SEO is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but not many people truly understand it. We know enough to say that search engine optimization is important, but perhaps not enough to say why it’s important or what can be accomplished with it. This is true of many industries, but it’s especially true (in my experience) in the cannabis industry.
Cannabis businesses need to concentrate on creating a successful marketing and branding strategy that will allow them to connect with potential customers and stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Because of the way cannabis is siloed into individual states, and sometimes even individual counties or regions, it can be easy to believe that our industry is small and close-knit. But that illusion is about to fall apart in the very near future. In 2020, it was estimated that the U.S.’s legal cannabis industry was valued at $61 billion, with projections that it will grow to $100 billion by 2030. And while individual states have been left to craft their own rules and regulations, outside investors are already clamoring to get in on what is being called the “Green Rush.”
In order to survive such a rapidly changing environment, cannabis businesses need to concentrate on creating a successful marketing and branding strategy that will allow them to connect with potential customers and stand out in a crowded marketplace. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with a mature SEO approach that will lead to high-value, organic traffic. This is even more important when you realize that traditional pay-per-click campaigns are generally off-limits because of the cannabis stigma.
So let’s take a look at how your cannabis company can effectively implement an SEO strategy.
The Hard Truth About SEO
Let me start off by stating what should be obvious: Search Engine Optimization is hard. Dozens, if not hundreds of companies, are competing to rank highly enough in Google’s (or any other search engine) search rankings to appear on the first page of returns, if not number one. The stakes are high, because the difference between showing up on the first page and the second page couldn’t be more stark. There’s a reason that SEO experts joke that the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google search results.
Research indicates that sites ranking on the first page of results receive 95% of web traffic, leaving the remaining 5% of traffic for all the other websites. So while it may seem like you’re doing a pretty good job of SEO if you’re ranking 12 or 15 out 150 companies competing for SEO real estate, the reality is that 11th place is barely any better than being dead last. This is why fighting for a good SERP (search engine results page) ranking is so brutal.
Keep that in mind next time you’re consulting with a marketer. It’s amazing to me how many marketing companies offer SEO services but really don’t know anything about SEO. They will typically provide only the bare minimum, with service offerings like optimizing your web page structure and filling out page descriptions and metadata. Yes, this is helpful, but it truly is only scratching the surface of what a true SEO strategy entails.
What do we mean by cannabis SEO?
Let’s back up a minute and explain what exactly we mean by SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it entails optimizing your cannabis website in such a way that you improve your search rankings on Google and other search engines. These rankings are created using highly complex (and largely secret) algorithms that keep track of all of the web pages in existence. When you type a query into a search engine, the algorithm does its best to determine which of the billions of possible results are most relevant to what you are looking for.
Search Engine Optimization tries to game the system. SEO experts try to parse how the algorithms comes up with its rankings by assessing what elements of the page matter most to it. The following is a partial list of the factors that matter to search engines:
Relevance of the web page to the search criteria
Authority of the web site
Freshness of the web site
Health of the web site (how fast it loads, any broken links, etc)
That seems simple enough, but there is a lot that goes into it. By some estimates, the Google algorithm will consider 200 or more unique factors when weighing its results. This includes how many times the search terms (your keywords) appear on the web page and where they are located on the page. Another important consideration is the links going out from the web page, and even more crucially, the links pointing to the web page. While the metadata and page description are among the items considered, it plays a minuscule role compared to other factors.
The bottom line is that SEO is a brute force problem that requires consistent work over a significant period of time to see real results. The more quality content you create for your website, the kind of content that will resonate with your visitors, the greater the chance you will move up in the search rankings. A comprehensive SEO strategy involves creating specific content, whether it’s videos, blogs, white papers, photographs, charts, or infographics, that is tailored for the keywords you have identified as being most relevant to your business.
Tips For Improving Your Cannabis Website’s SEO
So what can a business owner or marketing person do to ensure their website ranks well? First, let’s start with the obvious. Just like all those SEO ‘experts’ are telling you, the page descriptions, site structure, and metadata do matter. This is how you let the web crawlers know what your site (and therefore your business) is all about. When you are building your website, make sure your designer understands SEO and adds in all the metadata details from the outset. This will save you a lot of work down the line.
But this is just the bare minimum. Another important aspect of good SEO is regularly updated content. You should always be adding new pages to your website. This can include a well-maintained blog with high value content for your customers. But it might also entail new, more thorough web pages. Every product category you offer should have its own web page. If you’re a dispensary, you should have a separate web page for smokeable flower, for pre-rolls, for topicals, for edibles, for beverages, and every other kind of product you have at your store. Assuming you offer CBD as well, you should offer a separate page for each of the above categories, but this time the CBD versions. You should have a medical cannabis page, a merchandise page, a cannabis sticker page, etcetera, etcetera. If someone might be searching for it, you should have a page.
