of your web site — where you visitors can easily see them — drives up referral program participation (the number of people sharing ).

Promotion also drives user participation by getting the word out about your program via your email list and posting to your social followers.  This is primarily off-site activity.

Optimization is all about improving performance by A/B testing things like your referral offers, copywriting and so on.

Here are the do’s and don’ts for each.

1) Location

Do: Make referral programs easy to find

If folks can’t see it, folks can’t share it.

The location of your referral widgets and other assets (like navigation links to a standalone referral page) will have material impact on performance.

Include referral widgets in each of the following locations to increase the overall visibility of your refer a friend program.

  • Homepage / site-wide navigation
  • Ribbon
  • Standalone referral page
  • Product pages
  • User account pages
  • Order confirmation page

More visibility means more sharing.  It’s really just that simple.

Let’s start with the homepage.  Your homepage (and site-wide navigation) needs to include a link to your standalone referral page.  Why?  While your homepage garners a lot of traffic, your site-wide navigation also gives users access to your referral program on any page at any time – not just at the homepage.

Here’s an example from Prize Candle.


We know from eye tracking and heatmap studies that the upper-left hand corner is an incredibly important piece of real estate on a web page, so that’s a great spot to increase your program’s visibility.

The “Tell A Friend, Get $10″ button clicks through to the standalone referral page (another key location we’ll cover below).

Another great way to boost the visibility your referral program on a sitewide basis is a referral ribbon.

Here’s a referral ribbon example from Bear State Coffee – you can see “Get $20” in the lower right-hand corner.


It’s a simple call to action and they make great use of the color red to capture they eye. The red ribbon triggers an overlay widget immediately over any page throughout your website.

This is Spartan Race’s Stand-Alone Referral Page…another key location for referral widgets.

spartan race referral program

This is very simple to set up. You just create page, like “” and embed a referral widget there. Here are some tips for a good deployment:

  • There’s open access sharing (no need to register or log in to start referring friends).
  • Embed the widget on a permanent URL so that it can be promoted to social followers, to your email list and so on… we’re going to talk a lot about promotion below as it is also one of the three key pillars of referral marketing. The takeaway for now is that you can reach out to users NOT currently visiting your site and get them come here and refer friends.

Here’s a Product Page from Huckberry.

huckberry product page sharing

They’ve taken advantage of all their site traffic that goes to product pages and they’ve placed a referral button there.  By integrating their product catalog with Friendbuy, now users are sharing products while simultaneously referring friends.

We’ve seen companies use Friendbuy for product sharing without a referral incentive, just to track the incremental sales generated from social sharing. That is to say – you can have your referral program running side-by-side with your regular (non-incentivized) product sharing and track the ROI of both.

I personally like product sharing to be tied to the referral program. Either way, you’re getting more reach and more sharing and more referrals.  It’s all good.

If you have users that come back and login often, user account pages help increase visibility, too. Here’s the user account page from Dollar Shave Club.

dollar shave club embedded referral widget

  • The preferred execution here is an embedded widget.
  • If you don’t have enough room to embed a full widget, you can fit any size of share button on this page and have it trigger an overlay.

Your order confirmation page is another key location. Here’s a post purchase overlay from Daily Look.

daily look post purchase refer a friend

Don’t: Bury your program in some inaccessible place

The most common #fail in referral marketing is limiting your widget placement to the order confirmation page.

A word about the order confirmation page.  When we get sales inquiries here at Friendbuy, we often hear folks often say… “I want people to share after they buy from me.” That makes sense.  A customer just converted.  They’re excited.  They’ll want to share. Truth be told, order confirmation pages typically have the highest sharing rate of all widget locations. So that’s great!


If you were to only run a post purchase widget, you’d be leaving 95 percent or more of your potential on the table.  That’s because a typical ecommerce store converts 3 to 5 percent of site visitors.

Don’t bury your program here. Meaning, this is only one of many key locations. It should not be the only location involved in your program. 

Do: Let anyone refer, anywhere

The team at Friendbuy designed our referral widgets specifically to make sharing open to anyone and not just logged-in users.  We wanted the least amount of friction possible for end users to tell their friends about your amazing company.  That means anyone at any time, anywhere on your website can share through a referral widget. The result of this approach is a significant increase in user participation (more sharing and referring).

