Conducting an SEO audit for a cannabis ecommerce site is far from routine. This industry has its own set of peculiarities: heavy regulations, fluctuating market trends, and ever-changing consumer expectations.
Recognizing and addressing these elements are vital for a comprehensive, accurate, and useful SEO audit. Let’s examine why each of these factors is so critical.
Specifics Unique to Cannabis Ecommerce Audit
- Regulatory Compliance
- Product Variety
- Localized SEO
- Social Stigmas
- Dynamic Laws
How is Cannabis Ecommerce Different?
Regulatory Concerns: Geo-fencing Technology
Key Marketing Focus: Ensuring compliance with local and state regulations while maintaining SEO and UX quality.
SEO Considerations: Geo-fencing technology can pose a unique challenge for cannabis websites. This technology restricts content visibility based on a user’s geographical location to comply with varying legal restrictions. While crucial for legal compliance, this can create problems for search engine crawlers, which may not be able to access all content.
This could result in a limited or skewed portrayal of the site’s content, affecting its SEO rankings. Consequently, SEO auditors must find ways to maintain compliance without compromising SEO. Strategies might include alternative content for restricted locations, and ensuring that geo-fencing does not lead to 4xx or 5xx errors.
Addressing this specific concern requires a tailored approach in the SEO audit to ensure both compliance and optimal site performance.
Customer Demographics: Medical Users, Recreational Users, Holistic Health Consumers
Key Marketing Focus: Segmenting audiences effectively to target medical, recreational, and holistic health consumers with specific content.
SEO Considerations: The diverse customer demographics in the cannabis industry require a nuanced SEO strategy. Medical users may be looking for highly specific, condition-focused information, warranting the use of specialized long-tail keywords like “CBD for chronic pain” or “THC for sleep aid.”
Recreational users, on the other hand, might search for general strain or product information, requiring a different set of keywords and content structures. Holistic health consumers could be looking for cannabis products as a wellness supplement, so content that aligns with natural health and wellness could be more effective here.
For SEO auditors, understanding these customer segments is crucial for crafting an effective keyword strategy and content plan. This may include creating separate content silos or specialized location pages for each segment, as well as optimizing Google Business Profile and citations accordingly.
Differentiating between these customer groups is key to providing a relevant and effective SEO strategy.
Unique Product Categories: CBD Oils, Edibles, Vaporizers, and more.
Key Marketing Focus: Showcasing diverse product ranges to meet the varied needs of consumers, from wellness-focused CBD oils to recreational edibles and vaporizers.
SEO Considerations: With an array of unique product categories, a cannabis website needs to ensure that each sub-niche is adequately represented in its SEO strategy. For CBD oils, focus on long-tail keywords like “CBD oils for wellness” or “organic CBD oils.” Edibles could benefit from terms like “gourmet cannabis edibles” or “CBD-infused snacks.” Vaporizers might require specific keywords like “portable cannabis vaporizers” or “high-quality vaporizers.”
SEO auditors should examine the URL structure for these specific product categories, ensuring it’s clean and optimized for each sub-niche. Implement schema markup for better visibility of these products in search results. Also, consider using content silos to group similar products together, making it easier for users – and search engines – to find what they’re looking for.
By adequately addressing the SEO considerations for each unique product category, cannabis websites can improve visibility and user experience.
Cannabis URL Structure
Category and Product URLs
Key Marketing Focus: Ensuring that URLs for CBD and non-CBD products are optimized for search engines without crossing into keyword stuffing.
SEO Considerations: URL naming conventions can play a pivotal role in how well cannabis products rank in search engines. When auditing, evaluate how CBD and non-CBD products are named in URLs. Assess if keyword stuffing is a potential issue. Utilize long-tail keywords like “organic CBD oils” or “vape pens for dry herbs” to balance relevance and specificity.
Key Marketing Focus: Minimizing the loss of link equity and ensuring a smooth user journey.
