While cannabis and related products are a growing industry in the United States it faces obstacles most industries do not.
Due to strict federal regulations and categorizations for marijuana most major marketing companies will not work with cannabis businesses. Even the largest digital platforms like Facebook and Google make it difficult to market cannabis in any way useful if at all. There are also financial restraints you have likely faced- extensive regulation compounded by competition with illegal dealers- which make paid advertising a relatively more costly option. All this means you will have to be creative and adaptive in order to market your business if your product is cannabis or cannabis-related.
A potentially effective and cost efficient marketing avenue you should consider is SEO marketing.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and with every passing year SEO has grown in its ability to translate web activity into customers and sales.
But what is SEO exactly? And how can you use it to help your cannabis business in a cost-efficient manner? These are the questions this article will try to answer for you.
What is SEO?
As has been stated above SEO unfolds into Search Engine Optimization. It is the process and techniques by which you (or a professional group) optimize your website and its digital presence so that it can place higher in search results. The higher your website places the greater the amount of internet traffic gets directed towards your website in an organic fashion. The more traffic your website sees the larger portion of that traffic ends up becoming paying customers.
Done right and smartly SEO can be a cost effective way to boost awareness and potentially sales in an organic manner. SEO involves designing your website and its online footprint to interact with search engines’ (primarily Google by a massive margin) algorithms to secure higher placement.
Still not sure about SEO and how it can help? Consider these numbers:
- 93% of all online experiences begin with using a search engine.
- Repurposing online content according to SEO frameworks can see a 106% increase in a website’s organic traffic.
- 53% of all website trackable traffic is in response to organic search.
- Searches on mobile devices for “where to buy” + “near me” has increased to over 200%. This is especially relevant given the mostly localized nature of the cannabis industry.
- 76% of people search on their smartphones for a product in their area and visit a business in a day or less. 28% of searches for something in the area result in a purchase.
- First organic placing on Google search results sees an average 5% click-through rate. The second rank placing sees an average 15.7% with third placing at 11%. This tapers all the way down to 2.5% at the 10th and bottom rung of the first page. Users rarely click on the search engine results beyond that first page.
- 63% of websites and pages get no organic search traffic through Google despite Google holding 91.75% of the search engine market share across the whole world.
What do all these numbers mean together? That placing high in Google search results can mean tangible benefits for your brand and the business it represents. But those same high placings are highly prized and heavily contested. In addition Google’s algorithms have only become more complex as the years progress. So many old tricks and methods to ‘game the system’ no longer apply and will in fact even penalize you. Sending your website far down the search engine results pit and beyond near any user’s sight.
But do not despair. For all that SEO and Google’s algorithms can seem daunting and unknowable they are not unnavigable. There are people and businesses that have made careers doing so. Tools exist that can help you understand what you are doing right and doing wrong. With these tools, an SEO-oriented mindset, and maybe some help from professionals if needed, you can potentially see your website on that first page of Google search results.
Here are some tips and things to keep in mind when setting out to optimize your websites and online marketing.
Audit & Analysis
This is especially the case if you already have websites up and running. As the old GI Joe cartoon’s public service announcements go, ‘knowing is half the battle.’ Before setting out on any SEO strategy or campaign you need to know where you currently stand. Do research to figure out where you might already be strong and where you might be struggling. This research can be broken down into two parts. Audit and Analyze.
When we say ‘audit’ we mean a total SEO audit of your website. This is meant to diagnose and identify existing SEO omissions or missteps that are affecting your website’s search engine ranking or the convenience of users. When done right an SEO audit should tell you more about your website, how users interact with it, how effective specific pages are, as well as the general traffic to and within your website. Other issues an audit will hopefully identify will be in regards to: Technical SEO, website design and structure, possible off-site problems (like links to suspicious websites), link health (links within and external that might be broken), popular content, and comparisons to other websites’ success.
Analysis focuses on the traffic your website gets. Studying the behavior of users can grant a number of insights to keep in mind when redesigning your website for SEO. The main things analysis looks at include: the number of users drawn to your cannabis website organically- as in not through paid ads but via search results; which of your existing pages draw in the most clicks and views; what keywords are people typing into search bars that lead them to your website.
A helpful tool for analyzing your website is Google Analytics. It can help you get the SEO data you need for your online cannabis presence. With Google Analytics you should focus your analysis on the ten top performing pages of your website. See what commonalities they share and what differences might be affecting the different performance rankings between them.
Keyword Research & Use
Keywords play a vital part in SEO. They are part of how your website ends up in the search results at all no matter its placement and ranking. Keywords are often how users even find your website and your brand. But do not think this a reason to stuff keywords into your website. Google now penalizes overuse of keywords. Overloading your web pages with clunkily written content that struggles to incorporate scores of specific words and phrases is a thing of the past. Nowadays Google focuses on user intent over word-for-word relevance.
Do research (you will be doing a lot of this) on keywords people use when doing searches on cannabis and cannabis businesses similar to yours in what they offer. From this research construct a list of primary, secondary, and semantically similar search phrases which can be connected to your business, product, or service.
The keywords you need don’t only have to be popular they should be low in competition. This means words and search phrases that few other websites are using. Try to focus on fulfilling more ‘long-tail queries’ over ‘short-tail queries.’ Long-tail refers to more elaborate and specific search requests in comparison to simple and broad ones.
Perhaps easier said than written but having quality content that seamlessly incorporates your keywords is necessary to SEO placement and ranking. How? Good content that educates users, answers their questions (such as the ones they put into search engines), catches user interest and engages them all translate into more traffic to and within your website. The more traffic the more favorably Google’s algorithms ‘look’ on your website which as a consequence better affects your website’s SEO placement and ranking.
Make sure not to have duplicate content that repeats on your website even on different pages. Google will penalize for that by sending your website far down the search results.
Mobile Device Optimization
There is an additional element of optimization you need to remember when implementing search engine optimization. Mobile device optimization. Make sure as much if not all of your website can be viewed and easily used on a mobile device. You might recall an above-cited 200% increase of searches for local businesses and nearby sellers conducted by mobile devices.
Some statistics have shown more people doing searches on their mobile devices compared to their desktop devices.
Even though there are limits to marketing on social media for cannabis and related products it can still play a part. Getting shared and noticed on social media also gets noticed by Google. Having a healthy, popular social media presence for your business and its website can affect its search engine rankings.
Videos can also be a great way to garner interest and boost your SEO. This is especially in regards to social media. Depending on the platform you might still be able to post videos marketing your cannabis or cannabis-related products. Be sure to check the policies of various social media platforms.
Behind the Scenes Work
There are also a lot of little details that may not even be visible to users. Things like metadata descriptions and titles, page loading time, alt text and descriptive image file names all play their parts in boosting your site’s SEO.
Trying to tackle SEO can be strange and intimidating. Especially when it’s something that can so heavily impact your business without you having even considered it. But like any skill set it can be practiced. It can be learned. And you do not have to do it alone.