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Marketing Cloud Administrator Certification Guide & Tips

By Lucy Mazalon

The Marketing Cloud Administrator certification is for those marketing professionals who have experience setting up and maintaining various modules (Studios/Builders) and features in the Marketing Cloud suite. 

This guide will share my experiences working towards passing the Marketing Cloud Administrator certification so that you can make the most of the opportunity and avoid the same mistakes I made when studying towards it. Regardless of your outcome, remember that each certification exam is a valuable learning experience.

About the Marketing Cloud Administrator Certification

Recommended experience

Salesforce recommends you have 3 to 6 months hands-on experience as a Marketing Cloud Administrator and digital marketer in order to attempt this exam. 

And that’s advice that shouldn’t be taken lightly! When starting to study for the Marketing Cloud Admin exam, I was blown away by the amount of content that the exam covers. You really do need to know your way around Marketing Cloud (navigation), how to manage data (in a perplexing number of ways), and a breadth of Marketing Cloud modules.

Not the entry-level Marketing Cloud certification

A key point to consider is that Marketing Cloud Admin is not the certification to start with on your Marketing Cloud journey. That can often become a misconception as the Salesforce Administrator certification is widely known as the entry certification on the Salesforce side. 

In fact, on the Marketing Cloud side, Email Specialist is a sensible option to take before Marketing Cloud Admin. Why? The Email Specialist focuses on one ‘builder’, i.e. Email Studio. For Marketing Cloud Admin, you need to know about more builders, and be able to apply your knowledge to make multiple elements work together in harmony.

READ MORE: Which Marketing Cloud Certification Should I Take First?

Gateway to SFMC Consultant (prerequisite)

While Marketing Cloud Admin is not considered the wisest SFMC certification to start (see previous point), you’ll be able to register for the SFMC Admin exam without any other Marketing Cloud certifications. 

Having said this, there are some prerequisite dependencies between the four Marketing Cloud certifications that you should be aware of: 

  • Marketing Cloud Admin is required before attempting Marketing Cloud Consultant.
  • Marketing Cloud Email Specialist is required before attempting Marketing Cloud Developer.
READ MORE: Pardot & Marketing Cloud Certification Paths [Infographic]

Marketing Cloud Administrator Key Topics 

The official Trailhead exam guide presents the sections the exam will cover in the following order: 

  • Digital marketing proficiency (13%)
  • Subscriber data management (18%)
  • Setup (38%)
  • Channel management (16%)
  • Maintenance (15%)

However, my approach to every certification exam is to tackle the section with the highest weighting, and move through to the smallest. This couldn’t be more true for Marketing Cloud Admin, with over two thirds of the questions relating to setup.   

Here’s a breakdown of the core concepts to know that may trip you up from the heaviest weighted sections. 

Note: Individual concepts/modules referenced in this guide are aligned, as best to my knowledge, to the official Trailhead certification guide. From my experience in studying for the exam, some concepts/modules could reappear in different sections. There could be overlap between sections that are hard to pinpoint. What you will read here reflects the topic covered on each module of the Trailhead certification preparation path (with potentially some deviation having sat the exam).


Although not an ‘official’ section of the exam, navigation does need calling out. I highly recommend that you know your way around Marketing Cloud – including, what you need to find, and what click path you need to go through to get there. If you know this, then questions about navigation are easy to answer, and will boost your score. 

For example, where would you find data synced from Sales Cloud? That would be in Contact Builder → Data Sources.

A potential tripping point is where you’ll find reports; most are accessible from Analytics Builder, others are available in Email Studio, and you’ll find specific reports on your Marketing Cloud Setup home page. 

Here, it’s deciding whether you’ll find this report in Analytics Builder or Email Studio. Once you’ve determined the first ‘click’ in navigating there, now, where do you go: “View Catalog” or “Reports Shortcut”?

Note: The example question above is featured in our Marketing Cloud Admin Practice Exam Pack – plus other questions around locating reports, their use cases, and testing how well you know your way around the platform!

Setup (38%)

With over one third of the questions relating to setup, this one chunky section that I recommend you start with (and spend the majority of your time on). You can expect 23 (out of 60) questions covering:

  • Business units (+ Tenants)
  • Login Security
  • Audit Trail
  • Role-Based Permissions (+ adding/disabling users)
  • Setup Home (+ Metrics you can expect to see)
  • Setup Assistant
  • Marketing Cloud Account Settings
  • Configuring Delivery (Including Sender Authentication Package) 
  • Marketing Cloud Reports (Tracking in Email Studio and Standard reports)
  • Marketing Cloud Connect
  • Web Analytics Connector (+ Parameter Manager)

Business units 

Marketing Cloud business units (BUs) partition data, assets, and users to mirror your internal org structure, e.g. by brand or regional teams. BUs provide centralized control over certain aspects, but there are a dizzying amount of rules to learn for ‘who controls what’ – the enterprise, or the child business unit? 