And the opposite of this approach is…

Don’t: Force a login or registration

The internet is home to thousands of bad referral landing pages.  Here’s one of ‘em:

bad referral landing page

Forcing users to register or login before referring friends is a major party foul. In fact, we hear from marketers who’ve tried building their own referral programs that forcing a login reduces user participation in a big way. For example, a the marketer will queue up an email blast to her entire email list, letting folks know they can visit a referral page (like the one above) only to see a 90% of drop off. Users simply go ago away because there’s just too much friction here. It is incredibly wasteful (and costly) to do this. 

2) Promotion

Do: Take advantage of your brand’s reach, using your email list, social and mobile app

Promotion – or getting the word out about your referral program – drives more sharing and referrals.

We said above, (for location) if folks can’t see it folks can’t share it.

For promotion, if folks don’t know about it, folks can’t share it.

How will folks know about it? Because you’re gonna reach out to them! Here are some examples of how savvy brands do it.

Here’s a Stand Alone Email from The Tie Bar.

stand alone email campaign

A dedicated email blast to your entire list will get the word out in a big way.

The setup here is simple, just link your email content to your standalone referral page.  When users click, they’ll see a widget awaiting them.

You’ll want to make sure there’s one (and only one) call to action in the body of your email. Meaning, you don’t want to have several content blocks with extra, competing links.  If you do that, it’s no longer a standalone email, it’s a newsletter!

It’s pretty basic really, just have a clear offer and a clear call to action and let ‘er rip.

In terms of scheduling, it’s very very good idea to run an email drop to your whole list on “Day 1” of your referral program.  This will help spark the fire and drive immediate results.

It’s also really smart to schedule monthly or quarterly drops to your whole list.  Some aggressive brands do this weekly.  Some monthly.  Some quarterly. It just depends what’s right for you.

You can also take advantage of transactional emails like order confirmation, registration confirmation, drip email series and so on.  It’s really easy to add a banner or button to your existing transactional templates.  Newsletter templates are another great spot to include a call out to your program.

You can even set up trigger (behavioral) emails.  Below is an example of what we call a “PIE” email.  PIE stands for Program Invitation Email.  These are set to deliver a customer’s personal referral link when a certain trigger, or event takes place.  In this example, a recent purchase was a trigger and the email below was sent to a customer within an hour of their transaction. They can then share their link with friends through instant messenger, email or any way they want.

program invitation email

Definitely include social media in your promotion efforts. Here is a Facebook post example reminding fans that you’re referral program is in full swing.

facebook promotional post

And here is a promotional Tweet.

twitter promotional post

Don’t: Limit your promotion to just on-site activity

When you start adding up the places you can promote your referral program beyond your webiste, your reach really starts to add up.

Do: Schedule promotional activity

Make sure you promote on “Day 1” of your referral program and then keep the reminders coming over time.

Here are few tips:

  1. Promote on “Day 1” and then continue promoting over time
  2. Schedule periodic email drops
  3. Schedule frequent social promotion (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  4. Include images in social posts – images in social posts garner much higher click thru rates than text-only posts
  5.  Make sure your offer and call to action are both very clear and not confusing
  6. Link social posts to your stand alone page – that’s where you want to drive the traffic
  7. For Twitter, you should Tweet very often (several times per week) and for Facebook about once every two weeks – this varies from brand to brand, it just depends on the level of social activity your brand puts out. You don’t want to do too much, nor would you want to do too little.

Don’t: Set it and forget it

The good news is that many promotional activities are super quick and easy.  Time that it takes to Tweet or post on Facebook?  I dunno, maybe a minute?

3) Optimization

Optimization is all about improving results and making the most of your marketing efforts so that your program is well within an acceptable range of referral marketing benchmarks.

Fine-tuning your referral offers and other campaign elements (like copy and images posted to friends) can move the performance needle in surprising ways.

Do: Measure and optimize your referral program

When you optimize a referral program, it helps to focus on the referral conversion funnel, which has been simplified below into three steps.

referral marketing work flow

So the idea here is to run A/B tests on each step of the referral funnel. Or said another way, tweak the following areas:

  • Get more people to share with their friends
  • Increase the number of friends who click on referral links
  • Increase the number of friends (referred visitors) who convert

Don’t: Be complacent (in any marketing channel, not just referral marketing)

It behooves you to measure, test and optimize your referral marketing efforts.  Not only is it good for your bottom line, but it’s actually really fun to run A/B tests, especially when you make significant gains.

Here are some examples that will give you some ideas for tweaking your campaigns.

Do: Be clear with your offers and concise with your calls to action


First, we want more people sharing (drive up the sharing rate).  Here’s a Naturebox widget.

test call to action

Since we’re talking about sharing rate, we’ll focus on the top half of the widget — outlined in blue — which has the Referral Offer and Call to Action.

