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Producing content can sometimes feel like slaying a mythical monster.
The journey from content conception to publication is riddled with potential pitfalls — research wormholes, proofreading quicksand, and the inbox abyss where all great content goes to die (or at least forgotten until your boss says, oh yeah, didn’t we write something for that?).
Whether you’re a sprawling team with many moving parts or a one-person show, you’re probably pretty familiar with juggling several projects in different phases of production at once. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to try to remember when that article needed to be proofread or that case study was due back from a freelance designer? What if you could just know?
For that, you need an editorial calendar.
Consider an editorial calendar your guiding light for all things content. (Or, in this monster slaying analogy, like, a really big sword.) It is the tool with which you will conquer the content pipeline.
An editorial calendar can tell you who will be working on which pieces, which phase of the pipeline each project is in, and when to press post.
Plus, when everything your content team creates is on the editorial calendar, you can rest assured that you’ve crossed your Ts and dotted your Is. No more night terrors about rogue comma splices.
So, what is an editorial calendar, and how do you use one? In this guide, we’ll take a deeper look at the ins and outs of successful editorial calendars and give you one to take with you so that you can hit the ground running.
Editorial Calendar Basics: Who, What, When, Where, and Why?
Editorial Calendar Basics: Who, What, When, Where, and Why?
Before we look at the ins and outs of how you should use an editorial calendar this year (because you totally should), let’s start with the basics.
What is an editorial calendar?
Thankfully, it’s exactly what it sounds like. A calendar that depicts the editorial process.
Hubspot defines editorial calendars as “a visual workflow that helps a team of content creators schedule their work on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.” Essentially, an editorial calendar is a tool that provides a high-level overview of all upcoming content.
Straightforward enough, right?
The tricky part is that starting an editorial calendar can feel a bit like hunting Bigfoot. You know the general shape of one, and you can see it in the corner of your eye, but when it comes to actually sitting down and making one… All you have is a blurry photograph and leaves stuck in your hair from the stakeout.
An editorial calendar can look so many different ways that you might struggle deciding on how to best set up a calendar that works right for your team. This process can seem overwhelming, and you might start to think that anyone who claims they use an editorial calendar is pulling your leg (and probably a part-time Sasquatch hunter.)
There are numerous ways to create an editorial calendar and plenty of project management tools that can help you stay the course, but we’ve taken the guesswork out of building your content team’s 2023 editorial calendar so that you can start your quest for success on the right foot.
Who should use an editorial calendar?
An editorial calendar can be used by any team creating content.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a mighty team of one or a massive business with several branches of marketing, if you’re a social media manager with a penchant for going viral or an SEO whiz doing content refreshes, or if you’re an in-house marketer or working at a marketing agency. An editorial calendar can transform your content production, no matter how the sausage gets made.
Think of an editorial calendar like your school syllabus. It outlines what is going to be published and when that will happen. It establishes due dates, ownership, and expectations. It’s the rubric by which success will be measured.
The good news? Knowing when you need to push live with a piece of content means you’ll be able to appropriately manage your time leading up to that deadline. (There is no bad news.)
Written content, of course, can be planned and tracked with an editorial calendar, but other marketing content types can also benefit from inclusion in a primary editorial calendar or a smaller, dedicated calendar of their own.
Let’s say you work on an in-house team. You could have one, be-all end-all calendar that includes deadlines for everything your team touches — sales enablement articles, podcasts, email blasts, blog articles, case studies, e-books, webinars, TikToks, listicles…
In fact, there’s a solid argument that you should have that somewhere (and no, 38 open browser tabs don't count.)
A primary editorial calendar that provides a bird’s-eye view of every piece of content coming out of your team can be extremely beneficial for team-wide visibility and distribution.
However, your calendars can also get increasingly granular.
Segmenting down to one type of content, a calendar dedicated solely to social media posts, for instance, could include deadlines for every post on every platform, or you could make separate calendars for each platform you utilize. There are pros and cons to both.
