For a cannabis business operator who is trying to comply with strict state-by-state regulations in a federally illegal industry, the page speed of the company’s website may not be top of mind.

However, according to Dan Serard, director of business development for Cannabis Creative Group, a cannabis-specific marketing agency, page speed is one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) and could help set your company apart from your competitors.

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“When you think about it from a very high level, essentially, if your competitor’s website is loading faster than yours, then they’ll outrank you,” he tells Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “Page speed is an important factor. … It really impacts your organic presence because if you have a faster page speed, then you have a better user experience and your content’s going to be up quicker, consumers are going to see your information quicker, and if it’s good for the user, then it’s good for the search engine.”

Here, Serard offers five tips to optimize page speed.

1. Focus on the mobile experience.

Google is focused on indexing mobile first, which means cannabis business owners should also have a “mobile first” mentality, Serard says.

“That’s where a lot of people are searching these days,” he says. “It’s important that the images load correctly, the content is sized appropriately, and there’s no java script or code that is coded incorrectly to affect user speed times.”

Business leaders should keep the mobile experience in mind when building their websites, Serard says, which means avoiding inefficient coding, large file sizes for images and videos, and poor server response times.

2. Choose photos wisely.

Since large photo files take longer to load, Serard says businesses should use them sparingly.

“A lot of these cannabis websites have beautiful, high-resolution imagery or videos that look great, but depending on the file size and how they’re developed, they can really detract from the page speed,” he says.

When larger photos are used, it is important to pair them with smaller ones to keep the website running smoothly.

3. Invest in a faster server.

Building a website with the mobile experience in mind and using smaller photo files only helps so much if a website’s server is contributing to decreased page speed. Serard advises businesses to evaluate where and how their server is hosted, and to consider upgrading to premium software if they are using a free server.

“It’s important to think about that as a business decision, especially for a nominal cost,” he says. “If it’s $100 a month, it’s better to be on a premium server that’s faster.”

The key, he adds, is ensuring your website loads in two seconds or less. “I think 47 percent of users expect the maximum of two seconds loading time for an average website. So, two seconds is really a threshold for an e-commerce website’s accessibility.”

4. Prioritize performance.

When building or redesigning a website, Serard says it is important to prioritize performance and think about how the website can be optimized for SEO. This includes ensuring that plug-ins are loaded correctly, photos are properly compressed, and videos and other animation are not taking too long to load on the website’s server.

“If we’re working with a client that’s already had the website built, the primary focus for us is to really look under the hood and perform an SEO audit, see how everything performs, see how everything was built, and then make those changes over time,” he says. “Maybe it’s compressing some of the images. Maybe it’s removing some pop-ups or changing that video to pictures.”

5. Rethink pop-ups and animation.

While pop-ups on a website can be a great sales tool, Serard says they are a common culprit for slow page speed and should be used as little as possible.

“Maybe it’s not having those pop-ups for your sales promotions, but instead looking at an email marketing campaign,” he says.

The same goes for animation. “These are flashy … and there is some beautiful imagery that can be done, but using static imagery instead is really important.”

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