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Grow Your Email List with an Email Referral System in 5 Minutes

Wade Foster
Wade Foster / March 25, 2013

Last week our good friend, Sacha Greif, shared the results of his DIY email referral system. The referral system netted him 4X his normal email newsletter signups when 2.3% of his list decided to refer someone else. The coolest part? Zapier played a big role.

You can pop over to his site to learn more about the results, but here we want to focus in on his methodology.

Using Zapier to Boost Email Newsletter Signups

A referral system can be many things. In this case, we want to use a double sided referral system. A double sided referral system is where both parties get rewarded for some action.

Dropbox is a great example of double sided referrals. When you refer someone to Dropbox both you and the person you refer get extra space on your Dropbox account. We'll be doing something similar, but you can come up with what the referral item should be.

What you need:

  1. An email newsletter signup form. This could be MailChimp, AWeber, Wufoo or any number of services you can check out in the Service Directory.
  2. An account at Zapier.
  3. An account with a transactional email service provider like Mandrill, Mailgun or SendGrid.
  4. Something to incentive people to signup to your email newsletter with. Sacha tried both credits for a product and an e-book. Get creative here. I suspect the referral item will play a big role in your success.

If you want to follow along we'll be using Wufoo and Mailgun. Sacha's version actually used MailChimp instead of Wufoo, but Wufoo gives you a bit more power.

Getting Started

Most Zaps using Zapier are pretty straight forward. Take data from location A, then send to location B. This Zap (actually series of Zaps) is a bit more advanced so make sure to pay attention here.

The first step is getting your signup form setup. The signup form needs to have a way to know who the referrer is so that when a referred person fills out the form, the referrer will get credit.

Using Wufoo this can be done with the hidden fields. You'll simply need to add the keyword 'hide' to the 'Add CSS Keyword Layout` field in Wufoo.

Wufoo CSS Layout Screenshot

Once you're done you'll have a normal Wufoo signup form url that will look something like this:

https://zapier.wufoo.com/forms/my-email-newsletter-form/

But we need to pre-fill that hidden referral email field so the link we'll actually use will be something like this:

https://zapier.wufoo.com/forms/my-email-newsletter-form/def/field2=name@email.com

Note the extra /def/field2=your@email.com at the end of the url. You'll need to figure out what field number your hidden field is associated with.

You can find that by navigating from code > API Information from your Wufoo form manager.

The last bit is getting your email newsletter service to append your subscribers email addresses to the Wufoo link. That way they can have their own custom referral link to give it out to others.

If you use MailChimp to send email newsletters you can use the merge tags to inject your subscribers email address onto the end of that Wufoo link like so:

https://zapier.wufoo.com/forms/my-email-newsletter-form/def/field2=*|EMAIL|*

So if I was a subscriber to your newsletter I might get a custom link like this:

https://zapier.wufoo.com/forms/my-email-newsletter-form/def/field2=wade@email.com

Now, I can give that link to others and when they sign up to your newsletter via my link, me and the person I refer will both get the incentive item.

Setting Up Your Zaps

Now that you've got your signup form all worked out it's time to use Zapier to send the referral emails out. You'll need two Zaps to accomplish this. One for sending an email with a reward to the referrer and one for sending an email to the person referred.

In this case, we are using Wufoo as the signup form so it will be our trigger. We need to use a transactional service like Mandrill, Mailgun, or SendGrid.

Sacha used Mailgun in his example so to mix it up we'll use Mandrill.

Wufoo to Mandrill

Once you have a Mandrill account setup you can use this zap for sending both an email to the referrer and the person being referred.

Just follow the steps for the Zap creator and make sure one Zap sends an email to the referrer and the second Zap sends to the person referred.

Once you've done that you're good to go.

Quick Recap

Thanks to Sacha's imagination, you can use Zapier to create a fast and easy referral system for your email newsletter program. Here are the abbreviated steps:

  1. Setup a referral form.
  2. Create a custom link to that referral form that you can give your subscribers.
  3. Create two zaps: one that sends and email to the referrer and one that sends to the person referred.
Photo of Grace Garey

“If we didn't get these ongoing notifications through Zapier, we’d miss important information on how patient funding is going. It's saved us so much time.”

Grace Garey, co-founder of Watsi

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