In this week’s episode, I share my entire presentation from the recent NECANN conference in Maine. Cannabis dispensaries are in a unique position – since recreational cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, PPC ads aren’t allowed. Search engine optimization is the only – and most important – marketing channel available for dispensaries. In the presentation, I walk through the factors that influence visibility in local searches, explaining exactly how to optimize each of the areas. Learn about website content, site optimization, building inbound links, customer reviews, and Google Business Profiles.

(this was auto-generated by our video host – so forgive any spelling errors or inaccuracies)

Welcome back to another episode of Local Search Tuesdays. This week, I’ve got a really fun presentation to share with you from the recent NECANN conference in May.

I flew up to Maine a few weeks ago to speak at the NECANN Conference. It’s a cannabis business-focused conference series. Since cannabis related businesses can’t run ads on Google or Facebook, SEO is really their only digital marketing channel. I rocked a comedy movie themed presentation, so kick back and relax. This one’s about thirty minutes long.

This is Harold and Kumar’s guide to showing up in local searches.

You know me because you’re watching this on my video series, but in case you are just watching for the first time. I am the chief Operating Officer at SearchLab Digital. We’re a boutique digital marketing agency, and this is my weekly video series, so I don’t have to point out that you should watch my weekly video series. But this is a fun picture of me speaking at a conference. I’m lucky enough to get to speak at conferences all over the world, and sometimes I see some presentations that are a little tough to sit through.

The speakers are not comfortable on stage, you just kinda watch the back of their head because they’re watching their own slides, and there’s no design element to make things interesting visually. So it’s just a plain white background with black Arial font, and they pack every slide with bullet points and just read bullet points the entire time. Not only is that not fun. It’s a scientifically proven fact that bullet points kill kittens. So we’re gonna keep all the kitties safe today and not get rid of any cute little fuzzy animals.

Every time I do a presentation, there is a movie theme because I’m a movie nut. I’ve got movie tattoos all over my body. I’ve got a ton of movies in my iTunes Library and see a movie every week in the theater.

So today’s theme is comedy movies. We have a hundred and eight references to comedy movies, including at least one movie for every year in the last fifty years. And since this was for a cannabis convention, we do have just about every stoner movie ever made in the deck. If it’s something you haven’t seen, there is attribution off to the side. So not only will you learn some awesome stuff about how to get your dispensary or cannabis-related business to show up better in search results, you’ll have a kick ass list of movies to watch later. So let’s get this going.

Why the long face? Are you spending too much time looking up at the competition that ranks higher in local search results? It’s really frustrating, isn’t it? And I know a lot of times you might feel like you’re clueless about how SEO works.

It’s not really that hard. I don’t wanna seem like I’ve got a huge head with its own gravity system, but I’ve got some awesome information to share with you today. And unlike some speakers that you may have seen in other webinars or at other conferences, I’m not gonna talk out of my ass. I’m gonna give you actionable tips that you can immediately use to get better results.

But keep in mind, there’s no miracle pill when it comes to SEO. You have to put in the work. You have to know what you’re doing. But if you follow all of the advice that I give to you today.

You’ll be able to make your business as visible and as awesome as the flying elvises. And just like a fat guy in a little coat, I’m gonna squeeze in a ton of stuff to get a hundred and twenty three slides. And since we’re watching this, as a rerecording on my video series. I’m gonna try to go through them really quickly.

So we’re gonna try to shoot for about thirty minutes here.

Now it’s important to understand that recreational weed is legal in twenty three states and the district of Columbia now, but It’s still hard to find a lot of dispensaries and searches, especially in the states where it is newly legal at the state level. And cannabis related businesses are not allowed to run paid search ads or paid social ads because it’s still illegal at the federal level. Which makes SEO your most important marketing channel. If you’re not showing up in local searches, then you’re gonna lose customers because they’re gonna go to the competitors that do show up.

It’s important to understand that Google has multiple algorithms at play, and the local algorithm works differently and includes additional signals that the traditional algorithm doesn’t pay attention to. I like to use pizza delivery as an example for how local SEO works. So if you were to sit in your office and type two words into Google pizza delivery, You get a list of all the pizza spots that are right there by your office. But if you go home and try the same search at home with the same two words, You’d get totally different results.

