Now more than ever, a cannabis business’s web presence ranks among the most visible entry points for both new and longtime loyal customers. Your website is where important news, menu offerings and contact information are gleaned. It’s a place that calls for strategic investment.
KindTyme is a boutique creative agency that specializes in the hemp and cannabis businesses. Co-founders Bridget Renee (brand strategist) and Ryan Michael (director of operations) said that business owners would do well to keep the consumer in mind when planning out a web presence—much like most other operations in cannabis. The end user will guide your intent.
“I think at the end of the day, from a consumer perspective, people have incredibly short attention spans these days,” Michael said. “And that’s something that a lot of our dispensary clients don’t seem to realize.”
Here are four tips from the KindTyme team for optimizing your hemp or cannabis business’s web presence.
The key is to remember how your customers are already using the internet for commercial shopping opportunities—and then find your niche in that space. That brings us to Tip No. 1, Manage load times.
“Make sure that you have an ultra-fast load time that is going to bring them right into your site so they don’t think that it’s not working,” Michael said, referencing a problem that any internet user has surely run into before. This goes double for mobile optimization: Make sure your site is responsive on mobile platforms, and cut out the videos for that smartphone-friendly version.
Michael cited Wordpress as a common content management system (CMS) that’s both easy to use and relatively speedy. And he pointed out that hiring a developer to look over your shoulder and address the more granular aspects of a website is a helpful starting point. A web developer will help guide you through nuanced components of the overall design—like image compression and image file type, two potential obstacles that could slow down a website’s loading time.
Of course, part of this comes down to trust. The highly technical side of web development is not necessarily a skill set that we all possess, and oftentimes this stuff can go over a business owner’s head. It’s vital for the business owner and his or her team to trust any web developer who’s brought in.
Michael provided an example of a cannabis client that used website hosting service that simply couldn’t handle the volume of traffic that eventually showed up. The website crashed, and the client couldn’t make heads or tails of what went wrong at first.
So, here’s the next tip: Know your partners.
Web design and hosting can be intimidating topics for the uninitiated, so it’s important to know who you’re working with on these types of projects. Michael pointed out that there’s a lot of technical jargon associated with web work. Try to learn as much as you can, but make sure you’re placing your trust in a team that can execute and guide you to your goals.
And web design isn’t something that exists in a vacuum. It’s a vehicle for sales, and you’re looking for customers to convert. To do this, don’t forget this underlying principle: Understand your customers’ expectations.
“If you are a dispensary that offers a very boutique, up-scale experience, your website should really match that, and the experience that they have within the website should really match that,” Michael said. “If you are more of a counter-culture, maybe you’re by a skate park and you feed toward that end of the industry, then you want to make sure that the website experience mimics that as well.”
Much like the interior design of your store, the look and feel of your website should clue your customers into the experience of your business. There should not be any questions left unanswered—questions like, “What is this store?” “Who are they trying to engage?” “Where am I?” The atmosphere and messaging should take care of that.
And, in some cases, people are simply buzzing through the website to pick up some quick information. They may be planning a visit later, but their pass-through on the website is a key touchpoint for that eventual sales opportunity. This is where clean design can really help.
“A lot of the time, people are just looking for delivery or they’re looking for prices or they’re looking for hours, so we usually for most stores recommend finding a way to have those things in the front [of the website],” Michael said, “but then finding clever ways to walk them through what the experience would be from there.”
A helpful way to keep in contact between website visits is a regular newsletter service. This is where dispensary owners can really load up on their own marketing language and home in on particular deals in the store. It’s something that will involve a bit of constant oversight and editorial guidance, so it’s best to understand the creative bandwidth of your team before embarking on a subscription-based newsletter for your customers.
“For anything digital marketing, newsletter or otherwise, these are all great tools to have and it’s certainly a good idea to be gathering emails on your website, but I wouldn’t put it front and center unless you plan on making it a pivotal part of your marketing strategy,” Renee said.
Lastly, remember: This is an ongoing process.
So much of your digital marketing efforts will revolve around your website—newsletters, social media, SEO strategies, contests, sales. By knowing your customers’ expectations and designing from there, you’ll find yourself on the vanguard of the market you’re serving.
“I think the most important fundamental piece to a good SEO strategy is the website itself,” Renee said. “There are a million ways you can build websites to be not very search engine-friendly, and knowing how to design and develop a website for good SEO is kind of an art in and of itself.”
It can be easy to fall down the wormhole and get trapped in the minutia of web metrics, constantly second-guessing how your website is performing. But Renee and Michael pointed out that it’s a slippery slope.
SEO is a complex paradigm for understanding the web. It’s a learning curve that can complement your understanding of your own business.
And much like your store, engagement is the bottom line.
“Most people get super caught up in how many visitors they’re getting,” Michael said. “And that is not the most important metric. The most important metric would be how long those visitors are actually staying on your site and how many pages they are exploring.”
Good, clean website design is the path that will turn an unknown IP address on the vast plains of the internet into a loyal customer who comes to enjoy the experience you’re providing.
“[Your website] is the central hub of everything marketing if you’re using this correctly,” Michael said. “It is so much more than a digital business card.”