If a content marketer’s office were burning down and they only had time to grab one thing, it would have to be their content marketing calendar.
Forget the family photos, employee of the month plaque, or the content pun coffee mug. All of those are replaceable — but content marketing calendars are forever.
We kid (a little), but content calendars really are a big deal. They’re the lifeblood of many a marketing campaign, and the foundation of a holistic content marketing strategy. In this post we want to talk about everything you need to know about them.
So to kick things off, let’s talk a bit about what a content marketing calendar even is.
What Is a Content Marketing Calendar?
A content marketing calendar is an essential part of any marketing toolkit. It will help you plan, execute, and review your content marketing efforts throughout the year, and in many cases will help you increase your team’s ability to productively communicate about upcoming content projects.
A content marketing calendar will help you understand what to write, visualize what’s next, and organize your content creation efforts.
Even if you already have great ideas for your content, the right calendar in the right hands is comparable to upgrading from an Atlas to Google Maps. Not only will you get where you’re going, but you’ll experience a lot less hassle and missed opportunities along the way.
As a general rule, there are three different mediums where you’ll find of content marketing calendars:
- Spreadsheets — A shareable, easy-to-use template that lives in Google Sheets or Excel.
- Printed calendars — Not the most effective, but you may see one around an old-school publication or a planning meeting.
- Third-party apps — These are tools specifically designed to help you plan, execute, and monitor a content marketing plan.
The one you pick is ultimately up to you, and you may even find creative ways to integrate all three. We’ll talk more in a bit about the tools you can use to implement your calendar, but first let’s talk a bit more about some content marketing calendar benefits that are worth considering.
Why Do You Need A Content Marketing Calendar?
When you build a house, you don’t start by picking out your exterior paint or the plants you want in your future garden. There’s a ton of work that has to be done before either of those questions come into play, and that’s the perfect metaphor for your content.
While it’s certainly nice to think about the blog post that you really want, you have to lay the groundwork well before the day comes to sit and write that post.
You need to know who your audience is, what kinds of keywords they search for (including if they search for your idea at all!), how you want your content to be organized on your site, when you want to publish your content, and dozens of other essentials. A content calendar helps with all of that.
I’ll repeat that so you know I mean it. A content marketing calendar will help you understand what to write, visualize what’s next, and organize your content creation efforts.
This leads to other not-so-fringe benefits, such as:
- Setting and hitting deadlines
- A 10,000-foot view of your marketing strategy
- Accountability across your team
- Less stress about your content
If all of that sounds good to you, you’re in the right place. While there are certainly more pros and cons to consider, we think that content marketing calendars are worth it — and we can teach you how to make one right now.
How to Create a Content Marketing Calendar
While it’s tempting to pass off creating a content calendar as difficult… it’s really not.
It’s time-intensive — but that’s not the same thing as difficult. With the right tools, a solid chunk on time, and some elbow grease, you’ll have a content calendar for marketing every aspect of your business.
Let’s break it down:
- Step #1: Know what you already have — Audit your content to see what’s working (and what’s not). You don’t want to re-create pieces that are already performing.
- Step #2: Generate new ideas for content — Once you know what’s working, come up with new ideas that will resonate with your audience. We cover this in greater depth in the next section of this post, below.
- Step #3: Plan & schedule — Look at your proposed topics and try to balance it with your ability to create the content yourself (or review and approve the work completed by others). Schedule your content so that you’re not overwhelmed, but don’t skimp either.
- Step #4: Create & publish — Execute your plan. Create the content, edit it, and push it live. It can’t help you if it’s stuck on your computer or in the cloud!
- Step #5: Promote & track — Share your content proactively. Push it strategically on social media, reach out to parties that might be interested, and try to build traction however you can.
- Step #6: Tweak — After the piece has been live for a while, check to make sure it’s doing what it needs to. Otherwise, add it back to your calendar and tweak it to see if you can improve!
Content calendars are an ever-evolving process, so unfortunately you’ll never be done with it! But that’s also the fun part — you’re always looking for fresh ideas and new information to share with your audience.
And speaking of fresh ideas, let’s look into how you can come up with some of your own.
How Do I Come Up With Ideas For My Content Calendar?
As mentioned above, coming up with fresh ideas is sometimes the hardest part of filling out your calendar.
You want to make sure it’s a healthy blend of interesting, engaging content that can bring real traffic, leads, and customers to your site. This is where that elbow grease we talked about earlier comes in.