You’ll come across the term Tenant when studying Marketing Cloud documentation. Familiarize yourself with the definition here, as this differs depending on how BUs are structured in an account.

Login security

Admittedly, this is a topic I could commit to memory (as every SFMC Admin should). There are set best practices when it comes to configuring access policies (i.e. who should gain access to your Marketing Cloud account).

Find the full list of login ‘best practices’ here.

Note: The example question above is featured in our Marketing Cloud Admin Practice Exam Pack.

There are other key concepts to explore also. These include: 

  • API users, FTP users: Should they be exempt from password/session expiration? (Plus, how to control the settings.) 
  • Passwords: How any Marketing Cloud user can reset their own password. 
  • Allowlist IP Login: Authenticates that a user is logging in from an IP address that’s included on the IP Allowlist.

Audit Trail

The audit trail is for security admin users to view Marketing Cloud access and activity records. I spent time focusing on the Marketing Cloud audit trail, however, no questions came up in the exam for me. I recommend you understand the following:

  • Enable Audit Trail Data Collection is the setting that activates audit logging.
  • View Audit Trail records either through Automation Studio data extracts or through REST API extracts.
  • The differences between the Basic Audit Trail and Advanced Audit Trail.
    • Basic: Available to all Marketing Cloud customers, and has a 30-day retention period. Tracks user authentication (Logins and logouts are audited at the enterprise level, not the business unit level), and changes to users, permissions, roles, and Security Settings (i.e. password changes). 
  • Advanced: Contact your Account Executive at Salesforce to enable this. Has a 60-day retention period. Tracks the same as basic, and in addition activity in various modules (e.g. Email Studio) and the Google Analytics integration.

Marketing Cloud User Permissions

Ah, what I described as a ‘can of worms’ (in a well meaning way!). You need to understand:

  • Roles: You can find a list of the standard roles here. What I found useful is to recreate the table and split out the description column into ‘what they can do’ and ‘what they can’t do’. Note the difference between the roles that start with “Marketing Cloud” and those that don’t (i.e. the ones that don’t start with “Marketing Cloud” are roles specific to Email Studio). 
  • Permissions: You can allow/deny specific permissions to get more granular. Deny permissions will override any allow permissions that are set at the role-level. 
  • How to add/disable users.
  • Marketing Cloud Connect user permissions are Non-scope by user or Scope by user.

Setup Home & Setup Assistant 

Setup Home is where admins update account settings.

There are a number of metrics available to see a high-level overview of your account’s activity and health: 

  • Users: Total no. users in your account. For BUs, displays only no. users assigned to that business unit.
  • Automations: No. and states of automations in the past 7 days. 
  • Data extensions: No. of DEs.
  • Content: No. pieces of content in the account, including subtotals of shared assets.
  • Journeys: No. and states of journeys.

The Setup Assistant is a guided checklist admins can leverage when setting up their Marketing Cloud account. This includes: 

  • Manage FTP accounts.
  • Create data extensions.
  • Implement the correct data structure for your needs.
  • Create, send, and track your first email send.

Aside from this, I recommend you familiarize yourself with all that can be determined via Setup, and which settings should be configured in other parts of SFMC.

Configure Delivery

If you’ve achieved the Marketing Cloud Email Specialist certification you will notice an overlap with the section ‘best practices for deliverability’

Sender Authentication Package (SAP) is a Marketing Cloud add-on that gives you more control over deliverability. You should first understand the difference between Shared IPs and Dedicated IPs. Then, explore these benefits of SAP

  • Private Domain: Assigns a domain used to send email (the ‘from’ address).  
  • Account Branding: Modifies link and image wrapping and removes all references to Marketing Cloud in favor of your authenticated domain.
  • Dedicated IP Address: Assigns a unique IP address to your account
  • Reply Mail Management: Controls the replies you receive from your subscribers. Assign filters for out-of-office messages and manual unsubscribe requests.

Send classifications distinguish between different types of email sends, e.g. between transactional and marketing emails (where you should want to set a different ‘from’ name and IP address). Send classifications act like templates that control sending information, designed to be reused across multiple email sends. They are made up of two components:

  • Sender profiles: Specify the ‘from’ information for a send. 
  • Delivery profiles: Determine the delivery information for a message, including IP address and headers/footers.

