Regardless of what product you’re peddling in the cannabis industry, chances are good you’ve felt the impact of cannabis compliance and censorship in the media. Whether you’re selling a consumable product, the equipment to cultivate and process cannabis, or advocating through the written word with a blog or publication, you’ve likely experienced the strong arm of digital censorship and information ranking.
Nearly 40 years ago, Madonna reminded us that we were living in a Material World. Today, however, we live in a digital world and play by a completely different set of rules.
Recently on A Tech Moment, we spoke with Courtney Wu, CEO of AMNESIA, about the troubles cannabis and hemp industry marketers face in the new reality of digital life. From failing Google rankings to social media shadow-banning, targeting and attracting the right audience means jumping through compliance hoops and being hyper-aware of language usage, or using an AI-based, counterintelligence utility, like AMNESIA’s Highlyte.
However, in addition to understanding compliance and having an acute trigger-word awareness, content creators and marketers have another beast to tame – SEO or search engine optimization. Moz.com describes SEO as “a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results.”
Complex algorithms use data from bots or web crawlers to determine whether a particular page gets ranked at all. The data practices that determine this ranking factor are extraordinarily complex, and mastering these required SEO skills requires time and experience. In other words, it's not just about slapping words on a page and hitting “Publish.”
Search Engine Optimization Critical to Cannabis
During an interview with Chris Rodgers, CEO of Colorado SEO Pros, we asked about the importance of SEO for cannabis and hemp-based businesses and what steps they can take to improve their digital footprint.
“SEO, in general, is still one of the most valuable online marketing channels producing the highest ROI for businesses,” Rodgers explained.
While people still naturally gravitate toward their friends, family, and colleagues, the internet is the first place they'll turn for information outside of their immediate network. “We have 3.5-billion searches per month on Google and that number was growing by ten percent year over year, before COVID,” Rodgers elaborated.
“Because of the hurdles [the cannabis industry] faces for paid search and advertising, SEO becomes an important part of the marketing strategy,” he continued.
Unfortunately, for many cannabis entities, tackling SEO can feel like an uphill battle. Rodgers admits he feels there’s a lack of keyword data despite the size of the market, and many companies are “flying blind” compared to other industries.
Google Algorithm Updates Impact Everyone
To make matters worse, ranking and SEO factors are moving targets, which means websites and publications have to shift to realign with the new SEO standards as they change. “We had three major core algorithm updates in 2021, alone,” Rodgers confirmed.
Specifically, cannabis often falls into a category of sites referred to in SEO as YMYL – or “your money, your life.” These sectors impact the consumer's education, health, finances, or industries that Google feels greatly affect someone's life.
“Ultimately, when you’re in that category, you get held to a higher standard,” Rodgers said. “We often see these big updates significantly impact the businesses in this category.”
With SEO – You Are What You EAT
Rodgers emphasized that it’s not just about publishing quality content. In the world of SEO, another powerful acronym is E – A – T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
According to Search Engine Journal, each segment has a specific purpose in determining a site’s authority:
The contributor's expertise is determined for each page, not necessarily the site as a whole. Although the criteria for determining expertise can shift, the general principle is to determine whether the content fits the context and provides the expertise required to answer a particular question.
Authority is mainly based on external factors like backlinks, link quality, and citations. In other words, the more quality sites that link to your content, the higher your authority. A few notable metrics that impact authority include relatedness, notability, contribution, and awards.
Trust is a concept we’re familiar with as humans, and trust on a digital level is quite similar in that it is expected. While having a positive trust is score is good, it isn't terribly impactful. On the other hand, a bad trust rating can have a significantly negative impact on a business listing.
“Essentially, these are big, overriding factors that Google looks for on a particular website,” he explained. Some of those factors include:
- Who are you as an organization?
- Who are the people involved?
- Is the information on your site accurate?
- Who wrote the information on your site?
Having a high authority score with expert contributors is “a really important part of larger SEO strategies,” according to Rodgers.
The Keys to Improving SEO Authority
Concluding our interview, we asked Rodgers, “What are the top few steps businesses can take to cover their SEO bases?” And naturally, the answer will vary depending on the type of business.
“If it’s a retail location, they want to make sure all their local listings are cleaned up and that Google has a clear understanding of what their business is, where are they do, where are they located, and business hours,” Rodgers responded.
“Make sure everything is linked and that your 'About Us' page goes into who you are and gives a lot of detail. Have information on who is running the business, and hopefully that ties back in with some known entities,” he added.
He went on further to explain, “Google understands people, places, and things. So, hopefully, you’ve got some people involved that Google can see a real footprint around online.”
As a final word of advice, Rodgers reiterates the emphasis on quality content. “If you’re providing expertise about your industry, it’s important to show Google you’re an expert with expert information and advice.”
He continued, “Backlinks don’t hurt either. If you can get backlinks from trusted media outlets, that’s always good.”
Do Your Homework or Hire a Pro
Like any other skill, learning how to manipulate SEO adequately is an art and a practice. Today, tools like SEMRush and DemandJump can help content creators and publishers harness the data to improve their Google ranking. Rodgers suggests “going to the core” and reading Google’s own Search Quality Rater Guidelines, a document that outlines what Google wants to see within their search results.
However, because of the complex, technical nature of search engine optimization, hesitancy to tackle the problem is understandable. Should you decide to hire an outside agency to help, Rodgers suggests taking your time to find the right partner as SEO is more than keyword rankings.
“Work with someone who takes the time to understand your business, how you make money, where your main profit centers are, and what your business and marketing goals are within the organization,” he advised.
“SEO is the balance between the technical and the creative, and a successful SEO strategy should be adapted to achieve those goals,” he concluded.