Updated: Inside the WeedMaps vs. Leafly Battle

Note: The data in this story previously focused solely on desktop/laptop visitors and did not include mobile traffic. We have now adjusted the story to include mobile.   

WeedMaps and Leafly are duking it out to become the most popular web site and app for consumers seeking medical and recreational marijuana.

At stake: tens of millions of online advertising dollars.

Unlike most industries, cannabis retailers can’t advertise on Facebook, nor can they advertise to more than a very limited segment of Google users. Plus, local regulations in states such as Washington and Colorado strictly limit mass media advertising. These restrictions wind up making WeedMaps and Leafly far more powerful and important than similar sites in other industries.

So which one is winning the eyeball battle? Both are, in different ways.

Although both services allow users to search for dispensaries and strain availability, they’re very differently branded; receive SEO (organic search) traffic from different keywords; and have slightly different visitor demographics. Also, WeedMaps focuses primarily on dispensary locations, while Leafly focuses more on strains available at dispensaries.

According to data from Compete, a data service measuring US traffic for major web sites, both WeedMaps and Leafly have hundreds of thousands of unique desktop and laptop visitors per month. Although the numbers differ from month to month, according to Compete, on average WeedMaps gets significantly more unique desktop and laptop visitors than Leafly does.

However, in the cannabis world, mobile visitors – visitors using smartphones and devices such as iPads – are now more than 50% of traffic. After reviewing visitor traffic data provided to us directly by Leafly and Weedmaps, as well as Quantcast data available on WeedMaps, our analysis is that Leafly is pulling ahead in the mobile battle. And, when mobile and desktop/laptop data are combined, it appears that Leafly had more total traffic for November 2013, with 1.1 million combined unique visitors, while Weedmaps’ total combined uniques were just under 800,000.

Also according to Compete, the two sites’ desktop/laptop traffic also appears to differ slightly by age. WeedMaps is unusually strong in the 45-54 year old age group (which reflects the average age of a US dispensary patient in many states today), while Leafly’s demographics are unusually strong with young adults aged 25-34 years old (which reflects what many suspect will be an average age in the recreational market.)

Both sites receive a great deal of their traffic through Google and Bing organic (unpaid) search. Google Trends data reveals that Weedmaps tends to appear in searches related to retail locations such as “dispensary” and “san diego weedmaps,” whereas Leafly tends to appear in searches related to specific strains such as “kush leafly” or “blue dream leafly.”

The two sites are also going head-to-head on the mobile app front. Here, too, both are winning. In part due to the fact that its app has been around longer, WeedMaps’ iPhone app has thousands more downloads via iTunes… but users only give it an average 3.6 out of five stars. Leafly’s app, called Marijuana Strain and Dispensary Reviews, may not have quite as many downloads, but its users gave it an extraordinarily high average 4.7 stars.

Is there room in the marketplace for both companies to thrive selling what in the end boils down to the same service – online listings for cannabis dispensaries and retail stores? Most likely, in large part because the services are so different in terms of branding, visitor demographic and traffic types. Neither is a “me too” offering.

Both websites currently generate revenue by charging dispensaries to upload information about their shops and strain offerings.

A CNBC.com profile of WeedMaps last week revealed that the company will net close to $30 million in 2013. It’s expected to grow revenues by $6 million in 2014 largely due to an upcoming Groupon-style service it plans to launch to help consumers find local cannabis deals.

Leafly is also on the march. Founded in 2010, the company has grown to have 25 employees. According to co-founder, Scott Vickers, the company will release a new smartphone app in the coming weeks, because half of the website’s visitors now come from mobile users. The company will also will launch an editorial section this coming year, which will house a wide variety of articles and reviews of marijuana strains, products and trends, all written by staff.

Also in the works is a plan to sell the company’s proprietary metrics on market trends to the industry.

Vickers said Leafly can see where there are specific strain shortages in different markets, as well as price fluctuations and other market trends based on the input by its dispensary clients. “There is a need for an educational piece, [for the] industry and in the marketplace,” Vickers said. “We are trying to connect the dots to help people learn about their favorite strains, where they can buy them and market trends.”

As for the future, both sites have significant traffic from states such as New York and Texas where neither medical marijuana nor retail cannabis is legal. Consumers in these states already know and visit the services – for entertainment purposes at least. So both WeedMaps and Leafly already have a strong foothold in potential upcoming markets, which could lock out future competition.