Even though you didn’t type in a city or a phrase like near, near, nearby, Google still understands that you have local intent And it’s gonna use that local algorithm and your physical location in the real world when you do that search influences the search results that you’re gonna see. So that explains how it works. This video explains why it’s necessary. And I’m trying to go fast, so I’m not gonna explain this one, but at a high level, it talks about how there’s really only about seven or eight spots on the first page of Google search results that business could potentially show up in.

Once you take out all of the directories and aggregators. And if you’re not doing SEO, you’re not gonna show up in one of those spots because there are likely way more than seven or eight competitors in your area. So watch that video.

And it’s important to understand where the local algorithm powers search results. Whenever you do a search and you see the map pack, which is the map and the three results, the map might be on top on mobile, that shows that Google says this has local intent and the local algorithm is being used. But then you can click that more places button at the bottom and that takes you to the local finder page, which goes much more in-depth and shows you more than just the top three. It shows you every business that matches the intent of your search query.

You can also do a search directly in Google Maps, which looks very similar to the local finder page, but the visibility radius is a lot more strained because you’re more likely looking for driving directions. And then below the map pack, you’ve got all of the standard organic listings, but They’re not standard. They’re also powered by the local algorithm so they’re gonna be constrained to that local area. The best thing to do is to pay attention to the annual study that happens called the local search ranking factor study.

They basically take the top forty ish experts on the planet and send a very in-depth survey about positive factors, negative factors, foundational factors, etcetera. And they aggregate all of the answers from these top x verbs that really do a lot of research and have a lot of clients and have a better understanding of what works. And then when you aggregate the answers, you get pretty good handle on what really moves the needle and what’s gonna influence search visibility. So you get two pie charts.

The first shows you the factors that influence your visibility in the map pack or in Google Maps. The second shows the factors that influence your visibility in localized organic And obviously most businesses wanna show up in the map pack since it’s right at the top of search results and very visible with the map, but it’s mostly based on actually having an address that’s in the city that’s being searched. So if you’re in the suburbs that someone searching for the main city in the metro, probably not gonna show on the map pack. And it’s also very heavily influenced by the proximity of the search results to the person that’s doing the search, but you can’t influence either of those factors. So we’re gonna talk for the rest of the presentation about the factors that you do have the ability to influence. So let’s start with the signals on your site, the content on your site, and how that content is optimized.

The most basic, but important thing that you should remember from the presentation today is that if you want to show up as a search result for a particular phrase when someone types it in, then you need a page of content on your website that’s about that concept. And that page needs to be the best answer in the local area. To the question that the searcher is asking, that’s the most important concept to think of when you’re creating content for your site. And you need to make sure that your content is actually about your business.

All of your competition does the same thing that you do, and you don’t wanna have the same generic content because if you do, why would anyone care? You wanna make sure that it’s clear why you’re awesome and also make it clear that you’re a part of local area. And there’s an easy way to test that. If you take the homepage content or you’re about us page content or one of your major product or service pages, Change only two things, the name of your business every time it appears, and the name of the actual city that your mailing address is in every time that appears. Could you change only those two things and put it on a similar business’s website on the other side of the country?

And if you could do it and the content would still work, then that means it’s not really about your business.

So do that test check your content, see if it works. Another important content test is to read it out loud. Physically speak the content out loud because everything that’s on your site should sound conversational like someone or something that you would say to someone that just walked in your front door. When you just read it and think through it in your head, you don’t catch those awkward phrasing that happen when you’re trying to stuff keywords. So read it out loud and you’ll catch the things that sound awkward.

And make sure that when you’re optimizing the content on your site, or you’re just checking the optimization work that your marketing partner has done, You wanna make sure that each of the page elements on the page uses the same keyword phrase and same city. So I’m gonna walk you through that. The most weighted element on the page is the title tag. It’s what shows in the little tab above where you type in the URL, and it’s typically what’s gonna influence or it will be exactly what shows up as the blue link when you show as a search result in Google search results.

So you wanna make sure you’ve got the keyword and the city and the title tag. Don’t put your business name first because you’re the only name that. You don’t wanna waste valuable optimization space. The next most important element is the h one heading.

That’s the big thick headline above the tech area on the page. You should only have one h one heading. It should be a bit more conversational, but it should have the same keyword phrase in city. You should also have that keyword phrase in Citi in your page content, but if you’ve written the best answer in the local area, And it’s all about you and all about the local area.

