Landing a spot on the first page of Google can be lucrative for cannabis retailers. As the market emerges, opportunities grow and competition heightens, right now is the best time to invest in search engine optimization.
In this starter guide, we break down what search engine optimization (SEO) is, what SEO for cannabis retailers means and how to start improving rankings and traffic on Google.
What is SEO
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of tweaking and fine-tuning your website to please a search engine’s algorithm. The more optimized your website is, the higher your chances are of ranking on the first page.
A search engine, simply put, is any platform that has a search bar. Google, Yahoo, Bing, Pinterest, Youtube, and even Apple Music all have search engines. However, when we talk about SEO, we’re usually referring to Google.
Google’s algorithm is made up of hundreds of ranking factors, some more important than others. Google doesn’t always tell us exactly what the entire algorithm is made up of but SEO professionals look for patterns and trends. It’s good to group Google’s ranking factors into five categories:
- Design & User Experience
Start With Good Technical SEO
The foundation of every website starts with how it’s structured from the backend. The goal is to make sure your website is easy to “crawl” or navigate for both users and Google’s bots.
The recipe for an easy-to-crawl website includes clear website architecture, well-structured URLs, and a simple XML sitemap. The simpler the website, the easier it will be to pull this off.
Organizing your website in a way that is easy to navigate is important for both Google’s bots and your user experience.
From the backend, your website should be organized like a tree. On a tree, every trunk has branches and every branch has leaves.
Your homepage is the trunk.
Your primary pages like the shop, blog, contact page, or about page are the branches.
Your blog posts, product categories, and product pages are the leaves.
Every page has a place and is part of a well-organized hierarchy.
Here’s an example for an online cannabis retailer:
It’s best practice to keep your website architecture flat. It shouldn’t take more than 3 clicks to go from the homepage to any given webpage.
Notice that every product belongs to a subfolder (or category) like “candles”, “blunts” or “paper” and every blog post belongs to the subfolder “blog”.
If your website has a clear hierarchy, it should be reflected in the URLs. Here’s an example:
By just looking at the URL, you should be able to tell what the page is going to be about and what the product is. There shouldn’t be any random symbols or a long string of numbers.
What’s most important is that all the links work. Before you change your website architecture or page URLs, be sure you carefully set up redirects.
Once you have a clean and clear website architecture, the last step is to upload and submit an XML sitemap to Google Search Console.
This is a file that lists all the URLs on your website in a way that is easy for search engines to understand. Whenever you make important structural changes and additions to your website, upload an updated version of your sitemap.
How to Choose and Use Keywords
Every cannabis retailer wants to rank number one on Google for their brand or company name. Doing so is easy if there aren’t many companies on the Internet that share your name.
However, you probably also want to rank on the first page of Google for generic words that describe your business such a “Toronto dispensary same day delivery” or “weed store Vancouver.” Getting on the first page of Google for these words is a little more difficult and competitive.
In SEO, these generic words are called keywords. Although keywords suggest that it’s just a word or two, it can also be phrases, sentences, or full-on questions. Simply put, keywords are search queries.
How to Use Keywords
If you want to appear for these generic keywords, you have to actually use them in the content of your website. For every page on your website, choose a main keyword and use it in these places:
- In the title (H1)
- In the URL
- In the first paragraph
- In some subtitles (H2 and H3), when relevant
- Throughout the page (about 10 times for every thousand words)
- In the image file name and alt tag, when relevant
- In the meta title or description
Keep in mind that you don’t have to use the main keywords exactly the same, letter for letter, throughout the page. Nowadays, Google is smart enough to pick up on variations like a change in order, plural versus singular nouns, capitalization, use of prepositions or even typos.
Here’s an example. If your target keyword is toronto dispensary same day delivery, you could also say …
- same day delivery Toronto dispensary
- dispensaries in Toronto with same-day delivery
- same-day delivery dispensary in the Toronto area
These variations share the same keywords but can make it easier for you to write your copy in a way that sounds natural.
