Cannabis Marketing: What It Takes in 2021
Even though most cannabis-related products are completely legal in the U.S. and more states follow suit with marijuana every year, marketing these products online can still be a challenge.
However, if you take the time to learn the ropes, successfully marketing cannabis online is going to bring you huge returns as the industry continues unprecedented growth.
Recently, one of our Magento clients has pivoted a portion of their SEO budget to target the cannabis crowd, so my team and I have become familiar with what works – and what definitely doesn’t – for marketing cannabis and marijuana online.
I’ll share all of that with you in this article, but before I do, let’s address some basic questions first.
Can You Market Cannabis Products Online? …It’s Complicated
The first thing we should probably cover is whether or not you can even market cannabis products online.
Is it legal?
The answer is…yes!
To be clear, I am not a lawyer. I don’t play one on TV. I don’t even watch the TV shows about them.
So, before making any decisions about selling or marketing cannabis online, think about speaking with an actual attorney.
That said, here are a couple of very important considerations.
Can You Market Actual Cannabis Online? It Depends…
If by “cannabis”, you mean the completely legal version of CBD, then, yes, you can market and sell those cannabis products online, provided that you follow all relevant state laws.
However, if we’re talking about the real deal – actual marijuana – which isnotcompletely legal in all 50 states, then no, you can’t sellthattype of cannabis online.
As long as the federal government continues to categorize cannabis as a Schedule I drug, any dispensaries that ship it through conventional means (e.g., USPS, UPS, or FedEx) will become drug traffickers – not great for the resume.
Instate delivery of marijuana is a different story in states where the drug is legal, but again, don’t use the aforementioned carriers and make sure an attorney reviews your operation before proceeding.
YouCanMarket Cannabis-Related Products Online, but…
As I mentioned at the beginning, one of our clients has discovered that certain products they sell are popular among cannabis growers – hence my newfound interest in cannabis marketing.
One of the first things I learned from speaking with them is that, yes, it’s perfectly legal to sell these kinds of products to cannabis growers, distributors, and sellers.
And yet, their legal counsel advised them to include language in their Terms of Service that reminds buyers what the law says they can – and cannot – do with these products.
Again, I’m not an attorney or legal expert myself, so I recommend you speak to one before proceeding with marketing these kinds of cannabis-related products to ensure you stay on the right side of the law.
5 Essential Tips for Marketing Cannabis Online in 2021
With all of those considerations out of the way, let’s now talk about the kinds of marketing strategies that work best for cannabis companies online.
1. Prioritize Organic Traffic (It May Be Your Only Option)
Paid search is usually an obvious channel for eCommerce companies to invest in.
Unfortunately, it’s not the best option if you intend on targeting a lot of popular cannabis-related products (though I’ll cover how you can still use it next).
Google categorizes cannabis as a “dangerous product” under the subcategory “Recreational drugs”, which it defines as:
“Ads for substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation or otherwise induce ‘highs’”
It specifically mentions “marijuana” as one of these drugs and even those that provide “legal highs” – so CBD derived from cannabis is out, but hemp-derived CBD is fine as long as you don’t mention cannabis in your ads.
Therefore, if you’re trying to sell products for the “recreational use” of cannabis (i.e., pipes, papers, bongs, etc.), you’re out of luck with Google Ads.
For all intents and purposes, the same goes for YouTube, which is owned by Google. While it’s loosened up on allowing weed-related content over the years (see below), if your videos push the boundaries regarding illegal activities, expect YouTube to take action.
And even if you play it straight with your videos, you can’t link to your website in the description if you sell products that are marketed for growing, cultivating, or distributing cannabis. Obviously, ads for these products are a no-go, too.
Facebook isn’t a fan of marijuana, either. You definitely can’t run ads for your cannabis products on this platform. Youcan try to start pages around marijuana but expect Facebook to take those down pretty quickly. Unless you make a “lifestyle” page about more general topics and only post about marijuana occasionally, my guess is that you’ll eventually attract the wrong kind of attention from Facebook.
That may not always be the case, but this kind of volatility makes the social media giant a poor choice for cannabis companies looking for reliable marketing ROIs.
Use “Cannabis SEO” to Attract Traffic to Your Site
So, the name of the game is “cannabis SEO”, a term that has grown in popularity as more and more companies realize they’ll need to focus mainly on organic traffic to find new customers online.
But before you go pursuing SEO for your cannabis products, be sure to check with your hosting provider to make sure they don’t have any rules against talking about the drug on sites they support. It’s becoming less and less common these days, but I’d suggest you double-check before adding “cannabis” and “marijuana” all over your eCommerce website. Otherwise, you could find out the hard way that your provider will pull hosting for selling these products.
Otherwise, the trick of cannabis SEO is that it’s pretty much the same as the traditional version (don’t you just love branding, though?).
As such, you’ll need to do your keyword research and then create relevant service/product pages and blog posts around them.
Fortunately, the cannabis industry has come such a long way that there are plenty of websites out there already generating plenty of traffic. Use competitor analysis to see what’s working for their SEO campaigns and you can reap the same results – without going through the same amount of trial-and-error.
