For an organization like a dispensary that relies on local business, it’s critical to appear in local online searches.
In today’s world, people seeking healthcare and wellness treatments will search online to find them. That’s where they go to research health conditions and treatments, particularly if they’re hazy on their options, as if often the case with marijuana-related options. They also go online to find local providers, like medical marijuana dispensaries.
In fact, Think with Google, Google’s market analysis and research group, reports that “near me” searches have grown by 900% since 2016.[i]
However, Google’s search ranking algorithm does not work the same for local searches as for global searches. To reach your prospective customers locally, you must focus your SEO efforts to show up specifically for them.
The good news: when consumers look for local “near me” dispensaries with whom they can do business immediately, and you show up in the search results, you can claim web traffic that is primed to do business with you. Fully 78% of location-based mobile searches result in an offline purchase.[iv]
If your dispensary can successfully capture those local searches, you can gain that business. But how? That’s the question this paper will answer by detailing the 10 strategies crucial to optimizing for local online searches.
A local Google search produces a page with three discrete sections – map, Local 3 Pack, and organic search results. It’s possible for businesses to appear in multiple spots, which increases the likelihood of clicks, if your website has been properly optimized for local SEO.[v]
❶ The Map
The first section displays a map of the local area populated by businesses relevant to the search.
Normally, the top of the page is occupied by paid search ads; however, Google disallows marijuana-related search advertising. This makes success with SEO even more critical for dispensaries, since they cannot use search advertising as a supplemental traffic generation technique.
❷ The Local 3 Pack
Next comes the “Local 3 Pack,” or a listing of three top local providers that Google thinks will best meet the searcher’s needs.
❸ Organic Search Results
Finally, the organic search listings appear. This is an extremely competitive area, because not only are dispensaries competing against each other, they are contending with major third-party sites like Yelp that have a lot of SEO strength.
So, how can your dispensary compete? We’ll identify 10 strategies starting on the next page.
Keywords determine the searches for which your website appears. When a prospective client searches online, your site will only appear if their query matches the keywords for which your site has optimized. Further, because most people will be seeking dispensaries that are near to them, they’re likely to specify location when they input a search (“dispensary near me” or “marijuana to buy in Denver”).
Why: If you target local searches by incorporating geographic indicators into your keywords, you can compete for SEO rank much more successfully.
How: Often this is as simple as adding geography into the keyword, e.g. “cannabis dispensary Chicago”. You might also try to capture buying intent in the key phrase, like “buy cannabis” or “medical marijuana for sale”). You can use Google’s Keyword Planner for further assistance in identifying and evaluating keywords.
Websites with more inbound links from reputable, quality sites will rank higher and garner more traffic. That’s because search engines like Google view links almost like votes for the site. More links implies your website offers more value.
Why: Links are the number one local organic-ranking factor.[vi]
How: Lots of strategies can apply but start with publishing link-worthy content on your site (see Strategy #3 below). Further, dispensaries can generate easy links by getting listed in industry-specific directories like 420 Nation, Cannabis.net, CannaPages, Marijuana Business Daily, Medical Jane, Medical Marijuana, THC Business Directory, and more.
Content – including web pages, articles, blog posts, videos, or images – is what gives a website the gravitational force to attract visitors and grow traffic. Remember, Google’s main goal in search results is to connect searchers with the exact kind of content they want. If Google thinks the content on your site will be valuable for a given keyword search, your site will show up. (Don’t forget that content is also crucial to converting web visitors into paying customers).
Why: According to Andrey Lipattseve, Partner Development Manager and former Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, high-quality content is second only to link-building as a ranking factor used by Google.
How: Have at least 1 dedicated page for each service or product that you offer with at least 750+ words. Then, start building out blog articles. The idea is to create a core of solid content about your dispensary and what you do for your customers, and then to continue generating more content over time. Aim to publish as much content as you can reasonably produce, with a minimum of 1 or 2 pages of content each month.
Because consumers must navigate a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding medical marijuana, and because local/state laws vary so much, your content is crucial to cutting through the noise and accurately educating your prospective customers. Publish helpful content that creates a resource of always up-to-date information for locals. Above all else, take your content production seriously – it makes a major difference.
The same basic rules of SEO apply to local SEO as to global, and that means you must “optimize” the pages on your site for the factors for which Google and other search engines look. Google wants to connect the searcher with the site that will give them the content they want, but how does Google know that yours is the right site? You tell it, by optimizing the site for search engines
Why: On-Page SEO is foundational to showing up in search results.
How: Many of the requisite steps here are technical but the basics alone can make a big difference: capture keywords in places like the URL page title, headers, and main text. Host plenty of content. Make sure the site is user-friendly, loads fast, and works well on mobile devices. For local searches, ensure that you have pages focused on location-specific information, that you include your local NAP (name-address-phone) data accurately and that it matches your Google My Business profile (see #7 below), and embed a Google Map showing your location(s) into your website. Also, add any relevant schema markup (see #5 below).
