Times have certainly changed for the cannabis industry. Not too long ago, a legal cannabis industry didn’t even exist yet. In recent years, though, the movement to legalize cannabis has picked up some serious steam. Many states have legalized medical cannabis, and a few have legalized adult recreational use outright. California’s citizens are expected to consume up to $3.4 billion of legal cannabis this year — that’s one million pounds of cannabis — and California is just one state. If you have a cannabis-related startup, you’re not alone. Companies are springing up every day to capitalize on the new legal cannabis industry — an industry that’s virtually limitless in its potential size. Many of those companies have significant investor backing — and that means you need to begin staking your claim online now if you want to enjoy long-term success. You need to learn how to promote your cannabis company online.
Is all of this too much for you to do on your own? We can help. Read more about our cannabis SEO service.
Here’s the Problem With Online Cannabis Promotion…
If you’ve tried running a paid advertisement on Google, Bing, Facebook or Instagram, you already know what we’re about to say. The problem is that the world’s biggest online advertising platforms do not take variances in state laws into account when setting their policies. Even if you use precise targeting to ensure that only those who can legally buy cannabis will see your advertisement, the advertising platform will eventually shut you down for “promoting drugs.”
Suppose your company doesn’t even sell cannabis or cannabis edibles? You’ll have the same problem if you try to advertise CBD, vaporizers and most other products that involve cannabis in any way.
Until the advertising climate changes, you’re going to have to use some creativity when it comes to online marketing for your cannabis business. That means building brand awareness and generating repeat business. It means you’re going to need to think outside the box a little. Most importantly, it means that you’re going to need to optimize your website to receive as much free traffic from Google’s search results pages as possible.
Are you ready? Let’s learn more about promoting your cannabis business online.
Search Engine Optimization for Cannabis Businesses
Online ad spending is the primary web traffic acquisition strategy for most online businesses that haven’t established footholds in the search engines yet. Since you don’t have that strategy available to you, you’ll need to optimize your website to maximize its search engine traffic. The good news is that search engine traffic is free. The bad news is that there’s only so many of it to go around. Your website will receive no traffic for many search engine queries unless you’re on the first page. You’ve got plenty of competition in the legal cannabis industry, so your first several website visitors are the most difficult that you’ll ever earn.
The Core Principle of Cannabis SEO
So, what’s the more important aspect of cannabis SEO — the one thing that can give your website an edge and maximize the free traffic that you receive?
It all comes down to one thing:
Your website needs to have plenty of text content with at least one of these qualities:
- It provides information that’s not available anywhere else
- It satisfies a search engine user’s intent more fully than anything else online
If you can manage to create content with both of those qualities, you’ll have gold on your hands from the moment that you hit the “Publish” button — even if you still have a relatively new website. Creating content that’s exactly what users want and isn’t available anywhere else doesn’t exactly happen every day, though — so for now, you’re going to work on some easier goals.
Kickstart Your Online Cannabis Marketing With These 3 Types of Content
Articles Satisfying Long-Tail Search Terms
If you have a brand new cannabis business, targeting an extremely popular search term — something like “dispensary in Los Angeles” — is probably not going to bring you much success right off the bat. If you want to start generating search engine traffic right away — and you should, because traffic is money — you should create content targeting less popular search terms.
A search term with few words — something like “cannabis vaporizer” or “Los Angeles dispensary” — is a short-tail search phrase. Short-tail phrases have more search volume, so they have more competition. Long-tail search phrases have more words, so they have less search volume and less competition. Targeting a keyword phrase with less competition increases the chance that your article will end up on the first results page as soon as you publish it.
How can you convert the keyword phrases above to long-tail keyword phrases?
- “Dispensary in Los Angeles” could become “Dispensary on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles”
- “Cannabis Vaporizer” could become “Battery-Powered Cannabis Vaporizer With Convection Fan”
Articles Containing Original Research
When you read cannabis content online, one of the first things you’ll notice is that there’s very little information that’s not available somewhere else. Some articles might bring a few new ideas to the table, but most of the content that you’ll see is simply the same information with different words. If you want to produce something completely unique, you need to have knowledge that others lack — and the best way to get that knowledge is with original research.
How can you get information that isn’t available elsewhere? Your best bet is to utilize offline resources. Talk to people. Make phone calls. Run surveys. Visit your local library. There’s no shortage of knowledge available that hasn’t been published online yet.
Articles That Answer Questions
Still having trouble coming up with content ideas for your cannabis business’s website? Try writing articles that answer questions. If you run a brick-and-mortar store, you probably answer customers’ questions daily.
- Why do I need to grind my herb finely before loading my vaporizer?
- What’s the difference between convection and conduction vaporizers?
- What’s the difference between desktop and portable vaporizers?
- Are those balloon vaporizers any good?
- Should I buy a sativa, an indica or a hybrid?
