It’s been reported that somewhere between 40% and 60% of all companies with a website have adopted a company blog. From a content marketing perspective, most people would think that that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s not.
While a lot of of companies have jumped on the blogging bandwagon, the vast majority of them are doing a terrible job. Why is this? Mostly because they’ve jumped into it with no strategy, no inclusion of search optimization, and no understanding of the editorial process. “But what’s so important about the editorial process?”, you might ask. Well, a lot actually. This study by the Content Marketing Institute points out “the ability to generate enough quality content” as one of the biggest challenges that companies have faced in the past and will continue to face in 2013. And that’s largely, if not wholly, because they didn’t have a content creation process to start with. Another reason is that they lack the internal resources to create content and publish it on a regular basis, but that’s a blog post for another day.
What is a Content Process and Why Does it Matter?
Talk to any daily, weekly, or monthly publishing professional and they’ll tell you that creating content on a consistent basis – especially when you’re writing about a niche topic or industry – is hard. There’s generally only a handful of original ideas, and so aside from reporting news and latest trends, a lot of time is spent thinking of story angles – in other words, interesting takes on old or already established information.
If you look at content creation as an in-the-moment task without putting any type of proper planning and strategy behind it, you’re going to lose steam really quickly because you’re going to run out of ideas. One way to combat this is to prepare your posts beforehand with a content calendar (or editorial calendar – ed cal for short).
Defining a Content Calendar
A content calendar is a tool that allows a writer or editor to map out content ideas (usually a year) in advance. This is not only to help manage content creation from multiple writers and editors, but to help visualize editorial topics and ideas and arrange them in a way that makes sense for a publication and their audience. For instance, we had a client who had a home goods line which was sold directly to consumers through an e-commerce store, as well as through distribution deals with retailers like Costco. Given the nature of their company, it made sense to work lots of holiday themed topics into their content calendar to take advantage of increased traffic for targeted holiday searches, as well as to place her brand name as a leader in creative home decor ideas for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter – you get the point.
A content or editorial calendar lets you look at your content ideas as a whole and then re-arrange their publishing dates in a way that makes sense and allows you to take advantage of natural traffic drivers.
What are some types of events that can drive organic traffic?
- Conferences in your industry
- Legislation that affects your clients/customers
- Trending news stories that relate to your industry or audience
Now that we understand the benefit of a content calendar, let’s look at some examples. I’m going to show you guys a few ways that you can go about this. The first is how we create content calendars in-house for our clients through a simple Excel spreadsheet, which you can see here (I like color-coding to help differentiate between each writer).
Even on a very bare-bones calendar, you should include a few key things:
- The year, broken down my months (we like to create monthly calendars since we usually manage daily content for most of our clients)
- The publish date of each piece of content (are you publishing every week day? Three times a week? Twice a month?)
- Title of each blog post (or theme), as well as the type of content for other channels, such as Facebook updates or tweets.
- The deadline for each piece of content (this will help you stay on track with content creation and manage team members who are blogging).
Note: We often include “Press” as a part of our content calendars as well, since having your PR reps or publicist pitch stories around the types of content you are already publishing on your blog and social channels can help strengthen your industry thought leadership – especially when press mentions drive leads back to your website to read more about you.
A lot of print and online publications publish their editorial calendars so that freelance writers will know which types of stories to pitch for their upcoming issues. In these types of editorial calendars, there aren’t specific story headlines noted, and the calendars aren’t as detailed – they focus on an overarching topic for the month. Notice the editorial calendar for Forbes below (or click here to view it in your browser) – they have the month, the editorial theme, deadlines, and publish dates.
This is a pretty basic content calendar, and if there are any specific features under each editorial theme for the month, they’ll note it, like the “Top-Earning Athletes” focus under June’s “The Investment Guide I” theme.
Other publications give readers and potential contributors a more generalized theme for each section of their publication or website, such as the way SheKnows.com sets up their editorial calendars. See it on their website here.
In fact, if you’re curious about any publication’s editorial calendar layout, you can do a quick Google search with “[name of publication” editorial calendar] and you can generally find it pretty easily.
Now, for most businesses who are creating an editorial calendar to cover blogging and, say, social channels, you’ll want to be more granular and have the actual topics for each week panned out ahead of time. We’ll dive into the step-by-step of setting up your calendar in a minute, but first, if you want a more tech-savvy solution for managing your editorial calendar and you operate on the WordPress backend, I highly recommend the Editorial Calendar plugin for WordPress (which is free, I might add), since it links your blog post drafts into your calendar and makes the process pretty seamless. I actually still use a spreadsheet to first map out content, and then enter it into the calendar as an easy way to manage content development.
