I was asked yesterday how best to use an existing set of content to drive more natural search traffic and, ultimately, lead capture. Here’s an edited version of the advice I gave.

For maximum SEO value, the content needs to be hosted on your domain. It needs to be organized in a clear, discoverable way (there are some basic SEO best practices for how to do this based on site architecture, mega tag work, keywords in the URL, etc.).

Many companies worry about how discoverable this content is from the home page. Navigation discoverability from the home page actually isn’t as relevant for SEO as making sure Google can see the pages clearly. If Google can see them, they’ll send traffic directly to those subpages no matter how buried they are on the site. If you have Google Analytics or CoreMetrics or some other good tracking tool on your site, you can probably get a good indication of which content is already driving natural search traffic today.

Once you have the traffic, you need to think about what you’d want that person to do next. If the content represents a prospective customer farther back in the decision process (i.e. just educating themselves, learning about the factors at play in what later will become an active decision, etc.), then the call to action might be to subscribe to an email newsletter. Something “light” that gets the prospect registered & doesn’t require high commitment, but gives you direct access to communicate with them moving forward, profile them down the road for more active offers, etc.

However, if the content they’re seeking is clearly closer to the decision point, you can more directly upsell with calls to action directly into your lead gen engine with better results. To drive even greater discoverability of your content, use a network of social media and content discovery tools (StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.) to help make the content easier to find.

I’d also consider building a content network directly with partners, bloggers and anyone else who speaks to your target audience. Give them co-branded pages on the site featuring the same content, so that they share those links with their own networks. The more inbound links you have to the site, the better your SEO value and the more natural traffic Google will give you in addition to those links.

As far as overall content triage and creation, you want to map that both to your understanding of the buyer timeline (way back, before they’re actively looking) as well as what relevant topics and keywords are already being used by searchers on Google. You need to map content to search volume, and ensure there’s a certain keyword density of those terms in the article itself.