Back in 1980s and early 1990s, before the Internet was made available to the public, it was reserved for government researchers and the military. It was tested at the CERN laboratories (one of Europe’s largest research laboratories) in Switzerland. In 1993, CERN declared the World Wide Web (that’s what www stands for) open to the public. Back then things were still pretty basic. Text-based screens were about all that could be accessed and, for the most part, it was rather boring. It was slow. Only information sources such as the US Library of Congress catalogue were available.
Now the internet is a nearly ubiquitous part of our daily lives. Hardly a moment goes by, from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed, that we aren’t doing something that involves interacting online. Whether reading the daily news, checking the kid’s schedule, confirming our checking account balance, looking up a recipe, playing a game, or watching a movie, the likelihood of accessing the Internet to do it is pretty much a sure bet.
Having an effective business in this day and age requires having an online presence of some sort. In the quickly-evolving cannabis industry, those who don’t have a website will be left behind by the competition. In many states in the US, you simply cannot advertise a business in any other way. Traditional advertising methods such as television and radio are not allowed. Most magazines and newspapers are reluctant to or even prohibited from from running marijuana advertisements in some states. Certain jurisdictions have rules regarding size and content of signage outside stores, further limiting exposure to the public. And forget about sending advertisements through the mail, as cannabis is still federally prohibited. Because of these restrictions, the Internet has seen a dramatic increase in use to promote products to, inform, and service cannabis-friendly consumers.
You can use a website to promote your business to the target market, using it to educate and inform the public and promote activities or product sales (although for the most part, you cannot directly sell your products online). An informative website is often the first impression that a consumer will get of your store, so it needs to project an inviting, engaging call to action that will compel someone to patronize you rather than another business.
You can either build a website inhouse, using some of the simple website builders on the market such as Wix, Weebly or Squarespace, or hire a professional firm to create a website for you. While being able to build a site on your own sounds great initially, you need to watch out for some things.
Most of the website builders I mentioned above are template-based, meaning that design choice is limited, so the likelihood of your website looking the same as someone else’s is rather high. You may not be able to perform advanced functions such as search engine optimization (SEO) or have much flexibility to list products and services the way you desire. And while these website builders are often either free or low-cost solutions, remember that you are just renting your website from them. They can change their rules at any time, specifying what you can and cannot promote on their platform. In the case of a cannabis business, it could be devastating if they decide one day that they don’t want their company associated with cannabis and shut down your website.
On the other hand, hiring a professional website developer can minimize these issues. Explain to the designer that you need to be sure that your website complies with the rules and regulations specified by your license to sell cannabis.
A good website developer will ensure that your website is properly optimized for search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo, so when someone searches for your product or service, your website shows up in the search results. The higher up the list your website is, the better. Most consumers rarely go past the first two or three listings of search results, let alone going beyond the first page. If your website is not properly optimized, you will lose out on a lot of potential business.
These search engines don’t disclose their rules for ranking websites. Although largely through trial and error, the website design industry has been able to make some educated guesses about what criteria search engines use to rank a website. Take a look at some of the entries posted in this Google search on the topic: www.google.com/search?q=top+seo+ranking+factors+2018. Typically, the rule of thumb is to make Google happy and your site should be okay in the other search engines as well.
Since we’re talking about search engines, nowadays it is imperative to follow their rules. Be careful that the content of your website follows their rules. While they don’t publish the methods by which they rank a website, they do publish rules for advertisers. Those who buy ads using Google’s AdWords platform must follow their list of rules. When building a website for a cannabis business, it wouldn’t hurt to be aware of those rules and make sure you don’t blatantly violate them. You can find the full set of Google advertising rules here: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy.
Consider hiring a professional copywriter and photographer to create copy and photos for your website. Having quality content on your website is an important part of the credibility you project to customers and it will aid the SEO of your website, too. However, if someone on your staff is good at writing or you have the time to take decent quality photographs, go ahead—it could save you some of the expense of building the website.
Some things besides nice copy and flashy pictures need to be part of every page of your website. Your company name, address, phone number and hours of operation—first and foremost. What is the reason for having the website? To get people to come to your store and shop, right? If they don’t know where you are located, how to get hold of you, or when your store is open, they are likely to move on to the next dispensary down the list.
Remember, just as it is important that you make sure that minors are not allowed in your store, you must ensure that they are not spending time on your website. So, you need to have an “age gate” that asks the viewer to confirm that they are of the appropriate age to consume the information being presented. You also may need to differentiate whether the information being presented applies to medical patients or recreational customers, depending on the regulations of your state.
Next month, we will continue discussing building a website for your cannabusiness. Let me know of any specific questions you have about building a web presence for your company.
Jared Finkenbinder, Visibility Architect, is the owner of Design328.com in Northern Colorado. Experienced in all aspects of branding and marketing—both online and offline, as well as project management, graphic design and communication, Jared has been helping businesses be more visible with projects spanning 30 years, by architecting targeted visibility strategies that help small business owners attract more prospects, connect effortlessly with clients, and engage in more business. Contact Jared at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our website http://design328.com. Follow us on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/design328/.