There are so many different marketing channels out there. Many business leaders feel overwhelmed by the number of choices when it comes to digital media.
In the cannabis industry, things are a little different. Many advertising platforms used by other industries are restricted or even banned. In Washington state, for example, cannabis companies can’t even buy a billboard. Many online paid media platforms, such as Facebook and Google Ads, are off-limits to cannabis brands as well.
That doesn’t mean cannabis companies have no choices when it comes to marketing. In fact, choosing which channels to invest in can still be tough. Is it better to focus on creating a great blog, or should you build your Instagram following?
One channel that tends to be ignored is search engine optimization. SEO is important for businesses today, but it’s even more necessary for cannabis brands. Here’s why.
What Does SEO Do Anyway?
There’s lots of chatter about search engine optimization, and from a distance, it looks simple. In essence, SEO is a number of tactics website owners utilize to help content rank in search results, but using all these tactics effectively is far from simple.
Here’s why that matters. Google handles billions of searches every day. Statistics show the top-ranked page gets the most search traffic. Spots #2 and #3 aren’t bad, but they definitely don’t pull in near as many clicks as the first result.
Clicks drop off dramatically for pages ranked #4 and below. A page might as well be nonexistent as far as search users are concerned. Most users never make it as far as the second page of search results. They’re more likely to go back and refine their search.
These numbers show how important it is to have a high search engine results page (SERP) ranking. Now consider that there are billions of websites out there. They’re all competing for the attention of search users. There are millions of pages belonging to other cannabis businesses.
And every single one is vying for that top spot.
So how does a page get to that coveted #1 spot on Google? The short answer is SEO.
How SEO Works
As we said, SEO is a collection of measures website owners use to improve their rankings.
Google famously uses more than 200 ranking factors in their algorithm. That means the search engine giant gives each page a grade based on every one of those factors. Then Google weighs it against other pages to determine its place in the search results.
The goal for the search engine is to send its users to the page that best answers their query. The SEO factors help the search engine decide what’s a “good” page and what’s unlikely to please users.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the idea that there are 200 factors you need to look at to make your page rank. The good news is that search engines tend to focus on just a few of those 200+ factors.
The factors that matter most for SEO are related to three subjects:
An example shows why search engines put emphasis on factors related to these aspects of a website. Speed is important to mobile users, and so a site that loads quickly is also important to search engines.
How fast does a page need to load? Google favors pages that load in two seconds or less. Why? According to Google’s own data, if a page takes more than three seconds to load, the user will navigate away.
By emphasizing the speed of a site, Google can make sure the search results satisfy search users.
How Do You Improve SEO?
If improving SEO is the aim, then it makes sense to focus on the factors that relate to speed, security, and relevancy.
We already reviewed why speed is important. Relevancy means the content is related to the search user’s query, which improves user satisfaction. If Google returns results that aren’t relevant, users will be frustrated or disappointed.
Security is also important, since search engines want to keep their users safe. If someone is hacked or has their computer hijacked because the search engine directed them to an unsafe site, they won’t be very happy.
Let’s look at some of the relevant factors for each of these aspects of a website.
The major factor to focus on here is how quickly the page load. This can be achieved in a few different ways:
- Optimizing images and videos, including compression, to help them load faster
- Using lighter code on the back-end of the website to improve loading speed
- Selecting the right hosting package or server set-up to deliver your page faster
- Adding search engine friendly features such as a sitemap or Schema markup
Keep in mind that Google looks at the mobile version of a site first. Coding can be key to creating a mobile-friendly design that loads quickly across devices and connections.
Google wants to send people to pages that answer their questions. To that end, the page must be relevant.
So how does Google know a page is relevant? Keywords are one indicator. Other factors include:
- Length of the content, with longer content scoring higher
- Link quality, including backlinks
Other data, such as bounce rate, can also give clues about how well a site’s content is satisfying users.
Search engines are constantly improving their ability to return the most relevant results. Take Google’s Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT. This major update, powered by a neural network, makes Google better at understanding natural speech than ever before.
As a result, BERT is better able to understand user queries. Gone are the days of typing in strings of keywords and Boolean operators. While BERT isn’t perfect, it comes closer to understanding questions as they’d be asked of other people.
BERT can then return better results for highly specific, long-tail keywords and questions. Right now, BERT only affects a small number of searches. That’s likely to change, as voice search becomes more popular and the way people conduct searches continues to evolve. In turn, SEO will also change.
