There are no shortcuts to engaging your audience with content.
Marketing automation takes care of a lot for digital marketers these days. But there’s at least one thing you can’t automate: the personal touch of great content. Good content engages, convinces, and converts.
It’s not easy. There isn’t a magic ‘create winning content’ button. But you still have plenty of content marketing tools to support your efforts. And of the most powerful tools in your arsenal is the editorial calendar.
You ultimately decide what content your audience will find interesting and compelling. An editorial calendar helps you fill the gaps, lay out a roadmap and stay consistent.
What is an editorial calendar?
An editorial calendar is a centralized, visual working doc that organizes the activities of an entire content team. With an editorial calendar, content marketers can schedule out marketing materials on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Beyond publish dates, editorial calendars help content teams track content type, purpose, authors, channels and more.
Content marketing was never simple, but now it’s more complex than ever. Content teams produce content for SEO, blog posts, newsletters, guest posts, podcasts, social media, and more. Figuring out how to balance content between awareness, engagement, and conversion makes content production even more complicated. Having an editorial calendar visualizes this breakdown for a more efficient workflow and better content in the long run.
Who needs an editorial calendar?
Well, almost everyone. At least, everyone who has a direct role in the content creation process at a company.
Editorial calendars aren’t just for the Director of Marketing or Head of Content. Marketers have been repeating a telling phrase for years now: “Every company should be a media company.” Whether you sell lead generation services or enterprise cloud software, content is key for engaging prospective buyers.
Half of buyers view at least five pieces of content before they make a purchase. Are you doing everything you can to curate the sales and marketing content your audience is looking for?
You need (yes, need) an editorial calendar if:
- You’re the sole marketer in the company, figuring things out as you go.
- You’re building a marketing team around CX, product, SEO, and social media.
- You’ve been tasked with increasing organic traffic to your company website.
- You know you should work more closely with sales, but haven’t figured out yet.
- You’re facing the herculean task of giving all of your company’s content a refresh.
You get the idea. There’s not just one use case for an editorial calendar. Getting (and keeping) things organized will make a huge difference in your workflow no matter what projects you’re focused on.
If none of these apply to you, it may be a good idea to revisit your approach to content marketing. “Planning out when and where you’ll post your content can be overwhelming to even the most experienced marketer,” writes Alexa Drake. The key, she says, is to segment your content, make it a collaborative process and get a schedule going. “Organizing content ahead of time can save you the headache when important deadlines come up abruptly.”
But saving your own sanity is not the only benefit that editorial calendars carry.
Why is an editorial calendar necessary?
No one sees an editorial calendar besides your team, so why is it so important? Check out these telling stats from past G2 posts:
- Only 30 percent of marketers document their content strategy.
- 60 percent of marketers create at least one piece of content every day.
- Content marketing generates over 3x more leads than outbound marketing.
- Companies with active blogs see five times more conversions.
Whether your goal is daily content or biweekly reports, an editorial calendar will help you get the most out of your content marketing efforts. You’ll keep content aligned with your strategy, post more consistently and (most importantly) create space for better content.
Marketing teams can use an editorial calendar to create content that is:
- Relevant. Without everything in one place, content creators can quickly get stuck in the weeds. Visualizing upcoming content in an editorial calendar means you can see which buckets you’re covering, uncover duplicate topics and home in on the purpose behind each piece you create.
- Consistent. Keep your cadence and get ahead of your workload by keeping your topics and deadlines straight. Most of your writing will be in one sitting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make things easier by outlining and researching posts ahead of time.
- Recycled. Extend the impact of your content by using a single, longform post to create slide decks, infographics, webinars, videos, social media posts and more. Robust editorial calendars will pull all of these channels together, squeezing every last drop of value out of every piece you produce.
- Collaborative. The best content gets input from multiple teams. You don’t have to have your CX manager write a full post in order to get their perspective. Just keep an eye on upcoming topics and send a few questions to your internal SME a few weeks before it gets scheduled. The same goes for product marketing, sales content and social media.
- Aligned. Marketing teams should never create content just to get something out there. Each and every piece should serve a purpose. Is it meant to land on page 1 of Google? Do your Account Executives need collateral for their sales calls into a new market? Start with your sales and marketing goals, using those to populate your editorial calendar.
How to create an editorial calendar
If you ask any SEO what the right way to do something is, the answer is invariably “It depends”. Like it or not, the same applies to creating and getting the most out of an editorial calendar.
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way; creating a working editorial calendar depends on your workflow preferences, team collaboration, existing processes and more. Just remember, there are no shortcuts. In general, take your time in going through five steps to creating an editorial calendar that will keep your content in check.
