Dispensary Marketing: SEO vs. PPC

Ryan Bednar

Ryan Bednar

10 / 27 / 2021

Dispensary Marketing: SEO vs. PPC

Ryan Bednar

10 / 27 / 2021

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Marketing for a dispensary is no simple feat. Unlike other industries, the cannabis industry is riddled with regulations dictating how you can advertise or market your dispensary (if at all). A simple ad campaign can get very complicated when it has to do with marijuana.

At the same time, you can’t afford to not promote your business online. And so, you’re left considering two major avenues for earning visibility online: SEO versus PPC.

Here’s what they each entail and how to go about deciding which one to prioritize in your marketing strategy.

Dispensary PPC

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads refer to digital ads that only charge you when someone actually clicks on your ad. They can come in a variety of formats, like display, search, and video, to name a few. 

The largest, most well-known type of PPC ads are Google ads, followed by Facebook ads and other social media platforms. Businesses would typically begin advertising on Google. However, these platforms have lots of red tape when it comes to the marijuana industry. Google, for example, only allows you to advertise medical marijuana products in accordance with the federal Schedule I designation.

screenshot of google's recreational drugs policy

You can request exemption or create workarounds, but both are very tedious processes. For instance, dispensaries may try to game the system by targeting “marijuana” as a keyword (which is still allowed), but avoid displaying “marijuana” in their ads or landing page copy (which isn’t allowed).

They’ll even go to the lengths of creating domains that are separate from their normal sites and don’t include cannabis-related terms in the URL. However, even if you use this fly-by-night approach, you’re never truly safe from getting caught (and subsequently suspended). So, PPC is not a foolproof medium for any dispensary.

Pros of PPC

  • ReachYou can shuttle your site to the top of search results and reach people inside and outside your state. If you’re looking to get foot traffic to your store, you can reach audiences outside your immediate vicinity using PPC ads and show up when somebody searches “dispensaries near me.”
  • Quick resultsPPC ads can immediately draw more attention to your dispensary. Once your ad is approved and you set a bid, you essentially post an online billboard that can attract hundreds—if not thousands—of views each day.
  • ScalableYou can bid on a variety of keywords and move around your ad budget as needed. Not to mention, it’s easy to create, tweak, and test various campaigns at once to ensure that you’re making the most out of your ad dollars.

Cons of PPC

  • Unfriendly to marijuanaRecreational marijuana is expressly prohibited by most online ad platforms. To take advantage of PPC ads, you’ll need to essentially break the rules.
  • Misaligned messagesWhile you can target cannabis-related keywords through most ad platforms, you can’t use them in your ad copy or landing page. This hurts your quality score and limits how often your ad gets served—plus can confuse the customer experience.
  • Never 100% secureEven if you succeed at getting around regulations and advertising online for a few months, Google or other platforms can remove your ads whenever they want. They will most likely suspend your account once they find you were intentionally bending the rules.

Dispensary SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of getting your pages to rank at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) organically—with Google being the most dominant player at 92.47% market share.

SEO is nothing short of a godsend for dispensaries. While PPC is largely blocked off to marijuana distributors, SEO is open game and free to start. There are no blanket regulations blocking you from taking advantage of it, and you can still target local and broad keywords with your content.

SEO tends to take longer than PPC to produce results, but it doesn’t cost money to work or to continue running. When done right, SEO can attract new visitors to your site for years on end. It is responsible for an average 53% of site traffic, while paid is responsible for 15%.

Pros of SEO 

  • Long-term impactSEO is an always-on channel. It has compounding positive effects and can continue attracting buyers (local and non-local) for many years.
  • FlexibleYou’re not limited with SEO like you are with PPC; SEO is open to all industries and doesn’t require money to get started. You can also publish a variety of content—ranging from webpages to blogs to case studies—targeting people at various stages of the marketing funnel.
  • Available todayYou can start creating new content or optimizing your site right away. You don’t have to worry about regulations or getting approved in order to begin.


