CTOs on our Doorstep: Tug CTO concerned by the ‘big players stifling innovation’

In our running series, Information Age speaks to Eoin O’Neill, CTO and Global Head of SEO at Tug, on how media (as well as creative) is enhanced by data insights and driven by technology for better business results.

Tug is a digital performance marketing agency that works across a mix of digital marketing services, to create significant commercial advantage for big brands clients. It has three offices across London, Sydney and Toronto, with the UK base just three minutes from our office.

>See also: How can chief technology officers track the success of IT projects?

In Information Age’s pursuit of understanding the great variety of chief technology officers that work for technology-led companies in and around our area, we have embarked on a mission to find out what type of CTOs are here, what it takes for them to succeed and what challenges they face.

‘Driving technological and SEO excellence’

Based on the previous editions of CTOs on our Doorstep, it is evident that no CTO is the same, and each will fulfil a different role depending on the organisation and the industry. O’Neill does not prescribe to one specific role, like many CTOs, and he describes his function as “hybrid” in nature.

“I’d like to think I’m a bit unusual, but essentially I’m hands on and focused on solving problems – a kind of hybrid of various perspectives and experiences,” said O’Neill.

His focus in on driving technological and SEO excellence, innovative and bespoke tracking and data solutions, as well as building Tug’s own proprietary data sets and technology that can feed unique insights to analysts and clients.

SEO’s evolution

“SEO in itself has evolved a lot over the 12+ years I’ve been involved in it. I would say it started off as a relatively techie focused activity, almost as a subsection of development.”

“It then merged more and more into marketing as the power of solid SEO was increasingly realised by ‘traditional’ marketing teams. I feel that in some ways this moved some SEO operations away from having a core focus of technology and more towards marketing and communications, such as content marketing.”

>See also: What does the new government industrial strategy mean for CTOs?

“However, I feel that things are coming full circle a bit and back to more tech-focused SEO solutions, in particular the tie up between paid marketing channels and organic search.” On top of this, there is a “need to have a more granular understanding of how search engines actually understand our client’s pages, leading to a greater focus on log file analysis and the step by step flow of requests to build a webpage.”

‘The goal posts are often changing’

It’s the same with every industry, if you think you’ve succeeded, or become to comfortable, then that is when you are at your most vulnerable. “Avoiding complacency” is crucial, according to O’Neill. Especially in the above-average pace of the technology industry, having a mindset of ‘how can I constantly improve’ is critical to success.

Perhaps more than that, “being able to balance your understanding of technology and marketing strategy” is important, said O’Neill. “It’s important to stay up to date with the latest platform and tech developments, but also to keep a clear focus on what will actually deliver practical value to our clients or activity.”

“The goal posts are often changing, and problems such as GDPR and multi-regional data operations can lead to some unique challenges.”

>See also: From upskilling to outsourcing: How CTOs can introduce blockchain to the enterprise

Big Tech: Will it detract from innovation?

The ongoing fight between tech providers and platforms will continue, and this might contribute to the feeling that the digital world is moving towards closed networks and away from open source led innovation.

Indeed, O’Neill predicts that the “big players such as Google will continue to try and consolidate their grip on data and create increasingly closed integrations within their ecosystem. This has the potential to stifle innovation and create an unhealthy reliance on one source of truth”.

“On the upside, I do predict that there will always be innovation or even hacking achieved by smaller more agile operators on the periphery, which will lead to a greater understanding of the online to offline, of cross device experience of users for example.”


Information Age is on a journey to meet the different chief technology officers who have offices in and around our base in Old Street; what defines their role, what it takes for them to succeed, what challenges do they typically face and more

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...