Figure out the type of content you’re making
The first place to start when generating ideas is with the type of content you plan to create. Most content marketers recognize at least eight different types of content, but you can argue there’s more (or less).
Content-nerd debates aside, you need to pinpoint which of these types you’re aiming to create. If you need more engagement on social media, the posts you create are going to utilize a different ideation process than a blog post. If you use the same approach to each, you’re going to end up missing the mark.
Identifying the type will help you create approachable buckets for your strategy, which is much less overwhelming to think about. Just remember to organize your calendar in a way that’s easy to recognize different types of content (we recommend color coding, e.g.: red for blogs and blue for website content).
Dive Deep Into Keyword Research
Once you know the types of content you’re aiming to create, it’s time to think about how you’re going to make that content visible.
For many of us, SEO is the answer — attempting to create content that will show up in organic search engine searches. At least, SEO is the answer as it pertains to certain types of content (blogs, ebooks, etc.).
So that means you need to work on your keyword research. Look for content opportunities that balance between long-term, high competition keywords and short-term, low competition keywords.
Remember to Stick With What Already Works
Last but not least, remember that it’s okay to keep going with content ideas that are already resonating with your audience. If there’s a particular group of topics that gets a lot of readership on your site or through social media, expand on those topics and deepen your offering.
This is a great time to employ a simple brainstorming technique.
Block out thirty minutes in your calendar, and pull out the timer on your phone. Set a ten minute timer and write down ideas. Then spend the next ten minutes scoring those ideas on a 1-3 scale (1 is bad, 2 is okay, 3 is good). Then spend the last ten minutes on which of the good ideas you want to create — and comparing them to your keyword research.
At the end of this process, you’ll be flush with ideas you can start inserting into your content calendar. All that’s left is to start writing!
How Far In Advance Should You Be Planning Your Content?
This is a question we hear a lot, but don’t really have a definitive answer to. That’s not a cop out, it’s just legitimately difficult to answer without knowing the pace of your industry, the kind of content you need, and a few dozen other particulars.
But just because there’s no definitive answer doesn’t mean we don’t have some guidelines for you. Come on, we know better than that.
So if you’re trying to plan ahead your planning ahead, here are some things to consider implementing:
- Think about holidays well in advance (6 months at least).
- Use a broader brush stroke for planning out your quarter.
- Plan granular pieces at least a month in advance.
- Move with the tides and pivot as needed (COVID-19 is a perfect example of being forced to adapt).
- Set aside definitive days for content audits and performance checks.
The rest is up to you — but we highly recommend making sure that you take the time to really think ahead and project where you can. It may not be 100% accurate, but having something to aim for is better than throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.
How Much Time Should I Allocate For Each Piece Of Content?
A lot of developing content calendars for marketing can be answered with “well, it depends…” and you may have noticed that already.
Well, we have some good news.
When it comes to how much time you should plan on investing for a piece of content, there’s a (sort of) definitive answer!
Studies have shown that the amount of time spent creating a blog post has slowly crept up over the last few years. 2019 data reports that most people spend just shy of 4 hours working on a single blog post:
If you think that sounds extreme, think again. That same study dug a little deeper and found that spending longer on a blog post actually correlates to real-world results (we’re talking traffic and leads, people!).
So while it’s possible to get good results with less time spent on your content, you significantly raise your chances of success by spending more time typing at the keyboard. Keep that in mind as you plan out your content calendar so you don’t overwhelm yourself (or your team) with too many pieces.
Tools Available to Help You Organize Your Content Marketing Calendar
There are plenty of tools that you can use to help you build out your content marketing calendar, and we want to make sure you know about them. We’ve mentioned a few of these already, but they bear repeating:
Keyword Research Tools:
Third-Party Team Organization App Tools:
A One-Stop-Shop Option
We’d be remiss to not give a brief pitch here of Verblio Complete, our solution for companies that need a content marketing plan and content fulfillment.
With Verblio Complete, you’ll work with a dedicated content expert who will get to know your business, help you plan for what’s next, and then work with Verblio’s writers to execute on that plan — including SEO optimization, CMS formatting and publishing, and regular check-ins with your team.
If it sounds too good to be true, rest assured that it’s not. We’ve helped plenty of businesses just like yours with their content, and we’d love to help you too!
Get the Verblio Template Content Marketing Calendar
If you’re a DIYer with content and want to take a stab at building your content marketing calendar, then we’ve got something for you too.
Our content experts put together an editorial calendar template that you can use — completely free.
Consider this our way of helping you shortcut your way into creating actionable content as quickly as possible. Happy writing!