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How the Top Marketing Automation Platforms Track Web Visits


One of the funnest parts of being a marketing operations professional is having a behind the scenes understanding of how the technology we use helps us better understand the actions (and ultimately interests) of those engaging with us. From tracking form submissions to email interactions and all sorts of other activities in between, having this information enables us as marketers to better understand the interest of those engaging with our site and ultimately use those activities to determine when a record is ready for sales engagement.

Web activity tracking has been around for years but as users better understand how much companies are able to track, they are starting to (and have) put policies and regulations in place that are giving them more control over whether we can track them or not.

This article will cover the most common method used by marketing automation platforms (MAPs) to track web visits as well as whether a company should care about having access to this information. It will provide insight into how web tracking functionality should impact their MAP selection process, how companies enable web tracking using major platforms and who should be part of web tracking enablement in your organization.

What do the top MAPs do to enable tracking for web visits?

Most MAPs enable web tracking in the same way. Just like how Google Analytics can track a session and pages viewed during that session, nearly all MAPs require you to place a tiny bit of code (javascript) on your website that fires every time a page is loaded that is specific to your MAP and tells your MAP that the page was viewed. These web activities are typically stored in the MAP in an activity table.

Where Google Analytics does not capture any Personal Identifiable Information (PII), the goal of tracking web activities in MAPs is to associate the web activity back to a known user. So while putting the script on pages enables the MAP to anonymously track all activities back to the activity table, that is not enough for it to associate the activities back to a known user. The first step to enable this for MAPs, is to create and set a unique cookie for the machine when the user first arrives on the site we are tracking. Doing this enables the MAP to track multiple pages viewed back to a specific cookie (or machine/user).

So now that our MAP has web page views tracked in its activity table and has a cookie value for each activity that helps it group activities to a single cookie, it still does not have enough information to connect the cookie (and web actions associated with the cookie) back to a known user in the system.

This final association of anonymous web activities to known users occurs when a “conversion” event happens. The most common conversion event occurs when a form is submitted. The form submissions gives the MAP the ability to associate the web activity to a user as the MAP now has a known person (who submitted the form) and during the form submission, the MAP will capture the cookie value for the machine/user. This allows the MAP to say “Person A has activities tracked using the cookie value “abcetumosisthegoatxyz”. It will then query the web activity table and pull all web pages tracked to cookie “abcetumosisthegoatxyz” back onto the person record in the MAP.

To briefly summarize the process again, this is how the MAP tracked and associated web activity to a known user when a form conversion occurs.

  • User visits site
  • MAP web tracking script sees new user and creates a new cookie and assigns a unique cookie value for the user/machine
  • User visits 10 pages and each activity is anonymously tracked in the MAP activity table using the unique cookie value that was established when they first arrived
  • User fills form which passes the unique cookie value into the MAP associated to the known person
  • The MAP recognizes this is a unique cookie value and queries the web activity table to associate all web actions that match the unique cookie to the unique user.

The second most common method of associating a user’s cookie (and ultimately their anonymous web actions) back to the known person is when a link in an email that was sent from the MAP (with link tracking enabled) is clicked. This works because when the MAP sends emails to users, it overlays the actual links in the email with tracking links that informs the MAP that the link was clicked and by which user (because the tracked link includes an attribute that is unique to the user). When the user clicks this link and the page is opened in the browser, the tracking link looks at the cookie value for the browser and registers it with the map. Think of it this way, the MAP knows it sent an email to Person A and the act of clicking the link enables the MAP to read the user’s cookie when tracking the click which enables the MAP to pull all the anonymous web activities from the activity table and associate them to the user.

So both conversion actions enable the MAP to make previously anonymous web interactions known user interactions, they also enable all future interactions on the site to be tracked back to the user (assuming the user does not clear their cookies).

Now that we have covered what top marketing automation platforms do to enable web tracking, we’d dig into why companies should care about this process.

Why should companies care about how MAPs track web activity?

Companies should care about how MAPs track web activity because depending on where their core markets are and how strict their company’s privacy policies are, they may not be able to track all of the actions that they want to.

As described in the previous section, MAP web activity tracking relies on the use of cookies (typically 1st party cookies but sometimes 3rd party cookies depending on the vendor and where the tracking is occurring). While marketers and businesses love to use cookies so we have insight into activities, end users are becoming increasingly sensitive to the amount of tracking that companies have access to. As a result, many countries have implemented new legislation that does not allow companies to use cookies for a user without their explicit permission to do so. This change has created new product offerings and even companies that specifically help companies implement, capture and manage cookie data for site visitors to enable their preferences (companies like OneTrust, Osano, Termly, etc).

