Navigating the Competitive Cannabis SEO Landscape

Hello, I’m Sean Hakes, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer for Sympler. My journey in the world of SEO has been long and winding, taking me through various roles and challenges, most notably as the Director of Global SEO at High Tide, Inc., based in Calgary, Canada. In this role, I was tasked with enhancing the organic visibility of several significant cannabis-related brands, and what a ride it was!

High Tide, Inc. and the Cannabis Challenge

High Tide, Inc. is a powerhouse in the cannabis industry, with a diverse portfolio that includes Canna Cabana, an eCommerce and brick-and-mortar business boasting around 172 locations. Navigating the SEO landscape for such a brand was no small feat, given the complex web of regulations that vary across territories. Beyond Canna Cabana, I worked on cannabis accessory brands like Grass City, Smoke Cartel, Dank Stop, and Daily High Club. Interestingly, we had to be very careful with our language—technically, we couldn’t even mention “cannabis” directly.

In addition to these brands, I supported three CBD brands: NuLeaf Naturals, Fab CBD, and Blessed CBD (the latter being a UK-based brand with which my involvement was relatively minimal). My journey with NuLeaf Naturals was enriching, having been with them since their early days.

The SEO Battlefield

The Cannabis SEO space is fiercely competitive. Brands are pouring millions of dollars into SEO and sponsored content to secure their place at the top of search engine results. This intense competition has led to some rather dubious practices. For instance, many brands would strike deals with authoritative publishers like Forbes, Healthline, and Medical News Today, offering them a share of the profits in exchange for publishing content. These brands would then invest heavily in building links to these already authoritative sites, exploiting an SEO loophole that Google has, which favors larger, more authoritative websites.

Moreover, these publishers often have disclaimers like, “Commissions we earn from partner links on this page do not affect our opinions or evaluations. Our editorial content is based on thorough research and guidance from the Forbes Health Advisory Board.” But let’s be honest: Would Forbes accept content that doesn’t offer commissions? Doubtful.

Black Hat SEO

The dark side of SEO in the cannabis industry doesn’t stop at sponsored content. There’s a lot of black hat SEO behind the scenes between competitors. While Google claims that these tactics don’t work, the reality is that they do. In a manual action, the links built by these shady operators often appear in the link examples provided by Google.

Despite these challenges, my team and I at High Tide maintained top rankings for tens of thousands of keywords. It wasn’t easy, but with a strategic approach, we outmaneuvered the competition.


One of the most critical aspects of operating in the cannabis space is ensuring compliance with the ever-evolving regulatory landscape. The cannabis industry is unique in that it faces a patchwork of regulations that can vary significantly from one territory to another. This complexity makes it crucial to stay informed about current laws, anticipate changes, and adapt quickly.

At High Tide, we placed a strong emphasis on compliance. This included everything from ensuring our marketing materials adhered to local advertising restrictions to configuring our eCommerce platforms to prevent sales in areas where cannabis was not legally available. Compliance isn’t just about avoiding fines or shutdowns—it’s about building trust with your customers and stakeholders.

By maintaining rigorous compliance standards, we navigated the regulatory minefield and built a reputation for reliability and integrity. This helped us avoid legal pitfalls and reinforced our standing as a responsible and trustworthy brand.

Winning the SEO Game

If you own a cannabis-related eCommerce or brick-and-mortar business, understand that while the cannabis space can be chaotic and incredibly competitive, victory is still within reach with the right SEO strategy. It requires a blend of white-hat techniques, a deep understanding of the industry’s unique challenges, and a relentless commitment to staying ahead of the curve.

At Sympler, we specialize in helping businesses navigate these complex waters. Whether you’re dealing with stringent regulations, fierce competition, or trying to recover from the impact of black hat tactics used against you, we have the expertise to help you succeed.

The cannabis industry is not for the faint of heart, but with the right strategy and a bit of tenacity, you can achieve remarkable results. If you’re ready to take your cannabis business to the next level, let’s talk. Together, we can navigate this competitive landscape and secure your place at the top of the search results.

Sean Hakes
Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Sympler

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