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Google Tools for Cannabis Businesses Beyond Adwords

Editor's Note: this article was lightly updated in May 2020. We hope Google sees the light and opens up more of its platform to legal cannabis, CBD and hemp companies. 

 1. Google Trends / Shopping Insights / Keyword Planner

For strategically minded digital and traditional marketers, there’s no replacement for quality data on which to inform your decisions. While cannabis related search data from Google has been greatly curtailed there are tools to help. The degree of assistance gained from these tools is dependent on whether the terms have significant search volumes. Three tools from Google that can help are Google TrendsShopping Insights and if you’re an AdWords advertiser Google Keyword Planner.   These tools supply keyword search volumes, trends, level of competition, and a range one might expect on a cost per click basis if you’re an AdWords advertiser. We typically use all three tools to develop insights about which keywords to target. Google no longer shares the volume of keyword search data about terms that are clearly about cannabis usage and products as they used to. Have keyword phases in mind? Start with Google Trends and assess if the term is rising or falling in favor.

Editor's Note: when this article was originally published in 2015 Google was providing keyword data. That's hasn't been the case for some time. 

Next you look at which geographies are looking for your product or service in Shopping Insights. Note: Shopping Insights is in beta and might not have data on all keywords you’re interested in researching. For AdWords advertisers, add your list of keywords into Keyword Planner to get trend and cost data estimates. Although Google continues to treat the cannabis industry  with disdain, tools are provided that can assist your search. Use the data provided to inform your SEO research and content marketing strategy. Bonus: the tools also segment data by device and geography.

2. Google Search Console

One of Google’s most insightful tools is Search Console. This free service from Google allows you to monitor the health of your website and performance in Google search results. Search Console provides reports, tools and resources for website and mobile app owners to better understand what is influencing how URLs rank. Search Console is one of the vehicles through which Google reports on actual keyword queries. Data includes website URLs that show up in search results, average position, clicks and organic click through rate (CTR). In addition to search user behavior Search Console also provides invaluable perspective on website infrastructure issues. The tool is easily navigated to review performance of how your website is presented in search. Additional monitoring of search traffic, analytics, inbound links, mobile visibility, index status, crawl errors and security issues.

Data from Search Console can easily be integrated into your Google Analytics account providing another perspective on your website’s performance in organic search results. Though some may be scared off by the technical nature of what Search Console reports on, these data points are among the most important to improve website visibility. Cannabis industry marketers should incorporate at least a monthly review of Search Console data to spot trends and issues before they impact your site’s ability to rank well for targeted keyword phrases.

3. Google My Business

Google My Business is a free service that presents your businesses’ information in the upper right corner of search results. You’ve seen these before and they’re more important than you might expect. According to a 2016 study by Access Development, 93.2% of consumers patronize local merchants within a 20 minute drive or 20 miles from their home. The study also confirmed consumers will typically travel no more than 10 minutes from home for weekly purchases. If your business relies on retail foot traffic, you simply must take the time to optimize your local business listings. Even if your business doesn’t have a retail location an information-rich profile provides data about your business.

Google uses this to present your business in search results where relevant.   A company’s Google My Business listing includes basic information like address, hours, phone number and website so you can be found. Beyond basic contact information businesses can post photos of products, interiors/exteriors, team members and more. Some newer features now allow businesses to post information about upcoming events, product news, even blog posts which help drive traffic to your website making it a tool for B2B as well.  To make the most of your listing claim it and add more information to complete your profile. Use keywords strategically to signal to Google and search users what your business offers. If you have more than one location be sure to add them all. Be consistent in the information provided and be unique where it makes sense such as with photos. Note: There’s nothing more frustrating when an account is claimed by someone using a personal email address and they leave the company. Use an email that management controls and that you’ll have long term access to.  

Editor's Note: the Google My Business product has added many features since this writing. It's one tool from Google that does not appear to have restrictions against cannabis businesses. For this reason we recommend allocating sufficient time to keep your GMB listing updated and active. 

