Guide to marketing and SEO for Dispensaries and Cannabusinesses

 

Cannabis Marketing:
What are your options?


No one knows exactly when cannabis will be completely decriminalized in the United States. Until that time, cannabis businesses have to consider all of their options carefully, because they can’t write-off their marketing expenses. So what can you do?

Market your business through social media.

Social Media Marketing: Social media marketing comes with a warning: Follow the individual posting rules for each social site if you want to avoid being taken down. (Even then, there is no guarantee.)

We have created four handy guides on social media marketing for cannabis businesses.

 

"SEO is a marketing function for sure, but it needs to be baked into a product, not slapped on like icing after the cake is baked."

Duane Forrester | VP, Industry Insights

Search Engine Optimize (SEO) your dispensary website

SEO: This is your best option, and we aren’t just saying that because we provide SEO. There are hundreds of stories of cannabis ads being pulled, social-media profiles getting removed, and PPC campaigns shutting down after a day or two.

The current best dispensary marketing options are the ones you have full control over.

Search engine optimization is performed on your website. You own your website, you control what goes on it, and that makes it your most powerful marketing tool as long as cannabis remains federally illegal.

Go the old-fashioned route with traditional marketing

Flyers, billboards, periodical and magazine ads - if it falls under the “traditional marketing” banner it’s an option for dispensaries. We’ve also seen clients get great returns from digital advertising on local publication’s websites.

If your city has a unique print publication that’s free and readily available, an ad can result in a measurable website traffic increase, especially if that ad also appears online.

Take a customer-focused approach with direct marketing

Direct marketing is great, there’s only one caveat—you have to collect your customer’s data. We can’t give this method a higher recommendation. Text Message marketing is a fantastic opportunity to bring customers into your store for the latest specials, reminding them that you’ve got great new products for them to try.

Take the time to get a phone number and email address. The payoff is well worth the effort, and we can make it even easier to collect cannabis customer’s information.

 

Cannabis Marketing:
What are your limitations?


 

PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising is still off-limits.

Dispensaries and other cannabis businesses that deal directly in THC products will have their Google Adwords campaigns taken down. Careful wording and a focus on the right products may allow you to slip a campaign by for a little while, but even those are eventually caught and taken down.

Social-media Advertising is still off-limits.

Advertising on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and other social sites still isn’t an option. Because the products being sold are federally illegal, these massive sites do not want to risk breaking federal law, and are erring on the side of caution.

Social-media accounts can be taken down at any time.

Investing in a social media account can provide many great prospects, but can just as easily get permanently shut down overnight. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. A better option is to use a social media account as a gateway into your website by creating a rewards club or user hub.

If you can corral social media users onto your own website, you don’t have to worry about whether or not your social media accounts may be shut down.

 

Web Design:
Why should you have it built by a professional?


You need a website, and you have options. You can build it yourself, get a budget build from an overseas developer or friend of a friend, or, you can hire a professional. Saving money in the short term is a poor business decision if it costs you future profits over the long term.

Consider the following:

A study in 1980 found that people only needed 50 milliseconds to form a visual impression of a marketing material. What does that mean for you? A poorly designed website leaves visitors with an immediate negative impression. That’s not the impression you want them to have.

Stanford University performed a massive website credibility study with over 1,500 participants. They found that 46.1% of consumers assessed a website’s credibility based on the visual design and individual elements including the color scheme, typography, and layout.

A professionally designed website builds immediate trust. That’s an impression you definitely want to make.

 

Aren't there more benefits to professional design?
Absolutely.


 

Our designers work directly with our clients to ideate and test different layouts for user experience, color schemes, font choices, and more. If you aren’t a part of the web design process, cross your fingers your designer hits the mark the first time. You should be involved in the design of your website.

How long did it take you to master your profession? Now imagine you’ve just started out and a client has entrusted you with a project that could make or break their business. Are you ready for it? Great website designers acquire their knowledge through years of learning and experience. Can you afford to make your website one of their first projects?

You’d be amazed at the number of ways a website can break. Out-of-date plugins, malware, an image that isn’t sizing correctly—the right company takes care of it all. You shouldn’t have to update your site yourself. Let a professional design agency take care of it for you.

 

"A custom, branded website can make all the difference for your users. SquareSpace & Wix may offer a quick, easy solution for a shoestring budget, but you lose out on fully controlling your design. The advantages of being able to create a cohesive brand identity through custom WordPress themeing cannot be understated. You can see the difference and so can your customers."