Marketing Cloud Reports

Again, another section that I’m not going to go into full detail on. You should know the following: 

  • Which reports you’ll find in Email Studio versus Analytics Builder. (Note: You will find email reports in both Email Studio and Analytics Builder!)
  • What the purpose of each report is, the most key is knowing when to use the Account Send Summary Report
  • Tracking data stays in your account as long as your account exists.

Web Analytics Connector

  • Connects your web analytics to track and analyze data from your Marketing Cloud sends.
  • Parameter Manager tags links in your emails by automatically including specific variables in the target URLs. Parameters can be set at the Account/Email/Subscriber/Link-level.


Marketing Cloud Connect

  • Know the steps involved in setup. 
  • Understand how to troubleshoot the various errors that you could come across.

Note: The example question above is featured in our Marketing Cloud Admin Practice Exam Pack.

Subscriber Data Management (18%)

There are many ways to store and relate data – but with such flexibility comes responsibility! Data models in Marketing Cloud are enough to make you want to ‘bury your head in the sand’; however, once you grasp the concepts, you are well on your way to becoming an indispensable Marketing Cloud Admin. 

Subscriber Data 

  • Profile attributes versus preference attributes:
    • Profile attribute: Piece of info about a subscriber that is stored on their profile (e.g. date of birth). There are default profile attributes that can’t be modified.  ‘User defined’ is a generic, out-of-the-box attribute that you can use as needed. 
    • Preference attribute: How a subscriber prefers to receive email. Specified as ‘yes’/’no’ choices. 
  • Difference between a contact and a subscriber.
  • All Subscriber list versus All Contacts list:
    • All Subscribers list = Email Studio.
    • All Contacts lists = Contact Builder.
  • Subscribers added to a subscriber list join the All Subscribers list at the same time. 
  • Subscribers stored on data extensions join the All Subscribers list when you send your first message to that subscriber.

Keys (Contact, Subscriber, Foreign)

  • Subscriber Key: Primary key for your subscribers with a value that you choose. Contacts are identified by the Subscriber Key in Email Studio.
    • Maintain multiple sets of subscriber attributes for a single email address. For example, if a family shares an email address, you can use a Subscriber Key to uniquely identify each member of the family.
    • Include a single email address multiple times on a list. For example, send a separate message for each car a subscriber owns in a single send.
    • The Subscriber Key must be present in every sendable data extension.
  • Contact Key: The unique identifier you assign to a contact. ties together the contact, channels, and the relationship. Contacts are identified by the Contact Key in Contact Builder.
    • Use a single Contact Key to prevent duplicates across all SFMC channels.
    • Use a unique value that does not relate to a specific channel.
    • Use a Contact Key value that does not change based on customer behavior.
    • Regularly review your Contacts Count Report
  • Contact ID: Number Salesforce uses to uniquely identify a contact on the backend.
  • Foreign Key: used to connect data between two unique tables or sources. For example, you might find CustomerID on a customer data extension, and PurchaserID on a POS data source.

Contact Builder 

  • Contact Builder: An app within Marketing Cloud where you can…
    • Access contact data stored in your Marketing Cloud account. 
    • Forge relationships between different data sets 
    • Deploy these to other apps/external sources.
  • You can manage imported contacts in Contact Builder, to segment them into further lists.
    • Data Extensions: Data extensions are necessary for Contact Builder. These hold contact information.
    • Data Designer enables you to define information about your contacts and relate that data directly to the contact record by linking data extensions.
    • Data Sources: Visualize where your contact data originates and assign attributes to those sources.
  • Data: n Email Studio, data shows up in Contact Builder, but data in Contact Builder does not show up in Email Studio. 
  • Filter Activities.
  • Contact Deletion: 
    • Data extension retention policy deletes unused data extensions after 6 months.
    • Contact Deletion in UI has to be set up on a sendable data extension or in a mobile list.
    • There is a two-day default period, which is customizable, where Contact Builder suppresses contact information from showing in channel applications.
  • Populations: These are used to categorize distinct subgroups of contacts to use for a campaign. 
  • Measures: These are a unit of subscriber behavior that you define in Email Studio. After you create a measure, you can include the measure as criteria in a data filter to segment a subscriber list.

Note: The example question above is featured in our Marketing Cloud Admin Practice Exam Pack.

Data Extensions

  • Sendable versus non-sendable data extensions:
    • Sendable have a send relationship and map to a subscriber. Contacts are added to All Contacts when you send to them.
    • Nonsendableare reference data, such as the weather, airport codes, orders, product tables, etc. They contain data that could personalize emails (but not a person you are sending an email to).
  • The SendLog data extension is created to store specific data about your email sends – beyond the information already stored in tracking (ie. email send performance based on a job ID (or a system created ID) at the time of send). Determine if you want to have the send log.

