Entre­peneurs in the cannabis space can get the word out about their com­pa­nies in a tar­get­ed and afford­able way.

8 min read

Opin­ions expressed by Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tors are their own.

Many entre­pre­neurs at the helm of B2C-focused busi­ness­es rely on paid adver­tis­ing through Google, Face­book, Ama­zon, and oth­er online venues as a cen­tral com­po­nent of dri­ving traf­fic to their web­sites. For good rea­son — it works!

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because cannabis remains ille­gal at the fed­er­al lev­el in the Unit­ed States, entre­pre­neurs in the cannabis space are barred from this pop­u­lar avenue of rais­ing aware­ness. Even if you have an ancil­lary prod­uct or ser­vice, these social media gate­keep­ers won’t touch your busi­ness due to the assumed lia­bil­i­ty. 

So, how can the own­er of a com­pa­ny in the cannabis space get the word out in a tar­get­ed and afford­able way? 

The answer comes down to the exe­cu­tion of sound, fun­da­men­tal web prac­tices. With these in place, your busi­ness stands in the best pos­si­ble posi­tion to raise brand aware­ness, increase sales, and devel­op a healthy rep­u­ta­tion, organ­i­cal­ly. 

While your mileage may vary, here are five key tips that I have found to be essen­tial in posi­tion­ing your cannabis-relat­ed brand. 

RELATED: 9 Cut­ting-Edge Mar­i­jua­na Mar­ket­ing Tac­tics That Work

1. Ensure That Your Branding And Imagery Are High-Quality

Before imple­ment­ing any oth­er mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives, it is imper­a­tive that you have a pro­fes­sion­al-look­ing and visu­al­ly com­pelling brand. Most peo­ple will judge you based on how good your brand looks and, while a great visu­al aes­thet­ic doesn’t ensure suc­cess, it sure doesn’t hurt. Some of the areas of empha­sis worth pri­or­i­tiz­ing in this respect include:

Your Logo

First impres­sions mat­ter. Your logo serves as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your com­pa­ny to poten­tial cus­tomers. Unless you have a keen aes­thet­ic sense and at least some back­ground in visu­al art, it is best to out­source the cre­ation of your company’s logo to a qual­i­fied graph­ic design­er — prefer­ably with indus­try expe­ri­ence (oth­er­wise you’ll end up with the same few visu­al tropes that con­sumers are begin­ning to tire of).

Product Photography

This one is sim­ple: You want to make sure that your cus­tomers have access to clear rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the prod­ucts you wish for them to pur­chase. Being eva­sive here is to be avoid­ed at all costs. 

Lifestyle Photography

While stock images can be secured from a vari­ety of places on the Web, these gener­ic images do lit­tle to bol­ster con­fi­dence in your brand. Instead, you’ll want to hire a pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er to cap­ture shots of your­self, your team, and sat­is­fied cus­tomers. Doing so will demon­strate both excel­lence and authen­tic­i­ty, two keys to suc­cess for online entre­pre­neurs.

2. Maintain A Speedy And Secure Home On The Web

For cannabis entre­pre­neurs, organ­ic traf­fic is king. In order to build your website’s author­i­ty, you need to fol­low the rules of the game. This means abid­ing by cur­rent best prac­tices pub­lished by major search engines like Google. You can­not afford to skip this step, because if these best prac­tices are not fol­lowed, Google may delist your web­site in their search results. While, at the moment, exe­cu­tion of this pol­i­cy is not wide­spread, the threat is real for cannabis busi­ness own­ers who will need every edge. 

In order to play nice with Google, you’ll want to avoid these severe vio­la­tions:

Not Serving On HTTPS Domains

If the exchange of data on your web­site isn’t encrypt­ed, you are putting your own and your cus­tomers’ infor­ma­tion at risk and Google will penal­ize your web­site heav­i­ly for this infrac­tion. Avoid the hard­ships by mak­ing sure that your web­site inte­grates trans­port lay­er secu­ri­ty (TLS). 

Slow Page Speeds

Avoid uti­liz­ing a sub­par web host, inte­grat­ing unop­ti­mized graph­ics, or overus­ing scripts and plu­g­ins. All of these will slow your page speeds and result in poor­er rank­ings on search engines. 