Here’s what works for Naturebox: “Get $10 when you snack with friends.”  It’s clear call to action that includes a “what’s in it for them” statement for the sharer.

What’s interesting is how they arrived at that winning headline.  Below is a history of calls to action in a sequence of A/B tests that Naturebox conducted.

  • Get Half Off a Naturebox!
  • Get $10 for free!
  • Get 50% off your next Naturebox!
  • Get $10 when you snack with friends!

The last line won.  Oddly, a Naturebox is $20 bucks, which means all of these offers are mathematically the same.  But the copy int the fourth bulleted line above produced the highest sharing rate, regardless of the dollar value of half off

In addition to copy. You can experiment with design.

nice laundry referral ab test

In this case Nice Laundry increased sharing rates with the treatment on the right where the primary CTA “GET A FREE PAIR OF SOCKS” was red, italicized font and that tweak drove up sharing rates by 42%.


So the next step of the referral funnel is getting friends to click and visit (or more referral visits).  Performance here is tied to the content that is being shared to email and social networks.

Here’s a test — on the Facebook referral post  — that Birchbox ran.  This one is really interesting to me because it’s not a discount, rather it is taking advantage of seasonality.

birchbox referral ab test

The treatment on the left basically describes what BIrchbox, as a company, offers: “4 to 5 beauty samples every month.”

The treatment on the right had a different Facebook title link that said “Birchbox – The Perfect Holliday Gift.”  These two versions ran concurrently in a 50/50 split test for a week before the holidays.

The treatment on the right doubled referral visits and referral sales. So….let’s just way tapping into the holiday spirit when everyone is looking for cool gifts really paid off!

Here’s the embedded account page widget for Dollar Shave Club.

dollar shave club referral marketing ab test

In one of the very first tests they conducted after starting on the Friendbuy platform, they tested variations of the copy sent to friends via email (the shared email).

What’s interesting to me about this email copy is that it is rather long.  Normally short, terse copy works best. But once and awhile, someone comes along a blow your theory right out of the water and this is one of them.

So this relatively long, cheeky and humorous copy tapped into the brand voice of Dollar Shave Club and you know what?  It doubled the referral sales over the control version.


The next thing you can do is increase the number of friends who convert – that’s your referral conversion rate. Here are three ways to help increase them.

This first example shows how MeUndies welcomes the referred visitor.  They do so with a modal overlay.

meundies welcome modal

The modal reinforces to the visiting friends, “Oh yeah, that’s why I clicked. I’m going to get 20% off my first purchase.”

Below that, there’s an email capture field and once a user enters their email address and clicks on the CTA button, they get a unique promo code to use right now.

Prize Candle has a dynamic welcome message within the body of a page.  It says, “$10 off has been added to your shopping bag!”  So they’re using session-based logic to create a discount.

dynamic welcome experience

They surface a message to the referred visitor and place the discount in the cart where it awaits the shopper in a very seamless manner. Another great execution.

Naturebox directs referred visitors to a dedicated landing page.

naturebox referral landing page

This page is truncated version of their homepage.  They follow several landing page best practices by reducing the number of clickable elements on the page, showing the product, etc. There are no social icons nor a main navigation. This helps the visitor stay focused and inside the conversion funnel.

Don’t: Be wordy or vague

One big performance killer I see from time to time is the use of exceedingly long copy and even worse, being vague.  Wordy and vague often go together. Which is weird because you’d think being wordy gives the writer more room to clarify things.  But in fact, longer copy mostly obfuscates the real thing you want an end user to do.

Users need to clearly know (not vague) immediately (not wordy) what’s in it for them (WIIFT).

Good referral widget copy: Share and Earn $10
Bad referral widget copy: Do you love our product? Do you know someone who would like it, too? Why not spread the word about us to your friends? Share with friends and they’ll get $10 off their first purchase and we’ll send you a reward coupon for $10, too.

Try not to fit your doctoral dissertation in a widget.  I fell asleep writing the bad example above. Imagine what your visitors will do. It’ll ruin your performance.

If you’re looking for more information about how savvy brands run awesome referral marketing campaigns, be sure to check out our Referral Marketing Best Practices Webinar.

Tony Mariotti

Tony Mariotti is COO at Friendbuy, the marketing platform that makes it really easy to launch a customer referral program. A/B test and optimize your refer-a-friend campaigns without developer headaches. You can follow him on Twitter.

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