Channel Management (16%)

Mobile Studio

  • Understand the differences between GroupConnect, MobileConnect, and MobilePush – and how people can subscribe to each. 
  • Know about default keywords (e.g. HELP, STOP) and how keywords work between business units. 
  • Learn about why blockout windows are used and their behavior. 

Email Studio 

  • Get familiar with the multiple ways an email can be sent from Marketing Cloud, especially Send Flow in Email Studio. 
  • Understand the purpose of auto-suppression lists, and the tasks you should do before enabling them. 
  • Know how personalization strings present themselves, and what to do if data doesn’t populate. 
  • Read up on the purpose of Content Detective (what it can and can’t do). 
  • Get familiar with A/B Testing, including the conditions you can set for the test, and how the sample send and winning version selection happens.
  • Know the difference between list-level unsubscribes, account-level unsubscribes, and global unsubscribes. 
  • Note what “Send as Multipart MIME” does (i.e. auto-generated text version will be sent with your HTML email, and that open and click activities are tracked in both versions).

Journey Builder

  • The types of journeys you can build with Journey Builder are: Single Send, Transactional Send, Multi-Step.
    • Multi-Step journeys have goals and exit criteria. Know how these work together, when goals are evaluated, etc. 
  • Get familiar with entry sources (which to use, and when).
  • Know contact entry options (no re-entry, re-entry at any time, and re-entry only after exiting).
  • Understand how Journey Builder split, wait, and join activities work.
    • Split types: Engagement Split, Decision Split, Random Split, Einstein Scoring Split.
    • When using Path Optimizer activities, know how they are configured, including holdback percentages. 
    • Learn about the use cases for Join activities.

Maintenance (15%)

While seemingly a minor proportion of the exam is on Maintenance compared to Setup, there’s plenty of jargon to understand here. 

Data Import 

Ways to get data into Marketing Cloud: 

  • Manual Importing (Email Studio)
  • Import Definition (Contact Builder)
  • Import Activity (Automation Studio)

I found the table below useful when studying:

Manual Importing (Email Studio)Import Definition (Contact Builder)Import Activity (Automation Studio)
Import any data type. Navigate to the data extension and clicking on the Records tab.Reusable import definition. Click the action icon in the row of the definition you want to trigger.Create/reuse import definition (from either Contact Builder or Automation Studio). Add steps to the automation and define when you want the automation to run.
ProsEasy to use. Allows you to import a record from your desktop (vs. an FTP).Can be used in a future automation, or can be used with an API call.Automated. Can be easily scheduled.
ConsCan’t be automated.Can’t be automated.Initial setup is more complex.

Automation Studio

  • Import Activity: Use an outside file to update a subscriber list or data extension in Automation Studio.
    • Creating an import definition establishes import file details and the import activity’s behavior while running.
    • File Drop – No Filename Pattern vs. File Drop – Use Filename Pattern. Both run when a file is dropped into a designated FTP folder, but the former will run regardless of naming convention, whereas the latter will run only if the file includes a designated filename pattern. 
  • File Transfer Activity: Understand the steps to create one. Define the Source File Location, Create New Import Definition, define Destination and Mapping (data extension and Data Action). 
  • How File transfer + Import file activities work together. The process is either:
    • File transfer (unzips and decrypts) → Safehouse → Import file activity → Data extension
    • Import file activity → Enhanced FTP import → Data extension.

I found Shibu Abraham’s article (and diagrams) very useful to understand this.

Query Data with SQL

In Marketing Cloud, an SQL query activity is used to execute queries and retrieve data for reporting or segmenting audiences. These are the commands you will come across: 

  • SELECT: Command to locate data on a database.
  • FROM: Location where data reside within Marketing Cloud (usually a data extension).
  • JOIN: Allows the query to search multiple tables and/or data extensions.
  • WHERE: Used to filter out data you do/don’t want.

Noteworthy concepts and best practices: 

  • Use SELECT * very carefully as this can cause slowness in the system as it’s likely processing a large amount of data.
  • Queries time-out after 30 minutes.
  • Salesforce-created queries that you can use to find information about your subscribers. Can’t make changes to these precreated data views. Commonly used SQL data views include _bounce, _Click, _Open, _Complaint, _Journey (see the details for each here).

Note: The example question above is featured in our Marketing Cloud Admin Practice Exam Pack.

System Availability is where you should check if there have been unexpected performance issues in Marketing Cloud. You will need your MID (Member ID for the organization) to determine which instance you’re on. Find this by hovering over your Account Name in the Marketing Cloud interface.

