Many entrepreneurs at the helm of B2C-focused businesses rely on paid advertising through Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other online venues as a central component of driving traffic to their websites. For good reason — it works!
Unfortunately, because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level in the United States, entrepreneurs in the cannabis space are barred from this popular avenue of raising awareness. Even if you have an ancillary product or service, these social media gatekeepers won’t touch your business due to the assumed liability.
So, how can the owner of a company in the cannabis space get the word out in a targeted and affordable way?
The answer comes down to the execution of sound, fundamental web practices. With these in place, your business stands in the best possible position to raise brand awareness, increase sales, and develop a healthy reputation, organically.
While your mileage may vary, here are five key tips that I have found to be essential in positioning your cannabis-related brand.
1. Ensure That Your Branding And Imagery Are High-Quality
Before implementing any other marketing initiatives, it is imperative that you have a professional-looking and visually compelling brand. Most people will judge you based on how good your brand looks and, while a great visual aesthetic doesn’t ensure success, it sure doesn’t hurt. Some of the areas of emphasis worth prioritizing in this respect include:
First impressions matter. Your logo serves as a representation of your company to potential customers. Unless you have a keen aesthetic sense and at least some background in visual art, it is best to outsource the creation of your company’s logo to a qualified graphic designer — preferably with industry experience (otherwise you’ll end up with the same few visual tropes that consumers are beginning to tire of).
This one is simple: You want to make sure that your customers have access to clear representations of the products you wish for them to purchase. Being evasive here is to be avoided at all costs.
While stock images can be secured from a variety of places on the Web, these generic images do little to bolster confidence in your brand. Instead, you’ll want to hire a professional photographer to capture shots of yourself, your team, and satisfied customers. Doing so will demonstrate both excellence and authenticity, two keys to success for online entrepreneurs.
2. Maintain A Speedy And Secure Home On The Web
For cannabis entrepreneurs, organic traffic is king. In order to build your website’s authority, you need to follow the rules of the game. This means abiding by current best practices published by major search engines like Google. You cannot afford to skip this step, because if these best practices are not followed, Google may delist your website in their search results. While, at the moment, execution of this policy is not widespread, the threat is real for cannabis business owners who will need every edge.
In order to play nice with Google, you’ll want to avoid these severe violations:
Not Serving On HTTPS Domains
If the exchange of data on your website isn’t encrypted, you are putting your own and your customers’ information at risk and Google will penalize your website heavily for this infraction. Avoid the hardships by making sure that your website integrates transport layer security (TLS).
Slow Page Speeds
Avoid utilizing a subpar web host, integrating unoptimized graphics, or overusing scripts and plugins. All of these will slow your page speeds and result in poorer rankings on search engines.
Not Being Optimized For Mobile
If your website is not designed in such a way that ensures presentation on mobile devices looks sleek, then Google will judge your business harshly. No longer is presentation on desktops/laptops used as Google’s standard. Now, search engines view your mobile site as the primary, always.
Other Security Vulnerabilities
Entrepreneurs, whether in the cannabis space or any other, place a heavy emphasis on the bottom line. While being fiscally responsible is critical to business success, you shouldn’t look to cut costs by running outdated software. Doing so will lead to paying a heavy price in terms of search ranking.
3. Drive Your SEM With SEO
Fo the uninitiated, SEM stands for search engine marketing, while SEO stands for search engine optimization. Content development is perhaps the biggest equalizer for entrepreneurs in the cannabis space looking to drive traffic. As long as you do your homework and don’t cut corners, you can turn your site into an organic search magnet. Here are three of the best ways to do just that:
Create A List Of Your Brand Keywords
If you want to draw traffic to your site, you need to familiarize yourself with how people search. Google’s Keyword Planner and Google Trends are two of the best ways to get a handle on the keywords that are relevant to your brand. For example, Canadians are far more likely to use the term ‘cannabis’ than Americans, who favor ‘marijuana.’
Include Keywords In Your Web Copy
The days of maximizing your search ranking through keyword stuffing are over, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t weave in your brand keywords into the copy on your website in a meaningful, authentic fashion.
Prioritize Keywords In Certain Areas Of Your Site
Your product descriptions, page titles, and headings are more heavily weighted in Google’s search algorithm than other copy on your site. Place the most focus on integrating your brand keywords in these sections.
With SEO, there isn’t one thing that will make or break you (apart from not serving an encrypted site). Rather, SEO should be viewed as the sum of many parts. Do your best to fill in every field using the appropriate character limits while maintaining the authenticity of your brand and its voice. That’s a far better approach to drawing traffic to your website than mindlessly stuffing keywords, which won’t do you a lick of good.
4. Demonstrate Social Proof
Reviews from valid sources (e.g. Google, Yelp, Yotpo) are pretty much the most useful thing to get your site noticed. This is because search engines have now prioritized authenticity as the most important factor in their rankings. Here is a helpful tip to keep in mind:
Incentivize Your Audience To Provide Reviews
Only use ‘white-hat’ methods when building a collection of reviews. If you are caught giving freebies or gifts, there is a strong likelihood that your site will get bumped from search results. If you feel that you must resort to ‘black-hat’ methods, then make sure to keep those arrangements strictly offline. A better approach, however, is to ask for reviews in a kind and cooperative manner in your correspondence with satisfied customers.
5. Build Your Audience
You’ve nailed the essentials, now it’s time for some audience building. Here are two key factors to keep in mind:
Link Your Social Platforms On Your Site
Your website and social channels are seen as the same entity within search engines. If you have a massive following on a social media platform, it’s essential to link it to your site (via tools like Schema markup). This allows these ostensibly disparate places on the Web to be linked in the eyes of Google and build your site visibility.
Influencer marketing (i.e. the act of having popular people talk about your products/brand) has been proven to be the best paid marketing avenue, especially for brands on a tight budget or that are just starting out. This even works for deep pockets — after all, Fyre Festival became popular through a big influencer campaign. Perhaps that’s a rough example, but it was certainly the case! In all seriousness, find influencers within your target audience and talk to them about their rates. Some are comfortable with a trade of a post or posts in exchange for your product. Even influencers with enormous social media followings may reduce their rates if offered your product as part of the deal.
These tips are broad strokes. There is nuance in every step. However, this guide encompasses the general workflow and priority list necessary to bootstrap a brand and give yourself the best chance for success. Good luck!
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