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seo for cannabis companies
Podcast

Cannabis SEO: How to Get Free Traffic from Google

  • July 6, 2022
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About the author

Ryan Stewart

I have an unhealthy obsession with being considered the world's BEST internet marketer. I'm highly active on social media and love a good debate.

If you are a cannabis company or working in the industry, you absolutely have to win in Google because it’s the only traffic source you can rely on and control. 

In this post, I will walk you through the exact strategy you need to optimize your website to rank higher in Google. It’s the same strategy we’ve used to help dozens of cannabis brands get more traffic and customers.

Let’s dive in . . .

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ADDED INSIGHTS!

Why is SEO Crucial for Cannabis Brands? 

SEO is so important because cannabis brands are blacklisted across every other channel.

  1. The inability to advertise on meaningful networks, where people are actually spending time online. Facebook, Google, YouTube, TikTok and all other meaningful networks do NOT allow cannabis ads. The only option is to buy OOH placements (billboards, bus benches, etc) or digital banner ads…But no one sees them. Don’t waste your time, energy, or money.
  2. The ever-changing landscape of regulations. Failure to comply can cause serious legal issues, it’s something you have to closely monitor.
  3. The sensitive social algorithms. I’ve seen brand’s work their tails off to build a following only to have their channel or profile removed. I’ve seen it on YouTube and Instagram, and TikTok is even worse. There’s no real guidance on what type of content you can or can’t create, and they will delete your account with 0 warning.

For the past 12 months, I’ve been managing the digital presence for Jeeter, the #1 pre-roll cannabis brand in the country.

Through this experience, I’ve learned a lot about the cannabis marketing landscape.

My biggest takeaway in terms of strategy?

Focus on what you can control.

 

3 ways cannabis brands can get more organic traffic and customers

These are the 3 most important marketing investments for cannabis brands right now:

  1. Collect 1st-party data. Building up your email database will be your most reliable way to reach customers. If you only sell through dispensaries, you need to figure out a way to connect those offline purchases with your online database. Otherwise, you should be doing regular giveaways, discounts, and special offers to collect people’s information.
  2. Content creation. Written content for your website’s blog, video content for YouTube and social media. Create as much as you can. SEO-infused content helps your website rank higher, pulling in new customers from Google, and helping to convert those who are ready to purchase.
  3. Search engine optimization (SEO). Free traffic from search engines is really the only traffic source that can scale. There are absolutely no regulations here – you can go nuts creating content and never worry about Google ripping it down.

In this post, I’m diving deeper into HOW cannabis brands can do SEO to achieve high-traffic growth that brings in more customers.

 

A 9 figure Cannabis Brand that’s driven growth through SEO

Jeeter is one of several cannabis brands that we have worked with. Currently, Jeeter is the #1 pre-rolled brand in the US, generating 9-figures in revenue.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of that journey, specifically managing their SEO presence.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve helped Jeeter increase organic traffic by over 4,500%.

Don’t believe me?

jeeter organic traffic increase

One of the things you’re probably struggling with when it comes to SEO is the countless crappy SEO agencies who are pitching you every day. You might have worked with a few and they’ve not achieved great results.

Getting amazing results — like WEBRIS achieved for Jeeter — is not overly difficult.

Achieving high-impact SEO results come down to quality and consistency.

Especially in the cannabis sector, where there’s so much spam generated by crap SEO agencies, that the search results are filled with garbage.

Doing SEO the right way will push your website to the top, where you can pull in loads of traffic and win more customers. I will show you everything you need to know right now to get results.

 

3 part SEO system for cannabis companies

We follow a very simple three-part system when implementing SEO for cannabis brands:

  1. The pages you need on your website
  2. The types of content you have to create
  3. Getting covered by media outlets, landing links, and traffic

Let’s start with the pages you need on your website . . .

 

#1: The pages every cannabis brand needs on their website 

Cannabis websites need to have pages that cover what searchers are looking for, and at the same time, what Google expects from websites. Every cannabis company needs this basic sitemap framework:

  • Home Page
  • Product Category Pages
  • Product Pages
  • Store Locator
  • About
  • Lead Capture (for brands that sell B2B, through retailers and dispensaries)
  • Blog section

Cannabis websites should be designed for mobile-first (cannabis consumers are mainly mobile users), and cannabis brands NEED email capture offers on every page possible.

