In a nutshell, a content calendar is a one-stop shop for all your content marketing projects. From blog posts to white papers to email blasts, a good content calendar gives you a both a high view of what’s happening in your marketing world and a close-up view of the details involved in each individual piece of content.
Details like: who’s creating the content, who’s editing it, who it’s intended for, when it’s going live, and what channels the content will be distributed in are all available for anyone to view in a well-made marketing content calendar.
There are many forms it can take, and it can live either in the cloud, on a wall, or as a file on a computer. But at the end of the day, it’s got to be up-to-date and accessible by your team. Ultimately, it is the organizing document for your whole content marketing program.
Read on for everything you need to know to create a marketing calendar that will move your small business in the right direction.
Why you need a marketing content calendar
In the marketing world, it can be easy to get enamored with the “sexy” parts of content marketing. You know, things like making the best-of lists. Because who doesn’t want to Watch the Stove?!
But when the budget’s spent and the hype fades, what does the poor content marketer have at the end of the day? That old, reliable content calendar.
Think about it. The content calendar has all the qualities that the experts say are most important for sustained love and commitment. In other words, it’s the content calendar—not the flashy marketing—that’s the sexiest. It’s your nucleus, if you will.
A content calendar creates commitment
You want to know what’s super sexy? Commitment.
When you know you can count on your significant other, you feel safe and all's right with the world. But when a partner doesn’t follow through on commitments, it can feel like the whole world is falling apart. And when that happens, looks are the last thing on your mind.
Likewise, you can make the coolest content in the world, but if you’re consistently missing deadlines, it will stop being sexy and quickly become a real pain in the butt.
A content calendar is the tool you need to make sure that deadlines are clearly communicated, to know what is coming up and when it’s due, and to make sure that all the T’s are crossed and all the I’s are dotted.
Additionally, a content calendar will ensure that you post content regularly and consistently. You can easily see where you have gaps in your publishing flow and fill those gaps in quick order. This is good both for you and your team, as well as for your customers and prospects.
Everyone wins, and that’s a head turner.
A content calendar facilitates communication
Ever watch those couples that seem to never talk to each other? Maybe they just sit in a restaurant plucking at their smartphones. There’s no connection; no communication. How unattractive is that?
There’s no doubt about it—a partner that communicates well is a sexy one. And a content calendar is your communication facilitator. It’s a kind of contract of conduct between you and your team. Everyone knows what their commitments are, and there is no excuse for missing them.
Additionally, you and your team can meet frequently to evaluate the calendar. Are there special days or holidays coming up that you should be sure to observe in your content? Is anyone running behind on a deadline? Why and what should you do about it? What’s coming up and what gaps do we have? These questions and more are all answered by a well-kept small business content marketing calendar.
Finally, a content marketing editorial calendar allows you to see where opportunities overlap. Are you sending an email newsletter to your database on the same day that you’re launching a new e-book? Guess what you’ll be featuring. Do you have a blog post scheduled for the day you’re also releasing a new product feature? Maybe reschedule the existing one and just publish your new product announcement. No need to overflow your channels.
With a content calendar, everyone is in the know and transparency rules the day.
A content calendar keeps it interesting
Spontaneity and flexibility keep things exciting in a relationship and in life—especially when it’s done responsibly.
A content calendar helps keep things interesting too. In any given content program, there will be things that come up that are worth dropping everything for. It could be a special promotion, a change in the law, or even a story in the news cycle. A content calendar allows you the flexibility to be spontaneous while also making sure details don’t get lost in the cracks. It’s easy to move scheduled content to make room for spontaneous work.
You can be spontaneous and still have the peace of mind that your staple stuff will still see the light of day.
So, the content marketing calendar might not be the flashy, beautiful supermodel of the content world, but it is the kind of rock-steady, committed, and dependable partner you need to be successful, keeping your small business running smoothly for the long haul.
How to create a content marketing editorial calendar
The first decision you need to make is where to create your marketing content calendar. You can opt for a simple spreadsheet, use your Google Calendar, or there are a plethora of marketing editorial calendar tools online that can do the job. Some of the most popular free editorial planning tools include Trello, Asana and CoSchedule.
Once you’ve chosen your tool, you’re on your way. Here are next steps to create your marketing content calendar:
Determine your schedule
When you start to think about your content schedule, you first need to take an honest look at how much time you’re willing to dedicate to content creation. You then need to measure that against how tough the competition is in your niche, especially when you’re just starting out. Usually, the tougher the competition, the more frequently you should publish content.
No matter what, always prioritize consistent quality over frequent quantity. Consistent, helpful content beats out frequent, sloppy content every single time.
Here are some suggestions for setting your content schedule:
- Recommended posting frequency for most blogs is three to four times a week according to Problogger.
- Posting dates and times depend on your website’s peak hours and the location of your readers. Check your analytics and social media activity and post during times you have the most visitors.
- You can also check when your competition updates their content. If their content gets a lot of engagement (e.g., shares and comments) at certain times, you can emulate their schedule.
- Or you can experiment with different schedules.
