Cannabis Marketing Without Paid Ads: How to Do it Right

With the U.S. cannabis market projected to skyrocket from $600 million to $22 billion by 2022, there is no better time than now to master your cannabis marketing strategy.

But that can be easier said than done. There are major marketing roadblocks when using popular paid advertising mediums because of the legal grey area surrounding the U.S. CBD and marijuana industry.

Yes, it’s true that the regulations for paid ads on Google and Facebook have recently softened. But you’re still walking a tightrope with pay-per-click on search engines and paid social media advertising.

Instead, leveraging organic (i.e. unpaid) channels can be a goldmine for cannabusinesses today—if you know how to do it correctly.

So how can you lay an organic marketing roadmap to grab hold of the skyrocketing market and steer clear of any cannabis marketing problems?

This article will discuss how to conquer the following unpaid channels to enjoy serious returns and long-term profitability from your cannabis advertising efforts:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Organic Social Media Campaigns
  • Word-of-Mouth Marketing
  • Email Marketing
  • Text or Short Message Service (SMS) Marketing
  • Push Notifications
  • Affiliate Marketing

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Cannabis Marketing Without Paid Ads: How to Do it Right

Because the cannabis industry is still in its infant stages, search engine optimization (SEO) is like playing in the sandbox. So if you know how to do it correctly, you can get your website to the TOP of search engine result pages (SERPs)…without having to pay for it.

Educate rather than sell

For SEO to work within your overall cannabis marketing strategy, you have to create in-depth, research-backed content. This requires having a blog with guides and how-to information. You also have to produce educational content focused on transparency and enhancing public knowledge.

So rather than trying to make a sale or advertising product reviews, for example, you should curate content about the endocannabinoid system, the science behind cannabis, and the “lifestyle.” Doing so will, in turn, help you earn the trust of the public and distinguish your brand as a thought leader while also boosting engagement and customer reach.

When writing such posts, be sure that your tone and style of writing is helpful, descriptive, fun and conversational. And don’t forget to incorporate examples as needed.

Keywords and meta information

Beyond providing educational information, you have to produce content that people can find.

So make use of free keyword and query research platforms like Google Trends and LSI Graph or paid platforms such as Ahrefs and Moz Keyword Explorer. These platforms will give you insight into what your audience is searching for and which words you should be targeting in your content.

Focus each article you post on one topic and cover everything there is to know about that keyword or phrase. But don’t overdo it.

As a rule of thumb, your focus keyword or phrase should comprise only 1 to 3 percent of the copy in each article. It should also be included:

  • In the first paragraph and the last sentence of each post.
  • Only once every 300-500 words so you don’t get flagged for keyword stuffing.
  • In your 156-character meta description, which is displayed on SERPs to describe the content of your post.
  • At the beginning of the title of your articles, if possible.
  • At the beginning of your short, date-free URL slug.
  • Within your image alt texts and file names, as appropriate.

And be sure to include inbound and outbound links in your article as necessary as well as related keywords (or topical long-tailed versions of your primary keyword) in subheadings (H2 tags) within your article.

Each article you produce should be at least 1,300 words to start. However, 2,000-2,500+ is ideal because you’ll end up naturally providing more helpful, contextual information.

Last but CERTAINLY not least when it comes to meta-information: Use schema markup and structured data to boost your SEO and convey information more clearly to search engine bots.

Video and voice search

You should also go all-in with your SEO and get ahead of the cannabis marketing game by incorporating videos in your posts.

In fact, by 2021, internet traffic will be comprised of 82% video content. So get a YouTube channel and start embedding videos with keyword-rich descriptions within your blog posts.

Optimizing for voice search is another excellent way to beat out your SEO competition. I mean, let’s be honest—Siri, Alexa, and other voice-assisted search agents are not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, they are only becoming more critical for your organic search ranking.

So consider using voice-optimized keyword research platforms such as Answer The Public for consumer insight into what people are searching for.
free dispensary sample business plan

Search Consoles and Page Speed

 Create and submit a sitemap of your website to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. You should also link your Search Console to Google Analytics.

Then after you write an article, submit the URL to Google and Bing to increase the speed of indexing.

And, be sure your website load speed is blazing fast and responsive on any mobile device. This requires that you scale down image sizes and avoid using dynamic revolution slides so every page on your website loads quickly.

Off-Page SEO and Backlinking

 Building backlinks to your site is just as important as having value-packed content on your site. This can take time, but it’s necessary for SEO to work.

However, the good news is: the number of sites that link to you is NOT as critical as the QUALITY of sites.

