As medical and recreational cannabis markets continue to explode across the US, the importance of implementing an effective local dispensary SEO strategy is greater than ever.
Not only is the demand for cannabis greater than ever before but there are also more people living their lives staring at their mobile devices than ever before, using Google, which operates on more advanced AI than what has ever existed before.
In order to obtain the online visibility your dispensary deserves, you are going to need a solid strategy and some time on your side (or know somebody that has both to lend you).
Let’s start with the basics.
What is Local SEO for dispensaries?
Local SEO (or search engine optimization) is the practice of making your business more prevalent in search results. Some of the tasks involved in boosting your online visibility take place on your actual website (on-page SEO) and others are to be done on other websites (off-page SEO).
Dispensary search engine optimization can be a full time job in and of itself. For the sake of saving you time and helping you focus on the good stuff, I’ve prepared a list of some of the most important search optimization considerations below.
The list below includes 8 of the dankest SEO strategies for dispensaries to ever bless the cannabis industry.
Verify and Complete Your Google My Business Listing
I hate to beat this horse to death, but it is too important and also overlooked to not say it again. According to research from Chitika, 92% of searchers pick businesses on the first page of Google’s local search results. Additionally, Google drives 96% of local search traffic, according to research by Jody Nimetz Co.
Hopefully this drives home the importance of taking this Google My Business business seriously.
So, here is how it works.
Google displays the top 3 local search listings for all searches that imply a person may be looking for a local business. This includes cannabis dispensaries.
My local search for ‘dispensary near me’ returns the following Google search results.
The ideal situation is to get your Google My Business Listing consistently positioned in the top 3 listings as frequently as possible. With the stiff competition in the cannabis industry today, this is easier said than done, but it is possible if you cover all of your bases, or at least hire somebody that knows how to and who has done so consistently.
Make Regular Posts on Your Google My Business Profile
Having your Google My Business Profile set up and completed is not enough.
This is different than making posts on your social media pages because it has a real and direct impact on the visibility of your Google My Business listing in local search results.
Google wants to see that you are actively providing value and engaging with your customers and, when you show them you are doing that, they reward you in the form of additional visibility on Google’s local search results.
To access the ‘Posts’ feature, log into your Google My Business dashboard and find the menu on the left side of the page. There is a button that says ‘Posts’. Go there, and share content that will be visible to searchers that click on your GMB profile.
In some cases, you may also find content suggestions on the home page of your Google My Business dashboard. Look around for a section that shows what other similar businesses are sharing in your area. I recommend using this only for a reference point. Don’t steal content you find there.
Use Guerilla Marketing Tactics to Obtain Free Media Exposure
Guerilla marketing is the practice/strategy of using non-conventional means to obtain attention from the masses. Guerilla marketing is one of the most powerful marketing tactics known to all of humanity. It can also be one of the least intuitive and in my experience, the best ideas cannot be forced.
This little stunt gave him a spot on all of the local news stations. Keep in mind, he is also an attorney. As a dispensary owner, this particular stunt would likely not have been as well received. I am not suggesting that you go copy off of him, or for that matter, do anything illegal. Guerilla marketing is about being clever in a way that makes people pay attention, not about vandalizing or destroying any personal/government property.
Use these examples of Guerilla marketing tactics which have been used by business owners in other industries, to come up with your own ideas for your dispensary.
Set Up a Custom Website With Original Content, Images, and Video
Most people seem to be under the impression that a website is important for a business to have because it will drive new business if it is designed correctly.
The reality is, this is only partially true.
The fact of the matter is that all of your local dispensary SEO efforts will be amplified exponentially when you have a domain name and an effectively-designed dispensary website to point all of the various directory listings, social media pages, and everything else back to.
One of the primary contributing factors to search engine optimization is in this idea that some websites hold more power or ‘link juice’ than others, and ideally, this is because they have established, time-tested, trustworthy content.
When these trusted websites link back to yours, it tells the search engine that the likelihood of your website being credible and relevant is significantly higher than it would have been otherwise.
In other words, yes, having a custom website for your dispensary is absolutely essential, but if the situation is simply approached with the idea that having the website will be enough, then you are likely to be in for a disappointment, and mostly crickets, when it comes time to launch it.