SEO Considerations: Redirects can often be an overlooked aspect of SEO. Identifying multiple hop redirect chains and resolving internal redirects are essential. Given the various product categories in cannabis websites, this becomes especially important.
Key Marketing Focus: Providing a seamless user experience while complying with age and location-based restrictions.
SEO Considerations: Status codes like 3xx, 4xx, and 5xx could be detrimental to user experience and SEO. Auditors should identify and fix these codes. Additionally, they should ensure that age or location-based access restrictions do not result in unnecessary 4xx or 5xx errors that could impact SEO negatively.
Google Search Console Errors in Cannabis Websites
Server Error (5xx)
Key Marketing Focus: Ensuring server reliability while handling high-traffic or complex pages, such as product listings.
Cannabis SEO Audit Considerations: For cannabis websites, 5xx errors could also be tied to verification systems checking for age or location. Auditors need to ensure these systems don’t lead to server errors, as that can impact rankings and user trust.
4xx and 404 Not Found
Key Marketing Focus: Efficient navigation through the site, especially for pages related to specific strains or legal information.
Cannabis SEO Audit Considerations: 4xx errors can often occur due to outdated or removed product pages, something common in the rapidly changing cannabis industry. Monitoring these through GSC is crucial for timely resolution.
Key Marketing Focus: Navigating users to relevant pages even when the original content is not available.
Cannabis SEO Audit Considerations: When a product gets pulled due to compliance or other issues, make sure that the page either gives relevant information or redirects to a similar product to avoid Soft 404 errors.
Discovered Not Indexed & Crawled Not Indexed
Key Marketing Focus: Making sure all relevant content, like blog posts about cannabis benefits or usage tips, gets indexed.
Cannabis SEO Audit Considerations: Dynamic URLs in categories like concentrates or tinctures can lead to crawl issues. Each of these needs to be manually submitted or properly linked for indexing.
Alternate Page With Proper Canonical Tag & Excluded by ‘Noindex’ Tag
Key Marketing Focus: Correctly setting up canonical tags in product variations like size or potency.
Cannabis SEO Audit Considerations: Due to the nature of cannabis products, duplicate content can arise easily. Setting up the right canonical tags and using ‘noindex’ appropriately can guide search engines to index the correct pages.
Blocked Due to Other 4xx Issue & Duplicate Issues
Key Marketing Focus: Ensuring site architecture does not lead to blocking important pages from being indexed.
Cannabis SEO Audit Considerations: Legal disclaimers, necessary in the cannabis industry, can sometimes block crawlers if not implemented correctly. Also, duplicates can occur frequently due to similar product descriptions across categories.
Google Chose Different Canonical Than User & Duplicate Without User-Selected Canonical
Key Marketing Focus: Maintaining user intent in how pages are indexed and displayed.
Cannabis SEO Audit Considerations: The cannabis industry often has similar products listed under different categories. Make sure to indicate your preferred canonical version to Google to align with your SEO strategy.
Cannabis Content Audits
Key Focus: Pay special attention to duplicate descriptions for products that are closely related but distinct, such as CBD oils and tinctures.
Cannabis-Specific Content Concerns: Different types of cannabis products often have overlapping descriptions, leading to duplicate content. Ensure unique value propositions for each to comply with search engine guidelines and to differentiate in a crowded market.
Key Focus: Organize content into meaningful clusters or silos.
Cannabis-Specific Content Concerns: Distinguish clearly between different segments like Cannabis Analytics and Cannabis Cultivation Software. Specific long-tail keywords, such as “best analytics for cannabis growers,” can optimize these silos effectively.
Key Focus: Correct misuse of categories and tags for better content structure.
Cannabis-Specific Content Concerns: Erroneous tags or categories can dilute the effectiveness of cannabis-specific content. Align categories and tags with the user’s search intent, such as separating medical usage from recreational usage.
Key Focus: Ensure effective distribution of internal links for SEO benefit.
Cannabis-Specific Content Concerns: The variety of cannabis products like edibles, concentrates, and tinctures demands a nuanced approach to internal linking. Link distribution should reflect the product hierarchy and consumer search habits within these complex categories.
