Data tells us that potential cannabis customers are most likely to choose from the dispensary locations listed on the first page of Google search results.
Having a well-designed website and a Google My Business page are two crucial first steps in a dispensary’s marketing strategy. But just because you have a website doesn’t mean that customers will suddenly and easily find you, even if someone types your business name verbatim into the search engine.
Not only do you want to show up first when someone searches for your business name, you want to show up on the first page of the results when someone Googles anything related to your business. In other words, if someone Googles “dispensary near me,” you hope that your dispensary is one of the first ones to show up.
This is where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in.
What is SEO?
SEO, in a nutshell, involves “optimizing” a website to show up on the first page when a person searches for keywords that are related to a business. You can have a beautiful website with useful content, but without SEO it’s just a beautiful website with stellar content that doesn’t get any traffic.
While it technically falls under the category of “marketing,” SEO differs from conventional forms of marketing in that it works largely behind the scenes. By leveraging one of the most commonly used and most overlooked marketing avenues—the search engines themselves—SEO ensures that your dispensary will actually be visible to the public on the internet.
Organic Search vs. Paid Advertisements
SEO is about generating increased organic traffic to your website, as opposed to paid traffic via PPC (pay-per-click) advertising, like GoogleAds. As most CEOs of hands-on cannabis businesses know, GoogleAds are generally not allowed in the cannabis industry. But what they might not know is, regardless of their questionable legality, PPC ads are many times less effective than organic search in driving sales.
According to Moz/Jumpshot, SEO has 20x more traffic opportunity than pay-per-click ads. That’s a fairly startling statistic, but even more startling is the fact that SEO remains so underutilized. According to Kirk Evans of Portland-based Sherpa, around 90-95% of websites are not optimized for SEO.
Which means those that implement SEO have a distinct advantage over competitors in their area.
So, what are the components of SEO?
According to Search Engine Land’s latest edition of their trusted Periodic Table of SEO series, these are the most important factors that go into a successful SEO strategy.
- User: Location, location, location. Where are your users from? What are they searching for? Does your website make your location clear?
- Content: Does your website have a blog? Does it provide meaningful and useful information to people? Are you using keywords throughout your website that your target audience is searching for?
- Site architecture: Search engines reward websites with streamlined structures that load quickly on both desktops and mobile phones. When your site is easy to read by the machines, it saves Google server power and results in higher rankings.
- HTML: This is the star behind the scenes (read: code). Schema is wrapped around keywords and placed in strategic points of the site to enhance listings of those keywords and make it easier for Google to understand what your site is about.
- Trust: How much time do people spend on your website? How engaged are they? In other words, are they clicking around your website or do they leave after seeing one page?
- Links and backlinks: The more your website links to reputable websites, and the more high-quality websites that link to your website (backlinks), the more Domain Authority (DA) Google gives your site. It’s helpful to think of backlinks like votes. The more readership a website has that links back to your website, the more votes that link counts for.
Nearly four out of five people who conduct a local search end up visiting a store within five miles. People want to learn about the products they’re interested in and the people they’re buying from, especially if they plan on visiting a storefront. When you type a query into your search bar, Google does a few things to determine which web pages will show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs):
- attempts to understand what exactly your search means,
- ranks those websites based on what Google thinks will be most useful to you.
It does these things with the help of a complicated, ever-evolving algorithm. This algorithm takes over 200 factors into account as it rockets through cyberspace to return the best of what the internet has to offer.
Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
According to Hubspot, 75% of people never scroll past the first page. This is an extremely important statistic, because unless your business shows up front and center on the first page (ideally in the A spot in the Map Pack), the chances of people visiting it drop dramatically.
And making it to the first page takes time—even with SEO implemented. Unless your dispensary has been around for years and years and has an established network of strong backlinks, reviews, a robust social media presence, and lots of mentions from around the internet—chances are your site isn’t reaching as many people as it could.
If you’re a new business, showing up on the first page is even more difficult. Even with SEO, the climb to the first page can take time; anywhere from four months to a year to see real ROI. Without SEO, it might not happen at all—and that means a whole lot of missed traffic opportunities.
How to Rank Higher in SERPs (Organically)
If your dispensary isn’t showing up when it’s searched for, here’s what you can do about it.
- Invest in strong web design and SEO services. Unless you are a UX, web design or SEO specialist, creating a website and optimizing it for search engines isn’t something you can do on your own.
Agencies like Sherpa provide these kinds of services, and are able to build websites from the ground-up and implement long-term SEO strategies that increase your website traffic (and your dispensary’s foot traffic) over time. They also maintain these strategies long-term, and adjust them as Google releases new algorithm updates (which happens hundreds of times per year).
- Create valuable content. Having and regularly updating a blog can provide meaningful information to the public-- to the benefit of all (and your ROI). People who are actually interested in forming a relationship with this plant are interested in forming a relationship with their supplier: aka their local dispensary. Like a pharmacy, a dispensary should be welcoming, informative and make helpful resources available to humans in the digital realm.
- Create a Google my Business (GMB) page. This is a great way to make your contact information easily accessible to people passing through your area who are looking for a dispensary nearby. Not all customers feel like clicking all the way to and through your website, so having a GMB satisfies all those looking for a quick phone number or directions to your storefront.
- Give it some time. Typically, older websites have had the time to really develop their content, accumulate inbound and outbound links (links and backlinks), and establish a robust social network and good rapport with users. New websites are at a slight disadvantage, but this is why SEO really is a long-term strategy. There is no magic button that will make your website show up in the #1 spot overnight.
Whoever your SEO service provider is, you want to make sure they’re creating and implementing a strong keyword strategy that is customized to fit your business and your target audience. Over time, the people who need what you provide will find you.