So, What Exactly is a ‘Dirty Link’?!

pig penThe topic of ‘dirty’ links was brought up by two speakers at the last Northwest Mini Sweepstakes Convention I attended. As it’s such a volatile subject in the contest community, I wrote about it in the following issue of The Winning EDGE. (Read Vol 8, Issue 20 here.)

As I am sharing more contests from sponsors and am being given tracking links to promote their giveaways, I thought it would be a good time to:

  1. revisit the topic,
  2. explain the differences,
  3. how you can choose to handle the situation when it arises in your hobby.
  4. and give you an opportunity to enter and win using a real life example.


Many sweepers enter contests that garner them additional entries if they share a contest link and one of their friends enters from that link. (This is also known as a Closed Loop referral.) Rafflecopter, Gleam, Woobox, OfferPop, Strutta, ShortStack and EasyPromos are just some of the contest apps that enable the Closed Loop Referral feature.


Those shares are not dirty links. The link becomes ‘dirty’ when a personal referral link is placed on a sweepstakes aggregate website, giveaway blog, etc., so the poster (or site owner) garners the referral entries potentially giving them an unfair advantage in the sweepstakes or contest.  A clean link is a direct link to the contest or sweepstakes.  A clue to a potential dirty link is the characters id= within the URL.


That said, if the sweepstakes aggregate or giveaway blog is hired to promote the contest, the sponsor or agency will most likely give the company a tracking link, which:

  1. ensures the influencers are doing their jobs,
  2. and gives the company a way to track marketing analytics.


The line becomes blurry when someone like me both enters and promotes. How can you tell what I am entering and what I am promoting? How can you be sure I am not posting a ‘dirty’ link?

I will either state outright XYZ company hired me to promote this sweepstakes, or if you see an FTC compliance message within one of my blog posts or newsletter articles, you can be sure I have been given a tracking link to promote the giveaway. (See below.) You can also be sure I am not entered to win in compliance with the contest rules.

It is a wee bit trickier on social media because, on Twitter, for example, I only have a 140 character limit to do my job. That said, I always do my best to let you know, on any platform, if it is a giveaway I am promoting or one I am entering. (Please remember I do forget occasionally, especially late at night when I am entering on my mobile to mention if it’s a referral link. -LOL!-)


So, what can you do if you do not want to enter using a referral link, tracking link or potential dirty link? Go to the sponsor’s direct contest page and enter. Be aware, that after you enter you will be given the opportunity to share. I believe in the Law of Karma. Sometimes helping your contest friends comes back to you, and many times in ways you did not expect.

Now it’s your chance to test what you have just learned.



I have a new client contest perfect for ‘dirty link’ demonstration purposes. Lakota is giving away a $200 Ikea Gift Card and the app they use for their contests is Maven Social. Here are the various types of links for comparison.

Direct Link:

Tracking Link:

Referral Link: which opens up to:

All of them will work. You can enter from all of them. The first will show Lakota only where you got the original link from, eg. a sweepstakes website. The second will show you got it from me. As Lakota hired me to promote their sweepstakes they gave me a tracking link to ensure I am doing my job (as I stated above). The third is the link I got from entering, and if you enter from that link I would garner an additional entry. This is the page you will get after you enter for you to share:

share screen

(NOTE: I only entered for demonstration purposes. Lakota is aware I did and will be deleting my entries before the final drawing is conducted.)

Which one will you use to be in to win? (I hope you picked the tracking link!)Ikea Gift CardSHORT RULES: Win a $200 Ikea Gift Card. Open to the United States and Canada (excluding Quebec). One entry per person, plus unlimited referral entries. Ends at 5:01pm on Friday February 27th 2015.  FULL RULES

DISCLAIMER: As per FTC requirements, I am required to disclose I was hired by the the contest sponsor to promote this giveaway.

2015-08-03T20:11:00+00:00January 7th, 2015|Featured, Marketing|12 Comments

About the Author:

Carolyn Wilman (aka @ContestQueen) is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Sweepstakes Specialist. Carolyn teaches others how to Find, Organize, Enter and Win giveaways along with working with companies to create, and viral market, winning promotions maximizing ROI and loyal customers.


  1. Teresa Young January 7, 2015 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Thanks for the clear description of the types of links. I too sometimes forget to let people know I will get an extra entry if they use my referral link.

    I have never been to an IKEA! I think the nearest to me is actually in Burlington – you’ll have to meet me for meatballs if I win 🙂

  2. nicolthepickle January 7, 2015 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for explaining! I didn’t know.

  3. Gayle Bellemare January 7, 2015 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Hi Carolyn, Thanks so much for including the examples and for explaining this. I believe it is so important for all contest entrants to be educated re things like this as it will allow them to make educated choices on where they would like to enter. I love giving my friends extra entries but don’t really feel that blogs/pages/sites should be using links that potentially gives them thousands of extra entries (in some cases). Thanks!

    • Shelley N January 7, 2015 at 3:15 pm - Reply

      totally agree with you Gayle. I put a comment on a blog since I knew she was using a personal referral link to get entries. I said that she should let people know that this is what she is doing. She of course did not agree.

  4. Elizabeth Vlug January 7, 2015 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the explanation. I know I will have to refer back to this again.

    Wishing you a wonderful 2015!! And I did enter from the tracking link.

  5. Belinda McNabb January 7, 2015 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for explaining! I can usually recognize a referral link or a clean one. Learning about the tracking link is a new one for me. When I see one in the future and I know it is helping out a person that I follow I will be using that one!

  6. Doris Calvert January 7, 2015 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    Well I knew all except the promote link but I tried to enter yesterday and could not enter on chrome, entered on Fire Fox but would not let me share, worked on the clean link but not the other two, why would that be? Very interesting, thanks.

    • carolyn
      carolyn January 7, 2015 at 8:41 pm - Reply

      I entered by Firefox for my test and it worked fine. However, I didn’t try to share on Facebook or Twitter and I only wanted the link for my demo. I’ll see if anyone else had trouble.

  7. Francois Lavoie January 8, 2015 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately it’s hard to differentiate a tracking link and a referral link. Sometimes there is a statement like “Referred by ” in the web page with the form where you entered your name and address, except this notice could be very small or hidden.

    • carolyn
      carolyn January 8, 2015 at 9:17 pm - Reply

      I agree. I am going to do a follow-up blog post.

  8. Elle Gold June 9, 2015 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this info!

  9. Marie January 29, 2016 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks! I didn’t know what dirty links were. I realize I’ve seen them but I was new and unaware. Thanks Carolyn!

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