While content marketing may be necessary to hit all of your cannabis SEO goals, I recommend you create SEO-friendly product descriptions and well-organized, keyword-rich category pages first. Depending on how competitive your piece of the industry is, this may be enough to start seeing results relatively quickly. You can always go back and create blog posts later.
2. But Don’t Completely Give Up on PPC
Now, as long as you’re not selling products that customers could use to ingest cannabis, you may be able to use Google Ads to advertise your products.
You still can’t use terms like “cannabis” and “weed” in the text for your ads or on their corresponding landing pages, but Google will let you target these kinds of queries.
Here’s an example:
Ads show up. They just don’t mention any unapproved terms.
And from what I’ve seen, most buyers in this industry are savvy enough to know what kinds of products they need even if their pages don’t have “MARIJUANA” flashing in big green lights.
Interestingly enough, it looks like a lot of relevant terms carry fairly low average CPCs, too. Given how much ambiguity there is around using PPC ads for cannabis, I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, though.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what SEMrush shows for some popular options:
Depending on your profit margins, these could be really valuable terms.
Consider Ad Networks That Are Cannabis-Friendly
Before we move on, I want to point out that there are some ad networks and marijuana-focused websites that allow ads for these products.
I can’t say from firsthand experience how effective they are, but if you find yourself facing a lot of competition for organic traffic, these options might give you an edge.
If you have the budget to do a little testing, try running ads with some of these companies and it may not be long before your investment pays off in a big way.
3. Do Your Own PR by Publishing Guest Posts
Earlier, when I was talking about cannabis SEO, I mentioned waiting to do blog posts until your product and category pages are fully optimized.
But even then, it may pay to wait until publishing blogs…at least on your own site.
Instead, you could build your company’s reputation within the legalized marijuana market by submitting blog posts to relevant industry websites.
As with other elements of SEO, this approach is nothing new. Guest posting has been an important strategy for years.
The big advantage you have as a manufacturer of cannabis products is that this industry is still relatively new, meaning there may be a huge demand for your expertise without the corresponding supply.
For example, if your company sells packaging supplies, you probably know a thing or two that growers who are new to the business would be excited to learn about.
You could blog about this topic on your own site, but when you’re just starting out, you may see a lot more value by offering this guest post to an industry site that gets significantly more traffic. Not only will you earn a helpful backlink. You’ll also put your company in front of all of those prospects who regularly visit – and trust – that site for information about their industry.
4. Attend Industry Events
At IWD, we tend to take a fairly straightforward approach to SEO.
We don’t do a lot of brainstorming.
We use our software and experience to look at what’s actually getting results for established websites and then we build on that to get even better returns for our clients.
Still, if your company is new to the industry, it could be extremely helpful for your marketing goals to attend trade shows and other events. Aside from meeting with potential customers face-to-face, you can also learn about their unique needs.
This approach can prove especially helpful for B2B cannabis companies as some of your prospects’ demands may not be wholly apparent just by running reports with SEO software.
Again, if your company sells packaging examples, perhaps growers have specific needs that they struggle to find online. By speaking to these requirements on your site, you’ll have an easier time keeping the traffic you attract, which means lowering your bounce rate (great for SEO) and earning more conversions.
5. (Maybe) Work with Influencers
At this point, just about every industry has influencers – experts who are popular for creating content around their given field. Everything from fashion to fitness to finance has these authority figures.
Cannabis is no different.
So, just like guest posting may be the best way to leverage another website’s popularity, consider using influencer marketing to take advantage of someone else’s hard-won reputation.
Influencers with a large enough following – and the trust that comes with it – could send massive amounts of traffic to your website overnight. If you can’t use PPC and don’t want to wait before SEO pays off, this is the perfect shortcut to the results you want.
Of course, influencer marketing is still a relatively new concept, even in the cannabis industry, which isn’t lacking for passionate, media-savvy users. So, don’t rush into anything. Do your due diligence and ask potential influencers for proof of what they’ve achieved for past clients.
Affiliate Marketing Could Work, Too
Depending on the types of cannabis products you sell, affiliate marketing may be an option, too. In short, this strategy is when you outsource your marketing to companies and individuals who earn commissions when they bring you sales. There’s no upfront cost to your business.
Just like with influencer marketing, many companies have used cannabis-specific affiliate programs to launch their products and skyrocket sales in a very short period of time.
Starting your own affiliate marketing program is easy enough, but unless your SEO efforts are already bearing fruit, you’ll have to invest time into spreading the word to attract effective marketers. Growing your network by attending industry events could also help you find these potential partners.
Is ItHighTime You Get Started on Your Cannabis Marketing Strategy?
(Sorry – I’ve been sitting on that pun the entire time)
As you can see, marketing cannabis or marijuana products has never been easier, but there are still plenty of unique challenges to finding customers online.
Hopefully, the above advice will help you navigate your site toward success.
However, if you have any specific questions about cannabis SEO or any of the other strategies related to this industry, please feel free to contact us to speak with an eCommerce expert.