The modern age has a litmus test for the strength and vibrancy of your cannabis business—and no, it's not about the potency of your products. The test is simple: What stares back at you from that glowing screen when you Google your business?
The answer could make a significant difference if, say, a crucial investor types your brand name into a search engine or a potential customer looks up your product offerings. Most first impressions are made on the internet—particularly in emergent industries like cannabis scattered across dozens of non-contiguous legal states.
There’s the rub, of course. Google’s results can be as revealing as a clear, starlit night or as murky as a foggy morning. Which one represents your brand? And what can cannabis operators do about that digital mirror?
Great Cannabis Digital Marketing Puts Your Best Face Forward
First impressions matter, especially in the digital age. Hence, your digital presence should be nothing short of impeccable. Just like you start developing your business and facility design plans before you even get your cannabis license in hand, the work of nailing that first impression starts well before your website even goes live or you publish your first blog.
The best place to begin, of course, is with your brand itself. Whether you’re a new company or going through a rebrand, identifying a catchy company or product moniker is a solid place to start. And if you need some help with that, check out Grasslands’ naming workshop. Next, ensure your company’s story resonates internally and externally with messaging workshops and brand design that ensures your narratives stay unified and resonant across all channels.
With that foundation in place, you can start to strategize exactly how to get your name and story out there—and hopefully on page one of your favorite search engine.
The Power of SEO for Cannabis Digital Marketing
Google and other search engines like Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yandex, Baidu and Yahoo all use powerful algorithms to help find the best results for a text- or voice-based query. Search engines protect the exact parameters of their algorithms as precious proprietary secrets, and the inputs that inform those algorithms are updated regularly. In 2023, Google even shook up the search analytics world when it replaced its popular Universal Analytics property with Google Analytics 4, which calculates search traffic, engagement and other metrics in a radically different way than its predecessor.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the few fields that evolves as fast or faster than the cannabis space. It’s important to stay up to date on cannabis SEO strategy because understanding the way Google serves up results is one of the few ways to make truly data-based content marketing decisions.
Despite the fast pace of change and secrecy surrounding the finer points of search algorithms, there are a few best practices that tend to apply widely across all search engines. For starters, you’ll want to ensure your website is optimized for keywords relevant to your cannabis business. Strategically optimizing your keywords is essentially a way for your brand to secure a well-placed digital sign saying "Hey, we're right here!" to anyone searching for offerings like yours.
Decades of ongoing federal prohibition have impacted the way social media and other tech companies approach their relationships to cannabis, and search engines are no different. As such, there simply isn’t as much cannabis SEO data as there is for businesses in other sectors like fashion or personal finance. But cannabis-fluent marketers know enough to navigate the choppy seas of the World Wide Web with a sturdy SEO rudder, helping their clients rise to coveted first and second-page positions.
Backlinks Are a Beacon in Cannabis Digital Marketing Strategy
Another important component of any SEO strategy is earning quality backlinks. Think of backlinks as votes of confidence for your cannabis brand's powerful content. Simply put, these are links from other websites pointing to yours. This boosts your website's authority and pushes you up the search rankings.
In the cannabis industry—where misconceptions run amok—it's critical to have high-quality sites backlinking to yours. A trusted news source like The Denver Post, for example, is a better endorsement in Google’s eyes than a low-traffic personal blog that ranks for few related keywords.
The more high-quality websites talking you up and referring to your site, the more search engines like Google pick up on that good esteem, and the higher they’ll rank your content.
EAT: The Entourage Effect for Cannabis Digital Marketing
The reason why backlinks are so valuable for your SEO strategy is that they contribute to EAT, or expertise, authority and trust. EAT is one of the key metrics search engines use to determine how credible a site is and how high it should rank in search results.
- Expertise: Your brand’s value isn’t just in its products or services—it’s in its deep familiarity with complex subject matter. That’s especially true in an industry like cannabis where consumers still need a lot of education about different product categories, the science of cannabis and its effects, and to refute stigma from the War on Drugs. Expertise is an area where Grasslands’ journalism-minded blog-writing and web-copy services shine, giving voice to your brand's deep understanding of the cannabis landscape.
- Authority: Establish your dominance in the field. After all, your expertise won’t draw in as many potential customers and leads if your total addressable audience doesn’t see you as an authority to go to when they have a question or need more information. Establishing authority for SEO purposes involves having the right backlinks, media mentions and positive reviews. In other words, it’s all about validation of your brand’s know-how from other experts and credible sources.
- Trust: Expertise and authority help build trust, as do components like customer testimonials, earned media, secure websites and e-commerce platforms, and external links to credible sources such as newspapers of record, scientific literature and government or academic websites. Brands can build trust on their owned media platforms by following many of the same guidelines taught in high school and college: communicate clearly and succinctly and always cite your sources.
A professional, strategically designed website and accompanying owned media channels help build EAT in ways that go beyond SEO, too. Think about how much web design has changed over the last twenty years. Would you trust a site with outdated web design that looks like it was built on Geocities in 1998? Or a home page with numerous broken links, no contact information or poorly written content riddled with spelling and grammatical errors?
Digitally savvy web surfers pick up on cues like these when they’re trying to decide if they’re about to get scammed, and if they don’t like what they see, they’ll be on to the next website before you can say “bounce rate.” You don’t want excited customers to take one look at your homepage and worry they’re about to have their credit card information stolen or wonder if they’re on the right domain.
The Value of a Journalism-Minded Approach to Cannabis Digital Marketing
Cannabis can be a pretty casual industry, but these days it’s just as important for your digital marketing channels to dress for the level your brand aspires to as it is for you to dress for the job you want. Fair or not, lingering stigma against cannabis and low expectations for professionals in this industry mean that the online version of respectability politics often comes into play.
That’s why Grasslands emphasizes both cannabis fluency and a journalism-minded approach to branding and digital marketing. It’s important to speak clearly, accurately and authoritatively about this plant and your brand’s relationship to it. When someone Googles your business, you want their attention to be on what you have to deliver—not on what your website could have done better.
So, next time you think about your brand, give it a Google. If you don't like what you see, remember—you've got a friend in the digital PR and cannabis marketing world ready to help. After all, when the digital world is watching, shouldn't you be looking your best?
Want to learn more about how Grasslands can supercharge your SEO rankings. Let’s talk!