If you wrote down every question that a customer has ever asked you, you’d have enough topic ideas to keep you busy for months. At this point, though, you might be wondering why you would want to spend so much time writing content without a direct commercial focus. Giving away information online is called content marketing, and it can benefit your cannabis business in several different ways.
- Providing high-quality answers online establishes you as a knowledgeable authority.
- Website traffic of any kind helps to build brand awareness.
- People who remember your brand may eventually buy from you.
- Great content attracts links, and inbound links can help all of your content rank better. People are more likely to link to content that isn’t commercial.
- If you use a form to capture the contact information of random visitors, you can market directly to those people.
Wait, Did You Say “Direct Cannabis Marketing?”
That’s right! Building a mailing list is as simple as adding forms to your website and asking visitors to provide their email addresses. If you treat your mailing list subscribers right by giving them plenty of value, many of them will eventually become your customers. To build a mailing list for your cannabis business, you only need three things:
- You need an email marketing provider to host your mailing list and provide an interface for sending messages. We use MailChimp. MailChimp provides an intuitive interface, and it’s free to try.
- You need a way to create forms and insert them into your pages. We use Bloom from Elegant Themes.
- You need an angle that makes people want to subscribe. We’ll discuss that next. (Further reading: How we got 1,000 email subscribers in 3 months)
Getting Subscribers for Your Cannabis Mailing List
Starting a mailing list and integrating it with your website is easy. Actually getting subscribers, though, definitely isn’t. How often do you willingly give your email address to businesses? We bet that you rarely do. If you want a person’s contact information, you’ll need to give him or her something in return. We have a few ideas that’ll help you get started.
- If you have a brick-and-mortar store, always try to collect email addresses at the point of sale. We like the ShopKeep POS, but there are plenty of other POS systems that allow you to create loyalty programs. Creating a loyalty program is the easiest way to build a mailing list at a physical storefront.
- Offer your website visitors more of what brought them to the website. Do you have an article with recipes that people can use when cooking with ABV weed? Offer an e-book containing dozens more recipes. If a visitor enjoys your content, he or she may like an upgrade.
- Give things away. Holding a monthly drawing in which you give a free product to a random mailing list subscriber is a great way to get people to sign up.
- Give each new subscriber an instant coupon code. A single-use discount is a great way to encourage someone to buy from your cannabis business for the first time. It’s also a great way to collect email addresses.
Don’t Neglect Local Cannabis SEO
Optimize Your Cannabis Website’s Content for Local SEO
Any website visitor is desirable. If you run a brick-and-mortar business, though, the visitors that you really want to receive are the ones who are close enough to visit your store. Search terms like “vaporizers in (city)” and “dispensary in (city)” are very important for your business. When you build content for your website, you should always look for as many ways as possible to send local signals to Google. Here are a few suggestions:
- Make sure that your business’s name, address and phone number appear on every page of your website.
- Insert a call to action at the bottom of your blog posts and informational articles. “Looking for a new vaporizer in (city)? Stop by and visit our (city) vaporizer store today!”
- Publish occasional content with a local focus. Tell people about your community-driven initiatives.
Use Business Directories for Links and Local Citations
Have you added your cannabis business to as many business directories as possible? Business directories are an important part of local SEO for a few reasons:
- People actually use business directories to find local businesses. Some people will search a website such as Yelp for a local dispensary or vaporizer seller and skip Google entirely. Every business directory listing that you create is a viable source of website traffic — and it is a very good thing for your website to have as many different traffic sources as possible.
- People can review your cannabis business on business directories. If a local business has many positive online reviews, Google can detect the positive sentiment and may increase your website’s ranking as a result.
- Every business directory listing contains your company’s name, address and phone number. A page containing all three of those details is a local citation, and Google uses local citations as one way of determining which businesses will appear in the featured area at the top of local search results pages.
There are plenty of general business directories, but you should look for cannabis-specific business directories as well. These are a few of the business directories that we believe are most important.
By far, Yelp is the most popular and most important business directory. Yelp receives more than 100 million visitors each month, and it’s only growing. Why is Yelp so important for your cannabis business’s online marketing strategy? Two reasons:
- People visit Yelp because they want to discover local businesses. They’re ready to spend money — and you want them to know that you exist.
- Search engines draw data from Yelp — such as businesses’ average star ratings — when displaying local business information on search results pages. If you want your business information to look complete on search results pages, you need a page on Yelp.
Google My Business
Do you want your cannabis business to appear in the featured area at the top of Google’s local search results pages? Of course you do. Google’s algorithm considers many factors when deciding which businesses to feature. One factor is that Google has to be absolutely certain about your business’s location and contact information. You can make sure that Google knows your business’s vital details in three ways:
- Make sure that your business’s name, address and phone number appear prominently on your website.