Schema markup is behind-the-scenes code that tells Google critical information about the web content, helping Google to better understand and rank the page. Admittedly, this is one of the more technical elements of SEO, but its impact can be very powerful. Google can also pull information from this markup data to display more information about your site to web searchers in extracts called “rich snippets.”
Why: Schema markup can help make it clear to Google that you’re local, not nationwide. Rich snippets can help convince searchers to click on your site in the search results. Aside from helping Google understand and assess your website, many sites fail to keep up with this task, so it’s easier to stand out.
How: For more information, visit Schema.org, which is a collaboration between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and others and will guide users through the process of including markup in their website.
Citations mean references to your dispensary that appear across the web. As a business, you’re likely to be cited all over the Internet, especially in directory and review sites, and those citations includes NAP (name-address-phone) information. However, there’s a good chance that many such sites will not have you listed, and those that do may be missing or have incorrect NAP details. You will want to make sure your dispensary is listed in as many places as possible, and that all NAP information is accurate and matches across sites.
Why: Google looks at listings and citations and compares NAP information to ensure it matches your website. Google treats this process as a sort of verification check that you’re genuinely local and near to the searcher. It’s also an important element of local search rank: per BrightLocal, businesses that appear in the Local 3 Pack have an average of 85 local citations.[vii]
How: Make sure you’re listed in standard third-party sites like Yelp, CitySearch, Google and Apple Maps, etc. Verify that your NAP data matches exactly. You’ll also want to look for marijuana-specific directories (there are many, as noted in Strategy #2 above), review sites, local listings (news, chambers of commerce, government, etc.), mapping services, online white and yellow page-type sites, and so on.
Per Google, Google My Business (GMB) “is a free and easy‐to‐use tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps.”[viii] Basically, it’s a profile that Google maintains of your local business. Google then uses that profile to populate search results with information about your business, which increases the chances of a web searcher clicking through to your site.
Why: Factors related to your “Google My Business” listing accounts for 25.12% of whether or not your business will appear in the Local 3 Pack.”
How: Go here and either claim or create your business listing. Follow the step-by-step process of telling Google some of the basic information about your business. One key: GMB is sort of the “master” profile of your business, from Google’s perspective. So, when Google’s search ranking algorithm is reviewing citations of your business (see #6 above), they compare the NAP data to your GMB profile. Anywhere your NAP data appears online, it should match what’s listed in your GMB profile exactly.
As a local business, your customers will leave reviews about their experience scattered around the web. Google uses these to help rank your website. Additionally, showcasing reviews on your website itself can boost customer conversion by 270%.[ix]
Why: Reviews contribute 13% of the weight of the factors that get you into the Local 3 Pack. Just as importantly, reviews are the new referrals: “online reviewers have overtaken friends, family and colleagues as the most trusted source of product information.”[x]
How: Try to increase the number of customers leaving reviews and have a good customer satisfaction policy or guarantee to increase the number of happy customers. A slate of good reviews will do a lot to reassure new customers who may feel hesitant about working with a dispensary or may be struggling to differentiate options.
Many consumers use mobile devices to conduct searches now – over half of smartphone users look up local information while out and about – and search engines like Google look at how well your site renders on mobile devices.[xi] Mobile-friendliness is also customer-friendliness. According to Think with Google, two-thirds of smartphone users are more likely to do business with companies whose mobile website customize information to their location.[xii]
Why: Ever since its infamous “Mobilegeddon” algorithm update, Google has rewarded mobile-optimized sites with a higher rank. Further, nearly two-thirds of mobile searchers are more likely to reach out if your dispensary has a mobile-friendly website.[xiii]
How: To check how mobile-friendly your site is, use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. If necessary, you can tweak your existing site, implement a site with a “responsive design” that adapts to the size of the device screen, or even create a separate mobile app. Make sure the site is easy for customers to navigate and use. Many dispensaries are actively exploring new ways to reach customers. Startup Eaze, for example, is a cannabis delivery app so that customers can order with a swipe.[xiv] The only way to compete is to ensure your website is as customer-friendly.
Everything described so far is a lot, and it’s not even everything! Plus, Google changes its ranking algorithm as many as 600 times per year. And effective digital marketing requires its own expertise separate from medical expertise.
Undoubtedly, cannabis dispensaries can do a lot to promote themselves online without outside help. Along with this guide, many tools and services online can help; Google itself provides plenty of assistance, as evidenced by the links scattered through this paper. But to really stand out in an increasingly crowded field, consider outsourcing to those who can expertly craft and implement a powerful strategy to help your website shoot to the top of the search results, faster and more cost-effectively.