  • It takes timeIt can take six months to a year for your pages to start ranking on their respective keywords. You may also find yourself testing a variety of blog topics, distribution channels, and SEO tactics before reaching top performance.
  • Requires regular optimizationSEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it thing. You’ll have to keep an eye on how your content performs over time, making sure that your information remains fresh, relevant, and accurate.
  • Requires consistencyTo reap the most benefits of SEO, you’ll need to refresh and create new content regularly. Google will evaluate the authority of your domain in your niche, and look at factors like backlinks or content recency to decide how to rank your pages.

To SEO or PPC, that is the question

The clear winner is…SEO.

While you shouldn’t necessarily write off PPC, especially if you sell medical marijuana, ads are not something that you can rely on right now, while cannabis is considered a Schedule 1 substance.

You’ll spend a lot of time trying to find the loophole with PPC advertising, whereas with SEO, you can get started right away. SEO gives you an opportunity to rank for local and broad searches but just takes more time and patience to get right. You won’t see an influx of traffic immediately with organic marketing—however, you can bank on continual growth, as long as you continue nurturing your SEO strategy.

If you’re not sure how to get started, here’s a quick list of tips to keep in mind.

3 essential tips for getting started with dispensary SEO

1. Target the right keywords

Like most search engine marketing (SEM) or PPC ads, SEO begins with a list of keywords. But coming up with a list of keywords isn’t as simple as jotting down the first words that come to mind. Rather, it requires actual research using keyword tools like Moz, Semrush, or ContentEdge.

Two of the most important criteria to evaluate are buyer intent and competitiveness. In other words, you want to check that the people who google a certain term or phrase are potential buyers (after all, broad search terms like “marijuana” or “weed” could attract someone who’s merely looking to understand what weed is, as opposed to someone who’s looking to buy any products) and that your keywords aren’t impossible to rank on (due to large, well-known players that dominate the space).

Moreover, you’ll want to consider local keywords as well. For example, if you’re a dispensary located in LA, then you could target words like “where to get weed in la” or “medical dispensaries in los angeles.”

example of local search for LA dispensary

You’ll generally want to find long-tail words like the examples above, since they attract a clearer audience and are likely easier to rank for. Once you create your list, you can create more targeted content.

Read Also: Cannabis SEO Guide: 6 Tips to Drive Traffic & Sales from Google

2.  Follow a strategic content calendar

One of the hardest parts of SEO is keeping up with content creation. It’s easy to feel burnt out or dry up with ideas (*cough* this is when an AI copywriter like ContentEdge can step in).

To help, create a process for thinking of new content ideas. Create a simple spreadsheet that you and your teammates can access. Have everyone jot down ideas, including questions that commonly come up in sales conversations.

This gives you a basis for understanding what your buyers actually want to learn before or after purchasing your products. Then, using your spreadsheet and keyword research, fill out a content calendar that’s easy to follow. This should include both blogs and webpages that help you to rank higher on SERPs and improve the customer experience online.

It helps to appoint one person to manage the calendar so that your team remains on track. Don’t overcommit to anything; it’s better to publish less and publish consistently, than to commit to more and fall behind.

3. Study on-page vs. off-page SEO factors

SEO isn’t just about keywords. There’s a lot that happens on the front and backend of your site that impacts your ability to rank. These factors are collectively referred to on-page and off-page seo. They include:

  • Setting the right title tags and meta descriptions
  • Optimizing your images
  • Including internal and external links
  • Speeding up load time
  • Optimizing the mobile experience
  • Earning backlinks
  • And more

Many—but not all—of these are within your control. Take some time to understand which factors you can improve, and perform a site audit or consult an SEO professional if you’re not sure where to start.

Need an extra hand with SEO?

Whether you need help coming up with an SEO game plan, optimizing your site, or creating fresh content—RankScience can help. Send us a message and get a free consultation with one of our experienced strategists.

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