Funny thing, we never set out to specialize in cannabis and CBD, it just sort of fell on our lap. All agencies know the easiest way to make money is to specialize in a niche as they can develop a portfolio of customers and case studies to attract new customers in the same category. Regardless of this fact, we tried to avoid getting niche-specific simply because we enjoy working on projects from a variety of types and industries. We’ve done SEO for everything from individual Amazon product pages, cryptocurrency, helicopter sales, professional sports teams and everything in between. Around a year ago we began getting cannabis and CBD customers and it’s never slowed.
Part of why cannabis and CBD customers come to us is we offer SEO packages which tend to be less expensive and shorter-term than engaging with an agency on an ongoing basis. For example, we offer a backlink package for less than $500 that can be done only once. Predefined SEO packages mean the customer is saving on the internal meetings, project management and custom strategy that comes with a long-term agency engagement. Don’t get me wrong, the expensive agency contract is the right fit if you have the budget, but the cannabis and CBD industry is relatively new and most online businesses are upstarts. Most cannabis and CBD websites are looking for a quick SEO boost from a small SEO package and plan to return later for a more thorough organic effort.
What makes cannabis & CBD SEO different?
For the most part, doing SEO for cannabis and CBD is no different than any other ecommerce site selling a product; understand the audience, how they search, what makes them buy… But one difference is many of the major online advertising platforms have restrictions on cannabis and CBD. Although cannabis and CBD sales are legal in many places, there are still gray areas advertising platforms would prefer to avoid – for example cannabis can be legal in a state yet continue to be illegal at the federal level in the United States. With limited paid traffic opportunities, the cannabis and CBD industry relies heavily on organic search to drive traffic.
“There’s only a few dispensaries in my area, getting into local organic search was actually pretty easy.”
The typical customer.
Most cannabis clients of ours fall into one or both of two categories: brick-and-mortar shops who also sell online, and ecommerce sites offering products only online. The brick-and-mortar shops tend to have more sophisticated marketing and larger budgets as opening a physical location with inventory on-hand already requires a significant investment, compared to an online sales shop that might put up a simple dropshipping website. Not only do the brick-and-mortar shops tend to have a budget advantage, but being pinned to a public address also makes it easier for Google to verify their authenticity. A brick-and-mortar shop also has the advantage that Google will prioritize their site in search results and the map pack for users nearby.
Shops that only exist online have a tougher time, they are immediately thrust into the national market. We often start with a difficult discussion with our customer about focusing on a product niche or other specific market segment when just getting started rather than selling everything to everyone. For a new brand, it’s almost always best to start by establishing a beachhead in a low-competition niche – get some low-competition keywords on Google’s page 1 even if they have low search volume and traffic. A mistake we see consistently are websites going after high-value keywords too soon; often the websites on page 1 for any industry are long-established and trusted brands who have been doing SEO for many years; don’t think your month-old Shopify dropship site is going to unseat them anytime soon. But it’s not all bad news for online cannabis/CBD shops as most of their competition will give up the struggle after a short period of time and shut down – simply staying in the game longer than them is an advantage in its own. Once even a small amount of organic search traffic starts coming in, it has a snowball effect and traffic volume tends to continue to increase. This also gives you important SEO data to work with – you start to see what keywords Google likes you for, what searches drive the most traffic and revenue… and you can begin to develop a search strategy based on this information.
The best advice I can give a new cannabis and/or CBD shop is to start by focusing on a niche product or service for SEO. The niche needs to be low-competition, something other shops might offer but are not heavily promoting. It will be a difficult decision, but ignore sales and revenue opportunity and decide purely on ability to get a keyword on page 1. Don’t worry, this is only temporary, once this beachhead is established, traffic and authority will begin to flow, putting higher-value keywords within easier reach soon after.