Kirk Evans | CEO & Web Designer - Sherpa

 

Web Design:
What’s the difference between Wordpress and Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly?


You’ve heard the advertisements and they make it sound like building a website couldn’t be easier. If you choose a DIY website construction tool like Wix or Squarespace, what can you expect?

Professional Cannabis Website Design:

  • You’ll work with a designer to get the layout and formatting just right.
  • Every section can be correctly optimized and marked up.
  • You’ll own your website and domain now and in the future.
  • Your designer will have access to every WP plugin available.
  • Custom features can be built right into your website.
  • You’ll get the experience and skill of a professional website designer.

DIY Website Builder:

  • You can only be as creative as the creation tools allow you to be.
  • You cannot properly SEO each section or add individualized markup.
  • You may not fully own your website or domain.
  • You will be limited to only using pre-approved plugins.
  • You may have trouble or not be able to implement features you want.
 

SEO:
What is it and how does it work?


SEO is shorthand for search engine optimization. What does that mean exactly? It’s a broad term that covers nearly everything that has to do with your dispensary website.

In the broadest sense, SEO means making your site as Google-friendly as humanly possible.

What does a Google-friendly cannabis site look like?

If you want to drive yourself temporarily insane, here’s a list of 200 ranking factors that Google looks at.

If you want to maintain your sanity, here’s an overview:

Isn’t SEO more complicated than that?

Yes. Yes it is. It’s a digital marketing company’s job to build and optimize a website, and a great company considers every single one of the 200 rankings factors in the above list.

On top of that, Google releases algorithm changes every single month. Some of these are minor, and some are major, but all of them affect SEO best practices. Every update changes Google’s priorities, and it’s up to your SEO provider to change with them.

 

SEO:
What are its limitations?


SEO can get people to your website, but after that it’s up to you. Some of the things you’ll want to consider:

 
SEO is not a sales funnel.

Do you want people to call, click, or purchase something in particular? How is your website designed to get them there, and how are you tracking the results?

If you haven’t determined your overall goals, it can be difficult to measure the results of your work. Consider the pages on your website and what journey you want to take a visitor on.

SEO cannot change poor online reviews.

SEO cannot combat a poor customer experience. If you aren’t actively managing reviews on Google, Yelp, and other sites, you should. Make sure the in-person customer experience is what you want it to be.

Ensuring your staff is following your company code, is properly trained, and any issues are swiftly dealt with can help counteract and prevent bad online reviews.

SEO doesn’t prevent hosting errors.

We’ll cover hosting more in-depth a little later, but search engine optimization is a lost cause if your website goes down, gets hacked, or cannot handle your site traffic.

Getting private, dedicated hosting is typically your best option. Cloud hosting can make your site load even faster and prevent hacking issues. Monitored hosting means your site is being actively monitored—this can also prevent downtime errors, crashes, and hacking.

 

Cannabis SEO:
What you need to do right now.


If you haven’t done the following, there’s no time to waste.

 

Set up a Google My Business (GMB) Page

You can manage multiple locations from a single GMB account, so you’ll only need one whether you’ve got 1 physical location, 10, or 100.

Google can walk you through setting up a free GMB listing.

Why do you need it?

A GMB listing is one of the best free citations available and it greatly increases your chances of getting into Google’s MAP pack. If you don’t have one already, any reputable SEO company you sign with is going to make you get one anyway.

Settle on your NAP

NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone number—these are the three things you need to maintain consistency for across the web. We’ll cover the NAP in our citations section, but let’s look at some of the ways your NAP could be wrong.

How can you end up with an incorrect NAP?

  • The business in your location before you had a different name and phone number than yours; they are still listed on different sites like Yelp, White Pages, etc.

    (An issue like this confuses Google. It can associate the old listing with your new business, and other sites may auto-create listings with your new business name and the previous businesses information.)

  • You’ve changed your phone number, suite number, or business name and haven’t updated your citations.

    (Google likes consistency. If you don’t correct old citations it can cause Google to view your business as untrustworthy, and negatively impact your website rankings.)

Secure your social media accounts

Whether or not you plan on updating them, you want to have a Facebook profile, Instagram profile, and Twitter profile. The sooner you get these, the better the chance you can secure the username you want.

Why do you want to set up social media even if you aren’t active on it?

