There’s an old axiom found in the U.S. army: plans might be worthless, but the act of planning is essential. Creating an editorial calendar for your content marketing plans might not be quite as life-and-death as planning a military campaign, but it doesn’t mean the principle doesn’t still hold true:
If you’re going to create valuable content for your business, you need to plan it.
Enter the Editorial Calendar. At its most basic, your EC is like any other calendar—it has some dates on it, some deadlines, and perhaps some notes. But if you’ve never created one before, you’ll likely struggle with a nagging feeling: am I doing enough?
Our recommendation: make sure you do enough. Here are five steps to creating your blog’s first editorial calendar—and making it effective:
Step One: Research
Your first mission: reconnaissance.
If knowledge is power, then Step One is the most valuable step of the process. You need to not only learn your limits and advantages, but get a sense of who you’re writing for. Your audience will have questions that your content needs to answer, and you’re not very well going to do that without a little research. Assemble a master research document and fill it with the following information:
- Frequency. Within the confines of your time and budget, how often can you post quality content to your blog? Once per week? Once per month? Twice per day? There’s no definitive answer to what’s best, but you’ll need to arrive at a decision that fits within your company’s structure.
- Audience. The question of who you’re writing for is essential. In Step One, you need it both asked and answered. The demographics and concerns of your readership will largely determine the type of content you develop. Browse through Quora to get a sense of what questions your audience is asking—as well as the type of content that becomes most popular.
- Competition. What’s the best content out there that already exists for your audience? How might you beat it? Can you try different media—populating your blog with more infographics than walls of text—to make your business stand out?
Step Two: Brainstorming
Once you know what your audience is asking, you can start creating a schedule of content that fills in the holes posed by their queries. But your brainstorming session should go a step above and beyond jotting down notes. Use the following tools to help spur some creativity so you can schedule content that’s a little more engaging than the usual:
- Ubersuggest. Maybe you have an idea of one keyword that you can start with—you just don’t know what else you can target in the same field to differentiate yourself from the competition. Use a suggestion tool like Ubersuggest to get the gears cranking.
- Blog Ideas Generator from HubSpot. The idea is simple: you enter a noun and Blog Ideas Generator will spit back an entire litany of potential blog posts. You won’t necessarily use all of these ideas, but you will get some suggestions that are worthy of your EC.
- BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo lets you input a simple key phrase—such as the subject of your blog, for instance—and spits back a list of some of the most engaging content already created in that field. This is a great way to evaluate the competition as well as get an idea of what your audience is looking for.
Step Three: Decisions
After the first two steps, you should have a giant honking list of blog ideas, competitive insights, and audience research notes. But you don’t have an EC yet.
That’s because the next step requires you to make decisions about the insights you’ve gathered. By now you’ll have looked in on the competition, browsed through audience queries, and recorded some of the insights that most stuck out to you.
So what’s next? Whittling.
You’ve armed yourself with education—now, the best you can do is make educated guesses about the types and styles of content that your audience most wants. Your goal here should be to end up with at least 10 distinct content ideas. They don’t need to all be blog posts—but they can be if you so decide. Once you have this list, you’re ready to create the calendar itself:
Step Four: Implementation
Now that you have your ideas and know how often you need to create fresh content, it’s time to implement them and create a calendar for easy organization. Here are some tools for making that happen:
- Google Calendar or Google Docs. The beauty of using Google tools it that you’ll have no problem sharing your calendar with anyone else on the content team. It’s up to you whether you want to use an actual calendar or simply use a spreadsheet with dates input in one column—it’s really a stylistic choice more than anything else.
- HubSpot Editorial Calendar. HubSpot offers free templates for editorial calendars that you can download with a few clicks.
- Project management software like Trello or Slack. These are especially ideal if you already have a large team in place and need to get your editorial calendar to a point where everyone can collaborate on it.
Step Five: Action and Review
Once your editorial calendar is in place, all you have to do is execute. Okay—that’s not all you have to do. Remember how that Army axiom said that “plans are worthless”? So is yours. But that’s okay, because you remember that planning is essential—and as you go on, you can use analytics to review the success of your editorial calendar and continue honing your content to cater to your audience’s tastes.
You can use tools like KissMetrics to get a sense of how successful you’ve been. From there, schedule a regular EC review to update the calendar with fresh content and use the lessons you’ve learned from the content you’ve already published. As you go on, your calendar will only get stronger—as will your content marketing strategy.