There’s another essential aspect of SEO, and that’s links. One way that Google determines if your web pages is an authority on a topic is based on how many other websites are linking to your site. But beyond just the sheer number of links, it also matters that those links are coming from websites on relevant topics. Your cannabis company’s SEO won’t benefit very much from a thousand links from websites about vacuum cleaners. Of course, if you ever decide to sell vacuum cleaners, this will really be useful.
In order to generate these links, many companies will do blog exchanges or link exchanges with partner companies. If you have a dispensary, try and get every farm you buy from to link to your website. If you have a grow op, ask all the dispensaries you sell to for link exchanges. This is a great way to create valuable links to your website when you are just starting out.
Narrow Your Focus Locally
Because most cannabis businesses are very geographic specific, you will want to narrow your SEO efforts to your location. One of the best ways to do that is via Google My Business. This is a service that Google offers that lets local businesses control how their company shows up in search results in Google, and in particular, on Google Maps. This is a no-brainer for dispensaries, where you physically need to enter the store to purchase products. When people in your area do a search for Dispensary Near Me, you want to do everything possible to be one of the top results.
In addition to utilizing Google My Business, you should also focus the content on your website with a regional bent. This means creating unique pages for each of the cities, counties, or even neighborhoods in which you do business. Once again, you are letting Google’s bots know exactly where you operate. The best part is that Google will not consider such content spam, as long as you make each page unique (rather than just cutting and pasting the same exact copy with only the location name changed) and you really do serve these locations.
Another way to create local links is to be involved in nearby events that are relevant to your business. Business conferences, street fairs, neighborhood festivals, and similar events provide a great opportunity to boost your local SEO rankings as well as deepen your ties with the local community.
Don’t Forget About Social Media
Increasingly, social media is playing an important role in Search Engine Optimization. It's impossible to know how much social media directly impacts an SEO ranking at this time (and SEO experts debate this all the time), but there is growing evidence that the influence of sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is growing. There's ample evidence that a healthy presence on these platforms can lead to increased brand exposure, which in turn boosts the domain authority of your website. Of course, there can be no doubt of the importance of YouTube in helping to improve your rankings, especially when you realize that Google owns the video hosting site.
One of the main ways your domain authority is improved is thanks to the power of social media to distribute your content quickly and broadly. Whether that's with links to your blog posts, shares of your videos, or broadcasting of your press clippings, social is one of the primary ways to get your content out there fast. It will also help to extend the lifespan of your posts, as it gives web users more avenues for finding your content besides directly visiting your website or via a Google search. Also, by driving more traffic to your website, you're helping to increase your domain authority by other means as well.
Of course, there’s a trickiness to social media for cannabis businesses that other industries don’t face. It can often feel like you’re riding a fine line when it comes to what kind of cannabis content is and isn’t allowed, and the platforms give very little help in this area. Just keep in mind that factoring in SEO is another reason to be cautious with what you choose to post, because you don’t want to risk getting banned, especially when that might mean your SERP rankings taking a hit as well.
How To Tell If Your SEO Company Knows What They Are Doing
Hopefully by now you are not only aware of the importance of SEO, but have a better idea of exactly how optimizing your website for search engines can directly boost your cannabis business. At this point, many people will ask how they can tell if a marketing or SEO company can really get the results they are promising. The first thing to look at is the services they are offering. If the focus is entirely on page descriptions, web site structure, and metadata, then this will be of minimal value. Hopefully, this was handled by your web designer when they built your website, but even if it wasn’t, this kind of service should only be paid for as part of a much larger, more comprehensive SEO package.
Many cannabis SEO companies will offer services such as link back packages, where they promise links pointed at your website from reputable cannabis websites. There is a lot of debate within the SEO industry whether such approaches are effective, but the easiest way to tell if these links are actually ‘reputable’ is by asking to see a list of sites they are posting to. If you’ve never heard of any of them, then it’s likely they won’t benefit you, and at worst might harm your rankings if Google views them as spam.
The first thing a good SEO company will offer you is a very detailed report of how your site’s SEO compares with your competitors and a comprehensive list of keywords to target. This will give you insight into what people are actually searching for, where you are currently ranking, and advice on how to move up. The second thing they will provide is actual content. Whether that’s original blog posts, customized SEO videos, or authoritative white papers, generating this kind of content is the only way you can ensure that you will achieve meaningful and sustainable web traffic in the long run.
It won’t be easy, but then again, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. The good news is that because the industry is relatively young, there is still a lot of opportunity for companies to get ahead by leveraging best SEO practices.
Market Your Cannabis Business With SEO From The Hood Collective
At the end of the day, the secret to SEO success is making great content that will resonate with your potential customers. That means partnering with a professional content marketing agency that understands the cannabis industry. At The Hood Collective, we focus exclusively on helping cannabis clients produce engaging photography, video, and graphic design content in support of the branding and marketing goals.
Whether you want to up your SEO game, create meaningful content that you can be proud of, stand out against the competition, or all of the above, The Hood Collective is here to help. Let us handle the difficult task of improving your SEO so you can concentrate on what you do best, growing and selling top shelf cannabis.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.