SEO for the cannabis business, Pot, Weed, Marijuana or Cannabis?

The cannabis industry and Cannabis, in general, have always been associated chiefly with counterculture. Because of this, the language consumers use to search for and connect with cannabis brands remains firmly countercultural. This trend continues despite the cannabis industry’s attempts to adopt more professional terms, which leads to a confusing task for SEO professionals when tasked to market Cannabis.

The question we are faced with is, do we stay professional and use politically-correct terms like “cannabis?” Or do we use stigmatized but commonly-searched terms like “marijuana”, “pot” and “weed” to actually show up on high-traffic Search Engine Result Pages? How do we balance professionalism, brand voice, and consumer accessibility while navigating SEO requirements?

1. Organic traffic is all a Cannabis Brand Can do

It is nearly impossible to market Cannabis through paid advertisements. If your website contains Cannabis related terms, it is flagged and banned from advertising. If Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter discovers your account is related to Cannabis, you face the same problem. There are hardly any opportunities to pay for Cannabis advertising which leads professionals to capitalize on organic traffic. In stigmatized industries like cannabis, maximizing organic traffic is more straightforward and less risky than other methods.

To attract as much organic traffic as possible, you’ll want to do your research and tailor your keywords to match what consumers are searching for regularly. Feel free to include other keywords elsewhere in your website content, but the most impactful sections should focus on conversational, real-life search terms.

2. Know your Audience

Studies have shown that different age brackets refer to cannabis using disparate terms. Millennials are the generation that consumes the most Cannabis, and they tend to use words like “weed,” while Gen-Xers, the generation that consumes the second most cannabis, use words like “pot” and “marijuana.” The problem is, Gen X tends to have more buying power, and a focus on luxury products, yet they use words like “Cannabis” the least, which the lux brands almost exclusively use. Industry professionals usually try to avoid slang terms and default to “cannabis,” so the prevalence of stigmatized keywords like these puts SEO professionals in a difficult situation.

When most consumers search for cannabis products, they use words the cannabis industry tries to avoid. The most commonly-searched term for the cannabis plant in the U.S. is “weed,” followed by “marijuana.” The industry-preferred term, “cannabis,” trails behind in third place, and there are countless other words that different groups or consumers prefer to use. SEO professionals must execute a tricky equation: attract customers using stigmatized but effective keywords while remaining aligned with brand identity and professionalism in the cannabis industry. It’s essential to consider which groups you’re targeting and the language they use to refer to cannabis in conversational searches.

3. Don’t be afraid of using the “wrong” cannabis keyword

Usually, cannabis industry professionals try to stay away from words like “weed” and “marijuana” for a good reason. Terms like “marijuana” have been historically weaponized and slang words like “weed,” “pot,” and even “ganja” undercut the professionalism of the cannabis industry. No matter how we feel about these words as cannabis professionals, they are still valuable keywords in our SEO arsenals. In the linked article, Leafly talks about everything from the history of the word marijuana to balancing professionalism, to politics, to reclaiming the word. Through this, one of the most important things they say is that by using words like “marijuana”, “pot”, and “weed”, they are able to meet readers where they’re comfortable. They can connect with readers at their level, and bring information and education to everyone, regardless of the language they use.

Successful SEO is about meeting your target audience where they are. Most cannabis consumers use words like “weed” and “marijuana,” so effective SEO strategies also need to use these keywords. Don’t feel like you have to use these words exclusively, though. Consider using higher-value but less-professional keywords like “pot” and “marijuana” in titles and headers and defaulting to the industry standard “cannabis” in the body text of your optimized web pages.

If you’re still uncomfortable using these keywords, remember most other cannabis professionals share your feelings on the topic. Generally speaking, stigmatized cannabis keywords get more impressions. These stigmatized keywords are also usually slightly easier to rank for because most cannabis professionals are wary about incorporating them into strategy. Feel free to start slow, choose to make your next image alt tag something like “weed flower” instead of “cannabis flower”, and only implement these words where you feel appropriate going forward.

Engage consumers first, then provide education

Ultimately, connecting with consumers is critical to enabling, destigmatizing, and legitimizing work in the cannabis industry. You’ll likely have to use stigmatized keywords to catch the attention of those consumers. Once you’ve captured consumers, there will always be room for education and activism. To change the narrative, you have to be part of that narrative. To be a part of that narrative, you might have to take advantage of some of the cannabis SEO keywords the industry would rather leave behind.

If your canna business wants to get ahead of the competition and optimize its SEO strategies, WJ Media Group is here to help. To prepare your canna business for the future, or to improve your canna business and take advantage of this growing market while you have the chance, WJ Media group offers extensive cannabis marketing options. WJ Media group also offers consulting for your business in production, finding a retail location, SEO, Web Development, Social Media Management, and more. We are located in Central New Jersey but have clients all over the country. Feel free to reach out any time to learn more about how we can further your cannabis business.