Figure out how much time you need for content creation
When mapping out your editorial calendar, be sure to carve out adequate time to write, edit and design your content.
- Prepare your content early (at least two weeks prior to publishing)
- Have a monthly or weekly content theme. This way, it’s easier for you to categorize ideas in your list and know how to arrange them in your calendar.
- Start a blog series (e.g., Monday Inspiration and Free Tool Friday)
- Once your blog is established, you can invite guest bloggers
Capture great ideas
Content planning starts with the right topic ideas—and ideas are everywhere. It’s just a matter of capturing them.
- Get ideas from your "aha" moments and personal experiences.
- Be inspired by other blogs, trending topics, answers to customer questions (ask ‘em!), quotes, movies, books, and stories.
- Update your customers on promotions, anniversaries, and new products and services.
Wherever or whenever you get ideas, jot them down right away. Experienced content marketers will tell you that keeping a list of ideas is one of the secrets of successfully planning content.
Here are free content planning tools to help you capture your ideas easily and in an organized manner:
- Pen and notebook
Account for special events and holidays
Take special dates into consideration as well. If you’re planning to launch a new product or service, plot your calendar around building anticipation for the launch while still providing valuable information to your readers.
You could also take advantage of holidays by piggybacking on specific seasonal themes. Not only will your content be relatable, it’ll be more likely to do better on search engines.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Research what the majority of your readers are or will be celebrating. Ask.
- Present your content in a logical order. Focus on what your customers usually do when preparing for a certain holiday (e.g., week one—finding decorations; week two—cooking special meals).
- For special events such as a launch or anniversary, diversify your content formats. Create video trailers for the new product or service or do giveaways.
Decide on content format
Variety keeps your content entertaining and interesting, and there are myriad content formats you can use to spice things up.
Here are some content formats you can create yourself, and some free tools you can use to make content creation a breeze.
Articles (standard blog posts) are the most common kind of content you can post on your blog. Consider list posts, how-tos, news, guest posts, interviews, and reviews.
Videos are a great medium for explaining how your products and services work, and for tutorials and testimonials. Video is also important if you’re the face of your business. Use a decent webcam to ensure quality video and audio. You can use Screencast-O-Matic to create tutorials.
"Pinnable" images are perfect for small businesses revolving around the beauty, health, coaching, or fashion industry. Find quotes via Goodreads and photos through PhotoPin, then use PicMonkey to create quote images and collages.
Making infographics has become easier over the years. Web-based tools such as easel.ly and visual.ly are easy to use and master. But "infographic" has become an umbrella term for many kinds of specially-created images with text on them. Lately, marketers have disguised self-promotional mumbo-jumbo as infographics. Try to remain true to the “info” in infographic for your readers’ sakes.
Slide presentations are also easy to make. Use Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint to create your presentations and upload them to SlideShare, or embed them directly on your blog post (if using Google Slides).
Quizzes are perhaps the least used content format around. You can create fun quizzes related to your business every month to increase reader engagement. Don't make them too long though. Use ProProfs QuizMaker and embed the quiz in a blog post, or simply enumerate your questions in a blog post just like what Copyblogger did.
How to capitalize on timely trends in your marketing calendar
You’re probably familiar with the term “newsjacking”—when a brand co-opts news to push its product. Newsjacking ranges from clever (see: Oreo’s dunk in the dark) to cringeworthy (Kenneth Cole responding to the Syrian conflict with a shill for new footwear? #facepalm).
Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013
Still, most of it misses the most important point—that news is a great foundation on which to craft readable content, as long as the content is thoughtful and relevant.
By including timely content in your editorial planning strategy, you’ll show readers that you’re up to speed on what they’re thinking about on a day-to-day basis.
When planning out your content marketing editorial calendar, include a mix of evergreen and seasonal pieces that you can plot in advance, but also allow space for more timely content based on TBD current events. Keep tabs on news that impacts your customers so that you’ll be able to immediately create content that helps them understand and respond to what’s happening in the world.
Here are three ways to give your blogs, e-books, and other long-form content the kind of news hook that could boost your own subscriber base:
1. Tell them what’s up
Give readers useful new information from an expert point of view. Your readers will be authorities by proxy if they share your post, which makes them more likely to pass on your writing and make it go viral.
Timely, informative posts can cover trends, seasonal events, and predictions, and the impact on your sector of global, national, or regional news. Some can even be planned for months in advance—a CPA firm might know, for example, that it wants to do an early January post about tax tips for a higher deduction, or a kayak rental company might post in early spring about five gym exercises to get your paddling muscles ready for warm weather.
To truly be a trusted, relevant resource, you’ll need to keep tabs on your field. This doesn’t mean spending huge chunks of your day skimming dozens of news and industry outlets. No one has time for that. Instead, choose no more than five resources that will serve as your news hubs.
A good mix of news resources might include a national daily newspaper, one or two trade magazines or websites, and a couple of esteemed industry bloggers. Skim your core resources once or twice a week, and activate a Google Alert to email you when news related to your industry posts. You can also check Google Trends and Twitter trending topics to get a sense of what’s on the internet’s collective mind and see whether there’s anything you can add from your industry’s perspective.
