Important: This article is a part of my step-by-step guide on how to create a fully functioning Content Marketing Strategy that will serve as a backbone of your content marketing efforts.
Step 8) Creating a content calendar <<< YOU ARE HERE
Content marketing consists of a million little steps performed every day that compound into significant business results over time.
Content production and distribution can get hectic and overwhelming.
Creating a robust content calendar that works can help you stay on track and reach the desired goals sooner.
In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about content calendars.
Let's begin from the start!
What is a content calendar and why do you need one?
Content calendar is a structured document where you schedule and keep track of your content production and distribution activities.
It fosters collaboration and keeps marketing teams, as well as individuals, laser-focused on short-term and long-term content marketing tasks.
While content calendars are downright a necessity for teams, solopreneurs can benefit from creating robust content calendars just as much.
Even if you're doing everything by yourself, you can't possibly keep track of it all in your head at all times.
Executing an effective content marketing strategy becomes much more manageable with a detailed content calendar.
Furthermore, it gives you an option to take a bird's-eye view of your content marketing activities and move different parts around just like you would on a chessboard.
A good content calendar shows you what you've accomplished in the past, what you should be doing now, and what needs to be done in the future.
Is a structured content calendar for everyone?
Some people thrive in a very structured environment and others can't stand it.
It all comes down to preference and people's personalities.
Keep in mind that there aren't only two options here – a content calendar set in stone or no content calendar at all.
There's everything else in between too.
It's YOUR content calendar, after all.
Every business is different and every team is different which, in turn, makes every content calendar different.
And that's OK.
My only word of caution is not to let laziness tell you a structured content calendar isn't for you and stop you from at least trying one for a while.
The benefits are substantial and I think everyone should give it a shot.
Why not create a basic calendar and commit to it for a month, no matter what?
What's the worst thing that could happen?
At the end of this trial, you will have ended up creating and publishing a bunch of content that will benefit your business.
If you then decide that a structured approach to creating and publishing content isn't for you, at least you could say you tried.
Most important qualities of a working content calendar
Your content calendar has to be simple, straightforward, and easily understandable at a glance.
To achieve this, only include the most important data points and lay everything down in a logical way.
I really like the spreadsheet-based content calendars where the information is displayed in a "need to know" order.
The information goes from general to more specific as you're getting to the final step of publishing the content.
Here's an example of what I mean:
Of course, someone has to be in charge but teamwork is important.
It's a good idea for your entire team to agree upon the content calendar and be on the same page.
Be mindful of your team members' strengths and affinities to maximize productivity and keep people happy by allowing them to choose what they want to work on.
Once you commit to keeping a content calendar, it's important to stay consistent.
Sure, you could reap some of the rewards of keeping a content calendar sporadically, but you would miss out on having a complete bird's-eye view on your actions in the past, present, and future.
Not only that, but inconsistency in any segment of your content marketing strategy only waters down your efforts and delays the results.
This doesn't mean it's the end of the world if you occasionally break deadlines or even change your content calendar, though.
Allow your content calendar to evolve, but stay consistent in keeping and honoring it as best you can.
Your content marketing efforts laid out in a content calendar will help you develop and refine your content production and distribution processes.
You will gain a clearer view of your content marketing strategy.
The 30,000-foot view of your content will also help you pinpoint the potential weaknesses in your approach and guide future decisions.
Examples of information to include in your content calendar
There are many different directions you could take your content calendar in.
On the one end, you might decide to stick with the most basic approach and only track a few data points like:
- Content Type
- Content Channel
- Publishing Date
Or you might opt-in for a super in-depth approach and include much more specific data points like:
- Word Count
- Main Keyword
- CMS ID
- Repurposing Opportunities
Not to mention all the possible business-specific or niche-specific data points you might want to keep track of.
For these reasons alone, I believe that building a custom content calendar tailored to your needs is the best way to go about it.
It's OK to look for inspiration and try one of the many content calendar templates out there but the second something doesn't make sense to track or something you need to track isn't there, you should make changes.
Here's a list of information points you might want to include in your custom content calendar:
- Content Type
- Content Channel
- Due Date
- Publishing Schedule
- Targeted Search Intent Category
- Meta Tag
- Buyer Persona
- CTA (Call-To-Action)
- Word Count
- Main Keyword
- CMS ID
- Repurposing Opportunities
6 Benefits of creating a content calendar
1. Planning saves time in the long run
Planning and creating a content calendar at least a month in advance could take you a day or two.
I hear you… you could create a blog article in that time that would actually impact your business, right?
Sure, but what if your current haphazard approach is cutting your productivity in half?
The act of planning ahead and structuring your efforts could mean that instead of four articles next month, you produce six.
Two extra articles per month come down to 24 extra articles per year.
Now that's a substantial amount of high-quality long-form content pieces that could make an impact on your bottom line.
Of course, I pulled these numbers out of my rear end, but seriously, committing to a content calendar for at least a month might shock you in how much more effective you get with a little bit of added structure.
2. Publishing consistency
In this case, consistency doesn't mean publishing a new article every Tuesday at 6PM.
It means publishing a high-quality article every single time.
Putting something out there just for the sake of releasing one more piece of content does not help your cause at all.