- Build as many local citations as possible. Creating business directory listings is one way to do that.
- Add your company to Google My Business. That’s your way of giving Google the official record of your company’s vital details.
Google also allows users to review local businesses. If you want a way to respond to those reviews, you need to claim your business on Google My Business.
Bing Places for Business
Voice search is becoming increasingly important to mobile phone users, and until September 2017, Apple’s Siri mobile assistant gathered its search results from Bing. Siri uses Google now, and that makes Bing a little less important than it once was. People do still use Bing, though — particularly at work, where computers often remain on their default settings — so Bing is still important. Add your cannabis business to Bing Places for Business.
Cannabis-Specific Business Directories
A business directory provides a link and a local citation. In a competitive industry such as the legal cannabis industry, getting an edge may eventually require you to obtain as many business directory listings as you possibly can. Some business directories really don’t exist for any reason, though, except to sell listings. We advise against paying for any directory listing unless:
- You’ve hit a plateau in your efforts to market your cannabis business online and need to do anything that could give you the slightest edge, OR
- The directory receives real human traffic from people highly likely to buy what you’re selling
There are several cannabis-specific business directories that may prove useful for your online marketing efforts. Before adding your business to any paid directory, though, we strongly recommend researching that directory to confirm that adding your listing would actually be worth your while.
We believe that these directories are worthwhile.
Basic listing cost: free
Alexa US ranking: 1,073 (extremely popular website)
Leafly isn’t just one of America’s most popular cannabis websites — it’s among the most popular websites of any type. You can’t afford not to list your cannabis business on Leafly because you can bet that the people browsing that website are ready to buy. Although a basic listing on Leafly is free, Leafly also offers ample opportunities for paid advertising. One of the fun things about Leafly is that it is one of the world’s largest and most detailed databases of cannabis strains. People can use Leafly to look up specific strains — or to find strains with certain desired qualities — and Leafly will show local sellers who have those strains in stock. Managing your inventory on Leafly may add a little extra work to your day, but it’s worth the effort.
Basic listing cost: Free for some business types
Alexa US ranking: 1,535 (extremely popular website)
WeedMaps is one of America’s oldest directories for cannabis businesses. They’ve gone back and forth between charging and not charging for directory listings, but listings for storefronts are free at the time of writing. Listings for delivery services are not free. Controversy has surrounded WeedMaps since its founding — dispensaries have been caught trying to manipulate rankings by giving away free products — but this is a directory that’s hard to avoid. As long as buyers are on WeedMaps, your cannabis business should be on it as well.
Basic listing cost: Free
Alexa US ranking: 28,900 (popular website)
MassRoots primarily exists to sell POS, inventory and online ordering systems to legal cannabis businesses and to help legal cannabis users find those businesses. In late 2017, though, MassRoots added a business directory of local dispensaries to its website. At the time of writing, there appears to be no way to add a new business listing to MassRoots. However, it is possible to claim an existing listing for a business that you own. The MassRoots mobile app is extremely popular among cannabis users, so ensuring that your business is listed should be one of your top priorities.
Basic listing cost: free
Alexa US ranking: 32,208 (somewhat popular website)
As the name implies, MedicalJane is a website geared toward providing information to medical cannabis patients and helping to connect them with doctors, dispensaries and caregivers. MedicalJane accepts listings for some types of cannabis businesses.
Basic listing cost: free
Alexa US ranking: 39,965 (somewhat popular website)
Ganjapreneur has a fairly large directory that welcomes listings for virtually every type of cannabis business. It’s free to create a basic listing; premium listings start at $95 per month. If you’re considering upgrading your listing, we’d definitely suggest doing it at the one-month price point before springing for the one-year upgrade at $1,000.
Social Media Marketing for Cannabis Businesses
If you run a cannabis business, marketing on social media is probably more difficult for you than it is for just about any other type of legal business. Not only do the major social media platforms not want your advertising dollars, but Facebook has even disabled the pages for legal cannabis dispensaries in the past without fully explaining their reasons. If you want to connect and engage with your customers online, you’d be crazy not to create accounts for your cannabis business on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Unless the social media platforms change their policies to align with state laws, though, you won’t have the ability to advertise on those platforms. The available information suggests that you’ll reduce your chance of being shut down if you try to keep your posts informational in nature rather than commercial.
Manage Your Online Citations
As we mentioned previously, any page that lists your cannabis business’s name, address and phone number is a local citation for your business. Google’s algorithm considers the number of local citations that businesses have — and the quality of the websites on which those citations appear — when deciding which businesses to display in the featured area on local search results pages. The consistency of those citations is another key factor; the pages that mention your business online need to display the same name, location and contact information. If you’re having trouble getting your business to appear in the featured area on local search results pages, you should conduct a search for your business online. Look at the websites that appear on the results pages. Do some of those websites list your business at a different address or under a slightly different name? Contact the owners of those websites to see if they’ll fix the incorrect information.
