The Canadian medical and recreational cannabis market is rapidly expanding and competition in this space is growing at a similar rate. Brick & mortar and online businesses will need to put a lot of effort into building their brand and online presence. SEO for cannabis businesses and vape shops alike is the foundation of any successful marketing effort.
It’s a well known fact that over 75% of consumers do research over the internet before making a purchase, the biggest area of concern for cannabis companies and vape related businesses should be online visibility. If you’re not ready to work with an experienced SEO yet, the following guide to SEO for cannabis businesses and vape shops will improve your Google ranking and increase your chances of being found on the WWW. If you are ready to work with an experienced SEO and eCommerce designer, fill out our contact form and we can get started on a plan that fits your business goals.
1. Create Your Free Google My Business Profile
This will automatically index your name, address, and phone number (NAP) with Google.This is the only way for your business to show up in Google map results when people in your area search for similar products or services. You can sign up for a profile on Google My Business for free. Vaporizer Shop and Cannabis Shop are both business types that you can select in your business profile. Be sure to fill out your entire profile…including photos, social media profiles and a proper logo image. Your GMB profile is also a great way to share your blog posts.
Do a Google search for “buy bongs online” or “online head shop”. Notice anything missing? There are no Google Ads. Google Products might show some items on the right side of the results, but there are no ads. Google has very strict policies when working with cannabis, tobacco, bongs or vapes…they won’t sell you any space. Ditto for Facebook. This means that your website and social profiles are the only thing Google is going to see…no paying your way to the front of the line. I cannot stress enough the importance of a well designed, robust website and fully completed social profiles to promote your brand or product. Good news is that your larger competitors can’t buy all of the ad space up.
** update** I have been seeing Google ads popping up for Arizer and PAX vaporizers…they only start showing at the bottom of page 2 in the SERPs. It’s a pretty cool trick too…email me and I’ll explain it to you.
2. Use Social Media To Reach Your Audience
Being active on social media not only improves your relationship with existing and potential customers, but it also helps boost your vape shop’s SEO. The best social media platforms for your business will vary based on your particular strategy, but every business should have at least a Facebook and Google+ page. Google sees strong social signals like user engagement and shared posts as a sign of quality and it shows that you are current. Your posts should always originate from your website and be posted on your social profiles with a link back to the source.
- Facebook: Arguably the most popular social media site out there, Facebook is a great way to reach new audiences and send traffic back to your website. It also has a very targeted, customizable ad platform that will do wonders for your marijuana business’s SEO & sales when used properly! Facebook ads are forbidden for vape and cannabis businesses, but you can advertise in a round-about way if you are careful. You can place ads for legalizing cannabis and I also read a post where a business was able to advertise a free give-away with a vape for a prize. If you can come up with a compelling ad, you can use this technique to build brand awareness within a like-minded target group.
- Google+: Google+ isn’t as popular of a choice among the public, it seems a little lame actually. But, G+ provides one benefit that no one else does: Google indexes G+ posts! Every post published in Google+ is indexed for search rankings (Google rewards its product users well), so by optimizing your social posts for targeted keywords, you are increasing your chances of being found online! It’s extra work for your social media efforts; but trust me, it’s worth it.
3. List Your Address & Phone Number (NAP) on Your Website
You really do need a website. If you want to be competitive, it should have an excellent design and high-quality content. But, at the very least, it should clearly list your address, city, province, and phone number in text so Google can suggest your marijuana business to searches that come from your area. It is very important to maintain consistency with you NAP across all social platforms and directories. Google hates making extra decisions when it comes to finding your business location and making suggestions to searchers. It’s a great idea to keep a spreadsheet with all of your different logins for each account so you can quickly add locations, change addresses or any other info…stay consistent.
4. Add Your Business to Popular, Relevant Directory Listings
Sites like Yelp, YellowPages, and Local not only increase the chances of someone finding your business, but provide high quality links going to your website. Several cannabis-related directories like Leafly, Weedmaps, and THCBiz exist for the same reason, but whatever you do, make sure to only use reputable directories and start with just a few, or else you risk hurting your SEO instead of helping it. Also as stated above, keep your NAP consistent over all directories and platforms.
5. Selling Online?
Get your merchant sorted out ASAP! Anything cannabis or vape related is a high-risk situation for merchant banks and many do not want to get involved in the marijuana industry right now. I’ve recently set up 2 online head shops, and getting a merchant and payment gateway set up was a difficult and time-consuming process. I had to remove CBD, seeds and detox products from the sites to get the merchant that we got. They wanted to see a completed website with products before they would even consider us. Many of the merchants we contacted were very slow to respond and wouldn’t answer many questions…they wanted us to apply first. There are also seemingly many re-sellers and agents for bigger merchants out there that further frustrate the process. Shopify is similar…they’re happy to let you sell your products, but PayPal or Stripe won’t process the transaction…you still need to get your own merchant. That said, just get it done ASAP and start making money! Take advantage of the fact that there is barrier to entry for a lot of businesses and get in as fast as you can. I’ve made a great merchant connection and am happy to pass along your info to them. Email me for details,
6. Gather Reviews
Once you have your listings up on Google and relevant directories, it’s important to ask your clients to leave reviews on them. It’s also great for business when potential clients see good reviews. Reviews are also a strong signal to Google that your cannabis business or head shop is worth suggesting to searchers. Be very careful when soliciting reviews…you should never get more than a couple per day otherwise Google will see right through your efforts and punish you with poor rankings. Yelp has been known to claw back real reviews along with ones that they think are fake or solicited for a reward. Remember…their product is providing trusted, publicly scrutinized recommendations…if they think you are abusing their system, they will take you down quickly. It’s also good to respond to each review that you get…good or not so good…it shows Google that you are engaged with your clients, and it shows potential clients how you try to remedy less than positive reviews.