Organic search engine optimization strategy for dispensaries comes down to providing original, valuable content in all shapes and sizes. Create quality, original content on a consistent basis and ensure your website meets the quality and ranking factors considered to be important to Google and there is a good chance you will be on the right track.
Create, Complete, and Update Social Media Pages on All of the Major Social Media Platforms
In order to maintain a consistent image, there is no way you can realistically cover all of the social media platforms that exist today. You are going to be much better off in terms of your time and return on your efforts if you just pick 2-3 and remain consistent with those.
My personal recommendation would be to remain consistent on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
If I was going to add 3 more to the list, it would be Pinterest, Google+ and Twitter, however, there is some fairly simple automation that can be used to update those pages with content you are already sharing on the other platforms.
IFTTT (If This Then That) is one of the easier, free automation tools which you can use to create content automations between most social media platforms. You can also use it to automate your home lighting, television, sound, thermostat, etc… if you are into that kind of thing.
Link All of Your Social Media Pages and Directory Listings Back to Your Website
This may seem elementary of me to mention, but you might be surprised to see how many dispensaries go through the trouble of setting up their social media pages, only to never complete them.
My advice is to keep a document or spreadsheet somewhere, listing all of your social media profiles and directory listings, and manually ensure that all of these pages are complete with links pointing to your website.
It isn’t fun but it is important.
Plus, if you can’t find the time to do it yourself, you can always hire somebody like us to handle your local SEO and social media management for you.
Maximize Your Organic SEO Results By Consistently Creating High-Value Multimedia Content
Step outside of your comfort zone (or hire somebody that will) to create videos, images, blog posts, reviews, silly stuff, crazy stuff, and anything else that might give value to, amuse, impress, or at least distract potential customers from their day to day lives.
Effective dispensary SEO used to be about knowing the sneaky SEO tricks that would get you ranked just by using the right words and tags throughout your content the right amount of times, then linking back those pages from every SPAM website under the sun. Today, many of those same strategies will just get you blacklisted by Google.
Today you have to get creative and the only way you are going to be able to do that is by having fun with it.
Spending on legal cannabis worldwide is expected to hit $57 billion by 2027 (Forbes)
The largest group of cannabis buyers will be in North America, going from $9.2 billion in 2017 to $47.3 billion a decade later (Forbes)
Sales of medical and recreational marijuana are going to reach $4.75 and $6 billion in 2019 respectively. By 2023, both forms of marijuana will be higher than $20 billion before hitting $24 billion in 2025. (Statistica)
Medical marijuana sales are expected to account for between $5.9 billion and $7.3 billion in sales in 2022. Meanwhile, recreational weed should tally between $12.1 billion and $14.8 billion in sales that year. (The Marijuana Business Factbook)
Since the passage of SQ 788, making Oklahoma medical marijuana legal for licensed medical patients, I have shifted my digital marketing focus primarily to serve cannabis industry business owners.
The objective of this article is simple. Navigating the world of dispensary marketing can be overwhelming. This article simplifies the entire situation for you, allowing you to focus on improving the areas of your business where you will see the greatest returns on your time and investment.
As a digital marketing professional, I get to help business owners do more of what they love doing by doing what I love doing. Creating this guide is just one of those ways. Let this dispensary marketing and growth guide pave the way for your dispensary’s success in 2019 and beyond.
This group is highly valuable to you, as a dispensary owner, because many of Oklahoma’s medical patients are on here giving feedback about local dispensaries.
Many of them complain or make recommendations for improvement. If you are not a member of this subreddit, you should join right now, and make a point to look through new posts on a daily basis (or hire somebody like me, to do that for you).
Not only does this subreddit give you a pulse on the Oklahoma cannabis market, but it also gives you the opportunity to engage with customers and to promote your business (which I recommend doing, but go easy on it). business.
If you have never used Reddit, I highly recommend sticking to the OKmarijuana group. Reddit can consume your life if you are not careful.
You will get the same value out of this that you will get from Reddit, however, there are a few reasons you may find Facebook to be slightly more or less valuable.
For one, on Facebook, you can see exactly who the person is that is making a post or replying to yours. On Reddit, there is a layer of anonymity as alias names are used.