At this point, social media profiles are standard citations. You’ll want them because:

  1. It’s a major website with a do-follow link back to your own website.
  2. It’s another opportunity to get your business NAP on a major website.
  3. You’ll be ready if you decide to begin doing social media outreach.
 

Citations:
What are they, why do they matter, and where should you submit them.


What are citations?

A citation is a business listing on the web. Some of the ones you interact with regularly include Google Business Pages and Yelp Listings. These common citations are just the tip of the iceberg, though. There are thousands of directory sites and you want to have a good mix of common business citations like Yelp, YellowPages.com, Bing, and Apple Maps.

You’ll also want industry-specific and local directory submissions.

What is the NAP (name, address, phone number) and what does it look like?

Your name, address, and company phone number (NAP) are the heart of any citation. What else will you want to get right, and use consistently, in your citations?

In addition to the NAP, citation’s may also include:

  • Store Open and Close Hours
  • Your Company’s Website Address
  • Links to Social Media Profiles
  • Type of Company

Why do citations matter?

Citations are a business's online signage. You wouldn’t put the wrong phone number on your store-front window, would you? Think of each citation as its own storefront window. You’ve got to make sure the address, phone number, and business name are correct or else customers won’t know where to go.

Not only that. Customers may not trust a business when the basic details of that business don’t add up. Bing’s storefront says you’re open from 9AM to 9PM Monday through Friday. Google’s storefront says you’re open from 10AM to 10PM Monday through Thursday. Which one is correct?

Incorrect citations confuse search engines. When search engines get confused they lower a website’s rankings. If the business name, address, phone number (NAP) and other details like store hours and listing type aren’t consistent, search engines won’t view the listings as trustworthy.

At its most basic, search engines rank pages based on one question,“Does this listing best meet our user’s needs?”

Where should you submit your citations?

We’ve created a list of the easiest free cannabis citation websites for you to submit your business to. These don’t have a paywall and respond very quickly when you need to receive an email to have your submission listed.

If you’d like to submit your dispensary to these cannabis sites, you can download our organized excel sheet in order to keep track of your passwords, usernames, and citation status.

Download your Cannabis Citation Worksheet

At Sherpa, we also provide additional cannabis-specific citations for your business.

 

Content:
Did you cover the basics?


So many websites forget to cover the basics. What do we mean by the basics? Well…

• What do your customers ask over and over again?
• What information do they need to make an informed purchase?
• What does someone who has never been to your store need to know?
• What does someone who has never been to a dispensary need to know?

Write an FAQ page

One thing you’ll want to be aware of, everything you answer in your FAQ page has been answered before, and that’s okay.

Think of an FAQ page as foundational content. Your budtenders are one of your best resources—they know what questions customers have. Answering these questions online can actually reduce the strain on your customer service reps.

Include general information in your FAQ. If you can tie that information back into your cities/locations then you can do something that differentiates you from the competition. A paragraph on the difference between Indica and Sativa just isn’t enough anymore. Consider the different ways you can answer basic questions in a more interesting, and original ways.

Write a blog

Blogs are great, but only if you keep them up-to-date. In order to get return users you’ll want to blog regularly and post at the same day and time each week or month.

Blogs let you cover local, time-based, and non-foundational topics. Because a blog almost always has a “best-by” date, you can be a lot more creative in what you write. Local cannabis events, volunteer work, and seasonal promotions and ideas are a great choice.

Let different employees write your blog. Companies never do it, but they really should. Relying on multiple creative voices makes it easy to get your blogs out at regular intervals, and provides a well of creativity for you to tap into. Every employee will have different passions and areas of expertise. Let them shine online, because online content is always better when it’s written by passionate creators who really understand the topic and audience.

 

"We want to rank content that is useful for them (Google Search users) and if your content is really useful for them, then we want to rank it."

John Mueller | Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst - Google

 

Content:
How to structure it and what to link to.


 

There are two kinds of content, evergreen content and temporary content.

Evergreen Content

Evergreen content is always relevant. The answer to the question, “What is the difference between Sativa and Indica?” is evergreen content. Your response to the question isn’t seasonal, and the scientific data is so firmly established the answer isn’t going to change.

Temporary Content

Temporary content is relevant for a short time. A link to your latest dispensary press, a holiday-themed weed recipe, or an article about the state of the weed industry are all temporary. They have a shelf-life, so you have to think about immediate gains.