THE ALL-IN-ONE APPROACH
- High-level visibility
- One-stop shop for all ongoing team projects
- You can color-code everything
- Easily cluttered and could be difficult to navigate
- Lack of focus due to too many projects
- Expect to have to color-code everything
The One-For-All Approach
- Clear visibility to each upcoming task
- Clean workspace with less visual clutter
- Frequent use of many calendars
- Lots of switching between calendars
- Low visibility to shared due dates with other projects
- Meticulous, tedious upkeep in many calendars
We’ve found that multiple editorial calendars is a strategy often preferred by agencies where the content team might only be responsible for written blog articles while other specialty teams — social, paid ads, PR, design, SEO, video — have their own responsibilities and outputs.
Tips for agencies building editorial calendars when producing content at scale
Are you a marketing agency producing lots of content and hoping to scale? No problem.
Editorial calendars are crucial for enabling growth that helps you meet your goals. Internal calendars are as critical as client-facing ones because you likely have numerous teams involved in the process and are asked to juggle deadlines for multiple clients and customers you want to keep informed.
To build effective editorial calendars when producing content at scale, it's important to focus on organization and communication. Visibility is crucial for big teams that often rely on asynchronous communication.
Thorough documentation on your editorial calendar can help you to manage multiple teams and deadlines and ensure that your content is being created and published consistently.
When should you start using an editorial calendar?
The best time to start using a content calendar was last year. The second best time is now.
It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this on January 1 or August 23. It doesn’t matter if you’re a team of thirty-six or a team of three. Now is the time to start operating with an editorial calendar if you aren’t already.
The more time you wait to establish clear expectations for content production, the more time you’ll spend spinning your wheels. Balls will get dropped. Deadlines will be missed.
Why? Great question.
Why will an editorial calendar help?
To meet your desired metrics, first you have to meet your deadlines. An editorial calendar provides not only visibility but also structure to a marketing strategy.
For in-house teams, this means you’re able to create broad marketing objectives, plan the content necessary for reaching those, and deliver on time. You’ll be able to appropriately delegate work and assign tasks as they arrive rather than having finished drafts unknowingly pooling in your inbox for weeks before getting sent to an editor.
If you’re an agency, creating editorial calendars for each of your clients allows you the necessary oversight to provide for each of their individual content needs — as well as meet (and hopefully exceed) expectations.
An editorial calendar can help you maximize your team’s output by synchronizing your efforts.
When you run a well-oiled content machine, you’re setting your business up for success. Content introduces your target audience to the sales funnel and has the power to produce qualified leads.
Where do you find an editorial calendar that is right for your team?
The thing about editorial calendars is that there are a million different ways to make them. We’ve already touched on how different teams have different needs, and there are numerous tools to scratch those itches. Creating and managing your editorial calendar could involve various content management systems or project management tools.
Two big considerations when developing an editorial calendar:
- Is this calendar easy to distribute so that all team members have appropriate visibility?
- Is this tool within our budget and flexible enough to allow scaling?
Tools like Asana, Airtable, and Monday are frequent flyers when it comes to managing content production pipelines, especially if you’re an agency churning out massive amounts of deliverables each month.
These apps are powerful assets to robust teams because they have the ability to automate actions, ultimately freeing up team bandwidth that would otherwise be used for menial tasks. Their functionalities and customization options vary based on program and plan (for instance, don’t expect full automation control with Asana unless you’re at the business or enterprise level), but you’ll have the opportunity to integrate your team at some capacity and see a high level overview of production with nearly every plan.
These tools can help teams to plan and organize their content, assign tasks to team members, track progress, and collaborate with each other.
However, for smaller teams, scrappy start-ups on a budget, or enterprise operations that want full control without the cost, an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet can achieve many of the same results.
Ultimately, the best project management system for a content marketing team isn’t the one that allows you to efficiently and effectively plan, create, and distribute their content.
It's the one you actually use.
How to use an editorial calendar
How to Use an Editorial Calendar
Preparing and implementing your first editorial calendar might seem like a daunting task, so we’re going to break it down into bite-sized steps.
Step 1: Establish clear content goals
Before you can put pen to paper and start crafting your master plan, it’s important for your team to understand exactly what your upcoming content will accomplish. Having an editorial calendar but not being able to articulate your strategic objectives is like having a cake with no frosting.
Still good. But comparatively terrible.
