Choose the Right Pardot Automation: Ask These 4 Questions

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For anyone who has studied for their Pardot Specialist Exam, you will know that there’s a big focus on automation. Knowing each of the automation options available in Pardot is a good start, but what Pardot Specialists grasp, is which automation to apply in a specific scenario.

There is one flowchart that has circulated around for a few years, that guides you to which automation you should apply according to the use case you are confronting. It seems like a good time to dig out the classic flowchart, give it a refresh, and put the ‘automation’ in ‘marketing automation’!



This post will go through 4 questions you should ask yourself, to guide you to choose the best automation for your Pardot campaign – plus a bonus question if you want to explore Pardot advanced features.

Question 1: What will trigger the automation to fire?

We know that something needs to happen to trigger an automation to fire. This ‘something’ that needs to happen falls into two categories:

  • Interaction: a prospect interacts with a marketing asset (scroll down for a definition of marketing asset).
  • Criteria: who a prospect is – that is, their data stored in Pardot default and custom fields – can match/not match the criteria you set on rules.

I want the automation to fire based on a prospect interaction.

Marketing assets are the pieces that, as a whole, make up a campaign or marketing tactic. These include:

  • Emails
  • Forms / Landing Pages
  • Custom Redirects (tracked links)
  • Files
  • Web pages

Your marketing assets exist for prospects to interact with, for example:

  • Opening an email
  • Clicking on a landing page
  • Submitting a form
  • Downloading a file
  • Visiting a web page

Marketing asset + prospect interaction = use Completion Actions

Completion actions fire every time an interaction happens, when it happens. You set up your completion actions on the marketing asset itself, for example, to set up a completion action on a form, go to the form edit wizard for that specific form.

If you would like automation to fire based on criteria, you have a few other options…

Question 2: Do you need the automation to run more than once?

Now we will tackle the automations that you can set up to fire based on a prospect’s data matching/not matching your desired criteria. Criteria tells Pardot who you want to keep in your fishing net.

If you do not need your automation to run more than once, you can use Segmentation Rules.

Segmentation rules are designed to pull a one-time list of prospects and apply the action, such as adding to a list or Salesforce Campaign. They are (dare I say) the least useful of the 4 Pardot automations, but do come in handy for heavy duty data management. They can also be praised for their efficiency – remember that multiple rules processing in the background can slow down processing speed.

If you need the automation to run unsupervised and/or repeat, move straight away to question 3.

Question 3: Does the automation need to evaluate all prospects account-wide? Do you want it to run in the background?

This is where I introduce Automation Rules, the most useful and broad of the automations.

Automation rules can be run, paused and resumed – you have control. Pardot scans the whole prospect database for prospects that match the criteria you have set, and apply the action.

This is your best option for automating ‘operational’ processes, such as routing prospect assignments to users.

Whereas segmentation rules are retroactive (evaluate what’s already happened), automation rules are both retroactive and forward-looking, and once running, will continue to look for matches with any new prospects that enter Pardot.

Furthermore, automation rules are the most supercharged automation, because they are able to repeat – after a certain amount of time, Pardot will rescan the prospect database for further matches and apply the actions.

If you are looking to add and remove prospects from a list automatically, then an automation rule may not be the best option. You should ask yourself question 4…

Question 4: Do you need a criteria-based list that updates itself automatically?

Dynamic lists allow you to keep your marketing campaigns highly-responsive and relevant. How?

Your dynamic list will only contain prospect who are the most suitable for your campaign, refreshed constantly, so will always be up to date when needed.

There are many great use cases for dynamic lists, including controlling when prospects join Engagement Programs, and when they should leave (keeping only an audience relevant to the program’s content).

Bonus Question: Does the Completion Action need to run on a Marketing Asset not hosted in Pardot?

Casting our minds back to question 1, Completion actions fire based on a prospect interacting with a marketing asset. It’s simple to set these up on marketing assets hosted in Pardot – that is, the emails and forms you create in Pardot. There are marketing assets on the list that are not hosted in Pardot:

  • Your website’s pages
  • Links on 3rd party websites/social media posts/digital ads

Pardot has connected these externally hosted marketing assets with completion actions using 2 other features as intermediaries. These are:

  • Page actions: a completion action fires when a prospect views a specific page of your website
  • Custom redirects: a completion action fires when a prospect clicks on a tracked link, that can be placed anywhere (as I just said above: 3rd party websites/social media posts/digital ads).

These features are worth exploring as you build out your campaign automation, and connect up the final missing ‘dots’ to Pardot.


Every Pardot Specialist needs to know about each of the automation options available in Pardot, but more importantly, which automation to apply when. By using these 4 (/5) questions, you will be able to direct yourself to which automation you should be using for the most optimal campaign flow and account set up!


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