Identify Email Bot Clicks with Pardot Custom Redirects

By Carl Mortimer

One team couldn’t get their head around the numbers in their Pardot email reports. “Why do we have all these clicks but very little actual engagements in comparison?”, they asked.

They recorded a huge number of email clicks to a high-value landing page. In the past, they had consistently good returns on emails, a good relationship between clicks and MQL’s. Something wasn’t right with this particular campaign. Everything seemed in order with this campaign too – the content was great, the call to action was clear.

I agreed – something wasn’t right. I was racking my brain to think what the cause of the issue could be. Then, a thought entered my mind: “What if these clicks weren’t clicks made by real prospects?”

Prospects appear to be engaged – but aren’t in reality

Email opens are not a reliable metric to monitor prospect engagement. An email is could be opened and scanned by anti-phishing software (also known as “bots”) on behalf of a prospect to check there is no malicious content in the email.

It doesn’t stop there. The bot technology is designed to check links and attachments within the email, too. This involves “clicking” the link, and if untrustworthy, will block the email from even entering our inboxes.

READ MORE: “Death of the Open Rate”? Apple Mail Privacy Protection and Pardot

While this protects our inboxes, it doesn’t help the marketer who is trying to understand if their efforts are engaging the prospect, or not.

Although Pardot provides the Metrics Guard service, built-in to all Pardot accounts, inevitably, there will be some the fall through the cracks.

READ MORE: 3 Ways Pardot Protects Your Email Reports from Non-human Activity

Back to the story. I presented my theory to the team, and next, we needed to test if this could be a possibility. But, how could we do identify those prospects that appear to be engaging with us, but aren’t in reality?

Hidden Custom Redirects in Emails

The experiment relied on using a hidden Custom Redirect in our emails.

Why hidden? When a bot scans an email, and clicks a link on the prospect’s behalf, it isn’t selective about the links it clicks – it will click anything it finds in the email that’s a link.

So, by placing a hidden Custom Redirect in the header, body, or footer of an email (not visible to a prospect viewing the email), we can confidently say that the link has been clicked, that click certainly wasn’t a prospect!

We can reuse this asset time, and time again. Plus, we can apply completion actions to these prospects, such as adding them to a list to easily identify them.

Note: Due to the changes in how cookies function with Pardot, a prospect must already have been identified on the particular browser they are using, i.e. been cookied with your Pardot tracking code in order for completion actions on custom redirects to fire. This is still a valid solution for pinpointing bot activity among B2B recipients, who are opening emails on the same device.

Here are the steps you need to take to put this solution in place. If nothing else – it’s an interesting exercise to see who of our prospects this could apply to!

Step 1: Set up the Campaign and Pardot List

As you know, when building in Pardot, we need to assign all assets to a campaign.

As this is an exercise to find “anti-engagement” I would recommend setting up a Salesforce campaign that sits outside of your campaign hierarchy; this way, the clicks don’t interfere with your engagement reports.

  • Create a campaign in Salesforce called “Potential Bot Clicks”.
    Ensure it’s a record type that Pardot can “see” (a record type you’ve enabled for Connected Campaigns).
    Keep it as a separate campaign from your hierarchy (ie. it won’t have a “real” campaign as the parent campaign).

Create the list we’ll eventually assign the prospects to.

  • Navigate to: Prospects → Segmentation → Segmentation Lists.
    Create a static list called “Potential Bot Clicks”.

Step 2: Create the Custom Redirect and Completion Actions

  • Navigate to: Content → Custom Redirects.
  • Give the custom redirect the name “Potential Bot Clicks – Custom Redirect”.
  • Select the campaign you created earlier.

The URL doesn’t matter too much, so insert the home page of your company’s website. Then, add the following completion actions:

  • Add to list “Potential Bot Clicks”
  • Adjust score by -25 (or whatever your custom redirect click score is in the scoring model. This counteracts the score increase from the click).

Note: Remember that prospect must already have been identified on the particular browser they are using, i.e. been cookied with your Pardot tracking code in order for completion actions on custom redirects to fire.

  • Save the custom redirect and copy the URL. We’ll use it later!

Step 3: Hide the link in an email template

Now we have the Pardot list, the campaign to relate our assets together, and the custom redirect. Now it’s time to hide the custom redirect in our emails.

Assuming this template will be used time, and time again, the best place for the link will be in the template’s footer (that way, you don’t need to repeat this exercise every time you send an email).

  • Navigate to your email template.
  • Click on the footer of your email, and choose a word that isn’t already a link. I would suggest picking a single word that’s in the middle of a sentence, rather than at the beginning or end – all to ensure this is as discreet as possible!
    Click the source button to open the HTML editor:
  • Find your Custom Redirect URL, and insert the following HTML code around the word you’ve chosen (in this example, I’ve used the word “downloaded” in the footer)
  • The HTML in the footer’s source code should now look like this:
  • Ultimately, the footer looks like this from a prospect’s point of view. You can’t even tell the custom redirect is there, right?

Go ahead and save that template. Now, every time you use that template, the hidden Custom Redirect will be included.


By using this technique, you can begin to identify those prospects who might not be as engaged as you think, particularly if their engagement history with you is pretty light. The prospect may still have a healthy list of engagements with you but for those prospects who are hardly engaging with you, it might just highlight the fact that they aren’t at all.

If nothing else – it’s an interesting exercise to see who of our prospects this could apply to!

At MarCloud, we offer a free review of your Pardot org that will help you identify the areas you should focus on to get the most from Pardot. If you’d like to take advantage of this, get in touch, I’d love to speak with you!

The Author

Carl Mortimer

Carl is a Salesforce Marketing Champion and a functional consultant at MarCloud Consulting, certified in Sales Cloud, Pardot and Marketing Cloud.

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