Google and other search engines want to make sure their users are safe. To that end, they want to know that the site they send their users to isn’t going to steal their data or take their computers hostage.
Google automatically penalizes any site not using HTTPS, because they lack the encryption to keep user’s data safe from hackers. It’s wise to invest in an SSL certificate for any website, especially if there are forms designed to collect user’s information.
Other factors to pay attention to include:
- Passwords used on the site
- Adding security plugins
- Keeping on top of updates
Updated websites are less vulnerable to exploitation by hackers, which keeps visitors safer.
Obviously, these aren’t the only SEO factors, but they do carry the most weight. Once you’ve looked to these factors, you can think about social proof or local SEO.
Focusing on these factors can improve SEO. Competition also plays a role, clearly, as brands may vie for the same keywords.
Why It Matters for Cannabis Brands
All right, so SEO can help a page climb the search engine rankings. In turn, that page will receive more clicks from search users, which drives web traffic.
Why should cannabis brands care?
Many platforms have shown a willingness to boot cannabis content. Facebook has started a war against hemp advertising (despite the fact that hemp has been legal across the US for a year now). Amazon cracks down on certain keywords to prevent advertising and even product listings. And good luck getting PPC ads. Google’s been beta-testing ads for CBD, but marketers can’t use the word CBD to promote their products.
Organic posts on social media might seem like a viable option, but Facebook and Instagram haven’t shown cannabis companies much love. Instagram sometimes removes tagged posts about industry events, let alone posts about products.
On any of these platforms, cannabis content runs the risk of being removed. Even if it stays up, your post is pitted against powerful algorithms that restrict its reach. (There’s a reason brands swear by paid media on Facebook.)
SEO provides an antidote to the onslaught of anti-cannabis stances. Google can’t stop people searching “cannabis dispensary near me” or “cbd vs thc which is best?” SEO can help cannabis brands ensure they’re ready to answer the questions customers are asking.
SEO Builds Trust
Imagine an older person who has been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition. They speak with a friend, who tells them all about CBD. Now they want to know more.
Another person is searching for information about the benefits of THC for insomnia. Yet another person wants to know how cannabis can help them relax after a hard day at the office. Someone else is looking for ways to recover after a hard workout.
Cannabis brands have the answers to these questions and more. They can educate people on the differences between strains of cannabis and how to use each type of product.
When a page ranks near the bottom of Google’s Top 10, it isn’t very visible to search users. Beyond that, the page is missing a key opportunity to build brand recognition and trust.
If the same brand jumps to the top of the Google results every time a user has a question about cannabis, the user will come to recognize the name. If the pages they visit are informative and high quality, the user will come to trust that company. They’ll remember the brand name or its logo.
When it comes time for them to buy, they’ll seek out the name they know and trust.
Pages that rank lower don’t usually inspire the same kind of trust. If a page only ranks high for one result, users may not recognize the brand name. They may not trust the site or the brand.
SEO Supports Other Marketing Efforts
Many cannabis brands are investing in content marketing. Whether it’s blogging or videos, content is a great way to engage an audience.
That only works if people actually see that content though. You can create the most awesome video to promote a brand, but it doesn’t matter if no one ever sees it.
SEO can help brands get eyeballs on the great content they’re already producing. A new blog post may fail to rank, not because it’s poor quality, but because its SEO needs tweaking.
Good SEO creates visibility, which increases traffic. Increased traffic, in turn, creates more opportunities for linking and social sharing. This improves social proof, while also building a social media following. More shares increase linking opportunities as well, which then feeds back into SEO.
Suppose a cannabis brand shares a video showing how to increase the shelf life of dried flower. Good SEO ensures the video shows up in Google’s video results whenever someone searches “how to store cannabis.”
The search user then shares that video with their friends. Those people share as well. Soon, a well-known magazine includes a link to that video in their tips for storing cannabis. Google sees this link and assumes the video must be a good resource, pushing it even higher in the rankings.
As the video climbs the ranks, even more people see it and share. Some discover other content from the brand. Finally, some of these leads convert into new customers for the brand.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully marketed your cannabis brand. And you didn’t even need to buy an ad.
Get a Hand with SEO
As demonstrated, SEO is important for cannabis brands because it helps them get the word out. It supports every other marketing endeavor a cannabis company takes on.
That said, SEO can be tough. It looks simple, but there are many moving parts, and best practices are always evolving. If you’re not sure where to start, then getting in touch with a team of SEO experts could be the right move. They’ll help you do SEO the right way.