Some of the most visited cannabis websites have suffered huge losses of organic (Google) traffic. Hightimes.com, once the most visited cannabis related website in the world, has lost more than 90% of their traffic.
Herb.co, another highly visited cannabis website has also taken a massive hit losing more than 95% of their Google traffic. We collected the data for these percentages from two of the most used online SEO (search engine optimization) tools in the industry.
Let’s look closer at the number of organic visitors lost. According to SEMrush.com, Hightimes.com received 2.4 million organic visitors in August. However, in September, Hightimes experienced a reduction in traffic to 1.4 million visitors. It got worse the following month with only 151,000 unique visitors (according to SEMrush.com).
View the screenshots taken displaying this massive loss of traffic from Googles search engine. SEMrush also reports massive traffic lost that started in September 2018.
Herb.co took a massive nose dive with their traffic falling from 1.3 million in July to 25,000 in October.
The massive loss in traffic looks like a penalty from Google. Both websites are losing more backlinks than they are acquiring. A backlink is a link from another website. Links from other sites help Google determine which content on the web is popular (based on the volume of backlinks).
This unnatural loss in links is a red flag to Google and could have triggered a manual review to determine if they are trying to game their ranking position.
Cannabis Google Update
There’s enough data to determine Google released their cannabis update for their algorithm around August-September 2018. We discovered that some cannabis websites loss of traffic from Google were more significant than others. Luckily, our website didn’t experience traffic loss as great as high times and herb.co. It’s important to note that not all cannabis websites were affected. Leafly.com did not experience traffic loss and instead increased their organic traffic. Other cannabis websites that lost a significant amount of their organic traffic from Google include the following:
Greenrushdaily.com – Bought by High Times earlier this year (for $7’000’000) went from 103’000 visitors in July to less than 10’000 in August.
Dopemagazine.com – Another company owned by High Times loss almost 50% off their traffic in August.
Grasscity.com took a hit in October losing almost half of their organic traffic from the previous month.
As you can see, not only media companies are affected.
Why Did Hightimes.com And Other Cannabis Websites Lose A Ton Of Traffic?
Upon further examination of the cannabis-related websites that lost a massive amount of traffic. It’s clear that Google is continuing to give more authority to pages with extensive content (often 2000 words or more). A lot of content can be dominant against another webpage with a similar strength backlink portfolio. Keywords are also more critical than ever to help Google determine relevant content for its visitors.
Hightimes.com had their top keywords pushed down on Google causing a massive loss of traffic. The keyword, “How many grams in an ounce”(This was their top generating keyword), used to generate https://hightimes.com/guides/many-grams-ounce/ more than 100,000 visitors when they were ranked 2. Hightimes.com now ranks on the second page and is currently getting about a little under 900 visitors a month for this keyword. The website that has taken hightimes.com place is Marijuanabreak.
How Does Google Rank Websites?
Those who are not familiar with how Google works should understand that the positions of the websites listed on their search engine can change on a daily. These changes come in the form of updates to their algorithm. Google tries to provide the best information and experience to its users. There are different factors that Google weighs heavily on when ranking web pages. Let’s start with the amount of content on a web page.
A website with a little bit of content is considered thin and won’t rank well. Let’s compare the “how many grams in an ounce” web page content for hightimes.com and marijuanabreak.com. High times has a 1000-word count while marijuana break has 2700 words. This data was acquired using screaming frog, a popular SEO tool.
The next important aspect to ranking on Google and providing an excellent experience to visitors is a quick load speed. Google has a free tool that will measure the speed of any URL and provide the fixes. I ran a speed test for both web pages, and both could use a lot of improvement.
The winner here was once again marijuanabreak. Check out the screenshots of both test results below. Improving the page speed using the recommendations from Google can increase rankings against those not optimized.
Did HighTimes.com Hurt Themselves?
High Times neglected to consider the consequences of a full-page popup on their homepage and other web pages. There was recently a full page pop up that was very intrusive with the message to invest in their IPO. The bounce rate of a website is crucial to helping Google figure out if a web property is providing good enough content to keep its visitors from leaving. They already removed the full-page pop, but its already too late and the damage has been done. A good bounce rate is below 20%, now Hightimes.com has a bounce rate of 71% which is considered horrible.
The proof can be seen when searching for high times on Google. Hightimes.com is ranked 5th below other web properties such as YouTube for the keyword high times. This is a clear indication that Google believes High times is failing to show its visitors relevant content and has punished them with lowered rankings. Now that they removed the full-page popup the bounce rate should return to normal after some time. Ranking positions will improve once Google has time to reanalysis each page’s bounce rate.
There isn’t any way to know for a fact if hightimes.com was trying to game Google by buying links. However, it is a possibility because there is currently more links being lost than gained. There’s also a possibility that they got attacked by a competitor. Attacking a competitor with lower quality links is an issue Google has already decided on how to approach. Hightimes.com needs an expert at SEO to scan through their entire link portfolio and submit the low-quality links to Google for removal.
Why Did Herb.co Lose A Lot Of Traffic?
Herb.co was lost traffic because its content wasn’t as optimized as its competitors. A common issue that was found from herb.co was a strong enough backlink profile and on page optimization. Unfortunately, they lost a lot of backlinks and lacked enough content vs. their competitors. This website lost a significant amount of traffic because it was penalized for potentially trying to game Google. They need to clean up their backlink portfolio and on page SEO.
High Times Stock
High Times Holding Corp is still trying to raise money through an initial public offering from crowdsourcing. The goal is to raise 14.7million to be listed on the Nasdaq. Initially, the deadline was set for October but then was extended to November 30, 2018. In 2017 this company already lost millions in revenue. Its disclosure for the Reg A+ statement warns that any investment made should be done so considering there is a chance to lose the entire amount. The goal for High Times right now is to become a company valued at $11 a share.
Anyone with a debit, credit card, or bank account can invest a minimum of $99.00. There are incentives for those who invest $420 up to $100’000. High times is trying to acquire the stock symbol HITM, and the application is currently under review. It’s a bad time to lose such a significant amount of organic traffic since it obviously won’t help to rais the confidence of potential investors. It doesn’t look like High Times has an efficient person managing their SEO since Scott McGovern left and because of this, their rankings are taking hits.
High Times Investor
This company has a website dedicated to facts to encourage potential investors. Unfortunately, there is one colossal inaccuracy that we should mention. They claim that their website hightimes.com currently has four million monthly visitors. These numbers include their organic traffic before the update. So far, no other site mentioned that they lost so much traffic recently (same with Herb).
High Times Cannabis Cup
High Times is famous for starting up the first cannabis competition known as the Cannabis Cup. The first High Times Cannabis Cup took place in Amsterdam in 1988. The Cannabis Cup is a competition for cannabis strains and concentrates to compete. High Times editor Steven Hager founded this cannabis festival. Steven is well known for being the one to decide on removing harder drugs from the magazine such as heroin and cocaine. His focus on the magazine was advocating personal cultivating of cannabis for personal use.
Unfortunately, this year the Cannabis cup had to be canceled in California because of issues being able to acquire a permit. The permit they couldn’t get was for allowing people to use cannabis on the site of the event.
About our writer
Jesus Sanchez has a decade of experience ranking websites on Google as an affiliate marketer for eBay. During his time as a partner with eBay, he became ranked among the top 100 highest grossing earners from out of 10,000 other affiliates. His second passion is the advocation of cannabis for medical and recreational use. He resides in California where cannabis is legal for recreational and medical use. Jesus frequently writes about cannabis products for various online publications.