Don't Get Smoked by your Competitors - How cannabis stores can increase local online visibility in a saturated market

The Cannabis industry in Canada is booming.  Cannabis has become a legal adult recreational activity in Canada – free from the negative connotations and seen more like alcohol & cigarettes (although, way less destructive).  The negative stigma of using Cannabis is subsiding – brick and mortar Cannabis retailers are popping up all over Canada, each fighting for online visibility in their region. Given most retailers are selling similar products it is hard to differentiate your brand from your competitor. This has caused customers to be more concerned about the proximity of the store than the products you are offering; so if you are not ranking highly in search results you are missing out on significant local traffic to your business.

FLY YOUR LOCAL SEO TO THE MOON!

Cannabis stores digital marketing channels in Canada are Limited.  Shops cannot advertise on Googles Search, Display and youtube networks.  Furthermore, Cannabis companies cannot create Television ads like the one above from the David Chappelle’s classic (filmed in Toronto) Half baked.  This is why local SEO is a must for any Cannabis company looking to penetrate the market.

The Cannabis industry in Canada is booming.  Cannabis has become a legal adult recreational activity in Canada – free from the negative connotations and seen more like alcohol & cigarettes (although, way less destructive).  The negative stigma of using Cannabis is subsiding – brick and mortar Cannabis retailers are popping up all over Canada, each fighting for online visibility in their region. Given most retailers are selling similar products it is hard to differentiate your brand from your competitor. This has caused customers to be more concerned about the proximity of the store than the products you are offering; so if you are not ranking highly in search results you are missing out on significant local traffic to your business.

FLY YOUR LOCAL SEO TO THE MOON!

Cannabis stores digital marketing channels in Canada are Limited.  Shops cannot advertise on Googles Search, Display and youtube networks.  Furthermore, Cannabis companies cannot create Television ads like the one above from the David Chappelle’s classic (filmed in Toronto) Half baked.  This is why local SEO is a must for any Cannabis company looking to penetrate the market.

The Ontario government is now allowing online shopping and pick up it is more important than ever to be easily found online in your neighbourhood. Another factor that is pushing customers online, is COVID. Cannabis retailers have been classified an essential service and have been able to stay open, but for safety reasons most businesses have moved to an online model where customers order online and pick up in-store. With the potential of the second wave approaching the need for a strong online presence is of utmost importance.  In this article, we will explore the current Canadian Cannabis market, how the local cannabis search results work, and how to outrank your local competition using some simple Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics. 

Cannabis Sells, and Canadians are Buying

In October of 2018, Canada finally allowed it’s citizens to use recreational cannabis legally.  Since then, According to stats Canada, the Canadian Cannabis industry has contributed over 8 billion dollars to the economy and is growing month to month.  A ‘green’ rush of sorts has taken place in Canada with licenced retail shops popping up all over major Canadian cities looking to profit from Canadian’s unquenchable thirst to get baked.  Even with regulation, the online black market market continues to thrive as Canadian Cannabis connoisseurs deem the regulated stuff as “garbage weed”. True or not, it hasn’t slowed down the legal market as dozens of new Cannabis stores are popping up throughout my home town of TorontoThe question now is; how do you ensure your legal store is not being outranked online by the black market? 

Don’t Let them Drink your Milkshake!

The title of this section is a nod to the 2007 film There Will Be Blood wherein actor Danial J Lewis plays an oil baron, in the scene, Lewis declares he will drill underground into a neighbouring competitor oil field and take the lucrative reserves for himself to sell.  

This is analogous to the current Cannabis market in Canada, and believe me, there are many straws in your milkshake! Since legalization, the black market has been capitalizing on the fact there is legal cannabis being ordered and shipped through online stores like the OCS. They prey on the fact customers may not know they are ordering from an illegal site, and in turn are stealing market share from the legal businesses. Many of these illegal operations have had a head start on the legal market, and in many cases outrank the legal stores in search results due to their content history. To overcome this it is necessary to optimize your website to be sure you are using language that appeals to the Google algorithm.  

The second straw in your milkshake are your legal competitors, particularly those that are located close to your physical location. As an example, there are 10+ retail stores in a few block radius of Queen West, Toronto.

If your website is not locally optimized in a saturated market customers will find your competitor first, even if your store is physically closer to the customer. To remedy this, your site must be optimized for the terms people are commonly searching for, such as; “cannabis store near me” or “buy cannabis near me”. Having your Cannabis shop be visible in local search results for these and similar terms will greatly increase online orders and build a recurring customer base.

The title of this section is a nod to the 2007 film There Will Be Blood wherein actor Danial J Lewis plays an oil baron, in the scene, Lewis declares he will drill underground into a neighbouring competitor oil field and take the lucrative reserves for himself to sell.  

