That Small Country In Europe Offers Big Opportunities

Are you marketing only to the larger countries in the world? That may be a mistake, and I’ll explain in this post, where I’m taking you to one of the smaller countries in Europe. The Netherlands is only 16,000 square miles, but still has 17 million people living on that small piece of ground, and offers great insight into the way Europe does search and where the future will take us.

So why is the Netherlands interesting? In the Netherlands you will find 85% of the population online. That makes it second in the world behind Korea when it comes to internet penetration.

I will try to give you some insights in the Dutch online community, because if you understand the Dutch you will be able to optimize better and get better conversions. Like most countries, the Netherlands has its own “rules” about what works—and what doesn’t—just like other countries around the world.

Not afraid of eCommerce

This weekend the Netherlands celebrated a national holiday, Sinterklaas, named for a “bishop” who hands out gifts to the children, just like Santa Claus does at Christmas. This holiday means gifts and gifts mean spending. And the Dutch like to buy online. During this Sinterklaas holiday, the Dutch spent 20 million euros a week for a month.

If you’re a retailer, therefore, it’s good to know the holidays in Holland. Did you know for example that the Dutch use the day after Christmas and the day after Easter for shopping?

Mobile is huge

The Netherlands has a high mobile user penetration. 80% of the Dutch have a mobile phone. And they are using it not just for making phone calls. They actually are using it as a browser. And not just that. Layar, which was discussed right here on Search Engine Land, is a mobile application which turns your mobile phone into a “walking search engine” when on the road using augmented reality. The service and many like it have been adopted by the Dutch—one third of Dutch women are expected to buy their holiday gifts using their mobile phone.

Social media, but with a local flavor

The Dutch are very socially-minded. They spent a lot of time on social media applications. Twitter is very popular in the Netherlands, as is native Hyves, more popular than bigger than Facebook in with local users, especially young people. One third of 8 year-olds has a Hyves account, with over 50 friend connects. These youngsters are using Hyves and MSN—Twitter is not very big with youth in Holland.

So, can you look at the Netherlands and conclude that if you optimize for the country, you can optimize for the rest of Europe? I’m afraid not. As in every European country the Dutch needs to be handled as a separate country, with its own rules and its own needs.

Optimizing for the Dutch market is not rocket science. You start with “standard” SEO rules that apply everywhere. Then you get a Dutchman for translation. Then the real work starts: get to know the Dutch. Know their habits. And with that you will create conversion. To get you started here are some basic Dutch habits which you need to know.

The Dutch “poldermodel” means compromising

The Dutch have a very diverse history. A couple of centuries ago there were different groups in Holland who each had their own wishes. The Dutch learned to live together and learned how to negotiate. That means that the Dutch usually make “deals” in which everybody gets what they want. And that usually means a difficult compromise. This means everybody has an important voice: every opinion counts. Online, that translates to everybody wanting to comment and every site must have some kind of feedback mechanism, whether it is through comments or through a contact form. The Dutch need to be able to react.

Actively trading, but looking for a good deal

Ever since the 16th century the Dutch have been known for traveling the world and trading. Even today, the Dutch are always looking for a good deal. They like it cheap. “Going Dutch” really exists ;). Online that translates into success for websites that offer deals or second-hand material, like Marktplaats, the Dutch version of eBay.

Privacy is important… but Dutch style

Europe is currently abuzz with privacy issues. Google Streetview, Google Books and probably now also Google personalized search will be subject to discussion in many countries. The Netherlands is no different in that. The Dutch are very keen on their privacy, both online and offline. Walk through the streets of a Dutch village in the night and all the curtains are closed. However, the Dutch really are curious about what their neighbors are doing. So they love to look into peoples houses. That’s why housing sites flourish. Not because people want to buy houses, but because they want to look into other peoples houses.

The Netherlands is small, but it really has its own rules. Follow the rules and chances are good you will get to them with your search marketing campaign.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Multinational Search


About The Author: is a Web/search strategist, international search specialist, trainer, and well-respected blogger. Bas is well informed about what's going on in the world of Internet and search marketing worldwide and especially Europe. Bas is the owner of and also posts regularly on his personal blog.

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  • ballparkbob

    I have always been a believer of expanding to smaller countries where you can get good margins and have little competition. We’ve been active with our IVR services in the Czech Republic for 13 years.

  • Evert

    I think you are a little exaggerating on the differences between the Netherlands and the USA. It is one of the most Americanized European countries in the sense that English is used a lot in the search terms.And the phenomena you describe aren’t fundemental to using a search engine. So as an advertiser it isn’t to difficult to adapt your advertising campaign.

    Also interesting to note the complete monopoly of Google in the Netherlands.

  • Bas van den Beld

    Hi Evert, you’re right about that the Netherlands is one of the most Americanized European countries. However, what I’m trying to point out here is to look beyond the ‘standard’ search methods and learn from, in this case the Dutch, culture to improve your conversions. So the phenomena aren’t fundamental, they can make the difference. Success is made by the differences, not the fundamentals.

    I’m not trying to point out the differences, I’m trying to point out where you can make the difference.

    In my opinion, the more you know about your target group, the more you can optimize and make the differences.


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