7. Start a Blog (if you haven’t already)
The hallmark of great SEO is traffic, and posting blog articles is one of the best ways to keep bringing visitors to your website. Use a blog to discuss promotions, events, new products, or industry news, but always try to post articles on a regular basis…and push them outwards with your social media profiles. Be unique, be original and always try to answer questions with your posts. I like to treat my key product pages as blog articles and build them over time. If the goal of your content is to make a sale, then why not make your product page the main stop for all of that great info? You should always ask yourself what the purpose of your content is. Selling? Informing? How To? It will help you focus your efforts and budget. Linking your product pages to your popular posts will send page authority to your products. This really helps when competition for product keywords is tough.
Be sure to back up any medical claims you make on your site or blog with well-documented and published medical studies. The Canadian drug advertising rules are very strict regarding any claims that you can make on the effectiveness of medications. I personally think that there will be a crack-down on marijuana advertising in the very near future in Canada. Make sure to footnote any claims that you make on the efficacy of your products. And while I’m at it, now is the time to make your website accessible in both official languages too. It may be the new standard in the medicinal market as laws get ironed out…and French Canadians like their marijuana too, so why alienate them?
8. Implement an On-Site SEO Strategy
Unless you are technically inclined or have the time to put into learning on-page SEO, you may need to get help from a marijuana SEO professional and/or web developer. But as one of the most essential parts of building an authoritative website, it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked…it should be perfected!
A good SEO strategy will combine:
- Keyword strategy: Choosing the best & most competitive keywords for your business objectives. The real art in keyword analysis and choosing is finding which keywords are worth competing for and learning how to identify easy opportunities to rank. Want to rank for “CBD”? Get in line…there’s a lot of competition for it. And how do you know if someone wants to learn about it, or buy it? Be focused, otherwise you may do a lot of work for little gain. There are many free keyword tools out there to help you narrow your choices.
- Title tags: Naming each content page appropriately and making sure your main content is optimized for that keyword or phrase.
- Header tags: Creating an organizational structure for content that all browsers can understand. H1 for titles (should only use once), H2 for main headings and H3 for sub-headings. I read one study where they did testing on this and they concluded that H3 was the strongest of the H tags. Interesting.
- Image alt/title tags: Providing contextual information about an image, since Google can’t index pictures by themselves. This a strong signal to Google that you are a quality site without anything to hide.
- Content structure: Arranging content pages so visitors can easily find what they’re looking for, and building internal links that help Google understand how the pages relate to each other…and which ones have more authority within your site.
- URLs: Naming links appropriately so they are easy for Google to decipher. You don’t need to stuff url’s with keywords and variants anymore. Be natural and stick to your main keyword for each page.
- 301 Redirects: Forwarding URLs that are no longer being used, so visitors never hit a dead-end on your website. It’s another sign of quality to Google and it greatly enhances user experience and trust in your site. Properly redirecting pages will pass on any link authority that page had to the new page. This is the only way you should ever change a page url on your site. There are plugins that make it easy to do too if you’re a WordPresser.
- Quality Web Development: Website coding must pass a range of criteria to be ranked well by Google. Just make sure you build your website with WordPress and use a a decent theme that is mobile-friendly. Their code is great and well set up for SEO out of the box…and its free! There also some great plugins, both free and paid that will take care of a lot of the SEO stuff for you with minimal set-up.
9. Use Google Analytics and Search Console
It will be difficult to know whether these strategies are working if you don’t have a way to track them. Google Analytics is a quick way to track your cannabis website traffic, conversions, behavior and more as visitors navigate through your site. There are many other analytics trackers out there, and most can be installed into your site in a matter of minutes. Google Analytics is free to use and simple to set up. Google Search Console is another free tool that works with Analytics to improve and monitor your site’s health.
Optimizing your website for better search results is the best way to increase inbound sales and online visibility. When someone searches for your product or service, thorough and well-planned SEO is the only way to guarantee that you’ll show up in the SERP’s
Building your website to the point that it has an abundance of traffic and high Google rankings is possible without a professional strategist, but it takes more time to accomplish…and a lot of research. Following these steps will put you on the right track no matter what your industry is.
Need Help Improving Your Cannabis Website or Vape Shop’s SEO?
If you would like to accelerate your web presence and hire a professional SEO or eCommerce / Web Designer, Brave New Web provides professional SEO, Web Design and eCommerce services for cannabis businesses, head shops and more! Contact us today for an SEO analysis and free consultation, and give your cannabis business the boost it needs to really perform online.