Beyond getting backlinks to your site, other off-page strategies include guest posting and increasing your business listings across the internet in relevant places. So for marijuana dispensary marketing, be sure to send your business info to Potify and Weedmaps.

And if you’re a dispensary owner or marijuana doctor, it’s VITAL that you create a Google My Business account so you rank for “near me” searches and stand out for free on the internet.

Organic Social Media Cannabis Marketing

Cannabis Marketing Without Paid Ads: How to Do it Right

Social media is one of the most critical organic cannabis advertising channels to master.

Not only can you run organic campaigns for free on social media, but you can also reach a wide range of audience sectors. That is if you segment your social media audiences and personalize your messaging based on the segment.

By segmenting your social media audience sectors, you will be able to promote the “lifestyle” in a more impactful manner and provide better cannabis education based on the audience.

Here are just a few of the benefits of segmenting your audiences across each social media platform and sharing educational, top-of-funnel content:

  1. Builds brand awareness, engagement, and loyalty.
  2. Increases backlinks to your website and SEO “link juice.”
  3. Generates engagement retargeting lists to support your remarketing efforts.

You can also leverage messenger marketing platforms such as Mobile Monkey to run chatbox campaigns and engage your contacts on a more personal level.

Here are some other strategies for marketing cannabis effectively on social media:

  • Take advantage of the power of hashtags and groups.
  • Distribute live videos and copy that build cannabis education and the lifestyle.
  • Interact and collaborate with influencers and micro-influencers to maximize your reach, fans, and followers.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Cannabis Marketing Without Paid Ads: How to Do it Right

Word-of-mouth has always been (and continues to be) one of the most impactful forms of cannabis marketing.

Here are some marijuana and CBD marketing events and strategies to stimulate word-of-mouth:


Trade shows, conventions, exhibitions, and other face-to-face networking events increase awareness of your brand and establish you as an industry influencer.

In-store educational seminars

Demonstrations and seminars allow you to share new cannabis innovations and scientific discoveries directly to your existing network. More importantly, they also help you gauge what makes your target audience “tick” through the power of high-bandwidth communication.

Referral links

Incorporating referral links into your communications and incentivizing folks to share them facilitates “viral lopping” and organic growth. You can also track referrals to pinpoint your strongest advocates and cultivate those relationships even further.

PR and media outreach

Schedule a few public speaking events to boost customer reach and loyalty. Such public engagements can also help you fight unwarranted taboos and misinformation surrounding cannabis by reaching a large and diverse audience.

Local outreach

Do some volunteer work or community service. Or consider sponsoring a local event. Talking in-person with your local audience base and getting to know them can have rippling impacts on your growth.

Social proofs

We tend to follow the masses as humans. Psychologists and sociologists have been aware of this for centuries. Social proofing is a content marketing and growth hacking “tool of the trade” that has similar benefits as word-of-mouth marketing.

To be brief, here are some social proofing tactics to integrate into your overall cannabis marketing delivery plan:

  • Testimonials
  • Influencer relationships
  • Certifications
  • “As seen in” logos
  • Social sharing/subscriber counters

Email Marketing

Cannabis Marketing Without Paid Ads: How to Do it Right

Cannabis email marketing is a profoundly intimate and almost instantaneous permission-based marketing medium. And when done right, it can have a remarkable impact on customer engagement and retention.

In fact, most marketers agree that email is the best channel in terms of return on optimizing investment (ROI), engagement, and brand loyalty.

But email marketing is NOT as straightforward for cannabusinesses as it is for most businesses today. Since cannabis is still federally illegal, you have to read the fine print with your email provider.

If you don’t read the policies of the email platform you’re using and accidentally violate their terms, your account could be suspended or revoked in full. In the latter case, this could mean saying adios to your priceless contact list and email history.

So what can you do to prevent this disastrous scenario?

Here are some steps to follow when marketing cannabis on email platforms:

  • Get written consent to use the email platform.
  • Segment your audience lists based on factors such as location and product preferences so your messages resonate with the end-user.
  • Send succinct, to the point, and educational content vs. lengthy and “salesy.”
  • Integrate post-purchase email triggers and loyalty incentives.
  • Regularly analyze your deliverability, open, and click-through rates to continually optimize your email messages and overall performance.
  • Clean out your email database consistently to ensure your contacts are valid and engaged with your communications. Clean email lists will also keep your deliverability and engagement rates high.
  • Have your subscribers opt-in to weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly communications so you’re not emailing them too frequently (or infrequently).

And remember, email marketing is a permission-based marketing medium. So before you do anything else, you have to get the green light from your contacts to send them email communications.

