SEO for Ganjapreneurs, Part 1
by R. Robinson
In the Age of Information, a strong presence on the World Wide Web can make or break a business. Even the most useful product or service can drown in the vast sea of hypertext if it doesn’t stand out. Web designers can make a website visually appealing, and Flash coders can draw in visitors with animated interactivity, but rarely will an ingeniously crafted site be enough to establish a web presence. To truly market oneself through a website, a business needs to maximize its search engine optimization (SEO), a system of techniques that brings visitors to the site through search engine queries.
SEO is a hot topic for online businesses. You may have heard the term before, but most people don’t know what it entails.
Rest assured that SEO, though complicated to learn, is actually quite simple. There are essential rules that determine a webpage’s ranking on a search engine, and if you can exploit these rules to your advantage, you should see your site climbing up in search-engine ranking.
In the first part of this series, we’ll go over some of the basics for understanding SEO. Future parts of this series will detail how to employ SEO strategies specific to the Cannabis industry.
What is SEO?
Whenever someone uses a search engine to find a website, they typically type in a series of words related to the topic of interest. For instance, if I want to find a cooking recipe for sautéed veggies, I may search for sites on Google using the query “recipe sautéed vegetables.” Google would respond to my search query by presenting a list of websites it believes are most relevant to my search.
How do powerful search engines like Google determine which sites to give me first?
Well, in short, we really don’t know. Heavy-hitters such as Google and Bing keep their SEO algorithms secret, so the intricate mathematics behind a page’s ranking remain veiled. However, based on experiments and a lot of trial and error, the SEO community has unraveled some of the criteria a search engine uses to rank pages.
How SEO works
The first part of SEO involves the use of keywords and key phrases. These are words or terms specific to the page’s topic. Web content that exploits SEO artfully weaves keywords throughout the page or article. Search engines scan — or “crawl” — the text of each page to determine what the page is about. This reliance on keywords ensures that search engines provide links related to the search query.
The second part of SEO employs keywords within the page’s HTML code. META and TITLE tags reinforce the page’s keyword relevancy toward particular search queries, but the website’s URL title, as well as image titles like “sautéed-vegetables.jpg” can also contribute to the rank.
The third and most important aspect of SEO is traffic. Of the three characteristics of SEO discussed here, traffic trumps the other two by a longshot. You can come up with the best key phrases and place them perfectly within an article; you can jam-pack your META tags with precise keywords — but if the page never gets any visits, search engines won’t consider your content “relevant.”
Traffic is key
The number of visitors to your website — as well as their online behavior — largely dictates whether or not your website will show up on the front page of a search engine. By “online behavior” I don’t mean trolling or flaming. Behavior, in this case, refers to how long visitors remain on the site, whether they visit other pages on your site and if they return for more.
So how does a ganjapreneur observe her or his website’s traffic?
Most web hosts include some interface or software for tracking the site’s analytics. Google provides its own brand of free analytics to nearly any website. Other services, such as Alexa, record and broadcast a website’s ranking within region, country or state, along with visitor statistics.
Google Analytics, which this author is most familiar with, is an incredibly powerful tool for SEO. Although many of its features are somewhat unrelated to SEO — such as what countries your visitors are from — other features are invaluable, such as what specific pages on your site are getting the most traffic. Although these numbers are raw data, even a beginner can connect the dots between what’s working and what isn’t.
To most novices, the traffic requirement for SEO seems like a Catch-22. “How can I get traffic to my site if no one can find it through a search engine?” they may ask. Although at first this Catch-22 holds true for newer websites, with time traffic should arrive. Word-of-mouth, link-building and social media marketing are just a few ways to promote a website. If visits remain consistent over time, search engines consider the site “relevant” to its keywords and phrases, and its ranking will slowly climb.
SEO for the canna business
As Cannabis legalization spreads across the nation like a hardy weed, competition within the Cannabis industry has gotten stiff. Online marketing, as a consequence, has also gotten much tougher.
According to USA Today, there are roughly 2000 dispensaries in the United States. As a comparison, there are fewer Safeway supermarkets (less than 1700) in the country than there are dispensaries. This year, the legal Cannabis industry will rake in approximately $1.5 billion. By 2018, this number is expected to reach $6 billion. The explosion of the industry means more websites devoted to Cannabis products and services. Cannabis consumers are already saturated in an ever-growing market of new brands and novel innovations, but proper SEO can help customers sift through the noise of too many choices.
Or, put another way, SEO can guide consumers to your cannabusiness rather than to someone else’s.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where I’ll discuss what keeps traffic flowing to a successful website.