Your editorial calendar can’t function without an overarching content strategy. Well, technically it can function, but it likely won’t function well or result in real success.
When deciding what that strategy might look like, you’ll likely want to select blog content topics that will engage with your audience, generate traffic, boost your SERP ranking, and increase reader retention rates, but there may be other important metrics to track or ways your team wants to measure success. Things like lead generation, brand awareness, free trial sign-ups, and growing your email list, but those are just the tip of the iceberg.
Additionally, collaborating with other teams and departments, such as sales and customer service, to ensure that your content aligns with their goals and objectives is not to be overlooked. Your best sales enablement content ideas will come straight from the mouths of the people living those roles five days a week.
Don’t forget to establish your ICP or a buyer persona. If your business has multiple branches, you might have several ICPs. Determine which channels speak best to each audience and plan content accordingly. You might even consider narrowing down your content output focus to one type of dream client.
Then, decide how many posts of each content type you want to publish — each year, each quarter, each month, or each week — and why.
The frequency with which you post is an important factor, but it’s more important to know why you’re creating your strategy this way. (If you’re an in-house marketer, your boss will ask. If you’re at an agency, your boss and your client will. Ask us how we know.)
In Orbit Media’s most recent report for their annual blogging survey, they discovered that bloggers who publish between multiple posts per week see better performance than those posting less often.
You might be inclined to plan your posting schedule down to the second (we are talking about calendars after all), but don’t forget that an editorial calendar is supposed to be a living, breathing document. Certainly, choose a posting cadence that aligns with your goals and accommodates your team’s bandwidth, but don’t forget to build in some wiggle room. Some pieces of content take more time, and that content often performs stronger.
So, if you’re a junior marketer, turn to your leadership to receive umbrella objectives and key result indicators. And if you’re on the leadership team, please, for the love of everything, develop a content strategy.
Then, get to work.
Step 2: Set-up a production workflow
Next on the growing list of things editorial calendars aren’t, we have the production pipeline. Your editorial calendar will, however, reflect stages of production so that you can have eyes on all pieces of content in the making.
You likely have a working model of your workflow already. We still find it beneficial to clearly articulate this workflow in a process document that can be referenced by both the marketing team and any other branches of your organization who may be impacted by your processes.
However, if you’re starting from scratch and want to set-up a production workflow to determine who has ownership over which types of content and which phases of production. A few questions to ask your team include:
- Who is responsible for generating blog content ideas?
- Who assigns work and how?
- How will deadlines be determined?
- Who will maintain the editorial calendar?
- Who communicates with any outsourced contributors?
- Who will be moving pieces through the pipeline?
- How will posts be published? And by whom?
After you’ve answered those questions, you can start to build a production workflow. This will likely look different depending on whether you’re an in-house team or working at an agency.
On an in-house team, your workflow might look something like this:
However, if you’re at an agency and handling multiple clients at the same time, your workflow might include additional steps for gaining client approval of content topics, sending copywriting to clients to review, and communicating with other internal teams regarding content.
Whether you're a burgeoning business or a kick-ass agency, a single, scalable workflow will be doubly important for growing agencies to account for potential growth in client numbers.
Step 3: Start building your calendar
It’s time to release the Kraken.
We recommend starting with this calendar template. Because this template lives inside a Google Sheet, it’s super easy to duplicate and share with your team.
To get started, select make a copy from the File drop-down menu. This will prompt you to name a duplicate version of the template to your Google Drive, allowing you to edit it.
Once you’ve got your new copy created, be sure to update viewing and editing access so that your team can dig their hands in.
Along the bottom, you’ll find tabs with calendars for all twelve months as well as some of our favorite resources, a spot to keep track of your content ideas, a pre-publishing checklist filled with best practices, a place to store login credentials, and a tab to catalog all guest contributors.
For each piece of content, you’ll be able to assign a content type, a distribution channel, a writer, editor, due date, and current phase of production as well as several other key insights, such as CTA and target keywords.
These are the things we find most valuable when producing content for our in-house team.