You shouldn’t have to optimize too much here. You also need it in the actual URL for the page.

I’m not saying you need to go change things that already exist once it’s indexed by Google. It doesn’t really matter. But as you create new things moving forward, Make sure those phrases are in the actual URL. You need it in the alt text on your images as well. Every page should have at least one embedded image.

And in the image embed code, there’s something called alt text. It’s a descriptor. You should include it there because most people don’t do anything with alt text. So it’s a great way to get a little bit of edge on the competition.

Plus, if you don’t have alt text on images, that is against ADA compliance alone. You could potentially be sued by someone with visual impairment. So you wanna cover your bases there as well. You also need the keyword phrase and the city and the meta which is behind the scenes code that doesn’t have any influence on ranking or visibility, but it’s what populates those few grace sentences that show up under your blue link when you show us a search result.

So you wanna write something really compelling there. You’ve gotta have a blog as well, and you need to post on a regular basis because there’s a big difference between the kind of content that goes on the main section of your site and the kind of content that goes on your blog. Main website content is bottom of funnel content. It’s meant show up and drive conversions, blog content is mid to upper funnel content.

You shouldn’t expect to get leads from it, but it’s there for discoverability.

In fact, if you make your blog a local destination by sharing helpful, useful, interesting information just about the surrounding area, and not just only talk about your business, you can get noticed by customers before they’re looking to buy what you’re selling. It’s kinda like putting up a billboard.

If you need ideas for how to do this, I’ve got an awesome video here that walks you through ten different concepts that you can use as a springboard to come up with your own content. Now we need to talk about inbound links. These are links pointed from other websites to your website, and they’re heavily weighted in Google’s algorithm. And because we’re targeting that local algorithm, we really wanna go after links from local website they’re really weighted and rewarded by that local algorithm.

If you’re involved in the local community, it’s really easy to get local links. But I’m also gonna walk through a couple of different strategies and tactics that you can use here. Local sponsorships are great. Now Google’s not okay with you buying links, but it’s totally okay with you buying a sponsorship that results in a link.

So Peee football, Little league, Pewee hockey, five ks, golf tournaments, highway cleanups, anything like that. Awesome for community visibility, but also really great as a link opportunity. Local meetups are great as well. Use meetup dot com or Facebook groups to find local groups that have regular monthly meetings and that are looking for sponsors, you throw in fifty, sixty bucks a month to buy pizza and soft drinks, and you do it as long as they give you a link.

Back to your website. Get the local bloggers to write about you even if they say they got a free product or service for writing the blog post to carriers, you get awesome local link out of it. Talk to your staff about what they do in their free time. Not what they’re doing as part of the business, but are they doing off hours?

What are they passionate about? What hobbies do they have? If they’re a member of a local club or organization, it’s probably gonna be pretty easy to get a link from that website.

And neighborhood watch sites are great too. Every neighborhood’s got somebody that knows WordPress. So they’re gonna have some sort of a WordPress site. And if you can offer a neighborhood specific discount, then you can get a link from a really powerful hyper local website.

You can use Google to your advantage as well, Throw your city name in there and come up with your own concepts, and Google’s gonna spit out a list of a lot of awesome opportunities where you can get links. I’m also sharing our link questionnaire. This is something that we send to all of the new customers that we work with. It helps uncover low hanging fruit opportunities where you can get links pretty easily thanks to things that have already happened or are about to happen and also helps prioritize the future and what you can do to get more local links.

Customer reviews are also important, so I wanna chat a little bit about that. Obviously, you wanna attract people with great reviews, but they’re weighted in the algorithms. So you wanna make sure you make it easy to leave a review and ask every single customer because it’s not human nature to leave a review when you’re happy. So you wanna make it easy.

And the easiest way to do that is to set up a page typically at domain dot com slash reviews. So it’s easy for everyone to remember where to send customers and easy for customers to remember where to go. And it has a simple thank you message. Thanks for doing business with us today.

Let us know how we did, and you link to multiple review sites so that they can leave a review where they’re most comfortable leaving that review. You wanna make sure you respond to every single review that you get. A lot of businesses will only respond to the positives or only respond to the negatives, but you should respond to everything. And when you do respond to the negative reviews, remember that your reply isn’t really for the person that left the review.

It’s for every potential customer in the future who’s reading your reviews and wants to see how you handled the situation.