There are pros and cons to this. Sometimes people will be more transparent when they know their personal name is not tied to what they are saying. You can sometimes get a better idea of how people REALLY feel on Reddit. Whereas on Facebook, there will always be a hint of censorship as people can clearly see who is talking.
Unlike the other resources, which are groups to join, with the OMMA, you simply want to make sure you follow their page.
For bonus points, you might consider changing their post visibility so that you see their posts first. Sometimes they post updates which are directly relevant to your business and there is no sense in not clicking this simple button to ensure you don’t miss out on any major industry changes that affect your medical marijuana business.
To do this, visit the OMMA’s Facebook page, and make sure the checkboxes indicated in the image below are checked.
‘See First’ and Notifications – ‘On’
Now, you will see posts from the OMMA prior to seeing anything else on your newsfeed.
#2 – The Fundamentals: Cover Your 3 P’s (Product, People, and Pricing)
Before we get into specifics of the digital marketing and business optimization strategies you can (and should) be using to optimize your cannabis market share, we need to cover the fundamentals.
“All compromise is based on giv and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender.” – Mahatma Ghandi
Additionally, ask any of the most successful NBA and NFL coaches of any time over the past 100 years and they will tell you the same.
Fundamentals are everything when it comes to success. And your business is no exception. It all starts with your product…
Sourcing Cannabis Product
If your business is closer to one of the larger cities in your state (like Oklahoma City, for instance), sourcing quality product should not be much of an issue. Dispensaries located in the more rural areas of the state are starting out having greater challenges finding suppliers, as many of the growers are maximizing their efforts by targeting metro areas.
There are several ways to ensure you are carrying the best products and to ensure, with a relatively significant degree of assurance, that patients will purchase the products off of your shelves.
If you are looking for suppliers, post in the groups mentioned above, in section 1 of this article. Be sure to get on email lists for all of your favorite growers (if they have them). I recommend building a simple spreadsheet with supplier names, contact information, license numbers, cities, products, pricing, etc. I personally had some great feedback mailing a postcard to every registered grower on the OMMA list and directing them to a landing page to learn more about their business. If we end up working together, I am more than happy to help you source product.
Prioritize quality over getting the best deal. It doesn’t matter how cheap you can sell flower. If it’s not any good – you will never be able to sell it and your customers are going to complain on Weedmaps, Reddit, Facebook, Google, and everywhere else.
Survey your customers to learn more about their preferences, or at least encourage them to speak up if there is anything specific they would like to see you carrying. Facebook is one great way to poll your customers and keep them engaged in conversation with your brand. If you use a POS system (hopefully you do), that would be a great place to take notes about your customer’s preferences, look at their past orders, etc… so you can talk to them about how they liked their previous purchases. Not only will this increase customer satisfaction by keeping products in stock that your customers are specifically telling you that they want, but it also makes them feel all warm and fuzzy to know that their personal input was taken into consideration when you made your purchase. They will also likely be more inclined to purchase from you – since they had a say I making it happen.
Make sure every product you purchase includes laboratory testing from a legitimate lab in your state. Here in Oklahoma, patients seem to be coming to the industry with a heightened awareness of health considerations. Patients need to know what is (and what is not) in every product you offer.
Attracting and Screening the Right People (Employees)
Finding quality people is one of the most challenging considerations for any businesses – particularly for marijuana industry businesses.
Here are some important questions to ask, prior to digging into the market of eligible employees.
How do you (personally) differentiate between quality candidates and people who just want to get high? Does it make any difference to you?
Do you even want to hire non-patients?
Is it more important that the candidates know how many grams are in an eighth, ounce, or pound or would you rather teach a newbie?
Do you want somebody who is familiar selling pot on the black market or somebody who is not familiar, that you can show the ways?
These are all important questions to ask yourself prior to hiring, and the truth is, there is not a single, correct answer that will work for every business. Once you define your most ideal candidate, structure your application and interview questions specifically to help you efficiently identify your most likely quality candidates.
I recommend adding a ‘We’re Hiring’ page/form to your website, which allows applicants to answer some customized questions and upload their resumes. You never know when you might need additional help, and sometimes you have to screen through quite a few before finding quality candidates. It’s best to get this set up ASAP, if you have not done so already. (or we can do it for you).
