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What is SEO (search engine optimization) and how does it work?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Written by Niek van Son MSc on September 13, 2021

Niek van Son

Last updated June 12, 2023

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization or in Dutch search engine optimization.

SEO is a set of techniques designed to optimize the display and positioning of Web pages in organic search results. All with the goal of getting more (qualitative) organic traffic.

Google is dominant in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, Google has a 92.85% market share (Statista, 2023) and is the only relevant search engine for most companies. So search engine optimization in the Netherlands means primarily Google optimization.

market share

Why is SEO so important?

With SEO, you can improve the ranking of your pages. This can make a huge difference in the long run. For example, in a search result where only organic results are displayed, the first search result receives 43.61% of clicks and the second only 12.77%. Positions outside the top 2 have a CTR (click-through-rate) of less than 10%. To give you a good idea of the effect of a top ranking, we chart the average CTR of the top 10 rankings of "organic" and "organic and people ask too" search results for you. The data is from Advancedwebranking (2023).


What can you achieve with SEO?

The goal of SEO is to get more relevant traffic to a Web site through the organic, unpaid, search engine results. The ultimate goal of companies doing SEO is often growth: more customers or leads. But that's not the only thing you can achieve with it.

  • Insight into what your potential customers are searching for and how they are searching. Also useful for other communications. For more information see keyword research.
  • A logically structured website based on the search behavior of your potential customers.
  • An endless stream of ideas for new content.

How does SEO work?

There are many factors that determine the ranking of your website pages in the search engines. An SEO specialist knows which factors to tinker with to boost your website's organic ranking. For starters, we can best categorize the factors into the 3 pillars of SEO:

#1: Content

By content, we mean all the information available on your website. Think of texts, images, meta titles and descriptions and videos.

#2: Technology

It may not be as visible on your website, but it is important for your SEO. When improving the technology of your website, you can think about speed, hosting, robots.txt, xml sitemaps, duplicate content, internal linking, canonicals.

#3: Link building

An essential part of SEO. Through link building, you build authority for your website. You do this by creating quality external links to your website. Among other things, Google uses these external links to determine how valuable the content is to the user and will most likely place pages with quality external links high in search results. In addition, the relevance of the link also plays a role. A link from the bakery around the corner to your IT company is worth less than a link from a software company.

What does an SEO specialist do?

We hope you now have an idea of how SEO works. An SEO specialist is doing a number of things to improve the online findability of your website. We'll explain it to you in a few steps:

Step 1: Keyword research

To begin, every SEO specialist will conduct a keyword research study. This will give the specialist insight into the keywords that are relevant to your business and also have search volume. Read our article on keyword research if you want to know more about that. So the keyword research forms the basis for the content on your website.

Step 2: Optimizing the website

After you map out which keywords you want to target as a business, you can optimize your website on them. This is when the three pillars of SEO come into play.

Content: This is where we use the keywords from your research to optimize your current and new content for SEO. For example, consider an article about baking a cake. Your research shows that people often search on "cake baking recipe," "healthy cake baking" and "cake baking for beginners. Ideally, you would then write a blog post about the recipe of a healthy cake baking for beginners.

Technique: Now that you have written your article on baking a healthy cake for beginners, you also want to get the technical aspects right. For example, make sure your page loads quickly and that your article is not duplicated on your website.

Link building: By gathering external links to your cake recipe you will build authority, which will help your article move higher in the rankings. For example, consider a website where you can read recipes. Share your recipe with this website and maybe they will post your recipe.

Search engine optimization considerations

When you want to optimize SEO for your website yourself, there are a number of considerations to think about:

  • What keywords will I focus on?
  • How do I write SEO copy?
  • For each of these keywords, do I have a page that is useful to the searcher?
  • What does a searcher on this keyword want to do on a website (search intent).
  • What is the state of my technical (onsite) optimization.
  • Am I going to use SEO software? And if so, which one?
  • How am I going to ensure that my SEO traffic also generates revenue.

SEO is an online marketing channel that is often outsourced to an SEO agency because it requires specialized knowledge that is not available in-house.

Google algorithm updates

Google makes regular updates to its algorithm to make search results better. 2 of the best known are:

  • Penguin update: intended to punish the results of manipulative link building. By now 7 confirmed updates. As of 2016 (Penguin 4.0), it is real-time, which means, among other things, you no longer have to wait until a subsequent update to recover.
  • Panda update: designed to filter out the websites with low quality content from the results.

It is wise to keep an eye on these updates from Google, as they may explain why you are losing website traffic. By doing so, you give yourself the opportunity to update your content so that you can limit or even benefit from the impact of the algorithm update.

Curious about an overview of Google alogrithm updates? Mary Haynes has a comprehensive list of all Google updates since 2011 online.

Benefits of SEO

Optimizing SEO for your website has several important benefits:

  • There is no need to pay for every visitor that comes in through SEO unlike Google Ads.
  • Searchers see organic search results as more credible than ads.
  • It increases organic website traffic on your website for the long term.
  • It increases your company's brand awareness.
  • Visible to searchers with search intent that matches your business.

Disadvantages of SEO

In addition to the advantages, there are also some disadvantages of SEO:

  • It takes time for the effects of the investment to show up.
  • Google regularly updates its algorithm, which can create uncertainty.
  • It can be difficult to compete on keywords where competition is high.


Advancedwebranking. (2023).Google Organic CTR History. https://www.advancedwebranking.com/ctrstudy/

Niek van Son

Niek van Son MSc

Marketing Management (MSc, University of Tilburg). 10+ years of experience as an online marketing consultant (SEO - SEA). Occasionally writes articles for Frankwatching, Marketingfacts and B2bmarketeers.nl.

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