It has been 20 years since the first banner ad appeared on a website. At the time, they were eye-catching! Innovative! Cutting-edge!

But as they proliferated, banner ads turned into a nightmare for companies. They disrupted sight lines, interrupted the user experience, and slowed website performance.

Fast-forward to today. A whole new marketing phenomenon has blossomed, enriching the user experience like never before: cloud technology. It is innovative! Mesmerizing!

And it's threatening to turn into its own unique nightmare for companies.

The Age of the Marketing Cloud

Welcome to the age of the marketing cloud! Today's most-visited websites in the US have on average 75 technologies in their marketing clouds, delivering anything a modern user could desire.

Here's the scary part: Although companies are adding website technologies to their marketing clouds at breakneck speed, only 13% of their IT people say they are "very effective" at managing those technologies, according to a survey conducted by Gigaom Research for Ghostery (my company, which provides marketing cloud management).

In fact, the 300 US IT decision-makers surveyed estimated they could gain an additional $50 million of ROI for their companies if they could better manage their digital marketing vendors.

In other words, IT departments are struggling daily to control the chaos of the mushrooming marketing cloud.

There Are Ghosts in That Machine

Here are the top three ways your marketing cloud could be housing ghosts that could haunt your nightmares—and cost you millions.

Threat 1: Security Gaps

Many sites have high security standards, with 42% of respondents to the Gigaom survey reporting their sites are 76% to 100% secured using SSL and HTTPS. But what keeps the IT people up at night is that any website is only as secure as its weakest link on its weakest page.

Every hour of every day, websites fall victim to security gaps as nonsecure code is placed indirectly onto them by third-parties such as advertisers, social engines, and analytics companies. The more security blind spots in your marketing cloud, the greater the threat of a security breach like a "Man in the Middle Attack."

If you think your site is safe 24/7/365, think again.

Threat 2: Poor Customer Experience

It's baaack. Just as banner ads began to interrupt the customer experience, so too is the marketing cloud threatening to push customers away when it's supposed to be pulling them in closer. A full 45% of Gigaom survey respondents cited poor customer experience as a potential risk and a cost of marketing cloud technologies.

The problem: third-party content can easily slow down a site and cause significant latency issues. The more embedded objects (like tags) on a site, the greater the impact on browsing. So, for many marketers, it's still a choice between gathering compelling customer data and providing a positive customer experience.

Threat 3: Competitive Data Leakage

Yes, they're out there: unscrupulous "competitors" just waiting for the chance to steal your customers. Any failure to control the technologies accessing your site's digital assets can lead to the loss of precious information to "partners" who also serve your competition.

For example, a marketing cloud vendor (e.g., an ad network) can easily cookie-bomb a retailer's site and then resell that audience to the competition. Suddenly a customer in the midst of making a purchasing decision can be lured away to a competitor's website for the exact same product.

How to Bust the Ghosts in Your Marketing Cloud

The good news is that as each new threat to marketing cloud performance arises, IT experts are developing solutions. To stay ahead of the threats to website security, performance, and profitability, companies need to do one main thing: maintain cutting-edge marketing cloud management.

Here's how you can address these top three threats.

Busting Threat 1: Plugging Security Gaps

The key to plugging security gaps in the marketing cloud is to pinpoint them in real time.

That script on your seemingly secure webpage can actually be altered by hidden code coming through any third-party vendor serving your site. That means your page could be secure one minute—and unsecure the next.

The tech exists to detect, in real time, whether script on a given Web page has changed or a nonsecure script is present on a secure page.

Whether you can gear up to real-time site monitoring or not, the message here is that you need to assess your current methods of cloud management, and update them to get as close to real-time monitoring as you can.

Busting Threat 2: Restoring the Customer Experience

Customer experience is difficult to quantify, but studies indicate that every moment of page latency can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. A one-second delay causes a 7% loss in conversions, according to Aberdeen Group. Fast wins!

Here are the two keys to maintaining site speed:

You need to turn away from old site-performance monitoring methods. If you feel you are behind the curve, take heart: nearly 52% of respondents to the Gigaom survey identified spreadsheets as an instrument for performing cost-benefit analyses. The sooner your company moves beyond using the equivalent of big sheets of paper to assess site profitability, the better.

IT and marketing need to get together to weigh the benefits of customer-service tech against its drag on site speed. Consider, for example, a tag that is simultaneously lauded by Marketing for its ability to drive traffic to the site and loathed by IT for causing slow page loads.

By tracking how the same tools and technologies affect different departments, organizations can get a more accurate read on technology investments and their payoffs.

Busting Threat 3: Stopping Competitor Leakage

Let me stress how scary this ghost is again: problem vendors can be hidden from view behind other vendors on your site—leaking your site data to competitors while you are paying them to do it.

But today's technology can audit your site to see who has access to it directly—and indirectly—without adding a single piece of code to your page. In short, it can address your problems without adding to them.

How to Manage Your Particular Marketing Cloud? Develop Some Killer KPIs...

Your particular solution to controlling your marketing cloud will begin at home—by bringing your IT and marketing teams together to set some common goals. Without a common set of key performance indicators (KPIs), your attempts to boost the effectiveness of your marketing cloud management may not work.

Get your teams to establish KPIs to promote greater business profitability, then get down to the details of how you'll make it happen. Working together, your teams can better manage onsite technologies and perform cost-benefit analyses of e-commerce tools, including ad networks and affiliate marketing programs.

Once you've set clear priorities and goals, you'll be able shop around for specific solutions to boost your particular marketing cloud's transparency—and bring control to the chaos in there.

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Three Threats Lurking in Your Marketing Cloud—and How to Bust Them

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image of Scott Meyer

Scott Meyer is CEO of Ghostery, monitoring consumer and business data challenges worldwide and driving solutions in website security, performance, governance, and privacy.

Twitter: @scottmeyer

LinkedIn: Scott Meyer