Study Strategy

The first place to start is the official Trailhead exam guide. This will give a breakdown of the topics, and concepts that each section will hit upon. While the exam outlines are concise, I often find that granular topics are disguised in the high-level information. 

The Study for the Marketing Cloud Administrator Exam Trail is split into two units, which contain the topics that reflect the exam guide.

My approach to every certification exam is to tackle the section with the highest weighting, and move through to the smallest. This couldn’t be more true for Marketing Cloud Admin, with over a third of the questions relating to Setup.   

If you have the same mindset as I do, then focus your attention on the Setup and Data modules, as not only are these the bulk of the questions, they are also challenging sections.

As I said above, ‘while the exam outlines are concise, I often find that granular topics are disguised in the high-level information’. Surely, that’s the point? Anyone attempting the exam should have a sound knowledge of the tool they want to become certified in. 

So, how do you get into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of Marketing Cloud? If you have access to a Marketing Cloud account, you’re at an advantage. That’s because there are no dev orgs (i.e. practice environment) available for Marketing Cloud. This is unlike all other Salesforce products, where you can request developer orgs on demand. However, there are many people who are knowledgeable about Marketing Cloud, but don’t have access to an environment where they can play around ‘safely’.  

Mapping on paper is my tip here. I know that I am someone who needs to draw/write, which is especially true in this situation where I can’t get hands-on with the tool in an environment that’s appropriate for practice. You will come across questions in the exam that ask about data relationships, which is prime for scribbling down in the exam itself. 

Keep digging into the documentation is another key tip I’d like to share. Trailhead is useful to direct your study, but you’re not going to succeed with Trailhead alone. The exam is testing for a broad knowledge of Marketing Cloud. As a fully-fledged admin, you should know the ‘nuts and bolts’ of each account setting, studio, builder, etc. If Trailhead alone is your approach, you will be doing yourself a disservice (regarding your long term career) – plus, you will certainly miss details that could be asked upfront in the exam.

Exam Strategy

When exam day finally arrives, there are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance of passing.

  • If there are any concepts that you are struggling to get to grips with, then print them off in a cheat sheet style. Whether you’re traveling to a test center, or working on your day job, having these to glance at in the run up to the exam is beneficial.  
  • When taking the exam, pay particular attention to the question, and read it through a few times. 
  • When deciding on your answer, use the process of elimination to reject the answers that are definitely incorrect. With the remaining ones, you may find that some answer options are curveballs – these may sound right, but a small detail in the question does not make that answer feasible/the optimal option for the use case.
  • Use the “Mark for review” feature, which is a checkbox to mark questions if you are unconfident in the answer at that moment. Personally, I use this option extensively because I get exam jitters (the first few questions I’m fazed by adrenaline). At the end of the exam, you can revisit these questions (although, I will go through all the questions again). 
  • With the paper you are allowed in the exam, start a column for ✅ (I’m confident I’ve got this correct) and another column for❓(I’m unsure). The tally in each column after the first round will give you an idea of where you stand. Keep reading the questions you’re unsure of, again, and once more (you have plenty of time!) – you may find that something triggers your memory.


The Marketing Cloud Administrator certification is for those marketing professionals who have experience setting up and maintaining various modules (Studios/Builders) and features in the Marketing Cloud suite. 

This guide has shared my experiences working towards passing the Marketing Cloud Administrator certification so that you can make the most of the opportunity and avoid the same mistakes I made when studying towards it. Regardless of your outcome, remember that each certification exam is a valuable learning experience. 

Are you ready to book your exam? This guide will help you navigate the Salesforce certification registration platform.

The Author

Lucy Mazalon

Lucy is the Operations Director at Salesforce Ben. She is a 10x certified Marketing Champion and founder of The DRIP.


    October 31, 2020 10:46 am
    Thank you for your great explanations !
    February 11, 2021 12:37 pm
    Great article! The link for Journey Builder Basics P2 leads to the webinar/talk about roles and permissions. Is there a different link you can share for P2? I really enjoyed P1.
    Christine Marshall
    February 17, 2021 11:14 am
    Hi Madeline, Apologies! The link has now been updated. Thank you for letting us know. Best, Christine
    Mithil Patel
    February 20, 2022 7:23 pm
    Hi. I had a question about this certification. My company does not currently use sfdc as a CRM but has asked me to get the marketing cloud and Pardot certifications first before making the investment in the software. Do you think I will be able to crack the marketing cloud (or Pardot) exam without the sandbox/trial account to reference the study? Or do I need to target a different strategy here? I have been working in a CRM setting for 5+ years (certified Hubspot professional, also have working knowledge of crms like salesloft, pipedrive). Appreciate any help.

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