Not Being Optimized For Mobile

 If your web­site is not designed in such a way that ensures pre­sen­ta­tion on mobile devices looks sleek, then Google will judge your busi­ness harsh­ly. No longer is pre­sen­ta­tion on desktops/laptops used as Google’s stan­dard. Now, search engines view your mobile site as the pri­ma­ry, always

Other Security Vulnerabilities

Entre­pre­neurs, whether in the cannabis space or any oth­er, place a heavy empha­sis on the bot­tom line. While being fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble is crit­i­cal to busi­ness suc­cess, you shouldn’t look to cut costs by run­ning out­dat­ed soft­ware. Doing so will lead to pay­ing a heavy price in terms of search rank­ing

3. Drive Your SEM With SEO

Fo the unini­ti­at­ed, SEM stands for search engine mar­ket­ing, while SEO stands for search engine opti­miza­tion. Con­tent devel­op­ment is per­haps the biggest equal­iz­er for entre­pre­neurs in the cannabis space look­ing to dri­ve traf­fic. As long as you do your home­work and don’t cut cor­ners, you can turn your site into an organ­ic search mag­net. Here are three of the best ways to do just that: 

Create A List Of Your Brand Keywords

If you want to draw traf­fic to your site, you need to famil­iar­ize your­self with how peo­ple search. Google’s Key­word Plan­ner and Google Trends are two of the best ways to get a han­dle on the key­words that are rel­e­vant to your brand. For exam­ple, Cana­di­ans are far more like­ly to use the term ‘cannabis’ than Amer­i­cans, who favor ‘mar­i­jua­na.’

Include Keywords In Your Web Copy 

The days of max­i­miz­ing your search rank­ing through key­word stuff­ing are over, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t weave in your brand key­words into the copy on your web­site in a mean­ing­ful, authen­tic fash­ion. 

Prioritize Keywords In Certain Areas Of Your Site

Your prod­uct descrip­tions, page titles, and head­ings are more heav­i­ly weight­ed in Google’s search algo­rithm than oth­er copy on your site. Place the most focus on inte­grat­ing your brand key­words in these sec­tions. 

With SEO, there isn’t one thing that will make or break you (apart from not serv­ing an encrypt­ed site). Rather, SEO should be viewed as the sum of many parts. Do your best to fill in every field using the appro­pri­ate char­ac­ter lim­its while main­tain­ing the authen­tic­i­ty of your brand and its voice. That’s a far bet­ter approach to draw­ing traf­fic to your web­site than mind­less­ly stuff­ing key­words, which won’t do you a lick of good.

RELATED: How To Use Tech And The Web To Exploit Cannabis-Indus­try Mar­gins

4. Demonstrate Social Proof

Reviews from valid sources (e.g. Google, Yelp, Yot­po) are pret­ty much the most use­ful thing to get your site noticed. This is because search engines have now pri­or­i­tized authen­tic­i­ty as the most impor­tant fac­tor in their rank­ings. Here is a help­ful tip to keep in mind:

Incentivize Your Audience To Provide Reviews

Only use ‘white-hat’ meth­ods when build­ing a col­lec­tion of reviews. If you are caught giv­ing free­bies or gifts, there is a strong like­li­hood that your site will get bumped from search results. If you feel that you must resort to ‘black-hat’ meth­ods, then make sure to keep those arrange­ments strict­ly offline. A bet­ter approach, how­ev­er, is to ask for reviews in a kind and coop­er­a­tive man­ner in your cor­re­spon­dence with sat­is­fied cus­tomers. 

5. Build Your Audience

You’ve nailed the essen­tials, now it’s time for some audi­ence build­ing. Here are two key fac­tors to keep in mind:

Link Your Social Platforms On Your Site

 Your web­site and social chan­nels are seen as the same enti­ty with­in search engines. If you have a mas­sive fol­low­ing on a social media plat­form, it’s essen­tial to link it to your site (via tools like Schema markup). This allows these osten­si­bly dis­parate places on the Web to be linked in the eyes of Google and build your site vis­i­bil­i­ty. 

Hire Influencers

Influ­encer mar­ket­ing (i.e. the act of hav­ing pop­u­lar peo­ple talk about your products/brand) has been proven to be the best paid mar­ket­ing avenue, espe­cial­ly for brands on a tight bud­get or that are just start­ing out. This even works for deep pock­ets — after all, Fyre Fes­ti­val became pop­u­lar through a big influ­encer cam­paign. Per­haps that’s a rough exam­ple, but it was cer­tain­ly the case! In all seri­ous­ness, find influ­encers with­in your tar­get audi­ence and talk to them about their rates. Some are com­fort­able with a trade of a post or posts in exchange for your prod­uct. Even influ­encers with enor­mous social media fol­low­ings may reduce their rates if offered your prod­uct as part of the deal. 

These tips are broad strokes. There is nuance in every step. How­ev­er, this guide encom­pass­es the gen­er­al work­flow and pri­or­i­ty list nec­es­sary to boot­strap a brand and give your­self the best chance for suc­cess. Good luck!

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