Example of cookie consent capture process on a site:

As the regulations for cookie management range from country to country and organizations all have different risk tolerance levels for legislation, these vendors enable organizations to configure their default cookie tracking process and ask for consent in places where they feel capturing consent is important.

In summary, companies should care about how MAPs track web activity because their existing cookie capture/consent process may or may not allow any top MAP to track these web activities. They should also care about this process because being able to track web activities for known visitors provides a ton of insight into user needs and pain points that may otherwise require a conversation to understand. Knowing these needs and pain points enables a proficient marketing team to customize content and experiences for their users which will ultimately result in a better understanding of your offering and how it will solve the prospect’s needs.

When should a company base their MAP selection over web tracking capabilities?

As most top MAPs enable web tracking in the same way, web tracking process really isn’t a major factor that should drive your MAP selection process.

That being said, it is important to mention that some MAPs are beginning to enable new features that help companies manage and enforce cookie consent processes on their site (like HubSpot). So while this feature doesn’t directly make HubSpot better at tracking web activity than Marketo Engage or Salesforce Marketing Cloud Account Engagement (the MAP formerly known as Pardot), understanding what features MAPs offer that enable cookie consent management may reduce your need for an additional tool to manage cookie consent management. Currently, only HubSpot offers a feature to enable this where Marketo and Pardot do not.

How do companies enable web tracking on these platforms?

So you finally acquired a shiny new MAP and now you’re keen to enable web tracking in it and don’t know where to start. Before we talk through enablement, it is important to note that by default all MAPs enable web tracking on pages hosted by the MAP so you only need to enable web tracking for any other external sites or pages that you want to track. Important to keep this in mind as you may need to ensure you are deploying your cookie consent management tool on your MAP hosted pages as well.

To help you wrap your head around how you can enable web tracking for your company, I have summarized the steps required to do so for Marketo, HubSpot and Pardot as well as provided links to each platform’s documentation.

Enabling Web Tracking in Marketo

  1. Go to the Admin area.
  2. Click Munchkin.
  3. Select your Tracking Code Type.
  4. Click and copy the Javascript tracking code.
  5. Work with your web team to add the script to the <head> element of all pages that you want to track in your MAP
  6. Test to confirm your Munchkin code is working

Enabling Web Tracking in HubSpot

  1. Go to the Settings area.
  2. Navigate to Tracking & Analytics > Tracking code.
  3. In the embed code section, click Copy or click Email to my web developer to send the code via email to your web team member assisting with the project.
  4. Add the script before the tag of all pages that you want to track in your MAP.
    • Note: The product documentation linked above lists best practices for deploying the script using common script management tools and website infrastructure tools.
  5. Test to confirm your instance is tracking web activity.

Enabling Web Tracking in Pardot

    1. Navigate to the Domain Management page.
    2. Scroll to the Tracking Code Generator and select the domain you want to generate code for.
    3. Copy the code.
    4. In your web page HTML, paste the campaign tracking code before the </body> closing tag.

As all of these MAPs use a Javascript code to enable tracking that needs to be deployed on all pages you want to track, be sure to ask your web team if your company uses Google Tag Manager or another centrally managed script tool as that may make deploying the code much faster and also give them better control over what pages they would like the script applied to.

Who should be part of web tracking enablement via your MAP?

As mentioned in the previous section, enabling web tracking for your MAP will require Admin access to the MAP you are enabling web tracking for. This means the primary Admin of your MAP will definitely need to be involved in your enablement.

In addition to your MAP Admin, you will also want access to an experienced Javascript developer. While adding the code is a simple cut/paste, an experienced Javascript developer will be able to think strategically through where the best place to deploy the code will be for your organization.

While not very common, it is a best practice to also consult with your legal team regarding your implementation of web tracking on your site. This will ensure that they are aware of your use of cookies on your site to enable tracking and also may prompt them to update their privacy policy to document the use and purpose of these tracking cookies on your site.


In summary, tracking web activity is a very valuable feature that all of the top MAPs enable. In this article we discussed how the top MAPs enable web tracking using Javascript and cookies. We discussed why companies should care about how MAPs track web activity and the impact that changing cookie legislation is beginning to have on our ability to track activity based on where your company does business and your legal risk tolerance. We also talked about why the web tracking process isn’t a huge factor in a MAP selection process but how their ability to enable cookie management processes may be a value add for an organization based on your existing toolset and desire to improve user’s abilities to manage their cookie preferences. Finally, we covered the actions required to enable web tracking in Marketo, HubSpot and Pardot as well as who you’ll need access to internally to enable web tracking for your MAP.

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