Website visitors will turn to your evergreen content again, and again. You want to link it to your most important pages like your homepage, location page, and menu. Remember, even seasonal content can be evergreen if customers look for the same information every season.

What is the purpose of your temporary content? Are you making customers laugh? Informing them about an upcoming event? Or are you just pushing a product you’ve got overstocked? Create a clear purpose for your temporary content, and work towards that goal.

Focus on the structure of the content—make sure it’s easy to read, skimmable, and cannot be dated. What does that mean? Use timeless images and graphics, and avoid any references to dates and data that haven’t been set in stone. Ask yourself, if I was to publish this page again in three years time could I do it without making any significant changes? If you said “Yes,” you’ve created evergreen content.

Link to pages that you wish were doing better or are immediately relevant to the post. Temporary content can provide a small boost to pages, but it won’t provide long-term relevance. If your content wouldn’t be relevant outside of the here and now, it’s considered temporary—this isn’t a bad thing, it just means you’ll want to focus on breaking news type topics instead of topics where the information doesn’t change or changes very little from year-to-year.

 

UX Analytics:
How are people using your website?


Do you know how customers are actually using your website? Answering that question is the entire point of UX Analytics. The UX stands for user experience and analyzing how a site works can lead to some incredible dividends for website owners.

Example 1: A company wants a bright color for bolded words that matches their logo. They choose sunflower yellow, so every bolded word appears in this color.

What would UX Analytics discover? Because it’s so bright, users think that the bolded words are actually links. They click on them repeatedly, but nothing happens. This makes a user frustrated and reduces the amount of time they spend on the website.

Example 2: A company wants to push the lifestyle aspect of their brand, so they place their “View our Menu” call-to-action below the fold (below the topmost part of a website that a user sees first.)

What would UX Analytics discover? Because most dispensary website users are looking for a Menu, moving the call-to-action for it has lowered the number of people visiting the menu. When they can’t find what they’re looking for right away, users simply leave the website.

"In recent years many website designers started to prioritize design at the cost of usability. Many of them did this without even realizing they were doing it. UX is all about the user (your customer) because before anything else, websites are tools. When it comes down to it, we all need to make sure our design decisions favor our users.

Feather-lite fonts, overly flashy web pages and subtle button styles could all be making it harder for users to navigate your website. UX Analytics looks at how users use your site, what mistakes they make, and ways to improve a site so it’s easier to use.”

Courtney Moses | Developer & UX Analytics - Sherpa

What do we do?

The science of optimizing a user experience is to make the product as easy to use as possible.

We use software to actively monitor and adjust your cannabusiness website. Our UX specialist knows how users interact with a site, where to look for and identify issues, and how to correct them.

Small adjustments to UX add up when you put them all together. UX improvements can increase the time a user spends on a website, get them to the pages they want faster, and streamline the process from visiting your site to making a call, purchase, or heading out the door to come to your storefront.

 

Images:
How and why you need to optimize your image files.


What happens to images on a website?

When you upload an image to a website it either displays at its full size, Wordpress scales it down for you, or the browser scales it down for you.

What does that mean in practical terms?

If an image is too big to be displayed, then a browser like Chrome or Safari will still load it in its entirety, but then scales it down to fit the viewer’s screen size.

That means that if you use a 2000 x 3000 pixel image in a slider, the full image will load even if that image size cannot be displayed.

What is image optimization?

Optimizing an image means making it only as big as it needs to be.

That means for desktop, mobile phone, and tablet websites, you have the right-sized image loading for each.

When images aren’t optimized they:

  • Make websites load slowly on any and every device.
  • Can cause users to leave the site before it has even loaded.
  • Negatively impact your rankings due to poor speeds.

How can you optimize your images?

There are a variety of free tools like Image Optimizer that can do some fast and quick image optimization for you.

At Sherpa we use Photoshop and optimize images differently depending on the file format, quality of the image that’s needed, whether or not it can be magnified, and considerations based on the website color scheme and image transparency.

 

Hosting:
How it can help or hurt your website.


What are the benefits of choosing a good hosting company?

Active monitoring: If you choose a hosting company that provides active monitoring, it means they’ll know exactly when your site goes down and start working to fix it. This shouldn’t be negotiable, so choose a company that monitors their servers and your site.

Speed and uptime: You want a fast and reliable hosting company. Make sure you find out your connection speed, and whether or not it drops after a certain amount of data has been used. You also want to pay attention to uptime.