Of course, this gets more complicated depending on the type of cannabis company you run, and the laws that govern how you operate. Some cannabis companies can only sell through retailers and dispensaries. In some states, such as California, you can now sell direct to consumers (DTC) online. There’s all sorts of things you need to consider.

I’m approaching this from the angle of cannabis brands we’ve worked with. Most started out selling to retailers, but now we’re also helping them go DTC, wherever that’s legal.

We also work with some Canadian brands that can sell using the e-commerce model. I’m taking all of this into account when talking about website structure and the pages you need.

 

1. Home Page 

The Homepage is simple.

It should be a summary, a splash page that talks about who you are, the value of your brand and products, driving people to click on product pages and dive into the website.

 

2. Product Category Pages 

Product Category Pages are so important, this is something you 100% need.

These should act as landing pages for the different categories of products — strains, flowers, pre-rolls, vapes, or edibles — you sell, they all need their own landing pages.

It’s super easy to set these up on platforms like WordPress. Within the menu, it will show up as /products/strains, etc. For single product companies, you won’t need this, but if that’s the case you’re probably selling through retailers and dispensaries.

For cannabis brands selling DTC, the goal is to have multiple products, so this is a crucial part of the website.

 

3. Product Pages 

Underneath the Product Category Pages should sit the individual Product Pages.

Take Jeeter for example, they’ve got dozens of varieties of pre-rolls — different sizes, flavors, babies, one grams, XLS, live resin, joints rolled in keefe — all of these SKUs get their own product page.

From an SEO perspective, that’s important because every single product is tied to something people are searching for right now in Google.

Say people are searching for Apple Fritter, a type of cannabis your customers want to buy. If you’ve got a product page for Apple Fritter, then you’re giving these searchers a place to land on your website.

So many cannabis brands don’t do this, making it a perfect opportunity to capture organic traffic.

A perfect example of this is Leafly. Google any well-known cannabis products, like Apple Fritter, Banana Kush, or OG Kush, and you will land on Leafly’s, Weed Maps, and other big brands product pages.

If you aren’t doing this already, you need product pages for everything you sell. It’s a format that works. Every product page needs the following sections:

  • Product information
  • Strain effects
  • FAQs
  • Talk about the strain, how it makes you feel
  • Depending on how you sell, take this opportunity to link your Call-to-Action: either selling directly online (the same as any e-commerce website). If you sell to retailers then you should have a button that helps customers find where your products are stocked.

The goal of every product page is either to sell direct to consumers (if that’s allowed where you are), or to push them into buying from retailers.

 

4. Store Locator 

Next on the list of pages is a Store Locator. Individual stores or dispensaries should have their own page, so it’s easier for local customers to find your products.

What if you have your own retail locations?

Now we tie in local search.

Store locator pages can be built exactly the same way as product category pages. One core page, with dozens of /locations, for every retailer or dispensary. From this, build individual location pages. Give customers everything they need to find these retail outlets.

One of the reasons your SEO campaigns might have failed is not necessarily understanding how people search for cannabis-based products.

People are either searching for specific strains, products, brands, or they’re looking for cannabis retailers near them. You need pages for every one of these searches, so that whether customers are brand agnostic, or looking for specific products or strains, they will land on your website.

Customers searching for “Baby Jeeter’s near me” will see location-based listings. That’s a different part of Google’s algorithm in action. It brings up the Maps Pack through Google My Business. You’ll need a Google My Business account too, so you can list every retail location, and to make sure reviews are location-based.

 

5. About 

Next, you need an About page. It’s important to show customers who you are, why you started the company, and really get them to buy-into your brand.

 

6. Lead Capture

A lead capture page is so important. Especially for cannabis brands operating a B2B model. This page is for retailers and dispensaries, so they can come to your website and get in touch about retailing your products through their stores.

Very few cannabis companies do leap capture.

It’s a really easy way to generate inbound leads for your sales team, so they can go out and get more retailers to sell your products.

