The Ups and Downs of Search Engine Optimization for Cannabis Companies

It’s no secret that the last decade has brought about great strides to the world of cannabis and cannabis-related services. As the laws and attitudes surrounding cannabis offerings and services become more lax and open, however, it seems that many private business policies have been a bit slower to accept the changes. Most social media and paid ads platforms continue to ban ads for cannabis products, including fully legal products such as CBD oil or hemp-infused soaps.

While cannabis companies strategize to find ways around using social media and paid ads, there is still some debate over whether cannabis-related content also affects organic page rank. Unlike pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, consistent search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for growing and maintaining your company’s digital presence. Is there any hope for a cannabis business to rank appropriately for relevant keywords on major search engines like Google?

Can Cannabis-Related Content Affect My Website’s SEO?

The Denverdata Web team investigated how cannabis-related content might affect SEO page rank for cannabis company websites. We reviewed Google’s policies, rules, and trends for how Google has handled cannabis-related search terms as well as search results pages.

Historically, webpages and websites even mentioning the words “marijuana,” “cannabis,” or other related terms underwent search engine discrimination and poor rankings due to previously illegal connotations. Even now, Google Keyword Planner automatically removes most keyword inquiries for keyphrases containing the words “cannabis,” “marijuana,” “hemp,” “CBD,” or “weed.”

Our primary concern was whether or not cannabis keyword discrimination is still prevalent for organic search rankings. Additionally, we wanted to know if businesses that sell federally legal cannabis-related products such as fertilizers and lab equipment are categorized the same as cannabis substance retailers, which are still technically illegal at a federal level.

Does using cannabis keywords have any effect whatsoever on how Google organically ranks a specific page or site? If so, can search engines determine the nature and legality of a company based on how they use cannabis-related keywords?

The Effects of Cannabis-Content on Paid Ads vs. Organic Search

cbd cannabis oil

The short answer is that Google currently has no policies against the use of cannabis-related content for Organic or Maps search results. On the other hand, Google Ads policies strictly state that PPC and paid ads related to the sale of recreational drugs, including cannabis, are strictly prohibited. In short, this policy states that Google Ads cannot be used to promote cannabis substance sales for dispensaries, which only applies to a small piece of our overall questions.

While Google’s policies provided some insight, we were still curious about how keyword connotation factors into both Organic and PPC results. While historically, Google Keyword Planner removed inquiries for any search term mentioning the words mentioned above, we found that the tool can now determine the underlying nature of certain search terms.

While the terms “cannabis” and “cannabis testing” are still removed, the tool gives us full keyword stats for the term “cannabis testing equipment.” It even offers related terms such as “cannabis lab equipment” and “CBD testing equipment.”

The change found with Google Keyword Planner is promising, but it’s also limited. Further research proved that even search terms without any inherent legality concerns such as “CBD research” and “hemp necklace” continue to be removed.

However, when we took the same terms removed by Google Keyword Planner and applied them straight to Google searches, the outcome was much more favorable. For example, searching the term “hemp necklace” resulted in over 160 million search results, which incorporated both local and online shopping options, video tutorials, and several “People Also Ask” options. Similar results were found as we searched for other cannabis-related concepts, including “CBD gummies” and “cannabis balm”. We also received well-rounded results for cannabis substance-related searches, complete with local dispensary locations, industry apps, and online reviews of locally-sourced products.

The drastic differences we see with Google’s policies, tools, and search engine results may seem contradictory on the surface, but it also provides us with answers. It’s important to note that although Google Keyword Planner is a popular and widespread tool many experts use for SEO, the program itself is actually part of the Google Ads platform and is designed primarily for use with Google Ads. Applying this knowledge back to Google’s individual product policies, we get a much clearer picture of what we can expect for websites using cannabis keywords in their organic content.

How Can I Improve SEO For My Cannabis Site?

Based on our research, we can conclude that there is no evidence or proof stating that cannabis-related content can or will negatively affect organic page rankings. Cannabis companies can achieve positive organic page rank using strategic keyword research, content planning, and seeking and maintaining positive backlinks.

While connotation and nature of service certainly play a major determining factor for cannabis companies using Google Ads, the same has not been shown to apply to creating cannabis-related content and rankings organically for cannabis keywords.

Need SEO For a CBD or Cannabis Company? We Can Help!

As a Denver, Colorado SEO company, our location alone puts us in a place of knowledge and understanding when navigating digital marketing for cannabis industries. Our team has provided a number of web development and marketing services for cannabis dispensaries, testing equipment manufacturers, and more. Reach out to our experts to ask about strategic SEO for your cannabis services company today.

Written By Sarah Jozwiak-Davies

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Sarah is a creative and active soul who developed an eager interest in creative writing and marketing as early as middle school. Shortly after graduating from College of DuPage, Sarah moved to Denver and began working as a marketing coordinator in the natural foods industry.