Weedmaps has been in California longer than legal weed. The name and the platform are ingrained in cannabis culture. They’re the default search engine/app for many cannabis users and the go-to marketing platform for many dispensaries and brands. But if you want premium placement on Weedmaps, it can get expensive. Very expensive.
So, if you’re a dispensary, is Weedmaps worth the spend? It really depends on how you use the platform.
Weedmaps is one of the few marketing platforms with guaranteed, immediate ROI. If you spend wisely there, you will see new customers. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There’s also a dark side to dispensary marketing on Weedmaps (more on this later.)
To make Weedmaps work for your dispensary, you need to understand what Weedmaps is, what it isn’t, and what it wants to be. If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you can’t develop and implement the best practices to keep your dispensary on the sunny side of the Weedmaps marketing street.
What is Weedmaps?
Today, Weedmaps is way more than just a dispensary marketing platform. Yes, dispensaries and brands can advertise there, but consumers can also order pickup and delivery, and retailers can buy wholesale on Weedmaps Exchange.
Weedmaps can touch just about every transaction in the cannabis commerce chain, and that tells you exactly who they want to be:
Weedmaps wants to be the Amazon of weed.
Is that good for your dispensary? Nope. Not at all. It devalues your brand, website, license, and location. We’re not bashing Weedmaps. They saw a problem, built a platform to solve it, and hit it out of the park. The point is that it’s unwise to evaluate the best Weedmaps practices for your dispensary if you don’t understand the game that Weedmaps is playing.
While there may have been a time when Weedmaps was a benevolent platform founded by a guy who just wanted to help people find dispensaries, those days are over. Today, Weedmaps is a publicly traded corporation that wants to take a piece of your business and devour the industry whole.
Somewhere, Bezos is smiling.
The Origins of Weedmaps
Global cannabis hegemony was not the plan when Weedmaps was founded in 2008. Way back then, Proposition 215 was the law of the land in California, and there was a patchwork of unlicensed, unregulated dispensaries operating throughout the state. They were raided frequently, moved often, and were hard to find. Their outlaw status also made traditional marketing impossible.
Enter Weedmaps. Launched by Justin Hartfield, Weedmaps started as a simple directory where marijuana consumers could find those unlicensed dispensaries and share reviews. In the early days, Weedmaps didn’t charge dispensaries for listings. But by 2009, Hartfield had partnered with Doug Francis, and Weedmaps started charging. According to Francis, they hit $300,000 in their pay-to-play model’s first 30 days; the rest is history.
Weedmaps Business Model
A big part of Weedmaps’s success is that the lucrative cannabis niche they service protected them from being crushed by the tech ad monsters. Google, Yelp, and Facebook are all unwilling to flaunt federal law and won’t run paid ads for weed.
(There are some workarounds for paid ads on Google and Youtube. Wink wink. Also, Google Maps now has pins that locate licensed dispensaries and both Google and Yelp feature unpaid dispensary listings.)
Another key to their financial success was their continued willingness to run ads for unlicensed cannabis businesses even after California passed Prop 64. While Prop 64 made recreational cannabis legal in California, it also mandated that all dispensaries be licensed.
Weedmaps fought to the bitter end to keep listing unlicensed dispensaries in the face of repeated threats of legal action from the state. It was a position that angered licensed operators and left many people scratching their heads. Weedmaps had played a key role in legalization efforts. Were they an ally or a scourge?
The Decline of Weedmaps
In 2020 Weedmaps was killing it. It was one of the most successful cannabis companies in the world, with over $480 million in revenue without ever touching the plant. But in August of 2022, Weedmaps cut 10% of its staff. In Q4 of the same year, it axed another 175 employees, nearly 25% of its workforce.
Presently, Weedmaps stock is down over 80%. The company’s market value is now only $200 million, in absolute freefall from a gaudy high of over $1.5 billion in 2020, just before it went public. What the hell happened?
What happened was that Weedmaps IPO was in jeopardy, and they finally caved to heavy federal pressure and stopped listing unlicensed operators. With all that black market revenue up in smoke, Weedmaps became victim to the same boogie man that haunts every licensed operator in California — a nasty black market that takes a big bite out of legal sales, puts licensed operators out of business, and/or drives them out of the California market with their tail between their legs (So long, Curaleaf. It was fun while it lasted.)