Add Structured Data to Your Website
Google has greatly enhanced its search engine’s ability to process and understand language over the past several years. If you want to ensure that Google fully understands your website, though, it’s wise to add structured data to your source code. Schema.org is a structured data system created in a collaboration between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex. Implementing schema.org is essentially adding extra code to your website to tell search engines what the information on your website means. You can use schema.org, for example, to tell search engines that your website is a business’s website. You can also embed your business’s name, address and phone number in every page on your site. Implementing structured data may not lead to a major jump in web traffic, but it can help to move the needle when your online marketing efforts have hit a plateau.
Structure Your Cannabis Website for SEO
Did you know that the structure of your website — where pages are in relation to other pages — can make a difference in how search engines index your content? Each of your cannabis website’s main pages should have pages under them that support their relevance. Suppose, for example, that you have a page about vaporizers. Pages about dry herb vaporizers, wax vaporizers, desktop vaporizers and portable vaporizers would all support the relevance of your main vaporizer page. A website structure in which each page supports the relevance of the page above it is called a silo structure. Look at this illustration of a hypothetical vape shop’s website for clarification:
The more important a page is, the closer it should be to your website’s home page — and the more supporting pages it should have.
Give Your Cannabis Website a Clean Design
Google indexes the web by reading websites’ source code. Although Google doesn’t have a human review every page in its index, its algorithm can tell if a website has obvious design flaws such as images that cover text or poor support for mobile devices. If your website provides a poor user experience, trust us — Google will rank your site accordingly. If your website doesn’t support mobile devices, that’s even worse; more than half of Google’s users search the web using smartphones and tablets. If your cannabis website doesn’t support mobile devices, you can bet that you aren’t going to show up for mobile searches.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a designer to build a nice looking website with full mobile device support. We use Elegant Themes on eCig One. Simply install one of the themes, and you’ll have a beautiful website that automatically resizes itself to fit the device used to view it.
Use Affiliate Marketing if You Sell Products Online
Do you carry products — such as vaporizers and grinders — that people can buy online and have shipped? If you do, consider recruiting affiliates to send traffic to your website. Affiliate marketing is a system in which you give affiliates a portion of your profits in exchange for referring sales to you. It works like this:
- You join an affiliate network. From an affiliate’s point of view, we like ShareASale because it’s extremely easy to use.
- You add a tracking code to your website. The tracking code records incoming website traffic from your affiliates and reports completed sales to the affiliate network.
- You recruit affiliates by looking for successful cannabis bloggers and social media users. Although many affiliates may find your company through the affiliate network’s website, you’ll likely gain your best affiliates by finding and recruiting them yourself.
- Your affiliates link to your website using a tracking code provided by the affiliate network. If a person referred by an affiliate purchases a product, you pay the affiliate a commission — usually a percentage of the sale total — through the affiliate network.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to get attention for your cannabis website because you can’t pay for traffic outright on an advertising network like Google AdWords. Affiliate marketing is better than standard advertising in a sense because you only pay when you make a sale. Affiliate marketing does have a few downsides, though. The biggest downside is that a lot of affiliates simply aren’t very good. They use black hat SEO to propel their mediocre content to the top of the search results pages, and the traffic that they send you eventually disappears when Google discovers and penalizes them. Other affiliates will join your program and never make a sale because they never quite figure out what it takes to make their own websites successful. You will eventually find some affiliates who have the right stuff, though, and those people will provide reliable income streams for a long time.
Final Thoughts: There Are No Shortcuts in Online Cannabis Marketing
In this article, we’ve given you a sort of online marketing 101 for cannabis websites. You’ve learned how to design and structure your website. You’ve learned how to create content with the highest possible likelihood of bringing traffic to your website right away. You’ve learned how to improve your local search ranking, and you’ve learned how to recruit people who can do some of your selling for you. The only thing that’s left is to get out there and do it.
There are many articles out there claiming to provide advice about online marketing for cannabis businesses. You may have even seen a few of those articles before coming here. Ours is also not the only cannabis SEO service out there. Before you evaluate the quality of any website’s advice — or any company’s cannabis SEO service — we strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Any website advising you to create links to your own website from sources such as spam blog comments, forum profiles, web 2.0 pages or other websites that you create is advising you to violate those guidelines. Any SEO agency that offers a cheap package including guaranteed links to your website is using a private blog network — a network of websites the agency owns or controls — to create those links. Eventually, Google will discover the blog network. Google will penalize the agency, and they may even penalize you due to your association with the blog network. There are no easy ways to get real, permanent links that’ll benefit your cannabis business forever. If there were, there would be no need for Google’s algorithms. Likewise, there are no easy ways to market a cannabis business online. It takes time and hard work, but if you keep at it, you’ll ultimately see results that last.