Offer Competitive Cannabis Pricing Without Losing Your Shirt
With tools like Weedmaps, this one can be tricky, however, there is a solution. By providing your customers with a consistently high-quality buying experiences and cannabis strains, you can easily overcome the feeling that you need to have the lowest prices in order to maintain consistent business.
Below are a handful of ways you can approach this pricing situation – which is only going to become more important as the market continues to mature.
Include tax with your pricing. While this might make you appear to be more expensive to customers shopping you on Weedmaps, it will be a pleasant surprise when they do. The alternative to this is obviously to not include a tax on transactions, which instead, provides a slightly negative experience when your customers are checking out. It’s always better to plan to surprise your customers rather than tagging on extra cost at checkout.
Use a cashless ATM to process payments (generally a flat, $3-$4 charges which may be passed onto the customer). Include that transaction fee in your pricing, assuming that everybody will be using a debit card, then offer the transaction fee as a direct discount for customers that pay with cash.
Consider creative ways you can add value to every transaction. Maybe stock up on half gram prerolls or edible sample packs to give away as surprises with every transaction. This will leave your customers with a positive feeling when they leave your shop, they will be much more likely to tell others about their experience, and there is a much greater chance they will come back to buy whatever it is you just gave them a sample of.
Evaluate and optimize your customer’s buying experience and make improvements everywhere you are able. Keep Starbucks in mind when you do this. Starbucks has some of the most expensive coffee but they also have some of the most loyal customers. It’s not about the price their customers are paying – it’s about the experience they have when they buy it.
Here are some questions to help you get the experience optimization process started for your dispensary:
Are your employees wearing uniforms or lab coats?
Are your budtenders wearing gloves every time they handle product? (very important)
How can you cost-effectively improve the vibe of your shop?
Are you cleaning your shop consistently?
What kind of music are you playing? Is it at the right volume?
How does it smell in your dispensary?
Consider burning some Santo paolo to neutralize the marijuana smell naturally.
Is the temperature comfortable?
Are your products displayed in the most professional and interactive manner possible?
Are your customers being greeted in a way that makes them feel comfortable without adding pressure to their experience?
#3 – Optimize Your Digital Visibility
In today’s day and age, the key to obtaining new patients/customers is to attract their attention in the right way at the right time, online. Maximizing your visibility is essential because the more visible you are, the more patients you are going to attract.
For the sake getting the most bang for our buck, we can safely cover our bases so long as we have the following digital channels covered – listed in order of importance.
Set Up a Strategic, Responsive Website That Accurately Represents Your Business.
Dispensary websites don’t have to be an expensive undertaking, however, you don’t want to cut corners when it comes to this particular component of your dispensary marketing efforts.
For the sake of the local dispensary SEO domination you are about to embark upon with the help of this article, your dispensary website can be most effectively viewed as a central hub in which all of your other directory listings point/link back to.
Some of the features I recommend including on your dispensary website:
A page for potential employees to apply and upload their resumes
A page for potential processors to share information about their business, license information, products, pricing, and contact info
A page for potential growers to do the same
An ‘About Us’ page telling the story about how your marijuana dispensary came to be
A ‘Contact Us’ Page which includes your hours of operations, a contact form, your phone number, and an image of your business
Patients visit Weedmaps to shop and if you do not have a complete profile, patients are highly unlikely to find you.
You will have to call Weedmaps to get your business listing set up. As of the date of writing this, all Weedmaps dispensary listings are free for Oklahoma dispensaries. There is absolutely no reason why you should not be taking advantage of this situation.
Optimize Your Google My Business Visibility
Many of the patients/marijuana consumers in your market are going to simply use Google to find you.
Your Google My Business listing is free, and provides you the best opportunity to get discovered by new patients looking for medical cannabis dispensaries near you.
To set up your Google My Business profile, visit Google My Business and make sure you have created a profile for your business. Once you provide the basic details about your business, Google will need to verify the information is accurate. Most of the time they do this by mailing a postcard to your business. Once you receive it, you will need to follow the instructions on that card to make sure it is verified.
