Marketing CBD products online comes with limitations. But brands can boost awareness and increase sales by educating and interacting with audiences.

Meghan Stabler, vice president of global product marketing, BigCommerce

CBD ecommerce sales are spiking—according to a recent analysis from Brightfield Group—as the world adjusts to life during a pandemic. 

As more store-based retailers close up shop due to stay-at-home mandates, online merchants selling products made with cannabidiol—a chemical found in cannabis, commonly called CBD—are in a position to grow quickly. The retailers also can help CBD users adjust to buying their go-to products online.

Selling any regulated product online comes with added complexities. Still, CBD merchants, in particular, must navigate their business through an industry loaded with regulatory ambiguity that can vary from state-to-state. The initial limitations that hindered online CBD sales—mostly around the difficulties accepting credit card payments and shipping CBD products—are now relaxing as businesses of all types look to carve out their stake in an emerging $20 billion industry. 

However, developing and executing an online marketing strategy is one critical business component that rests solely in the hands of the brand. To find brands doing this well, look for content that strikes an authentic balance between standing out in a crowded industry and providing value to their audiences—all while playing by the rules. 


Overcoming marketing limitations

When it comes to hemp-derived CBD, we’re at a point where brands are more likely to run into regulatory problems related to how they market products online, rather than merely selling CBD online. The government classifies CBD—even low-THC, hemp-derived CBD—as a drug. That classification gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration jurisdiction to oversee its cultivation, marketing and retail sales. 

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.  

The FDA’s primary concern with CBD companies is related to making claims that the product can “diagnose,” “cure,” “treat,” “mitigate,” or “prevent” any medical conditions. Merchants should take the time to become familiar with the regulations and develop messaging and content that are complies with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), as well as any other state and federal guidelines. 

This classification is especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the FDA ordered one CBD brand to stop “misleadingly representing your products as safe and effective for a COVID-19-related use, following its use of phrases like “corona crusher” on social media. 

Despite the positive outlook, general acceptance and increasing adoption of CBD, most major advertising platforms (think Google and most social media) still do not allow brands to purchase ads to promote CBD products to users. CBD merchants have to find other ways to generate awareness, but there are still plenty of marketing strategies to drive traffic to your store while keeping your business compliant and safe.


Social media and CBD

While it’s true that some social media platforms prohibit paid advertising for CBD, it doesn’t mean that marketing through these channels isn’t worthwhile. Growing your social media audience and promoting your brand organically through platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can still have a significant impact on brand awareness and website traffic.

A successful organic social program primarily comes down to effective content. It may take a little longer, but high-quality content that provides value to your audience will create connections and promote your brand, even without paying for a boost. And, sharing relevant content from other industry sources, your audiences also engage with can elevate your brand as a reliable resource for information. 

The Instagram and Facebook feeds from The Helping Friendly are great examples of diverse, visually appealing content that’s also informative for followers. For example, right now, the brand is providing a series of posts that give expert tips for coping with stress and anxiety—the top ailment cited by consumers that turn to CBD for symptom relief. We also love how Gron uses Facebook to go beyond promoting its products by sharing new recipes and taking customers behind-the-scenes with personal stories about their employees. 

Remember, customers expect two-way communication with brands on social media, and it’s essential to respond to every customer that reaches out via social channels. This provides brands an opportunity to create differentiated shopping experiences that stay top-of-mind. Recent research shows that when customers feel connected to brands, more than half of consumers (57%) will increase their spending with that brand, and 76% will buy from them over a competitor.

CBD email marketing

Even with all the other digital marketing channels available to marketers today, email still holds the top spot for giving brands the most bang for the buck. According to the DMA, every $1 spent on email marketing generates almost $40 in revenue. Building a quality email subscriber list is marketing gold, and one easy way to scale-up this effort is by adding a pop-up or widget to your site to encourage visitors to sign-up so that they will be in-the-loop about new products and exclusive discounts. 


Again, when marketing via email, understanding your audience is key to optimizing results. 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences. Again, when marketing via email, understanding your audience is key to optimizing results. 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences. There are many affordable marketing automation tools available now that can help you tailor messages based on various demographics or actions people take while visiting your site. Something as simple as including the target’s name in the email’s subject line or greeting increases open and click-through-rates. 

Content marketing

Because CBD only recently became federally legal and broadly available in retail channels, there is an enormous opportunity for CBD brands to step up and become effective thought leaders. They can educate curious consumers about CBD products through blog posts, Q&A videos, case studies, and informative content citing new industry data. 

CBD For Life, Bare Roots R.X. and Diamond CBD are some of the brands that are doing a great job of developing content that educates readers on everything CBD. As a result, they are effectively elevating the brand as a knowledgeable and trustworthy industry resource. 


While advertising on Google’s search engine is off-limits for CBD companies, there are no restrictions on using search engine optimization (SEO) as part of your marketing strategy, and it should go hand-in-hand with a content marketing strategy. By including CBD-relevant keywords in the content on your website, you make it easier for search engines to index your site’s pages and display them when users search those topics.

Unlike other industries, Google doesn’t provide keyword data relating to CBD. However, most CBD brand stakeholders already have a grasp on the top searches that could point a consumer to their website. One tried-and-true SEO strategy is to identify what specific questions your typical customer may have and create content that provides answers and information to those anticipated questions. This technique will not only boost your SEO but can help improve your brand’s credibility, as we mentioned above. 



While CBD brands may not be able to talk about the potential benefits of using their products, there is nothing stopping consumers from sharing their experiences. Why not let the consumers do the talking for you?

According to Spiegel Research Center, displaying reviews on your site can increase conversion rates by 270 percent, and numerous reports suggest that reviews influence buying decisions for up to 97 percent of shoppers. Implementing a program to encourage customers to leave product reviews can have a significant impact on conversion rates. A simple purchase follow-up email offering an incentive or discount for leaving a review is often all it takes.

As you are collecting reviews and input from happy customers, there are multiple ways you can share these user experiences with shoppers. In addition to including quotes and review totals on your homepage and with individual product descriptions, highlight the customer love in social media posts and email campaigns. Shoppers often put a lot of trust into feedback from previous users, especially if it is their first time purchasing that type of product.

As the world grapples with the stress of a global pandemic and adapts to a life spent mostly at home, online CBD merchants find themselves in a unique position to provide products that many experts and users suggest can ease anxiety and offer a multitude of health benefits. While marketing CBD products online comes with limitations, brands can still boost awareness and increase sales by delivering messages and campaigns focused on providing value to the audience.

BigCommerce is the provider of ecommerce platform software for 17 of the retailers ranked in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.