The last bit we’re gonna talk about is your Google business profile. It used to be called Google My Business for some reason. They decided to do the worst rebrand ever. It’s your actual homepage, not the homepage of your site because people don’t need to go to your website to get your phone number or your address. Or to see pictures or to read reviews or even ask questions. They can do all of that on your Google business profile. So you need to optimize for the best possible first impression.

And a well optimized Google business profile also allows you to show up better in the map pack and in Google Maps search results Make sure you use your actual business name. Don’t add additional keywords because that can cause suspension. And make sure you choose all of the appropriate categories. Don’t choose things that don’t match what you do that can confuse Google.

I like to use the GMB spy Chrome extension. It lets you check out the competitor’s categories, because you can only see the primary category when you’re checking your compute your competitor out online. But if you use this plugin, it will show you every category that they’ve selected. It might help uncover some opportunities that you’re missing.

Be careful with what you choose as your primary category It’s more weighted. It carries more importance in the algorithm. So you wanna be really strategic. This video walks you through how to think through that in the right way.

Wanna make sure you’re uploading a lot of high quality photos and that you’re listing a local area code phone number, but that doesn’t mean that you use a tracking number. In fact, you should use a tracking number to know how many calls are coming from your Google profile, but make sure it’s a local area code tracking number and put that tracking number as the primary number. And then use your actual local number as an alternate so that Google sees consistency there. You wanna make sure you put UTM tracking on your website link.

Because Google Analytics attribution is broken pretty often, especially on mobile traffic, organic search traffic gets classified as direct traffic in Google Analytics because no referral information is passed through. So that’s why you wanna use that UTM code. It will force correct attribution so you can make better decisions based on better data. You wanna make sure you’re using Google posts.

Don’t treat them like social media though. They’re basically free ads that appear at the bottom of your Google business profile or at the top on mobile. I’ve did a whiteboard Friday episode for Mars last year. It’s ridiculously packed with awesome tips for how to succeed with Google posts.

It’s about fifteen minutes long, so go watch that for sure. But by far, the most important element is optimizing the post thumbnail. If the thumbnail isn’t compelling, No one’s gonna click on it, but Google will automatically crop the image to a smaller version of the image and just show a few lines of text. So the problem here is image cropping is pretty inconsistent.

It doesn’t always crop intelligently and half your image might get cropped out so then it’s compelling and nobody’s gonna click on it. So for better control over the crops, I’ve created a Photoshop guide. You can download it the link right there. And it looks like this.

Anything in that white grid will be, quote, unquote, safe and showing your thumbnail. And the rest of the image will be visible once the thumbnail has been clicked.

You wanna pay attention to the questions and answers widget too. It allows anybody to ask your business a question.

And any random person can answer that question for you. It’s pretty terrifying. Customers think that it’s a chat widget and that somebody’s waiting on the other end to answer the question, but really it’s community discussion.

So because of the community discussion aspect, questions can receive multiple answers. But the answer that has the most thumbs up or the most up votes is the one that’s displayed as the primary answer, and then people will have to click a link to read additional answers. You wanna pay attention to make sure your answers are upvoted. You can even upload your own questions. Ask yourself your most common questions. Nobody’s gonna go to an FAQ page on your site. And browse through your fifty questions to see if theirs is there, but they will come to the questions and answers widget on your Google business profile and ask their question there.

The reason you wanna upload common questions isn’t because you expect people to read through it, but the way that Google works If a similar question has been asked and answered in the past, Google will automatically display an answer as the user enters their question. So it’s really awesome as a first impression.

Now we’re finishing a massive research project that we did on Google business profiles across three major verticals. So for cannabis dispensaries, We ended up pulling data on just over twenty five, a hundred Google Business profiles, and we pulled those by running those three keywords, dispensary, cannabis and marijuana in those eighteen cities, sixteen cities. I don’t remember how we counted up. It’s it’s sixteen cities, where it’s all legal at a recreational level.

The full results, the study are gonna be released this fall on our website, but I wanted to share the high points of what we found so far. Get it. There were fifty nine different primary categories. Eighty percent had cannabis store, but we had all sorts of other weird and wacky things, like two percent of the profiles just put store, which is the most generic thing that you could choose.

You should definitely always have cannabis store as your primary category, if you’re a dispensary. So it’s a little confusing why there were so many different choices. And those are just the top five. They were literally fifty nine different categories that were chosen there.