This is analogous to the current Cannabis market in Canada, and believe me, there are many straws in your milkshake! Since legalization, the black market has been capitalizing on the fact there is legal cannabis being ordered and shipped through online stores like the OCS. They prey on the fact customers may not know they are ordering from an illegal site, and in turn are stealing market share from the legal businesses. Many of these illegal operations have had a head start on the legal market, and in many cases outrank the legal stores in search results due to their content history. To overcome this it is necessary to optimize your website to be sure you are using language that appeals to the Google algorithm.  

The second straw in your milkshake are your legal competitors, particularly those that are located close to your physical location. As an example, there are 10+ retail stores in a few block radius of Queen West, Toronto.

If your website is not locally optimized in a saturated market customers will find your competitor first, even if your store is physically closer to the customer. To remedy this, your site must be optimized for the terms people are commonly searching for, such as; “cannabis store near me” or “buy cannabis near me”. Having your Cannabis shop be visible in local search results for these and similar terms will greatly increase online orders and build a recurring customer base.

What do we mean by increasing local online visibility?

Increasing local online visibility is the practice of implementing local search engine optimization (SEO) to your store’s Google My Business page, and website to appear higher in the Google search results. From our example above, let’s do a search for “cannabis store” in the trendy Toronto neighbourhood of Queen St. West. There are many Cannabis stores located within close proximity of each other, and are all fighting for the same customer base. See below for the search results:

The above screenshot displays the search results for “cannabis store”, while searching from Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario.  As we can see there is a wide variety of options located in a small vicinity.  However, the Cannabis stores that appear first are not the closest to the user’s location but are out ranking them as they have better optimization.  This proves that with local SEO a Cannabis store can outrank their competitors regardless of their proximity to the user’s location.

Let’s try another search for “Cannabis store near me” in the same location:

Cannabis Store SEO

The above screen capture shows a search for “cannabis store near me” in the same location (Queen Street West, Toronto Ontario, Canada).  Again, the top results in Google are not the closest stores to the user’s location.  With this search, Google is taking the keyword “Cannabis” into consideration when displaying the closest stores near the user’s location.  It is important to understand how the Google algorithm works before optimizing a store’s Google My Business page, otherwise you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

Now let’s look at the search volume and competitiveness for “Cannabis Store” in Canada.  For this, we will use the SEO software ahrefs.com

Cannabis Store SEO

The above screenshot is the search overview results for the keyword; “cannabis store” displayed in the Ahrefs SEO software.  As we can see,  5,000 users (volume) search for “cannabis store” in Canada, and the difficulty is “Super Hard” to rank in the top of the search results for these particular keywords.  While this overview is all of Canada, Google will show the local brick and mortar listings first for users in that particular location.  So while it may be ‘super hard’ to rank for these keywords, if your Google My Business page is properly optimized you will still outrank competitors. This is why it’s vital to a brick and mortar business selling Cannabis to rank high in the local search results.

How does a Cannabis store achieve high local search visibility?

In order to achieve high local visibility, your Google My Business page and website must be fully SEO optimized.

KEYWORD RESEARCH:

Prior to implementing any local SEO, businesses must research the searches with the highest user intent in their area.  Ranking highly for “cannabis store” is great, but it is more complex than that – they must work in conjunction with high user intent keywords/phrases that will convert more potential customers.  

Having specific products with high user intent keywords on your website, and Google My Business listing will tell Google more about what kind of business you are and the products you offer.  In turn, Google will reward this behavior and add your listing higher in the results.

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZED WEBSITE :

There are over 200 ranking factors Google takes into consideration when choosing which site to appear high in the search results for local services and products.  Some factors have more impact than others, this is why it is crucial to have your website fully optimized prior to connecting the site with your Google My Business listing.  Google considers the authority of the site, useability, and many others when showing a Google My Business listing at the top of the search results.

LOCAL STRUCTURED DATA:

Adding local structured data into your businesses website that directly correlates with your brick and mortar business (name, phone number, address) signals to Google that your store is located in this region and will rank your website and Google My Business listing higher in the results for local searches.

Top 6 Actions to Optimize Your Google My Business Page

  1. Review Name, Address, Phone(NAP) info to ensure it is correct on the Google My Business(GMB) listing.  Adjust if incorrect.
  2. Upload store/product photos with descriptions to the Google My Business listing.
  3. Add news/product articles to the posts section.
  4. Add products to the product section of the Google My Business listing.
  5. Add services to the service section of the Google My Business listing.
  6. Interact with customers in the review section

While some of this may seem complex, it is well worth the time as it will result in significantly more sales. This is why most companies choose a SEO Service company to do their optimization for them. 

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