A plethora of cannabis companies dot the current online landscape. Can you really make your brand stand out, increase traffic, and attain a glowing reputation in such a crowded marketplace without spending a fortune?
Absolutely—if you integrate best practices for digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). You don’t need to be a tech genius to execute these strategies, but you’ll need to work diligently and put in a sizable number of hours. Of course, as an entrepreneur, you’re already used to that.
Two primary methods for driving traffic to websites exist: paid ad spends and organic search. Unfortunately, because of federal restrictions, utilizing online ads is not an option for any business even tangentially related to cannabis. That’s why learning how to harness the power of organic search through SEO is extremely important for savvy entrepreneurs in the cannabis space.
The good news is you don’t need to understand all the theory behind how Google and other search engines digest and display website information. All you need to do is follow the nine simple tips below and you can achieve excellent results.
You do you
As an entrepreneur, you probably have a clear idea of what you do well and where you tend to struggle. Likewise, you’re probably aware of the specific strengths and weaknesses of your business. Prioritize playing to your own and your business’s strengths.
For example, if your brand has a heavy visual component and you’re well-versed in Instagram and Pinterest, go all-in on those fronts. Doing so will produce far better results than ineffectively trying to maintain a social presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat while also blogging regularly and trying to build an email list. If you think any of the other channels might be strategically important, give them a try, but only after you’re successful in the area(s) of your greatest strength.
In order to attract the right types of customers, it’s important to think about what your business does that is special, different, or exciting. Distill this information into three to ten keywords and use these as much as possible on your site (while still sounding natural).
If you’re having trouble brainstorming appropriate keywords, you may want to try searching for terms on Google and observing what the search bar attempts to “autofill” for you; these autofills are what most people search for and often make useful keywords. Plenty of tools that focus on keyword research exist, so feel free to give them a try (Ubersuggest and LSIGraph both work well and offer free plans), but understand many tools pull data from Google Trends, which isn’t particularly effective with niche subjects like cannabis.
While integrating appropriate keywords is important for increasing traffic to your site, make sure you do so skillfully and ethically. If you try to add your keywords everywhere, especially in an awkward fashion, your website will be severely penalized by Google’s algorithm.
Likewise, farming backlinks from unsavory sites or through nefarious means also will lead to Google suppressing your website in search results.
Increasing your organic reach doesn’t come only from sharp copy and a strong visual presentation on your website. Metadata is equally important. Fill in everything! This includes page descriptions, link descriptions, image descriptions, and alt text. Make sure your site’s metadata is clearly written for human readers (writing for bots will backfire), includes relevant keywords, and is within the maximum character limits. Most website platforms try to simplify adding metadata, but even if the process is painfully tedious, the results will be well worth the time spent.
Mobility by design
Google prioritizes mobile versions of websites above desktop versions. According to the search giant, a majority of online traffic now comes from mobile devices.
When revising your website, always make sure to design for mobile first and ensure your site is snappy and quick. If your page is slow to load, try optimizing images with TinyJPG.com. If you’re still facing difficulties, it might be best to bring in an expert in web development.
One of the most useful things you can do to increase traffic to your site is to obtain reviews from existing customers. Try to steer reviews onto external platforms like Google My Business or Yelp, but know Google monitors how you request reviews. If the company catches you paying, through either gifts or money, the Google gods may terminate your listing. Instead, ask for help from your customers by requesting honest feedback. If you ask for this in a neighborly and genuine way, many people will be eager to help.
A backlink is a link to your site on another site. Receiving backlinks from popular, authoritative websites can set your business apart. Even backlinks from social media and smaller blogs help Google rankings. Attempt to get your brand mentioned in a variety of other spaces on the web.
New and noteworthy
Google prizes frequent updates. Keep your website and social media current with regular, appropriate new material to see an increase in organic traffic. One tip to keep the “illusion of freshness” alive: Never put dates in your URLs. This will limit the reach over time, as Google will see your page or post as “outdated.”
Be fast, be safe
Applying this tip might be outside many entrepreneurs’ wheelhouse and could put a dent in your budget; nevertheless, site security and speed are critically important. If security breaches already have occurred or your site is vulnerable to a breach, bring in an expert in network security. Similarly, if your site is incredibly slow and the aforementioned suggestion of optimizing your images hasn’t fixed the problem, hire an expert.
Have you integrated these changes? Great! Just don’t be alarmed if results aren’t immediate; they almost never are. A fine-tuned website won’t see the true return on good SEO practices for two or more months. However, once you start to build momentum, your business can really dominate. Good luck!
Charles McElroy is founding partner and creative director at Goldleaf Ltd., a science-forward printing company for cannabis growers, patients, and enthusiasts. A former volunteer with Marijuana Policy Project, he launched Goldleaf to make cannabis issues more approachable for new audiences in the evolving recreational and medical communities. He is a drug policy reform advocate and cannabis activist.