I can’t believe I got fired from the calendar factory. All I did was take a day off!
Opening today’s post up with a bit of levity felt fitting, because calendars can cause much anxiety. They bring to mind deadlines, meticulous organization, and time crunches, which are often oppressive realities for marketers with a million things on their plates.
But the truth is that you’re likely to encounter much more dread if you don’t house your content planning within a documented and strategic editorial calendar for blogging. Building out a set schedule (with a bit of flexibility) ultimately makes your life easier because it provides a guiding light, and ensures your content strategy remains cohesive and oriented around your objectives.
In other words, editorial calendars are no joke. Here’s how you can construct one that seriously drives your company’s blog (or any other content initiative) forward.
Fortify Your Editorial Calendar in Five Steps
Whether you’ve already got a content calendar, which you hope to refine and improve, or you’re starting from scratch, these five steps will put you on track.
Step 1: Crystallize Your Objectives
The biggest issue with many content plans is that they’re aimless and wayward. When you’re figuring things out on the fly, it can be difficult to tie everything back to the same goals and desired outcomes. So the first step is to zoom out and nail down what you’re trying to achieve with the content in question. For instance, if your blog is designed to generate leads with specific audiences, are you tethering each piece on your calendar back to this outcome in some way?
Placing objectives front-and-center is a key benefit of documenting your content strategy, and making them the underpinning of your planning will help ensure everything you publish has a purpose.
Step 2: Chart Your Pillars and Timely Focuses
With objectives clearly defined, you can formulate content pillars that will serve as the cornerstones of your editorial calendar. Also known as topic clusters, these are the general categories that all of your content will nest under. Pillars are determined by the intersection of what you want to be known for, and where demand exists. They should be informed by SEO research around keywords and queries, hitting the sweet spot between search volume, expertise, and buying intent.
Here on the TopRank Marketing Blog, our pillars are aligned with our agency’s core services — content marketing, SEO, influencer marketing — and so pretty much everything we create for the blog approaches these topics from various angles for people who are interested in learning about them and looking for insight.
Don’t view content pillars as restricting; there are a wide range of ways you can address almost any topic, either directly or tangentially. Organizing your calendar around them will help ensure you stay focused, and relevant to your target audience. In addition to identifying a topical mix, you can start to define your content types — how-tos, thought leadership, influencer collaborations, conversion-driven pieces, etc. These can be aligned with various stages of the buying cycle, and mapped back to the key objectives established in Step 1.
At this point, it’s also smart to map out industry events or seasonal milestones that you’ll want to create content around.
Don’t view content pillars as restricting; there are a wide range of ways you can address almost any topic, either directly or tangentially. @NickNelsonMN #ContentMarketing #ContentPlanning Click To Tweet
Step 3: Coordinate with Your Broader Strategy
This is a vital consideration that is all too frequently overlooked. Whatever channel you’re scheduling content for — be it a blog, email, social, etc. — think about ways you can coordinate with other departments or disciplines in the organization. For example, does your sales team experience higher volumes of inquiries at certain times of year? Or are they attending a trade show next month that you could support with content? Maybe one of your executives will be speaking at a conference, and you want to queue up some thought leadership around the subject of their talk in the days leading up.
A strong editorial calendar should reflect the company holistically. In this sense, it can be helpful to make your calendar visible to everyone and not just the folks on your team.
Step 4: Plot Your Cadence and Schedule Out Your Content
How often will you create content? And why? We all know it’s valuable to publish regularly, because this is how you build an invested and trusting audience, but “regularly” can mean different things under different circumstances. Is it daily? Three times a week? Multiple times per day? This decision shouldn’t driven by guesswork, but by data.
Although it’s a little older now, HubSpot has a helpful post on determining how often companies should blog based on variables like company size and B2B vs. B2C. But you’ll also want to dig into your own visitor behavior analytics and draw conclusions on what your audience wants. Test different cadences and compare the impacts. As a general rule, more publishing equals more traffic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be worth your while to create new content each day.
As Alfred Lua of Buffer writes: “I would recommend experimenting and finding a suitable editorial cadence based on your content goals and the amount of time you have. There is no one right editorial cadence. HubSpot publishes several articles a day while Backlinko publishes less than once a month.” (As a side note, we highlighted Backlinko’s quality-over-quantity approach here earlier this year.)
Having made this decision, you can start filling out the calendar appropriately, using your content pillars and organizational directives as guides. Plan as far out as you’re comfortable (at least one month, but forecasting three or more months is even better). Make sure you’re building in enough topical variety to keep things fresh and diverse. Once you get your schedule documented, it becomes easy to spot gaps or overloads.
Step 5: Leave Room for Change
Note that you don’t want to completely fill out your editorial calendar. As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to leave some flexibility so you can nimbly address timely matters as they arise and account for the (expected) unexpected. Contently editor-in-chief Jordan Teicher proposes a 75/25 rule, wherein one out of every four slots in your calendar is left blank.
“In my years managing the site, I’m certain of one thing: s*** happens,” Teicher writes. “People miss deadlines. Sources don’t respond in time. The design team can’t find the right image. My day gets stuffed with meetings, which prevents me from editing a draft. A flexible content calendar is about more than just coming up with ideas for the current news cycle. It’s also about realistic expectations.”
Smart Practices for Getting the Most Out of Your Editorial Calendar
The five steps above will help you solidify your calendar. Here are a few additional tips to help make the process smoother and more effective.
- Hold group brainstorming sessions. Usually, the toughest thing about building out a content calendar is coming up with enough concepts to fill it in. I recommend setting up a time where a bunch of your creatives come together to load up the pipeline with ideas (run these ideas past your content pillars and SEO research to assess strategic viability). Make sure to incorporate voices from various departments.
- Slice up and repurpose. It’s always valuable to get the most mileage possible out of your content. If you’ve got a big, meaty blog post planned on a certain subject, why not divvy it up into three parts and run it as a series? If you’re looking for a reliable performer next month, why not take your most successful piece from last month and flip it into an infographic, or conceive a follow-up post that expands on it? Repurposing is a great way to get the most out of your content leftovers.
- Lean on the right tools. For some content teams, a spreadsheet or even a Word doc can be sufficient for organizing your editorial calendar. In other cases, this initiative can be run through your project management software. But for high-volume teams with many elements to track and account for, it might be helpful to go with a dedicated content-centric solution. There are plenty of them out there, including Contently, DivvyHQ, Kapost, CoSchedule, and more.
- Create comprehensive coverage. What this looks like can vary in different scenarios. It might mean approaching your topical pillars with best-answer content that addresses every subtopic your customers are interested in learning about (especially those queries carrying any level of purchase intent). If you’re in a crowded niche, it might mean gobbling up every bit of white space your competitors are missing. If your content is oriented toward B2B buyers, it might mean creating content for every role on distributed buying committees, and speaking to each stage of a lengthy purchase cycle.
Right on Schedule
If you feel apprehensive about building an editorial calendar from scratch, you’re not alone. It can feel intimidating to schedule out so far in advance, and to consistently manage and maintain this resource. But I assure you, once you get into the groove, your life will be much easier and your results will improve.
Following the steps and recommendations above will help you stay on target and derive maximum value from your efforts.
Want to add further efficiency and foresight to your strategy? Learn more about getting ahead with your content planning.