2. Teach them something new
Another way to create popular content is to focus on timely how-tos, like this blog from CPA Appletree Business Services. These present step-by-step instructions related to a challenging new element of your niche, like new regulations, best-practices, or useful software.
To craft instructive content:
- Identify a timely, complex topic. To find one, listen to what people are talking about in your sector—actually keep an ear out for what frustrates your colleagues and coworkers. Pay attention to the keynotes at major conferences—what pain points do they dwell on? Keep tabs on the nexus of your niche and technology—what’s the latest useful offering? Monitor your Google Alerts for posts that include your niche and “regulations,” “fees,” or “technology.”
- Understand that topic. This is, of course, the tough part. It takes a certain level of understanding to be able to explain something to someone else. Ideally, you have enough of a handle on it that you won’t have to invest much time in research. However, if you’re as stumped as your colleagues, you’ll have to go in search of an expert who can explain away your confusion. Pro tip: You’ll save yourself a lot of time getting someone who knows their stuff on the horn rather than reverting to online research or other reading. A 15-minute conversation with an expert who will answer your questions could be as effective as hours of online research.
- Write your post as clearly as possible. It’s a good rule of thumb that the more confusing your topic is, the more clearly you should try to explain it. Remove as much jargon as possible, make your tone conversational, and don’t wander off on tangents. Your readers’ appreciation of your content will go up exponentially if your instruction is easy and efficient to read.
3. Tell them where you stand
This option isn’t for the faint of heart as it involves wading into controversy. Is there a hot topic that divides your world into pros and cons? One that seems everyone has an opinion on? If there is, it’s likely this topic addresses some of your niche’s most widespread and pressing pain points.
Consider adding your voice to the mix. This is risky, but it can be rewarding. If you have an opinion that is cogent and useful, one that you stand behind no matter what, then timely content about a controversial topic could add authenticity to your brand and shore up already sympathetic fans. Or it could turn them off. Tread carefully.
Content planning tools to supercharge your content calendar
Here’s a range of different editorial planning tools can turn you into an idea machine.
Use the calendar
When you adopt an editorial calendar, you begin strategically looking ahead for content opportunities. An event like Women’s History Month provides you with the chance to profile the female innovators in your industry, for example.
Check out major national holidays, seasonal changes, and various international recognition days a year in advance. Plug these hooks into your content marketing editorial calendar to create relevant, timely content.
Track what’s trending
Join conversations that are already happening. Automate your content ideation by using social listening tools like Sprout Social or Brand24. With social monitoring tools, you can track what’s happening on major networks around subjects like:
- Your brand
- Competitor brands
- News events
Customized social listening—combined with keeping a regular eye on what’s trending on major social networks at a high level—gives you insights into what your audience is talking about right now. Similarly, track the topics that major industry publications and blogs are publishing as well.
Conduct an automated competitive analysis
Fleshing out your editorial calendar can often be as easy as understanding what your competition is publishing and putting your unique POV or spin on those topics. Your goal isn’t to copy the competition; it’s to understand their strategy and create better, more in-depth, and useful content for your audience.
Two ways to gain insights include:
- Track their most popular content: One way to see what’s resonating is to use tools like BuzzSumo. Plug in a URL, and it will give you a list of what content is most popular by links or by shares. Use your own version of popular topics to fuel your editorial calendar.
- Understand their keywords and SEO: Use a keyword tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer that allows you to plug in a website and find out what keywords it’s ranking for. You can see where competitors are getting their links, which pages are most popular, and more. Get different insights into the keywords and language consumers are using for your industry.
Check out suggestion tools
Automation can take things further than just helping you analyze the competition or keep a pulse on bigger conversations. A variety of suggestion tools take your basic ideas and turn them into content gold. Here are a few to try:
Google Suggest: Open your browser to Google Search. Type in topics you’re thinking about, such as “content marketing.” Pay attention to what Google’s suggestion feature offers. “Content marketing app” quickly leads to content marketing applications, content marketing approach, and content marketing apple (huh?).
Portent: With Portent’s Blog Title Generator just plug in your topic and it’ll start suggesting different permutations to tackle. My test run brought examples ranging from the intriguing “17 Ways Content Marketing Writers Can Increase Your Productivity” (win!) to the entertaining “Why Content Marketing Writers Beat Peanut Butter on Pancakes.” Delicious, but probably a no-go.
- Inbound: Inbound.org offers its “Kill Writer’s Block” app which suggests general title frameworks that can help spark ideas.
Plan for success
Your content marketing editorial calendar is your first step toward content marketing success. Once you’ve developed a system that captures your ideas and turns them into topics for blog posts, e-books, email marketing campaigns, and more, schedule them out on your editorial calendar and publish them consistently. Then you can capture leads via forms and follow up with them using automated follow-up emails.
Consistency is the key to seeing the value of content marketing, and an editorial calendar combined with the right automation tools can lay the foundation for your success.