 

7. Blog section 

A Blog section of the website is needed to create ongoing content, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

Two quick tips for cannabis brands building new websites, or overhauling an existing site:

  • This industry is 100% mobile. It’s cliche, but could cost a fortune if it’s overlooked. Always design and build mobile mockups first because everyone is searching for these products on their phones. Cannabis brands get very little desktop traffic.
  • Cannabis brands NEED email capture forms all over the website. Once you’ve got customers (or retailers, for B2B companies) email addresses and phone numbers, you can add them to your database.

So, you need some sort of offer to entice people to hand over their details to get into your database. Think coupons, discounts, bundles, packages; whatever it is, any offer you can make that will capture email address and potentially mobile numbers too.

Even if you’re using popups, because I can’t stress this enough: It’s so, so important to capture some of this traffic and capture opt-in email addresses in your CRM.

Something else to remember about SEO: Not all traffic is created equal. 

Say someone is searching for “Buy OG Banana Kush” right now, that’s clearly very high intent traffic. You want them to land on a page on your website where they can either find or buy the product.

If someone’s searching for “strain effects of OG Banana Kush”, it’s more informational intent. This searcher wants information about a particular strain. So, that type of traffic isn’t going to convert right away, but if we can turn them into email subscribers we can connect with them on a one-to-one level and send messaging to them as needed.

Now, let’s talk about the content that you need to create as a cannabis brand.

 

#2: The 4 types of content Cannabis brands need to create 

Informational search volumes and traffic are much higher than product-related searches. So, for fairly new brands, you won’t have as much traffic or domain authority, you need to focus on informational keywords and content.

  • Content is where most of your traffic will come from (for volume and completion reasons);
  • Your content should aim to inform or entertain (e.g. types of cannabis, strains, effects of strains). You’ve hit the jackpot if you can do both (e.g. Seth Rogen showing people how to roll a joint; something loads of people are searching for);
  • Regular content creation for your Blog is necessary, and we recommend at least 1 post per week (the more content you create, keywords you attack, the better your chances at ranking higher and pulling in more traffic);
  • Content is also crucial for getting press coverage and links (more on that in the next section of this post).

We always approach content creation from a funnel model. This model is driven by the intent behind searches, and really allows us to provide value to people who see our content.

content marketing cannabis companies

Here’s what this funnel looks like, with examples of the four types of content cannabis brands can create to drive traffic, clicks, and conversions.

 

4 Types of Content for Cannabis companies 

1. Awareness level (Top of funnel) 

At the top of the funnel, the awareness level, are high-level searches relevant to your target audience, but not product/brand-related. There’s no purchase intent to these searches.

Informational searches are where the bulk of your new traffic is going to come from. So, you need to focus on creating a lot of content for the top of the funnel.

Getting traffic is only the first stage. Someone searching for “How to roll a joint” who’s landed on your website isn’t going to become a customer straight away. They’re in market, but not ready yet. We’ve got to move them further down the funnel — that’s why capturing email addresses is so important at this stage.

All of this is why creating so much content and interlinking content is so important.

 

2. Discovery level (Middle of funnel) 

As we move them down the funnel, searchers are in-market, but unaware of your company/brand and the products you sell. Customers are deeper into the buyer intent journey and closer to making a purchase, so you need to create content for that audience.

An example of the type of mid-funnel content you could create is: “Indica vs Sativa

mid funnel content for weed brands

I haven’t mentioned “brand” yet, but when it comes to cannabis, your brand is the most important differentiator. At the end of the day, weed gets you high, but people buy from specific brands — like Jeeter’s — because of the experience, the feeling specific companies/brands give their customers.

I won’t talk more about brand building here, but if your product and brand sucks and you aren’t working towards building a brand then nothing — not even SEO — is going to work for you.

 

3. Consideration level (Bottom of funnel) 

On the next level of the funnel, these searchers are ready to purchase. This is the consideration stage, the bottom of the funnel. They’re either coming across your brand and products for the first time, or actively looking for where/how to buy your products.

An example is a product landing page, like this one: “Creators Choice, Cotton Candy

bottom funnel content for cannabis brands

On these pages, the keywords are very competitive. In most cases, you want to be creating the page titles/URLs like this: “[your brand] [product name, description] [buy, find, shop].”

It takes a lot of time to rank for these keywords. Most cannabis brands miss out on ranking for these keywords or create content for them that doesn’t help them rank. If these pages aren’t ranking, it’s not that SEO sucks, it’s your content.

