Having a useful content calendar can help you keep everything organized and moving. Once you have your calendar created, it frees you up to do the fun stuff - like writing!
Without a good editorial calendar to help up with the process, it becomes easy to just throw together content as we go, or give up creating content altogether. Today, I’m going to share with you the steps to creating a marketing content calendar that will get you organized and keep you on track.
Why a marketing content calendar matters
A content calendar is simply a method by which your digital marketing team (and content contributors) can easily keep track of what needs to be written, when it needs to be written, and by whom.
The editorial calendar also keeps track of the stage of development for each piece of content, in addition to providing strategic information for content contributors, such as keyword focus, desired calls-to-action, editorial notes, etc.
But how do you pull a content calendar together?
1. Conduct a content brainstorm
There are many ways to brainstorm topic ideas with your team. Here a few that I recommend, as you should never rely solely on your marketing team to develop your list of topics for your content strategy.
Talk to your customer-facing employees and teams
This will help you know the topics that you should start addressing first. When you can answer your customer's questions in advance, it will help you build trust with them. A bonus to this is that answering those questions can also shorten your sales cycle — which is something we all love!
If you’re familiar with “The Big 5” — the five content topic areas proven to drive traffic, convert leads, and increase sales — you can use them as category headings in your content brainstorm to better organize the topics and to help inspire your sales folks and other client-facing employees on where they should focus their brainstorming efforts.
You can either conduct this brainstorm with your teams in person, or you can send out an email to everyone asking for them to submit the most common questions or topics they get from prospects or current customers in The Big 5 categories.
If you go with the email strategy, you must include a deadline for when people need to get back to you, and we recommend you ask for a minimum contribution. Somewhere between 10 and 20 should work well, but trust your judgment.
As the subject matter expert, you can write about trending news in your industry and share your thoughts and insights on what that might mean to your readers. By doing this, you become a thought leader in your space, which also establishes credibility for you. At IMPACT, we dedicate an entire segment of our content strategy to the latest digital marketing news.
Conduct keyword research
Keyword research is a critical part of developing a content and there are great tools that will help you see what is being searched around your products and services.
Answer the Public is a free tool that allows you to enter a keyword and it generates topic ideas around that keyword. The suggestions are provided by Google and Bing. The free version limits the number of searches you can do in a day, but there is also a paid version available. Warning: this tool can become addictive.
SEMRush is a paid tool that has capabilities far beyond helping you with blog topics, but it is also very useful for that purpose. The keyword magic tool is especially helpful.
You can enter your keyword and then apply filters such as location to get information about what related words are being searched. The results will tell you the volume that is being searched, the ranking difficulty and which way the search volume is trending, among other things.
2. Prioritize your topics
Now that you have some ideas of what to write about, it’s time to start prioritizing them. “What should I write about first?” is one of the questions about content that I am asked about most.
However, the best way to prioritize your topics is to take into consideration:
What products and services are the most important to your current goals?
What content have you created already, and where do you have gaps?
At IMPACT, I teach clients to focus on the They Ask, You Answer topics first. These are the five categories of content topics that move the needle with new buyers more than any other, rendering the greatest amount of traffic, leads, and sales.
By prioritizing the topics related to the customer journey, which answer their most basic questions, you will help your readers make more informed buying decisions and you will also make more of an impact on your readers.
Once you have brainstormed and prioritized your content ideas, it is time to add them into your content calendar.
3. Fill out the strategic portions of your content calendar
Your content calendar can be (and should be) so much more than just a single source of truth for topics and when they're going to get published. As you can see in the content calendar template we use at IMPACT, we use our content calendar to develop the strategy for each piece before it goes to a contributor:
Our content calendar includes fields for:
Type (blog article, video, podcast)
Freshness (is it a new topic or a historic optimization of something already published)
Focus keyword for the piece
Desired URL for final publication (you want that tailored to your keyword)
If there should be a featured snippet
If so, what should be in that featured snippet
The Big 5 category (although since not every topic we write about falls under The Big 5, we have a "Not Big 5" option)
Desired call-to-action, if you have one that's planned in advance, instead of having the author pick it
The assigned author
When the final draft should be ready and staged by
Planned publication date
Any key points that should be included (if you want to give some extra direction to the writer on what you're looking for)
Other notes field, for anything extra you want to add in about the topic.
"At first, what's asked for in this content calendar I developed may seem like a lot of work and, quite frankly, overkill to some.
However, as the person who is responsible for filling it out, sharing it with our team, and making sure the strategy the calendar outlines actually gets executed on time, I have to say all of that front-loaded strategy work is a God send.
It saves a ton of back and forth with our internal contributors, because they immediately understand the scope of the piece, where it fits in our strategy, and what they need to include. In short, they don't need to do as much thinking to "get the show in the road" when creating their content.
It's the first content calendar I've used that actually works. And so far, we haven't fallen off the wagon with missed due dates, because we took the time to create our content calendar the right way the first time."
4. Assign authors (or open topics for self-assignment)
Now we need to figure out who is going to write all of this glorious content. In some cases, companies have a content manager who will interview subject matter experts and write the content. In others, the subject matter experts themselves will write.
There are different ways to get people assigned to topics. A content manager may assign topics out. Another alternative is to list out the topics and allow the team of contributors to choose which they will write. Of course, if people lag behind in choosing a topic, those topics may end up being assigned.
It is very important that everyone is bought-in to the editorial process.
Not having buy-in can lead to subject matter experts not being available and team members missing deadlines. Everyone involved must have time to devote to creating the content and making it a priority.
All of this organizing, interviewing and writing is a tall order. Having a content manager in place can make a huge difference.
"Let's cut to the chase. If you want to see results from inbound and content, someone in-house has to own your content as a full-time job."
Liz Murphy, IMPACT Director of Web and Interactive Content
Having someone who owns the content creation process and holds everyone accountable can be the difference between success and failure. You may have multiple writers, but someone has to keep everyone organized and moving forward.
Your content manager can make sure that everyone who is assigned to write is informed and will enter that information on the editorial calendar.
To keep everything moving in a consistent manner, each article should be assigned a due date and a publish date and they should be entered on the editorial calendar. Having these dates holds everyone accountable for creating and publishing on a regular schedule.
Having this information on your editorial calendar will help everyone know what is expected of them and also help everyone as they budget their time for creating content.
6. Keep track of your progress and always keep your content calendar up-to-date
Without an editorial calendar, you will not be able to keep track of your content production, plain and simple.
So, you need someone to own your content calendar (e.g. your content manager). Keeping track of where content is as it is being developed will help you know if you are going to meet your deadlines and if you need to reprioritize what is being published.
An effective editorial calendar will allow you to easily see what stage each article is in. The team should fill out the fields and refer to the calendar often.
Creating and using your content calendar is a lot of work, but it's worth it
An editorial calendar is only good if you take the time to use it effectively. Is it easy? Probably not. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely! Keeping all of the steps and processes to create great content organized is a huge, but important task that reaps great benefits.
So, download our content calendar template and get to work planning for the end of the year and into 2020. You're going to create great things, but only if you take the time to build your plan the right way the first time.
As the old saying goes, "Measure twice. Cut once."