Cannabis Keyword Research and Content Planning
Non-Performing Content in Cannabis Websites
Key Focus: Identifying and updating or removing low-impact or outdated posts and products.
Cannabis-Specific Content Pruning Concerns: Due to the rapidly evolving legal landscape and frequent changes in product formulations or availability, cannabis websites may face unique challenges with outdated content. For example, a blog post about the legality of CBD in a specific state might quickly become obsolete after legislative changes. Another scenario could be product pages for strains or accessories that are no longer in stock or have been replaced. Given these dynamics, it’s essential to keep a tighter audit schedule for pruning or updating non-performing content to ensure accuracy and relevance.
Advanced Keyword Research
Key Focus: Implement thorough keyword research to identify opportunities and gaps.
Cannabis-Specific Keyword Concerns: Utilize long-tail keywords that consumers are likely to use, such as “best CBD oil for sleep” or “medical cannabis delivery service.” These phrases are especially relevant in the cannabis sector, where specificity is often tied to legality and medical claims.
Key Focus: Include terms that semantically align with the core keywords.
Cannabis-Specific Semantic Concerns: Terms like “THC percentage” and “organic CBD” are not just buzzwords but critical descriptors that can impact search relevance. Their accurate inclusion ensures you align closely with user intent and regulatory standards.
Competitive Gap Analysis
Key Focus: Measure your site’s performance against competitors to find areas for improvement.
Cannabis-Specific Gap Analysis Concerns: As cannabis is a highly competitive and regulated space, a gap analysis should extend beyond basic keyword rankings. Compare your cannabis ecommerce site’s performance to competitors with a focus on niche segments of the market that may be underexploited.
Key Focus: Develop clusters of related content that can be interlinked for SEO benefits.
Cannabis-Specific Content Cluster Concerns: Clusters like “CBD Health and Wellness” or “Cannabis Cultivation Tips” need to be uniquely tailored. The former could include articles addressing medical claims and legality, while the latter might involve cultivation methods specific to strains that are legally permissible.
Key Focus: Optimize location pages for local search to improve visibility.
Cannabis-Specific City Page Concerns: Regulatory compliance is a big deal, especially when it comes to what you can display on location-specific pages. For instance, in some jurisdictions, you can’t show product pricing or availability. This affects how you optimize these pages for search and calls for creative solutions to engage local traffic while staying within the legal framework.
Google Business Profile
Key Focus: Accurately list and verify your business on Google Business Listings for enhanced local search visibility.
Cannabis-Specific GBP Concerns: Advertising restrictions for cannabis businesses make Google Business Listings a vital tool. However, be mindful that Google has its own set of rules for cannabis-related businesses. For example, don’t try to advertise sales or promotions, as this may get your listing suspended. Your focus should be on NAP consistency, accurate categorization, and incorporating legal disclaimers where necessary.
Key Focus: Building citations to improve local search rankings.
Cannabis-Specific NAP Citation Concerns: Standard citations might not be sufficient for cannabis dispensaries, which often have to contend with city or state-level restrictions on advertising. For example, you may not be able to list your business in traditional business directories. In that case, focus on industry-specific directories and platforms that are cannabis-friendly. Always be careful with language to avoid using terms that could be seen as promoting drug use.
Cannabis Ecommerce Sites Face Unique Challenges and Opportunities
From navigating a complex legal landscape to addressing specific consumer demographics like medical and recreational users, there’s a lot to consider. The sector also has its particularities when it comes to URL structures, content silos, and even Google Search Console errors.
Next Steps: After auditing, the immediate action items could include rectifying duplicate content, optimizing internal redirects, and fine-tuning long-tail keyword strategies. It would also be beneficial to focus on specific issues such as geo-fencing, age restrictions, and their impact on SEO and UX. A detailed review of Google Business Listings and citations should be on the agenda for those with physical dispensaries. Given the industry’s dynamic nature, frequent audits are advisable to adapt to legal changes and consumer preferences.