Developing high-quality website content can help small businesses improve visibility in paid and organic search.

Content marketing should be a priority for all businesses this year. Online content is cited as the second-leading marketing channel in terms of ROI, and rising investments make it a competitive must. (Be sure to check out ContentLEAD’s blog all about why online content is essential to your marketing toolbox this year.)

Making the decision to publish site content is an important first step – and then it’s time to strategize. To get the most out of the content you’re publishing on your site, you need to ensure that the content is addressing potential buyers’ questions and being seen by convertible audiences.

Companies cite targeting as a top factor for content success, but reaching the right consumers with your content is no small feat. Here are three tips from ContentLEAD that can help you speak to the audiences that matter most.

1. Answer the questions prospects are asking

In order to produce content that will hook your target audience and foster engagement, you have to write to the topics that matter to prospects. Investigating and addressing shoppers’ informational needs about your industry will help you catch the interest of consumers researching purchases online. By taking on the issues that may be giving buyers pause, you’ll be able to assuage purchase fears and position your business as one that understands customers’ needs.

Before writing, listen. Go to industry-related forums where consumers or enterprises exchange ideas and recommendations about products or services. You can start with big sites, such as Yahoo Answers, Consumer Reports, LinkedIn or Quora. Search for discussion threads specific to your industry and offerings, and see which questions shoppers are asking. For instance, if you run a car dealership and find consumers are asking each other about good mileage, write a blog post about industry averages and how models in your showroom measure up.

It’s a good idea to look beyond the main forums, too. Research consumer sites related to your industry. While there may be more conversations about car dealerships happening in Yahoo Answers, the consumers commenting on AutoSpies might be more serious buyers – and these convertible consumers are the ones you want to target.

One of the simplest places to start researching the information consumers want is your website. By looking at on-site searches, you’ll see what visitors are looking for when they’re investigating your products and services, in particular. If you run a WordPress site, you can easily see the searches people are conducting in your toolbar, and ample other content management systems have similar features. (You can also see this information in Google Analytics under the “Content” tab in “Site Search”). Are visitors looking for your “terms of service?” Create a landing page for that.

2. Speak the target audience’s language 

One of the benefits of looking at on-site searches is that you’ll get insight into how consumers phrase the issues they care about. Are they looking for “waterproof mascara” or “smudge-free mascara” when they’re on your site? Make sure that you’re optimizing your content according to what users are looking for. Similarly, monitor the phrases they are using with each other in niche forums.

Also, research the most common Twitter hashtags related to your business. Hasthtags.org has countless popular hashtags according to industry. Using this site, businesses can see the real-time data for how frequently phrases come up in the Twittersphere. This can provide fodder for keyword optimization – and when you Tweet your content to followers, you should be sure to use the right hashtag (more on social sharing to come…)

Another good way to set the language is by checking out the search volumes for different key phrases you use on your site. Google AdWords Keyword Tool data for various key phrases offers insight on how frequently terms come up in local or global searches. Of course, you should be realistic – you want to optimize for the phrases that people are using, but your blog post about “home insurance” won’t be the No. 1 result or most visible article elsewhere on the web if there are more than 800,000 local searches for the phrase. The competition will be tough!

At the same time, if you live in Florida, you may find the phrase “manufactured home insurance” still has a very high search volume in your local area, but the overall competition is lower.

3. Share content where customers are active

Remember the forum research you conducted to determine topics for your content? Once you’ve written your content and optimized it for users’ online searches, you should increase your chances of having it discovered by directly delivering it to social users.

Tweet headlines and post new blog summaries on Facebook, linking to your website for the full story in both instances. Also, return to the question site (Yahoo Answers? LinkedIn Answers?) where you found consumers asking about gas mileage – leave a comment that gives them a quick summary of your dedicated content page directly in the forum and then offer the link with more information.

By inserting your business into the social space, you shift from creating content to driving conversations – and you can drive social audiences researching purchases right to your site. By sharing relevant blogs, news articles and/or landing pages on multiple platforms, you’ll distribute your content to target audiences wherever they are online. (Be sure to include Twitter in the mix – 64 percent of consumers say they’re more inclined to buy from businesses that answer their questions on the microblogging site.)

These tips will help you reach convertible audiences with relevant messages via content. While developing a targeted content marketing strategy can be an investment of time (and other resources), it’s one that will pay off. As ContentLEAD has reported, high-quality content is proven to drive sales for businesses, with one company reporting more blog posts and Tweets helped it drive more than $2 million in revenue.