1. Choose a format
The world is your digital oyster when it comes to your choice of editorial calendar tools. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, try to stick with a format that you’re already comfortable with. You’ll end up using the editorial calendar more, and you don’t have to get fancy for things to work. These are your options.
Tried and true, if somewhat clunky for this purpose, spreadsheets give you a utilitarian approach to building your editorial calendar. The most straightforward way to organize your content using spreadsheets is with the publish date in descending order in the first column, followed by columns for each piece of critical information.
- Keyword (if relevant)
- Author and editor
- Theme or category
- Deliverable dates
- Design notes
You can use spreadsheets to quickly set up your editorial calendar without having to learn a new tool or spending (much) money. The potential issue is spreadsheets are relatively static, making it more difficult to collaborate with others or get a big picture view into your content. If you need a quick start to your editorial calendar, or just want to mock up something, a spreadsheet may be your best bet.
Standard online calendars
On the opposite end of the spectrum from spreadsheets are online calendars. These have the benefit of already being organized around publishing dates, but the drawback of not being especially suited to content production.
Some online calendars solve that challenge with built in collaboration and communication features. But at the end of the day, most calendars aren’t built with asynchronous communication in mind. If you just need a simple way to visualize your publishing cadence and don’t collaborate on content, standard online calendars may be your best bet.
Project management tools
Built to simultaneously coordinate individual tasks and manage team goals, project management tools are a great fit for editorial calendars.
Cloud-based project management software is already focused on breaking projects into visual elements for each task, process, deliverable or due date. While not purpose-built for content teams and editorial calendars, most tools can be easily adapted to the layout you need. Some even have templates that you can use to get a quick start.
If you’re willing to spend some money on an editorial calendar tool and need to collaborate with others on your team, project management tools may be your best bet.
Content management platforms
Despite the name, content management platforms aren’t typically well suited for creating an editorial calendar.
Some platforms include collaboration features, which means you can combine spreadsheets and other documents to layout your content strategy and calendar. Others work as a client portal, so if you’re creating content as a professional service you can consolidate your tasks, calendar and communication within the platform.
If (for now) you’re just looking for a way to organize your content, share it across your organization and publish with a regular cadence, a content management platform may be your best bet.
2. Outline what content you want to include (topics, themes, titles, etc.)
The tool you choose to use is important, but it’s not the most critical part of your editorial calendar. What you include on your calendar will be much more important for the ongoing success of your content.
Use the following seven elements in your content calendar:
- Topic: The full working title for your piece of content.
- Writer: Who will own this content?
- Status: Where are you at in the writing, editing and staging process?
- Deliverable and publish dates: Keep the finish line in mind by focusing on when your content will go out.
- Category/purpose: Will it be on the blog? Serve as sales collateral? Is it for SEO or product marketing?
- Document links: Keep the link to your brief and draft documents handy.
- Live link: Make it easier to review content after it's published by adding the live link (if relevant).
3. Set deadlines for the publication process
The whole point of an editorial calendar is to stay on top of your content, so make your deadlines realistic.
If you work on a two-week cycle, perhaps your goal is to have a draft written, edited, and staged 10-14 days before publication date. If you fall behind, you’ll have given yourself a buffer to catch up without sacrificing quality. If you’re working with multiple writers, widen that buffer.
For many content teams (especially those on the larger end), it’s helpful to include both the publication date and due dates for the first draft, edits and staging portions of content production.
4. Determine the frequency of content distribution
Will you publish a piece of content every week? Twice a week? Will you include social media distribution within the content calendar? Again, there are no right or wrong answers here. But make sure that your cadence is realistic. Optimism can quickly give way to overcommitment in content marketing.
Choose a cadence just outside of your comfort zone to push yourself but avoid feeling overwhelmed. As an example, this could translate into seven blog posts per month to allow for some breathing room at the end of each month.
5. Decide on distribution channels/formats
Don’t neglect content formats. A well-populated and active blog is a powerful lead generation tool, but it’s not the only format that will grow your business. Instead, work on populating your editorial calendar with:
- Pillar content for SEO
- New landing pages and product copy
- Sales collateral
- Customer-focused content
- User-generated content and case studies
Outside of social media, you might focus on creating seven blog posts and one piece of sales collateral, website copy, and pillar SEO content each.
Editorial calendar template
No editorial calendar is one-size-fits-all. You’ll have to work through what will work for your existing workflow, contributors and content goals. If you’re looking for a starting point, this editorial calendar template is a mockup of how you might like to organize content month by month. It follows many of the ideas outlined above.
If you’re in a content marketing position, it’s most likely because you don’t suffer from a shortage of creativity. To build a concrete way to channel that creativity into productivity, an editorial calendar is a good place to start.
By mapping out your content along with dates, deliverables, and resources, you set yourself up for success both in the short- and long-term.