And there are multiple categories that apply to cannabis dispensaries, but sixty one percent of the profiles only had a single category selected.

And then looking at the reviews, across all of those profiles, we saw nine hundred and eighty one thousand four hundred and eight teen reviews, which gave us an average number of reviews per profile of three hundred and eighty. Now that doesn’t mean that your dispensary needs that many.

You need to have more than your local competitors. That’s what’s most important. But the average that we’re seeing is three hundred and eighty for dispensary.

Now remember I talked about UTM tracking. Only forty four percent of the profiles had the UTM tracking on their website link. And then I talked about questions and answers. We saw an average of almost eleven questions per profile in the questions and answers sections.

But only one percent of all the questions had a primary answer from the owner. So businesses are not paying attention to that questions and answers section. And we talked about the importance of Google posts and how they’re free ads. And in the last year, ninety four percent of the profiles didn’t do a single Google Post.

It’s pretty scary. And then we found some other fun interesting information, like the most images that we saw on a single profile, There was a dispensary that had over six thousand photos uploaded.

The dispensary that had the most questions in the q and a section had three hundred and three questions asked. That was pretty nutty. And then there was one dispensary that had twenty eight thousand reviews. So a whole lot of reviews.

Clearly, they had some happy customers.

And then I filtered by how the dispensaries ranked in the map pack or the local finder because I actually went beyond the top three through the top twenty. And found some pretty interesting things. When we’re looking at number one in the map pack versus number ten, we can see that Although the average number of photos per profile was eighty four point six.

The higher ranking profiles had more photos, not that photos are a ranking factor, but the guys that rank higher tend to be doing more work on their profile, which means they’re paying attention to both ranking factors and conversion factors. And photos are a conversion factor. So we can see that the profiles that ranked number one tended to pay more attention to their photos. And the profiles that ranked number one had a lot more questions asked, and that’s simply just a function of the more visible you are, the more people are gonna see you, the more questions are gonna come in.

Because again, questions aren’t a ranking factor. They’re a conversion factor. But reviews are a ranking factor and look at the difference there. The average number of reviews across all of the profiles was three hundred and eighty, But the ones that ranked at number ten tended to have about two hundred and twenty seven reviews versus the one that ranked or the the profiles that ranked number one were double that or more than double that at five hundred and sixty five.

And then average ratings were different as well at number ten, the ratings were just a four. And at number one, the ratings were four and a half, so a full half point higher. And if we’re looking at the percentage positive reviews. So looking across all the reviews in each profile, what percentage were four and five star reviews at number one?

Eighty three point five percent. At number ten, only seventy four percent.

And then looking at the average number of non stop words. So stop words being a and z of things like that. So we’re counting just the actual you know, useful words on the page.

The average is three hundred and twenty nine. At number one, we saw an average of three hundred and twenty seven words at number ten just eighty two. Because remember, you gotta write the best answer in the local area, and that’s tough to do in just a couple of hundred words. We also have an SEO scoring matrix that’s basically a a micro audit, a small SEO audit that scores the four most important areas that influence local search visibility. That’s the content on your site and how it’s optimized, the links that point to your website, your Google business profile and how that’s optimized, and your reviews on Google and Yelp and how you respond to those reviews.

If you are watching this and you would like to get your site scored, scan that QR code or in just a minute here, I’m gonna show my email address. You can pop me an email and just send me your URL, and I will run that score and let you know how you stack up against all of the other dispensaries that we’ve scored. But I know I went through that really quickly. Hopefully, it wasn’t too painful to listen to the fire hose of information, but now when you’re thinking about how you show up in Google search results, you’re not gonna stare and drool.

And in fact, you might get really excited about the opportunities that SEO presents to you. So peace out. That is the end. Of Harold and Kumar’s guide to showing up in local searches.

There is my email address. If you have any questions or, again, if you’d like me to score your site, pop me an email I’d be happy to square your site. Or if you’d like a copy of these slides to help your marketing team, I would be happy to send them over. And at the end, There is a list of all the movies in order of release date.

Thank you so much for watching.

Thanks for sticking around to watch the whole thing. That’s definitely all the time we have left for this week’s episode. So you know what that means. Put your hand on the screen right here.

We totally just high fived because you learned something awesome. Thanks for watching, and we’ll see you again next week for another episode of local search Tuesdays.