That’s why one of the most essential email marketing best practices today is to have your email contacts “double opt-inin the beginning to receive your communications.

A double opt-in means that after they subscribe to your email communications, you should send them a short, automated introductory email. The goal of this intro email is to get them to click a link to confirm their email address (and opt-in request).

It’s also important to ensure your contacts can easily opt-out. The absolute WORST thing you can do is make it difficult for folks to unsubscribe from email communications because it increases the chances of being marked as spam.

Following these best practices will not only keep you in good standing with your email providers and contact lists, but it’ll also enhance your SEO and indexing on search engines by directing traffic to your site.

Cheers to killing two birds with one stone!

SMS or Text Message Marketing

Cannabis Marketing Without Paid Ads: How to Do it Right

If you’re a dispensary owner, doctor, or retailer, text message or Short Message Service (SMS) marketing is definitely something you should consider incorporating into your cannabis marketing plan.

90 percent of texts are read within 3 minutes of being sent. This means there is a TON of money just sitting on the table waiting for you to grasp with a text-based cannabis digital marketing campaign.

But like email campaigns, SMS is another permission-based organic marketing strategy.

You can have your SMS contacts opt-in at your physical location or via “click-to-join” website forms, social media widgets, or browser pop-ups.

You can also send them an invite text in which they have to respond YES to receive future text communications.

If you choose to send an initial invite text, be sure to incentivize them to join your text message program and show them the value of the service. But remember, keep it short and to the point.

So what is the best text message provider for cannabis industry sectors? Green Marimba, springbig, and Sprout are all SMS software providers who have years of experience helping cannabis businesses overcome cannabis marketing challenges and taking advantage of industry opportunities.

Push Notifications

Mobile and desktop push notifications are other permission-based cannabis marketing strategies that are great ways to engage users with a click of a button.

When you publish a new article, video or promotion, you can send customers push notifications that reach them nearly instantly no matter where they are.

And the best part? Push cannabis marketing campaigns are relatively cost-effective…and convert into sales.

But as always, tread lightly and don’t overdo it.

Sending push notifications to your lists too often can end up boomeranging and put you on the naughty list with your customer base.

Cannabis Digital Marketing Affiliates

Cannabis Marketing Without Paid Ads: How to Do it Right

When done correctly, affiliate marketing can make you money while you’re sleeping.

Affiliate marketers inform the world about your cannabis product so you can focus on other parts of running a cannabusiness.

But oftentimes, only big cannabis companies attract affiliate marketers.

As such, we recommend honing your attention on building brand awareness and public engagement using the other organic cannabis marketing channels before dialing your affiliate strategy and infrastructure.

How to Make a Cannabis Marketing Plan

  • Dial one organic channel at a time.

You may (or may not) have heard of the paradigm shift towards omnichannel marketing. While it’s true that this type of cross-channel content strategy is essential, what’s more critical is that you hone one unpaid cannabis marketing channel before you breach them all.

If you can’t perfect one organic advertising channel, then it’s not very probable that you’ll be able to leverage them all successfully, right? So just like dating, it’s SUPER important you take it one step at a time.

  • Establish a SMART project management schedule.

It’s a best practice by top marketers and project management experts to create and manage a SMART publishing schedule for each organic channel and audience segment over time.

What in the world is a SMART content posting schedule?

SMART goals help you work SMARTer every day because they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.


SMART goals enable you to align your content delivery approach across organic cannabis marketing channels each week. They also help you meet schedules and stay relevant on the internet and in the minds of your audience.

  • Stay current with CBD and/or marijuana regulatory changes and news.

The cannabis industry is in a volatile state of flux. To effectively market your cannabusiness without paid ads, you have to keep up to date with the changing competitive landscape as well as the latest trends, legal channels, and advertising restrictions.

So be sure to subscribe to RSS feeds, marijuana business outlets, and newsletters.

  • Leverage cannabis marketing agencies and business development experts.

Cannabis marketing agencies and experts are successful for a reason. So make use of their years of CBD and/or marijuana industry knowledge and experience.

If you want to enjoy sustained growth and long-term profitability, consulting with an agency or cannabusiness development specialist is a small price to pay.

More resources for starting and growing your cannabis business

If you’re looking for more expert guides and resources for starting and growing your cannabis business, check out: 

AvatarMike Coleman

Mike Coleman is the Vice President of Online Sales and Marketing for Medical Marijuana, Inc., the first publicly held company vested in the medical marijuana and industrial hemp markets. Mike appreciates that through his position, he is able to help educate others on cannabis and its benefits as part of an everyday health routine. Mike has a B.S. in Management Science from the University of California, San Diego.