You need to re-work these pages and the content that links to them to keep driving traffic up, to win a larger share of search traffic and convert more customers.

 

4. Customer level (after funnel) 

After that stage is the very bottom of the funnel, known as customer-level traffic or after-purchase traffic. After somebody purchases, we want to keep them coming back again.

Brand is everything. Once people start smoking your brand’s products you want to make sure they keep coming back. So, at this stage, you need to create content for these people, your customers, to turn them into loyal brand advocates and repeat purchasers.

A lot of cannabis brands start this way. They create content for people who are already through the funnel instead of those at the top of the funnel to pull them in.

bottom funnel content for cannabis brands

An example of this from Jeeter is them dealing with the issue they have with numerous fake Jeeter products on the market: “How to tell if a Jeeter is fake.”

Creating content for your customers helps brands to drive repeat purchases and customer lifetime value, building your brand at the same time.

Now I will explain why getting media coverage and securing backlinks is so important for cannabis brands.

 

#3: Building search authority with Google using backlinks, PR, and bloggers/influencers 

Getting coverage by media outlets is so important because Google essentially counts “links” as a vote of popularity for your website – they are known to be a top ranking factor with search engines.

Links come in many different forms, but not all are created equal. We want to focus on acquiring links from relevant, powerful websites and blogsquality is far more important than quantity.

 

1. Get media coverage, secure PR links 

If you’re getting coverage from high-traffic, strong Domain Authority (DA) websites, like Forbes and High Times, Google associate’s your website with the search equity of those sites. It’s like being put at the popular table and becoming popular by association.

The more links like this you can get from more relevant and authoritative websites, the quicker your website will rank for certain keywords.

If you’ve tried SEO in the past and its not worked, this could be one of the reasons why. A lot of SEOs do shady things, like link building with low-quality, irrelevant websites. Google can easily spot this sort of tactic and knock your rankings in response.

So, what we need to do is focus on media outlets. It’s a cleaner, more effective way to do link building. What you’re looking for with links is landing them with media outlets in the upper right hand corner of the chart below (high traffic, high authority websites):

link building in cannabis

Forbes would be a great example of the right kind of website. High relevancy is important too, so any media outlet that’s focused on cannabis, or talks about cannabis a lot, and Forbes is one of those.

To secure PR backlinks, you could hire a PR company. This is usually pretty expensive. PR’s will pitch your brand to media outlets, usually in a press release format. But, getting featured in real media outlets with articles written and published by journalists — with a backlink — is by far the best tactic.

 

2. Use HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to secure press coverage and backlinks 

Another thing that we do for our clients is something called Help a Reporter Out (HARO).

HARO is a website that connects journalists with sources. Journalists need quotes and stats for stories, and through HARO, you can connect with them and position yourself as a cannabis expert to provide quotes, landing your brand coverage, and securing valuable backlinks.

haro-backlinks

HARO sends out four emails a day. We monitor those for clients, and then pitch quotes for inclusion in media stories that are going out in real-time. It’s a lot cheaper and more effective than hiring a PR agency.

From an SEO perspective, this is usually better than working with a PR agency. PR’s would call any story that gets published a win; whereas, if they don’t link back, that’s a waste of effort.

 

3. Partner with Influencers and Bloggers

And finally, another way to secure backlinks is working with bloggers. Either you can go out and find cannabis bloggers, or we can do this for you. We send them pitches, such as product reviews, and send them samples.

It’s a really effective way to pick up links, they positively impact SEO, and you’ve got more control than PR.

 

Is SEO worth it for cannabis brands? 

  1. You don’t really have a choice. SEO is really your best bet at any sort of controllable digital marketing play. Everything in this post is exactly what you need to get more traffic and customers. You don’t need to overcomplicate it or spend a ton of money. You just need to focus on quality and consistency, especially when it comes to links and content.
  2. A good SEO campaign will cost you between $4k and $15k per month, depending on the scope. The big discrepancy in cost will be depending on the type of links (PR) and level of content you can afford to create. This costs money, you get what you pay for.
  3. It’s easy to measure ROI and expected return. There’s a plethora of data available telling you how many times people are searching for a certain keywords. Using that data you can back out estimates of ROI.

Cannabis brands: Claim your FREE Traffic Projection Analysis today!

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