Now, if you were to replace the word dispensary for cannabis store, you’d then be targeting a different keyword altogether.
How to Find and Choose Keywords
Using keywords is easy but choosing the right keywords takes some strategy.
The process of finding and choosing keywords is called keyword research. There are typically three steps to this:
1. Brainstorm. Come up with a list of all the different possible ways your target customers describe and search for your product or service online. Pay close attention to the language your customers use and use the automated suggestions from Google’s search bar to help you out.
2. Measure. Next, use a keyword research software to get an estimate of how popular or competitive the keywords are. SEMRush is a good software for SEO professionals. If you’re just dabbling, free and basic tools like UberSuggest or even Google Ads Keyword Planner will do the trick.
3. Assign. Choose and assign one main keyword and a group of supporting keywords for the pages on your website based on intent and volume. This exercise is called keyword mapping.
The best way to start doing keyword research and mapping is to choose keywords based on your customer’s intent and language. Don’t pay attention to the length.
Always Build Quality Backlinks
When another website links to yours, that’s validation. Not just by your own community and industry, but also to Google. In SEO, these links are called “backlinks” and they are one of the highest weighted ranking factors in Google’s algorithm.
There are two types of backlinks – follow and no-follow backlinks. Follow links are preferred for SEO as they send signals to Google. However, these are hard to get. Although buying backlinks is a very widespread practice, it goes against Google’s guidelines and you run the risk of getting penalized.
Here are some common backlink building methods:
- Email outreach
- Guest blog posting
- Podcast features
- Claiming unlinked mentions
- Using Help a Reporter Out
Backlink building methods is a controversial topic in the SEO industry but one method that champions them all: publish content or research studies that are so good, people naturally want to link to you.
Links from social media platforms, many directories or high-profile websites are typically no-follow backlinks. Although they won’t do too much for your SEO, these links aren’t useless if they’re bringing in traffic from reputable and relevant websites.
Backlink building takes time. Be patient with the process and make it a habit to work on it little by little. It’s a lot more valuable to build quality backlinks consistently over time.
Don’t Ignore Your Google My Business Account
This step is a must for all brick and mortar cannabis retailers.
The easiest and best way to rank nice and high on Google Maps is to keep your Google My Business account updated as frequently as possible. If you’re an online retailer or e-commerce, you’re only eligible to create a Google My Business account if you provide in-person delivery.
If you haven’t already, it’s highly recommended to sign up for a Google My Business account as soon as possible. It’s free and it can tremendously help both your overall and local SEO.
Starting Thinking about SEO for Cannabis Retailers
Little by little by applying these SEO fundamentals to your website and pay close attention to the improvements over the next several weeks.
The bigger the website, the more there is to manage and the more complex SEO can be so be patient with the process. Google changes and updates their algorithm about 500 to 600 times every year and your competitors are likely trying to rank for similar keywords. SEO needs constant maintenance but these four fundamentals never change.
- Google Search Central – Learn more about Google’s algorithm directly from them.
- Backlinko – This is a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about the basics of SEO.
- The Blog at Findable Digital Marketing – They often write about experiments, thoughts, and approaches to SEO, specifically for the cannabis industry.
About Findable Digital Marketing
Daniela believes that your website shouldn’t just look pretty and it definitely shouldn’t be traffic-less. It should be a part of your business’s growth. As an SEO consultant at Findable Digital Marketing, she helps businesses get quality traffic and sales from their website.
Written by Daniela Furtado, SEO Consultant and Owner of Findable Digital Marketing.
Canadian Cannabis Retail Marketing Guide
Over the next few months, when it comes to creating original content, we’ll be focusing on the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian cannabis industry, retailers.
This series of articles is dedicated to informing and educating Canadian cannabis retail store operators about marketing, promotions, branding, partnerships, and product selection.