4. Google Analytics

In short, Google Analytics (“GA”) is the glue that holds much if not all your digital marketing together. If you have a website you need to implement GA - there is no logical debate about this. GA is a FREE powerful and indispensable tool enabling website managers and marketers to see how visitors behave when they visit your site. Did they...

Spend more time looking at certain categories?

Where do the most engaged visitors likely live?

How do visitors find their way to your site?

Is the digital marketing program returning positive ROI? 

Technically GA alone doesn’t improve your marketing. It’s power is in revealing which efforts are paying off and which aren’t. Which is the better vehicle to reach interested visitors; content or social media? It’s then up to you to use the insights from reports to make adjustments. In today’s world of digital marketing if you’re not using data to make program improvements or inform budgeting, you’re not marketing.

The data your campaigns and programs generate are among your most valuable company assets. Turning data into insights that reveals new opportunities or potential threats is a foundation of modern marketing. As technology advances so do the tools. Google Analytics has few peers when considering the value provided in a free tool. And it’s not just for tracking efforts on Google. The motivated marketer can track almost any channel used to connect with customers including social media, display ads, email, SEO (integrated with Google Search Console), YouTube and more.

We could write a book on Google Analytics and in fact several have been written. What we’d like to share with you are three basic steps to starting to get the more out of GA. The vast majority of GA implementations we see only apply the code but don’t begin to leverage its power. To help we recommend the following steps:

  1. Set up filters to improve data quality. Those Russian bots aren’t going to buy so why let them pollute your data? If your customers are realistically only in the US or more likely a specific state or even more so, certain cities, then filter out traffic from other regions. Learn more here.
  2. There’s a reason you have a website for your business; to promote what you do. Therefore there are elements of your site which indicate a visitor is interested. Identify these high value actions and count each time one happens as a goal. Gain more insights by applying a value to the goal. Now we’re starting to talk marketing analytics! Learn more about goals.
  3. Data doesn’t become an insight unless it’s understood and applied. To encourage use of analytics in your decision processes set up performance dashboards and reports in Google Analytics. These can be accessed within GA or set up alerts and reports to share what’s working with your team. Learn more about dashboard reports.

5. YouTube

After, YouTube is the 2nd most popular search engine with over 3 billion searches each month. The platform still is the world’s repository for cat videos and stupid pranks, but in recent years it’s been embraced by the business world in a major way to tell brand stories in video form for products and services. As the saying goes; a picture is worth a thousand words. The resources needed to develop and create a professional looking video are no longer a barrier. Have a good smartphone? Well you’ve got a video camera capable of creating YouTube quality content. Most computers now come with basic video editing software and YouTube itself has numerous ways to create great video content.

As with the inclusion of Google Analytics in our list YouTube also could have a book written about it (and there many!). Here’s the thing: don’t be intimidated. For years we’ve been conditioned that video production is the realm of the professionals and it’s expensive – hogwash! A degree of skill is needed to conceive a story, shoot and edit a professional video. Yet the barriers to doing so inexpensively with a professional end product is seems to be lessening by the day. To borrow a phrase from Nike: just do it! Start with your phone’s camera and use free video editing software and experiment! While we are suggesting you jump in and start producing content it’s good to start with a plan in mind.

Think of YouTube as your brand’s own TV channel ready to tell your story to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Here are a couple of tips to get you going but be curious and do your research. Look at what other top YouTube creators are doing see how their techniques can be applied to your brand and business strategy.

  1. Develop a cool and on-brand home page to introduce your channel to visitors.
  2. Write keyword-rich titles, descriptions and tags for videos and your About page.
  3. Create a trailer video to introduce visitors to your YouTube page. Keep it to about 1-2 minutes.
  4. Assemble Playlist to organize similar content in a series.
  5. Add Featured Channels to develop associations with other similar or influential channels.

This is only a brief sample to get you thinking about integrating YouTube into your marketing strategy. With YouTube the limits truly are only those you place on yourself. Go forth and create, analyze and optimize with these tools to build a better brand in the digital world! 

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