In hindsight, it seems obvious why Weedmaps fought so hard for so long to keep those unlicensed listings. They were the lifeblood of the company. So it’s ironic when you consider that this is the same illicit market that actually put Weedmaps on the map. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Will Weedmaps Survive?
It’s hard to predict Weedmaps’ karmic fate. They’re still a beast that’s more than capable of becoming the Amazon of weed. That said, licensed listings will not replace that unlicensed revenue in the foreseeable future, and it seems clear that their business model depends on them. Moreover, it’s easy to find licensed dispensaries on Google and Google Maps, and more and more cannabis users are using Google to search for weed.
All we can say for sure is that Weedmaps is here today and likely will be for a while. Despite their recent setbacks and uncertain future, Weedmaps remains a useful tool to increase visibility for your dispensary, provided best practices are followed.
What Products Does Weedmaps Offer For Dispensary Marketing?
Weedmaps offers several different products for dispensary marketing. They pitch their platform as a complete “Ecosystem” with products that enable dispensaries to “Reach,” “Convert,” and “Retain” customers. It all begins with the basic listing.
The Basic Listing
The basic listing just adds your dispensary or delivery name to Weedmaps Directory. This service is free.
These are available for retail or delivery in the city where the retailer or delivery service is licensed. The positions are ranked, and the top tiers are sold in a competitive bidding process. If you want to knock SCSA off their #1 spot in Santa Ana, you must outbid them. That may cost you as much as $80,000.00 a month or more. I wish I was exaggerating. I am not.
These spots are important because they’re the first thing the user sees. On the App, the user only sees the first three listings. To see the others, they need to scroll. This makes these premier positions similar to the Google Business Page 3-Pack, where Google lists the top 3 Google Business Pages on page #1 of their search results. A key difference is that Google uses organic SEO in its rankings. Weedmaps, as we know, is pay-to-play.
In California, many cities do not permit/license cannabis retail or delivery. This makes advertising in nearby cities important. By way of example, for some time, Santa Ana was the only city in Orange County that permitted dispensaries (Costa Mesa recently became the second). This means that Santa Ana dispensaries also serve neighboring cities such as Irvine, Anaheim, and Newport Beach. You must pay for the listing if you want people in nearby cities to see you. These are ranked the same way premier positions are.
Cannabis consumers are deal shoppers, and Weedmaps lists “deals nearby” every day. These are also ranked, and dispensaries and delivery services use them to attract these consumers.
Weedmaps features a banner that runs across the top of the homepage. You can buy space on this banner to advertise your dispensary, delivery service, or band. Unfortunately, this real estate is pricey.
Pickup and Delivery
While technically not marketing, this is a decision you must make if you decide to market on Weedmaps. Your store or delivery service will have a page with a menu that live-syncs to inventory on your POS. If you would like your customers to be able to order for pickup or delivery on Weedmaps, you need to enable those functions. Be advised that Weedmaps will take a piece of those transactions and that customer data belongs to them.
The Pros of Dispensary Marketing on Weedmaps
Weedmaps is a very effective dispensary marketing platform for several reasons.
Many Cannabis users rely on Weedmaps to find weed. They won’t find you if you’re not on the platform.
Reach Your Target Audience
People use Weedmaps because they’re looking for weed. This suggests a higher conversion rate for Weedmaps users.
SEO is a long game. Getting to page #1 of local search results takes time, never mind pole position. With Weedmaps’ pay-to-play model, you can skip to the front of the line…if you can cut the check. That’s a big if and a big check, but it will get results. You will see increased traffic and sales.
When a user scrolls your menu and sees something they like, they can order it right there for pickup or delivery. That convenience should increase your conversion rate on the platform (That said, Weedmaps owns this customer data. Depending on how important that is to you, online ordering may be a negative.)
The Cons of Dispensary Marketing on Weedmaps
Weedmaps offers an immediate hit of increased visibility, traffic, and sales. But there’s a heavy price to pay that goes way beyond the high fees Weedmaps charges on their platform.
Weedmaps is far more expensive for premium listings and their full suite of services than you realize. Depending on your city, you could spend $100k or more monthly on the platform when you pair a premium listing with nearby listings, deals, and delivery. If you’re grossing a couple million a month in sales, you can probably swing it. But dispensaries with that kind of traffic are few and far between.