It's always a good idea to maintain a high degree of editorial standards.
3. Improved audience building
Now we can get back to publishing a new article every Tuesday at 6PM.
That kind of consistency has a positive impact on audience building.
Your most loyal audience is expecting new things from you all the time.
Especially if you once maintained a predictable publishing schedule.
Breaking off from such a schedule negatively impacts your audience's perception of you as a publisher and your content as a whole.
Committing to a consistent and predictable publishing schedule for long periods of time is more likely to get visitors to come back.
4. Improved content quality
Having a structured plan weeks ahead breaks down content production into smaller goals that are much more manageable.
Instead of wasting an hour trying to figure out what topic you should cover in your next article, you can just check your content calendar and start writing within seconds.
This leaves all your mental faculties free to focus on the task of creating the article, which is bound to produce better results in the end.
5. Take better advantage of holidays, special events, and your niche seasonality if it exists
Having the option and foresight to plan your content for weeks or even months ahead gives you the ability to take advantage of holidays and special events, especially if you're relying on search engines to get traffic.
The major reason being is that it takes 6-12 months for articles to earn their peak placement on Google.
It can happen quicker if you have a strong domain or target keywords with low competition, but in either case, it doesn't happen overnight.
For example, it wouldn't be a ludicrous idea to start creating and publishing Christmas themed content in April or May.
Having a content calendar that takes things like that into account gives you the competitive edge over someone who doesn't have their next Tweet planned out, let alone meatier types of content.
6. Publish content at peak engagement times
Peak engagement time is the time of the day when the largest percentage of your audience is using the platform.
Posting at peak engagement times is particularly important for social media posts and even Youtube videos.
Basically, most social media algorithms are set to test your newly published content in front of a smaller segment of your audience to determine if it's worth sharing it with a larger audience.
The idea is to post at peak engagement times when most of your loyal followers are on the platform so the content gets the most amount of engagement (likes, views, shares, etc.) possible in the first hour.
This strategy isn't going to make you or break you but it's something to consider.
How in-depth should you go with your content calendar?
This is entirely up to you.
You can shrink or expand your content calendar in two ways:
- Timetable: weekly, monthly, and yearly calendar
- Complexity: the amount of information you decide to include in your content calendar
If you're creating a content calendar for the first time, a good strategy would be to go a bit more in-depth for the first month than you'd normally be comfortable with.
Just to taste what's it like to have a bit more structure than you're used to.
You never know what might work for you if you don't try it.
Once you've gone out of your comfort zone a bit, you can always scale it down to what suits you better if you decide a more complex content calendar isn't for you.
I decided not to feature any content calendar examples or templates in this article because I believe in a custom-tailored approach.
Creating a simple Google Spreadsheet with the main data points you want to include in your calendar can be done in minutes.
Planning and populating the calendar with content ideas will take a considerable amount of time and effort, though.
But building your own content calendar will fill you with enthusiasm and make you fonder of the idea of using it.
Free content calendar tools
Trello is a free workload management tool that lends itself well to keeping a content calendar.
In their own words, Trello is “a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process.”
It's important to add that Trello workflow can be as simple or as complex as you want.
There's a whole slew of functionalities that you might or might not want to include.
Here's a great instructional video of how to use Trello as a content calendar by Suzi from startamomblog.com:
My personal favorite way of keeping a content calendar is by simply using the good old Google Sheets.
Your Google Sheets content calendar will live in the cloud, accessible to anyone you want to give access to, and as simple or complex as you want it to be.
In Google Sheets, you can add or remove columns and rows, add filters, color code cells, and so much more.
Asana is another popular browser-based workload management tool that's free for up to 15 teammates with affordable paid plans for larger teams.
In the company's own words, “Asana simplifies team-based work management.”
Asana offers a Trello-like board view as well as a list view which more resembles Google Sheets.
Both views offer the same functionality that allows you to create workflows in your custom tailored-content calendar.
Are content calendars and editorial calendars the same?
It depends on who you ask.
Sometimes, the editorial calendar is referred to as a document showcasing the philosophy and strategy behind the most important content production endeavors of the year.
In this case, it's more of a vision-type document than a ground-level operations worksheet.
Other times, these two terms are fully interchangeable.
What is a social media content calendar?
It's a specialized type of a content calendar meant to help you keep track of your social media content.
A social media content calendar can include all your social media channels, or you can create even more specialized calendars for every social media channel separately.
Are paid content calendars worth it?
In my opinion, no.
Giving the steering wheel of your content production and distribution strategy to someone else is a bad idea.
Be mindful of the goals you have for your content marketing strategy and plan daily actions that will inch you towards accomplishing those goals.
Should I use someone else's content calendar template?
Only if you plan on modifying it to your needs, needs of your team, and your content marketing strategy.
Blindly following a canned content calendar template could potentially even hurt your efforts.
A well-thought-out and consistently kept content calendar is an integral part of your content marketing strategy.
You can't be strategic about creating and publishing content if you don't know the topic of your next article, video, or social media post.
Building and maintaining a simple and straightforward content calendar will help all your team members stay on the same page and finish tasks more efficiently.
How far ahead do you plan on making your content calendar go?