If you decide to utilize a different tool to create your editorial calendar, now is the time to familiarize yourself with its primary functionalities, such as creating and organizing tasks and deadlines, assigning tasks to team members, and tracking progress. This will ensure that you are using it effectively to plan and manage your content. Now’s also a great time to explore any advanced features or integrations that the tool offers — these can save you countless headaches down the line.
Step 4: Insert all known deadlines and important dates
These are your Babe Ruths. Your heavy-hitters. The tried-and-true sluggers that send home runs sailing over the outfield year after year.
If you do an end-of-year round-up or a mid-year state of marketing survey report, add that in now. This can also include big projects like e-books, ongoing series, and interactive pages that require dev support. Anything that takes a lot of time upfront to create and is already on your radar should be the first thing you put into your calendar. This allows you to develop your calendar around those things rather than trying to squeeze your strongest pieces of content in later.
Don’t forget to add in nationally observed holidays and company-wide time-off. This can help you to avoid scheduling content during times when your audience may be less engaged or when your team may be unavailable.
If you're being especially mindful of your content creation timelines, now is a good time to consider the "right time" to post your content. This refers not only to the time of day, but also the time of year. For example, blog traffic may decrease during the summer months when people are on vacation or during the busy winter holidays. By planning interactive content, such as surveys and polls, for times when your audience is likely to be more engaged, you can improve the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts.
Step 5: Fill in the blanks
This is where the magic happens. Once you start to insert upcoming posts into your calendar, you’ll see it begin to come to life.
Don’t freak out if you’re not 100% sure what content is going to come down the pipeline six months from now. You can use placeholders for now and develop specific topics later on.
In fact, we’ve seen success building content calendars on a quarterly basis. If your team sits down and plans out the next three months of content four times a year, you’ll always have a calendar filled with timely material.
And honestly? That’s the secret sauce when it comes to editorial calendars. When you’re at the mercy of algorithm shifts, it’s best to stay on your toes. The key for content success is to have a structure in place that allows you to stay on track without sacrificing your flexibility. An adaptable content strategy is essential for success in today's fast-paced, constantly changing online environment.
Again, let’s be totally clear: an editorial calendar is not a content strategy.
But an editorial calendar provides the necessary scaffolding that allows you to maintain an elastic content strategy that can adjust to new challenges. This dynamic approach to content production means you’re less likely to get caught on your heels and more likely to see opportunities than obstacles.
Step 6: Start writing and posting content
Yes, you actually have to publish things in order for the editorial calendar’s full power to be realized.
Thankfully, you don’t have to do it all alone.
In fact, according to our annual Digital Content Report, 75% of marketers are outsourcing some of their writing needs in 2022. You can outsource content to freelance writers by working with a content writing vendor or hiring individual writers directly.
When working with external contributors, it is important for you to clearly communicate your expectations and requirements to the writers and to provide them with any necessary information and resources (like a killer content brief) to help them create high-quality content.
It’s best practice to also establish a system for providing feedback and making revisions to ensure that the content meets your (or your clients’) standards. By outsourcing content to freelance writers, you’ll free up time and resources to focus on other aspects of your content marketing strategy.
From there, it’s a matter of utilizing that production workflow you’ve developed, keeping a bird’s-eye view on your content in the pipeline thanks to your sparkling new editorial calendar, and crushing those KPIs.
Make the most of your editorial calendar
Make the Most of Your Editorial Calendar
Now that you have the full picture for editorial calendars, we want to make sure you get the best use out of them. Our best practices will help keep your calendar chugging all year long.
Editorial Calendar Best Practices
- Establish clear goals and directives for the team
- Find the right project management tool for your content production
- If necessary, integrate your calendar with other tools so that you don’t miss a beat
- Insert all important dates and known projects
- Assign, delegate, and set deadlines for all content tasks
- Outsource your content to freelance writers when needed to meet production deadlines
- Regularly review and update the calendar as needed
Mark your calendars
Hopefully you see now why we’re adamant about conquering editorial calendars to see success in your content marketing efforts.
Editorial calendars provide a structure and a framework for planning and organizing content and can help teams to be more productive and efficient. They’re brilliant for team alignment, visibility, and accountability.
Take your content team from BRB to B2B and B2C by maximizing output with an editorial calendar. Download our editorial calendar template to get started.