Once you have a verified listing, the next step will be to optimize your visibility/positioning to new and existing patients/customers looking for a dispensary on Google.
Although Google keeps their ranking algorithms proprietary, there is a method which I have used consistently to rank businesses in the top 3 local Google search results, which is where you ideally want to be. Studies have shown most searchers will visit one of the top 3 local businesses they see in their searches within 24 hours of searching.
How to Dominate the Google My Business Rankings
Step 1: Verify and complete your GMB profile.
Use original images. Choose ‘Cannabis’ as the business type.
Provide your hours of operation, a link to your website, a phone number, and everything else Google wants to know. The more you give them, the more likely they will be to show your business to potential customers.
Step 2: List your business’ Name, Address, Phone Number, and Website, Consistently, Across All High-Quality Local and Industry-Specific Online Directories.
These listings are called citations.
Another significant GMB ranking factor is the volume and consistency of your business citations across other relevant/high-quality online directories.
Hear me out here as I’m about to give you the secret sauce.
There are 2 categories of online directories: Local and Industry-Specific. You need to be in as many of each, as possible (only high-quality, though).
The local directories are going to be sites like YP.com, BBB.com, Yelp.com, etc… These are websites that are designed to provide information about businesses in a specific local area.
The industry-specific directories are going to be any and every credible cannabis dispensary directory you can find.
Here is how you go about finding all of your local and industry-specific directory listings.
Next, scroll down the first 5 pages or so, making a list of every site that appears to allow you to create a business listing (citation) on it.
After those 5 pages, do the search again, this time for ‘Marijuana near me’… Then keep adding to your list.
Next, you want to visit each one of those directories and create a complete listing for your business, using the exact same spelling, syntax, etc… as your Google My Business listing. This is extremely important. If your address is spelled with an St. on Google, spell it the same on every one of these other directories. Also, be sure to include a link back to your website on every single one.
This can be a slightly monotonous task. You can always this work out, also. (Hint, we can manage all of this for you.)
Step 3: Provide Well-Written, Valuable, and Relevant Content on Your Website.
Your ranking on GMB is significantly impacted by the quality of your website and the relevance of the content on your website to the search being conducted.
Be sure to include custom content on your website. Use custom images, make sure your website is mobile-friendly, that it loads quickly, and it’s easy to navigate using a mobile device. (This is also something we would be happy to help you with.)
Step 4: Gather Real Reviews from Real, Satisfied Customers.
Gather real reviews from real customers on your Google My Business profile. To leave a review, the customer simply needs to pull up your Google My Business listing (the way it shows up when you search for it), then click on reviews. The user will then be given the option to submit a review.
You can get a good feel for approximately how many reviews you need based upon the profiles of your top competitors in your local market.
Build a Loyal Following and Engage With Your Customers on Facebook
The trick to running a successful dispensary page on Facebook is to share engaging content that is relevant and interesting to your followers.
I personally create a calendar for the month and plan out the types of posts that I will be generating on each day of the month. Not only does this help me get more work done in a much more efficient way, but it also helps me to plan and strategize the voice/message that we are using as we speak through the brand.
For my clients, I generally break the posts up into these categories: advocacy, humor, polls, promotional, random/off-the-wall viral stuff, and images of medicine – maybe through sharing images our growers are posting on their pages or by taking some original shots of our own.
The content plan you implement should be in alignment with your overall business branding.
I recommend scheduling out your posts, at least for the week. That way you don’t have to keep messing with it unless you just want to. I’m all about finding ways to minimize and reduce redundancies in my work, and this is one of the ways of doing that.
You should always use an image with every Facebook post, whenever possible. The engagement stats show clearly that users engage with image posts much more frequently than they do with text-only posts.
Canva is an excellent, free social media/image editing website which allows you to use your custom images and customize them with text and anything else you desire. I highly recommend checking it out.
Build a Loyal Following and Engage With Your Customers on Instagram
This is fairly straightforward and is definitely worth doing. Since you already have custom images you are sharing on your facebook page, share them also on Instagram.
In recent years, many Facebook users have made a transition over to Instagram. You will be unable to capture the attention of these customers unless your Instagram game is on point.
