This is Part 4 of Cannabiz Media’s 5-part Guide to SEO for Cannabis Businesses and Cannabis-Related Businesses. Follow the links to read Part 1 – Introduction, Part 2 – On-Site SEO, Part 3 – On-Page SEO, and Part 5 – SEO Mistakes.
Off-site SEO, also referred to as off-page SEO, includes the steps you can take to provide signals to Google about the content, authority, and quality of your website and web pages.
To improve off-site SEO, cannabis businesses and cannabis-related businesses should focus on two key areas of Google’s 200 search ranking factors: link building and brand/business signals.
Google’s Off-Site SEO Ranking Factors
The majority of Google’s off-site SEO ranking factors are related to backlinks, which are links from other sites to your cannabis or ancillary business website.
As I’ve said before in this series of articles, Google wants to deliver the best possible results to every query. Therefore, Google’s algorithm uses incoming links to your site as signals related to your site’s quality, authority, and usefulness under the assumption that a high quality site, which would truly be helpful to users, is one that other sites would want to link to.
However, getting lots of incoming links to make it seem like your site is amazing isn’t what Google’s algorithm rewards. Google’s algorithm looks for a natural link profile in an attempt to identify and punish sites that pay for backlinks or use other techniques to artificially inflate the number of incoming links to their websites.
You’ll learn more about SEO mistakes to avoid, including mistakes related to link-building, in the upcoming Part 5 of the Guide to SEO for Cannabis Businesses and Cannabis-Related Businesses. For now, I want to introduce you to some of the key off-site SEO ranking factors related to backlinks that you can use to improve your site’s authority and search traffic.
- Links should come from a variety of root domains. Sites with backlinks from more referring domains typically rank higher (all else being equal).
- Links should come from a variety of sources rather than all links coming from a single type of source such as blog comments or forums.
- Links from older domains are better than links from newer domains.
- The more pages that link to your site (even if they’re from the same domain), the better.
- Links that use keywords in the anchor text can be helpful, but they can be flagged as spam if the keywords are overused in backlinks. Google wants to see a natural variety in anchor text.
- Images that link to your site should include relevant anchor text.
- Links from higher authority sites and pages are better than lower authority sites and pages, but look for a natural link profile with links from a variety of sites with different levels of authority.
- Links that are contained within the text content of a web page are better than other link types or placements.
- Links from sites and pages that are in a relevant industry or niche to yours are more powerful than links from irrelevant sites and pages.
- Links from pages that use your page’s primary keyword are better than links without the keyword in the title.
- Google prefers links from pages with a higher word count.
- Links from pages that are poorly written or include duplicate content can do more harm than good to your SEO efforts.
Google also looks for brand/business signals on social media and other websites to verify the authenticity of your website and brand. Some of the key signals you should consider are:
- Google looks to see if your business or brand has a Facebook Page with many likes under the assumption that a real business would have a Facebook Page and followers.
- Google also looks to see if your business or brand has a Twitter Profile with a lot of followers which indicates your brand is popular.
- Under the assumption that most real businesses have a LinkedIn Company Page, Google’s algorithm looks for your business or brand’s LinkedIn Company Page as part of its ranking factors.
- The legitimacy of your social media profiles and pages matters. Google actually filed a patent some time ago for a technology that determines whether a social media profile or page is real or fake. With that said, profiles and pages with few posts and little activity but lots of followers are likely ranked lower than those with lots of activity and a natural-looking number of followers.
- Google also looks for information to determine whether or not your business has a physical address and how many brick-and-mortar locations use the brand name.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of off-site ranking factors that Google uses to rate your website and pages, but it does give you a good place to start to improve your content and increase your search traffic.
Top Off-Site SEO Priorities for Cannabis Businesses and Cannabis-Related Businesses
After many years of people trying to game the system by generating tons of backlinks to their websites and boost their search rankings, Google made significant modifications to its algorithm to crack down on blackhat link building tactics. Today, Google rewards sites that have a natural link profile. That means you need to publish high quality content first so other sites will want to link to your content.
Following are 10 questions to ask yourself as you work to improve your off-site SEO. When you can answer yes to these questions, you’ll know you’re doing things correctly.
- Is your content good enough for people to want to link to?
- Are incoming links to your site coming from a variety of sources and domains?
- Do incoming links use a variety of anchor text?
- Does your site have a natural link profile?
- Are some backlinks coming from sites that are highly relevant to your industry or niche?
- Are backlinks coming from pages with a lot of content rather than thin pages (e.g., pages with a list of links or very little text content)?
- Do backlinks come from pages and sites that are well-written and original?
- Does your business have an active Facebook Page and Twitter Profile with natural numbers of followers?
- Does your business have a LinkedIn Company Page?
- Does your business have a physical address and/or brick-and-mortar location that is easy for Google to find?
Link building is one of the biggest areas where SEO mistakes occur, and I’ll cover many of these mistakes in Part 5 of this SEO guide. For now, use the information in this article to start building a plan to generate “good” backlinks to your website, and your search engine rankings and traffic should increase.
Key Takeaways for Cannabis Brand Websites
Once your website is set up and pages are written to optimize them for search, it’s time to build off-site signals that Google can use to evaluate the authority, quality, and usefulness of your site and pages. Focus on building a natural link profile that won’t be at risk when Google changes its algorithm again, and your business will win in the long-term.
Stay tuned to the Cannabiz Media blog for Part 5 of the Guide to SEO for Cannabis Businesses and Cannabis-Related Businesses series, which will discuss SEO mistakes to avoid.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. She has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.