Uptime is the amount of time a hosting company claims to be “up” meaning your website will be accessible and available. Downtime means your website cannot be accessed, like during hosting server updates.

A reasonable uptime for any hosting company is 99% or greater.

What are the downsides of choosing a bad hosting company?

Your website goes down or slows down: A bad hosting company won’t schedule maintenance during off hours, and may take your site down during peak traffic hours. They might allocate resources poorly, hurting your site speeds because someone else is hogging all of the shared resources.

Poor security can cost you your site: What happens when one kid in a 3rd-grade class gets lice? Everyone gets lice. If you choose a shared hosting company, the same thing applies to viruses. Because every site is sharing the same server, a virus on one can actually affect every site on the server.

 

Hosting:
What are your website hosting options?


 

Hosting can help your site, or hurt it—which one depends on who you choose to host your website.

Here are some of the biggest difference in hosting.

Shared Hosting VPN Hosting Dedicated Hosting
Price Low Low to Medium Medium to High
Resources Shared (Not Allocated) Shared (Allocated) Not Shared
Sites per Server 100 + 10 - 20 1
Customization Next to none Yes Yes
Scalable No Limited Limited

Who do we recommend for website hosting?

We offer private, monitored hosting to all of our clients—it’s the easiest way to make sure they’re getting the most beneficial hosting option. Hosting our own clients allows us to schedule server updates at optimal times, monitor all site traffic, and employ the best security options available.

 

Hosting:
What are your website hosting options?


 

Hosting can help your site, or hurt it—which one depends on who you choose to host your website.

Here are some of the biggest difference in hosting.

Hosting Options

Shared Hosting

Price: Low
Resources: Shared (Not Allocated)
Sites Per Server: 100+
Customizable: Next to None
Scalable: No

VPN Hosting

Price: Low to Medium
Resources: Shared (Allocated)
Sites Per Server: 10-20
Customizable: Yes
Scalable: Limited

Dedicated Hosting

Price: Medium to High
Resources: Not Shared
Sites Per Server: 1
Customizable: Yes
Scalable: Limited

Who do we recommend for website hosting?

We offer private, monitored hosting to all of our clients—it’s the easiest way to make sure they’re getting the most beneficial hosting option. Hosting our own clients allows us to schedule server updates at optimal times, monitor all site traffic, and employ the best security options available.

 

E-Commerce:
Which online store is right for you?

Having transferred more E-commerce stores to WooCommerce than we care to count, if you haven’t started your E-commerce store yet you should absolutely choose WooCommerce.

What makes WooCommerce your best option?

WooCommerceBenefitsRegularUpdatesIconMarijuanaSEOGuide

Regular Updates

Woocommerce was created from the ground up for WordPress, and continually updates their plugin. Choosing the biggest name in E-Commerce means you’ll never have to worry about compatibility issues with the latest version of WordPress.

WooCommerceBenefitsIntegrationIconCannabisSEOGuide

Integrated into your WP Site

A lot of E-Commerce options are hosted off-site—that means they aren’t actually integrated into your website, but laid on top of it. Instead of making changes, tracking orders, and updating products from WP you’ll have to login to a separate site every time you want to adjust something.

WooCommerceBenefitsAdditionalPluginsIconDispensarySEOGuide

Additional Plugins

WooCommerce can do nearly anything with the right plugin. We’ve accommodated major client requests because a plugin that can do it is always available—this also makes it easy to test, fix, and combine different options for individual dispensary and farm needs.

WooCommerceBenefitsSEOOptimizationGuideIcon

Your Products can be Optimized

Optimization doesn’t do you any good if it isn’t on your site. An offsite menu or storefront takes traffic away from your site. WooCommerce is onsite and it allows us to SEO each product you carry.

 

PR:
How can it help your business?


What can a PR agency do for you?

  • Write and release statements to the press.
  • Organize interviews with local and national media.
  • Analyzing public opinion of the organization.
  • Counseling companies regarding public perceptions.
  • Creating action plans that help companies spread the right message.
  • Execute public outreach events.
  • Social media promotions and online review responses.
 

Now you have the tools to succeed

Marketing and maintaining a competitive website in this industry can be a lot of work on a frequent basis. As your company grows, keep Sherpa in mind. When you're ready to hand your web presence over to the pros, we'll be here. Until then, we hope this guide gets you off to a great start with getting your cannabis company on the web.