Creating Your Calendar, Step-by-Step
1. Use my Sample Editorial Calendar as a base to set up your Excel spreadsheet. List your content creation channels at the top, after deadline (assuming you’re including blogging as a regular content channel)
2. Taking into account frequency of each channel publication, make an “x” in each box that correlates to your publishing date and channel (ex: on 3/3/13 I’m going to have a blog post and a Facebook update).
3. Find notable dates. This part requires a little more thought and some research. Think about what type of business you’re in and make a list of notable holidays, industry events, company milestone dates, etc. that you’ll want to create content around and then add those topics into your calendar first, since those will require specific publishing dates.
4. Add in your additional content topics for the month. Often brands will focus on a specific topic each month, for instance we might have a 4-part series, over the course of a month, that focuses on analyzing your blog’s traffic. (we’ll have an upcoming blog post on how to find content topic ideas later on).
5. Rinse and repeat (for each following month).
Voila! Now you have a basic editorial calendar that will serve as a roadmap for your content creation efforts. Keep in mind, an editorial calendar is constantly evolving, so you may need to move publishing dates around or occasionally add in additional posts to account for unexpected news or company releases.
Once you have the basics down pat, you also might want to expand your calendar to account for keywords that you’ll want to target or focus on for each post; add in an extra column for authors (especially if you have lots of contributors); or include additional distribution channels for each piece of content (ie where you’re going to post or promote your blog post, etc.).
How do you manage your content creation? Do you have a different approach to your editorial calendar? Let us know!
Lauren! Nice work on this post. People definitely need to understand the “why” and “how” of developing an editorial calendar, but I think they also need to understand that utilizing a spreadsheet (excel, google doc) is going to be problematic for them as their content team expands, their amount of content increases and as their workflow process gets more complex.
I spelled out some of the issues with spreadsheet-based editorial calendars here: http://bit.ly/JA9ayu
Don’t get me wrong…if a single person or small team is able to get by with a spreadsheet, by all means your advice and format is solid. I just hate seeing articles like this that have awesome advice, but push people into a format that won’t scale well long term.
My two cents. Keep the content goodness coming.
Hey Brody, thanks for the comment! While I agree with you that there can be better ways to handle the content production workflow, I think that most companies aren’t yet creating a large enough amount of content on a regular basis where a spreadsheet is going to seriously deter them from meeting their editorial goals. And workflow aside, editorial calendar creation and management isn’t that much of a pain to manage in a spreadsheet. And I say this coming from years as an editor. It’s really just a place to organize a brainstorm of content ideas, which I don’t think immediately requires a project management solution to handle.
I’m not saying that I don’t see the benefit in a product like Divvy – I definitely do. But I see the majority of the benefit of a scalable software in helping companies with the creation workflow and managing the CMS – not solely making the editorial calendar process easier. It’s already pretty easy.
It’s like the guy in the forest, madly swinging his axe at the tree, but making minimal progress. When a passerby comments that he’d fare better by simply sharpening the axe, he shoots back “Thanks, but I don’t have the time”
Many organizations would benefit from using an editorial calendar, but they have to stop, take a step back, and spend time creating one. I’m actually taking a break from finishing our own year’s editorial calendar to read this article…. nice, BTW.
We use a spreadsheet for ourselves, and one for each client. It comes down to workflow and load. If you’re publishing a blog post saily on several blogs, six social media posts per day on each platform backing them up and getting out other interesting / valuable info, a simple spreadsheet may not do the trick.
Our primary business publishes our main publication, roughly every three weeks, plus supporting docs, and we haven’t had the time to take on too many additional clients. The spreadsheet system continues to do the job very well for us. In time maybe not, but we’ll cross the scalability bridge when we see it on the horizon.
@MarketingUnlock – thanks for reading and commenting! I completely agree – it does definitely come down to workflow and load. And granted I don’t have numbers to back this statement up, but I don’t think many businesses right now are producing enough content to feel overwhelmed by the spreadsheet method. And the ones that do are generally using agencies, like ours, who have their own internal systems or use software to help manage.
I love you gave samples I am having the worst time trying to figure out how to use this 🙂