There are 3 primary components to running a successful dispensary instagram page:
Complete your profile, including a custom description, your address, website, phone number, logo, etc…
Post engaging, informative, funny, and entertaining images (preferably original). Pro tip: Instagrammers like pretty bud pictures, especially ones you have in stock and available for purchase.
Identify the most beneficial hashtags for your particular market and use those consistently, with every post. Check out this list of the top 21 tools for instagram hashtags (many are free) to help you compile a list of the most beneficial hashtags for you to be using.
Follow and engage with your customers.
Establish a business profile on Leafly (optional).
Leafly is significantly more expensive than Weedmaps (which is actually free for Oklahoma dispensary owners right now) but it does have its place.
Here’s the deal.
Leafly has the top Google ranking for nearly every kind of marijuana strain out there. This generates a significant amount of traffic – no doubt – but, as a medical marijuana patient myself, I personally prefer the Weedmaps dispensary locator over the Leafly setup when I am interested in making a purchase.
As a patient, I personally find Weedmaps easier to use. I still use Leafly, I just use it for strain research – as do most others.
Additionally, most people are not shopping for specific cannabis strains. In my experience,most customers want to come in to the dispensary to check out the inventory at the shop and make a decision from there, not the other way around.
If you do decide to get in with Leafly, I am sure the investment (a few thousand $/year) will more than pay for itself if you use it to its full extent.
Just be sure to upload your entire menu and complete your profile to your best abilities.
#4: Simplify Your Transactions and Minimize Cash on Hand
Since SQ788 passed here in Oklahoma, I have been diligently researching all different kinds of merchant and ATM solutions to help my clients implement solutions that make life easier on customers making purchases.
As a result of these efforts, I have identified the 3 different ways that dispensaries are going about helping customers/patients experience seamless transactions.
Provide Easy Access to Cash With an ATM Machine
The first of those methods is to purchase or lease an ATM machine that dispenses cash to your customers who don’t have cash on hand. If you set up an ATM with transaction fees, you are charging your customer to do business with you. Sure, it is a convenience over not having one, but it still takes away from your customers’ buying experience.
Additionally, having the additional ATM cash on hand poses additional security risks to your business.
ATM’s can (and do) work, but I couldn’t help myself but ask, “is there a better way?”
There are a couple, actually.
Pre-Paid Rewards Cards… At the Potential Cost of Customer Loyalty
One of these systems works on a pre-paid rewards card system, where customers upload cash onto cards that can be used to make purchases in your dispensary.
Since Visa and Mastercard refuse to knowingly process medical (or recreational) marijuana transactions, these pre-paid cards provide a means of circumnavigating that entire system.
Instead, customers upload money onto their card, then the money on that card is deposited into your bank account. While there are aspects of this system which appear at first glance to be advantageous over the ATM, there are also some downsides.
Many of the companies that offer these services have programs that incentivize your patients to buy throughout their network of dispensaries. Essentially, your patients are, in some cases, driven to your competitors because they are also using the card system.
The question with all of that becomes, “How are you supposed to go about establishing customer loyalty when customers are being offered incentivized discounts and promotions to use their cards at competing dispensaries?” It’s a question worth asking/investigating prior to jumping into anything.
The ideal system would make it easier for customers/patients to use their debit card, allowing for a simple, hassle-free transaction, that does not incentivize them to take their business elsewhere in the future.
And I just so happened to find one.
Make Life Easier on You and Your Customers With a Cashless ATM
Cashless ATM transactions work similar to normal ATM’s, however, rather than withdrawling physical cash, the money is digitally withdrawn from the customer’s account, and deposited directly into your bank account.
Here are some of the advantages I found for using cashless ATM’s for your cannabis dispensary business:
Accept PIN-based transactions.
Give your customers the convenience to withdraw money in your store when they make their purchase.
No operating costs. No credit or debit card fees.
Earn money on each approved transaction.
Does not require merchant to change from current bank.
Eliminate cash from sales transaction: savings cash handling and management, reduce risk of employee theft when you have cash on hands
Quick, easy approval setup. No integration with POS system necessary
That’s about all for now! Check back for updates, as this is an evolving work in progress. As always, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or if there is anything I might be able to help you out with.