You Rent Results on Weedmaps
You’re a renter on Weedmaps. You don’t own or control the platform. So, once you stop cutting the check, you’re cut off from the benefits. On the other hand, when you spend money on your website and SEO, you build equity in an asset you own and control.
You Drive Your Customers to Weedmaps Funnel
Every dollar you spend on Weedmaps is a dollar you don’t spend on your SEO and Paid Media campaigns that funnel traffic to your website. To compound the problem, Weedmaps spends some of your money on its SEO to catch your customer in their funnel. This is not a long-term winning strategy.
You want your customers visiting your website, not Weedmaps.
Weedmaps Owns Your Customer Data
Weedmaps takes money for your listing and leverages its platform to use your menu and cannabis license to sell weed to their customer. That’s right. Their customer. If an order is placed through Weedmaps, that customer belongs to them.
Weedmaps Might Not Survive
Weedmaps may go on to become the Amazon of cannabis commerce, or it could continue to fade from relevance. No one knows. However, one thing is clear: Their business model depends on revenue from unlicensed operators, and Google becomes more relevant daily. There’s no reason to think that trend will reverse.
Further, what happens to Weedmaps when cannabis becomes federally legal and all the ad tech monsters enter the space? If you’re not thinking about that, you should be.
Building a marketing strategy around a platform you don’t own or control with a questionable business model and an uncertain future is risky at best.
SEO Has Better ROI
Dollar for dollar, professional SEO is more efficient at increasing visibility, driving traffic, and growing revenue than Weedmaps. It may take longer, but it’s more than just worth the effort and investment. It is essential.
With the right SEO strategy executed by a professional digital agency, you can even beat Weedmaps at their SEO game and appear in Google’s search results in front of them.
Best Practices For Dispensary Marketing on Weedmaps
Best practices for Weedmaps marketing require dispensaries to have a keen understanding of the platform to balance their immediate needs with a long-term strategy that invests in the future.
Understanding the Platform
Use your understanding of what Weedmaps is, what it isn’t, and what it wants to be as a guide to your decision-making on leveraging the platform to help your dispensary.
If you’re a new dispensary with a robust marketing budget, launching with a heavy Weedmaps spend creates instant visibility and can provide the kind of traction that boosts visits and sales overnight. Throttle back as your SEO reach pulls traffic to your site organically.
Another strategy that may breathe life into stale marketing or boost flat sales is called “chumming.” This practice involves periodically pumping up your Weedmaps spend to increase visibility and backing off when you reach a point of diminishing returns.
For products, start with a premium listing that fits your budget. The next priority is nearby listings and then deals. Banner ads are a big-ticket brand awareness flex. If your pockets are very deep, they may be an option.
The key to all this is to track how each product performs. Some premium listings may not be worth the spend. Some deals will crush it, while others tank. Some nearby listings will boost traffic while others fall flat. Use your data to tweak accordingly.
Don’t be a cannabis marketing renter forever. Instead, invest in results you own. In this case, that means an optimized website and SEO. But all SEO is not created equal.
Odds are you’ve already heard a few black magic pitches billed at $500 a month with a description of services that are vague at best and make no commitment to results. So whatever you do, don’t do that.
A word to the wise:
Never contract for SEO services unless the agency is transparent with what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and commits to a timeline and the results you may expect from your spend.
That’s right. Leave the black magic for Hogwarts.
A proper SEO campaign from a reputable digital agency will cost more than $500 a month (but a fraction of what Weedmaps costs). It may take six months before you see results. Make the investment and be patient. If you hire a good agency, you’ll be thrilled with the results.
The bottom line is that Weedmaps works, but an optimized website and good SEO offer the best ROI in dispensary marketing. So if you’re looking for an agency with integrity that can do both well, hit up deeproots partners anytime.
JP Donahue is a former corporate litigator turned successful writer, with over 25 works produced for major film and TV studios. He’s also a founding partner of Tropicanna, one of Orange County’s top cannabis retail brands. Leveraging his experience in both Hollywood and cannabis, JP advises dispensaries on branding, marketing, and operations. He’s a Jiu Jitsu Black Belt, certified Yogi, meditator, dog father, and a member of the New York State Bar and Writers Guild of America West.