Ah yes, SEO: the website marketing strategy every business knows it needs but few know how to leverage.
Since Google’s rise to search engine domination, SEO—or search engine optimization—has become entrenched as a must-have component of every online marketing mix. In the cannabis space, where paid search options are limited yet consumer interest is strong, SEO can be a particularly potent tool to attract new customers, introduce your brand to new vendors, and help solidify your business as a subject matter expert.
The capability and potential of SEO is huge—which you most certainly already know—but how can it be leveraged?
SEO presents a powerful opportunity in the cannabis space.
Restrictions on most pay-per-click platforms, including AdWords, prevent your cannabusiness from utilizing them effectively. You may be able to market accessories and peripherals, but the core product can’t grace the PPC platform.
So, what can you do?
SEO is an excellent workaround. You can rank for terms people search for, grow organic traffic (traffic coming from a search engine), and capture the audience. The path to success is a little less direct compared to PPC, but it is a tangible path many others have walked to their benefit.
If you want to capture Google users, SEO is the best way to do it. Let’s discuss how you can leverage Google and grow your business.
First, understand what SEO is…
As one of the most misunderstood disciplines of modern marketing, 99 percent of business owners struggle to explain SEO and why they need it. This is due, in part, to its relative obscurity, but mostly to its ever-changing practices and principles. If we skip over the minutiae and focus on the concept, SEO is actually quite simple:
- Create a website experience that is positive and delivers value to your users.
- Build strong, high-quality content that delivers value to your users.
- Promote said content through various channels like social media (Facebook, Reddit), blogs, influencers, and subject-matter-authority websites.
The methods behind achieving the above three objectives vary from strategy to strategy, but at the core of any good SEO plan is a method to make them happen.
…and what SEO isn’t.
As SEO has evolved, misconceptions about what it is and how to produce results have emerged. Often, the fallacies exist due to the proliferation of bad advice about what used to work. SEO is a field rife with opportunists, and many times so-called SEO professionals operate as though stuck in 2012.
Google has evolved in the more than seventeen years since it rose to prominence, and throughout its evolution the search engine relied on various metrics to help determine which websites should rank higher than others in search results. Outdated ideas about which techniques are effective were born of trying to manipulate the metrics. Be wary if your prospective SEO professional focuses on:
- One-track promotional efforts, such as “social bookmarking” or article writing.
- Building a high volume of backlinks (a link from a website back to yours), regardless from where those backlinks come.
- Creating content with a focus on word count.
- Content loaded with keywords.
- Stuffing keywords into pages or blog posts wherever possible.
- Creating satellite websites for the purpose of linking back to yours.
While the above methods should be part of an SEO strategy, they should be leveraged only as part of a larger and more expansive program that focuses on creating and delivering value to users.
In the modern age of soundbites and headlines, providing value is key.
Value is an interesting word that means different things to different people. What you or I define as valuable may not be valuable to the audience we’re trying to attract.
Understanding what users seek and the kind of content they’re looking to consume is critical in delivering value. When we deliver value to users, they tend to do things that send positive signals to Google.
- They stay on your website longer, a sign they’re consuming the content.
- They visit multiple pages and interact with more material.
- They share the content they consume, bringing more users to the website.
Value, value, value: It’s the future of SEO.
What do we mean when we say “delivering value to users? ”
It’s simple: all parts of SEO should focus on creating a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The focus should not be on ranking higher, but instead on providing enjoyment from both technical and content points of view. What does that look like? Let’s look at two different businesses:
- For a car-review website, hands-on, high-quality reviews with original photos, specifications, and comparisons provide much more value than a brief summary with stock photos.
- For a physiotherapy practice, outlining the steps taken to address a specific injury, including embedded videos demonstrating at-home exercises, provides much more value than a page briefly describing all the injuries the practice treats.
In both of the above examples, extra value is added by anticipating the needs of the user and proactively addressing them.
A website experience can, and should be, powerful and intuitive.
The days of website resembling online brochures are over. In 2017, sites are digital storefronts and, likely, the front line that anchors a business’s marketing efforts.
Efforts to deliver value start here.
To maximize SEO potential, invest in:
- The mobile experience. Google is moving toward a mobile-first index, so ensure the mobile experience is top-notch.
- Content that addresses user intent. Every search is rooted in a question, and by answering that question a website provides a great user experience.
- A clean, uncluttered layout that follows clear aesthetic and structural best practices. Every page and blog post should have a goal. Ensure the site design and layout help the user achieve that goal.
A website need not be expensive to accomplish the above. It does need a well-thought-out plan that actively considers all those to generate the best return on investment.
In every stage of development, ask yourself whether you are building the website you would use if you were the consumer.
Content is 90 percent of the battle.
The prettiest website will fail to perform if the content doesn’t do its job. Whether you are reaching out to consumers or trying to market yourself to other cannabusinesses, the content must perform.
Creating great content is a time-consuming process that requires considerable research, attention to detail, and thought. It’s about more than words; it’s the interconnection of the copy, media, and other assets that come together to provide a cohesive experience.
Great content meets the needs and wants of the consumer. What can that look like?
- A compelling blog that helps users understand the dosage information about your edible products.
- An infographic that outlines the different methods of cannabis consumption, including their pros and cons.
- A video that walks visitors through the proper way to use your new vaporizer.
- An online “quiz” that helps consumers better determine which strain is best suited to their needs.
Great content is not “one size fits all.” It is bespoke, created to suit the need of the user searching for it. There is no formula for its creation outside “meet the needs of the website visitor, however that must be done.”
The next step is smart, tactful promotion.
Promoting the high-quality content you’ve created is a massive part of SEO. This is commonly referred to as link building, an accurate term for 2012 but no longer the case in 2017. Instead, this part of SEO should be referred to as offsite marketing.
The main goal of offsite marketing is to build a strong base of backlinks and social shares, yes, but the link itself is no longer the singular focus. Today, it’s about building a positive brand perception. This is easily the most misunderstood part of SEO.
Think of it like this: You’ve invested time, money, and effort in creating a positive experience on your website, complete with compelling content. Why promote that experience using spammy, disingenuous, or outdated techniques? After all, the key to SEO success is in delivering value…and that includes your efforts offsite.
Taking into consideration the importance of that value, what kind of offsite marketing practices can be leverages to improve SEO?
- Share educational content on social media, including content aggregators such as Reddit and StumbleUpon.
- Contribute to forums where discussions relevant to your business take place.
- Participate in Facebook groups.
- Get involved in industry associations and conferences; demonstrate yourself as the subject matter expert you are.
- Contribute to related websites and blogs, providing their readers the opportunity to engage your brand.
- Share rich media, such as videos, on the platforms where users look for them (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.).
The cannabis space is an SEO opportunity waiting to be leveraged.
The above provides a high-level overview of how to achieve success in SEO, but by no means is it comprehensive. How your business should utilize SEO depends on many things, from the customers you serve to your position in the industry.
Regardless, in an industry where paid marketing avenues such as AdWords or Facebook, are difficult or impossible to take advantage of, SEO remains a stable, powerful opportunity.
When you deliver value whenever and however possible, Google rankings skyrocket—and, hopefully, your business will grow, too.
Cameron Martel is a long-term SEO veteran. He began his career in 2005 and now works with Mint Chip Media to help cannabusinesses improve their organic visibility. He has worked with companies in a variety of industries to help them achieve their marketing goals. As a medicinal marijuana user himself, he brings passion sourced from his personal experiences to his cannabis clients.