It’s been a while since I blogged about blogging, but I’ve been planning to post this month about how to create and use a content calendar for your blog. How did I know that I’ve been planning to write about content calendars? Because I put it on my content calendar for December.
Full circle. Blog post over.
Not really. There’s actually more than 2,000 words left to read. Feel free to bail now.
Anyway, today I’m going to cover what a content calendar is, how you can create one, how mine is set up, and why all of this content calendar nonsense is important.
What is a Content Calendar?
If you come from a journalism or editorial background, you might be wondering what the difference between a content calendar and an editorial calendar is. The answer to that question is nothing–at least in my opinion. I use the terms interchangeably. Case in point: My content calendar file is actually named “Mommy Sanest Editorial Calendar,” so you do you.
What ever you call it, a content calendar is basically a tool that helps you plan the content that you intend to publish. As far as I’m concerned, beyond that very simple definition, the other details you include in a content calendar are up to you, and you can make it as basic or as complicated as you want.
You’ll notice I said “intend.” That’s because when you’re dealing with a small publication like a blog, it’s likely that you alone are creating the content, designing the graphics, formatting the articles, and hitting “publish.” You want to plan to the best of your ability, but you’ll probably need to move posts around a bit; you’ll furiously write something unforeseen and want to add it in; you might want to move an article to later in the month because sometimes life gets in the way of being a publishing mogul.
How to Create a Content Calendar
The concept of a content calendar was not foreign to me when I started my blog. I am a planner by nature and also do “content marketing stuff” for a living, but I struggled to find a format that worked for me. Every time I searched for content calendars, the examples I found seemed overwhelming and not at all intuitive.
At first, I tried using Google Calendar as my blog’s editorial calendar. I love the visual format, and I’m comfortable using Google Calendar, so it seemed like an easy answer. My plan was to add the name of the post to the date it would be published on. It would be simple and clean–except in practice, it didn’t feel like it was enough information. Moreover, even though I thought I would do best with a visual calendar layout, I found that it wasn’t how I wanted to see this information.
For the record, I see a lot of bloggers offering blog planners/content calendars that can be downloaded, printed, and used offline. Honestly, I’ve never once even looked into using something like this. I wanted my calendar to be online and accessible from anywhere. In addition, there is an editorial calendar plugin for WordPress — I did try it — but it also uses a visual calendar format and populates using your posts, so basically, to add something you had to have a draft started. I didn’t like that. Anyway, I bailed on the plugin pretty quickly, so maybe it’s awesome, and you should ignore everything I’ve said.
One morning, when I was in the process of getting this blog off the ground, I was laying in bed thinking about how to set up a content calendar (sadly, this is a true story), and it came to me–a content calendar spreadsheet built in a Google Spreadsheet with categories that made sense to me. Like the mother of the year that I am, I turned on some cartoons for Emme that morning and got to work.
I tend to get a little spreadsheet happy, so what I use might not work for you. You might do better planning offline or in an actual calendar format. You may find that one of those content spreadsheets I found confusing makes total sense to you. But without further ado, here is a sample of my content calendar from earlier this year:
Ridiculous, right? I haven’t even filled out all of the sections that I came up with. I was going to back fill it, but then I thought it would be more realistic to show you that I don’t have everything planned out all of the time (most of the time). But I do know exactly how I want to use each section, and as I make my way from frazzled blogging novice to slightly-less-frazzled blogging goddess, I will hopefully do a better job of it.
How I Setup My Content Calendar
I plan my content month by month. The month is the column on the far right. Each month I decide how many times I am going to try to post. With the exception of November, I shoot for two to three posts a week at this point. Then I look at a real calendar and decide what days I’m going to post–i.e., I will often post Mondays and Thursdays. I fill in those dates for the month and start brainstorming ideas.
Let’s go through the sections, shall we?
Date: The date that the post is scheduled to be posted.
Status: The status of the post. The options for this field include: Idea, Draft, Scheduled, and Posted.
Post Title: The title of the blog post or the working title.
Post Type: A description of the post type. I’m pretty loosey goosey with this section and have wondered if it’s redundant. But, it might be a good tool if you want to diversify your content. This can be an easy way to see if you’ve balanced the number of “how to” posts in any given month with the number of “personal essays” or whatever.
Author: I added this section in November when I started working with contributing writers.
Categories: The categories section corresponds to the categories I have set up in WordPress (most of which appear in the top navigation bar). I try to stick to three categories or less for each post. Categories represent the major topics I blog about.
Tags: This section gives me a chance to think about what tags I want to include in WordPress. Tags are different from categories–instead of representing major topics, they describe the post in more detail. For example, if a post falls under the category of Recipe, a post about pasta will be tagged with “easy weeknight dinner recipe” and “pasta recipe.”
Keywords: I use the SEO Yoast Plugin as well as the Google Adwords keyword planning tools to try to figure out how to best optimize my post based on searches. This section is where I write the keyword (or words) that I plan to optimize in my post.
Graphics: I describe the graphic(s) I am using/creating for the post in this section.
Promotion: This section includes the social media platforms where I will be promoting the post.
- Twitter: Two or three sample tweets to go along with the post. This way I can easily copy and paste them into Hootsuite.
- Instagram: Most of my posts say N/A right now, but I have experimented with adding a photo with an #ontheblog hashtag in Instagram. I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep promoting my posts there or not.
- Google+: What I plan to post on Google+ to promote my post.
- Pinterest: The “alternative text” or “alt text” I plan to write for my pin-able image. I usually create one image for each post that is optimized for Pinterest. Pinterest typically (but not always!) grabs the alt text when someone pins your image, so you want to make sure that you write a good description of your post.
- Facebook: What I plan to post on Facebook to promote my post. Typically this is very similar to the Google+ post.
If there’s one thing I think my content calendar lacks, it’s a spot to identify holidays in advance, but since I sit down and plan with a regular calendar, I kind of just know when stuff is coming up. The other thing I probably need to add is a section that has the actual URL of each completed post. I’ll do that right now. (See? The Google Spreadsheet format is flexible to your needs.)
Again, whatever you choose to do or not do with your blog’s calendar is your call. But I do think it’s worthwhile to check a few different calendars out and think through what makes sense to you and for your blog.
We’ve covered the how; onto the why.
Why You Should Use a Content Calendar
Back in ye ole blogging days, I would have never set up an editorial or content calendar. It never even occurred to me. I was just blogging by the seat of my pants when the mood struck me. And sometimes the mood struck me like 20 times a month and other times the mood struck me like never.
I feel like I should add a caveat here: There is nothing wrong with choosing to not care about this stuff. If you prefer the free form style of blogging what you feel like blogging when you feel like blogging, then that is awesome and you should do that. But if your goals are a bit more lofty, there are good reasons to be more planful.
Here are five of those reasons:
1. A content calendar will help you treat your blog like a business. If you care about people finding and reading your stuff because of love or money or pride or fame or whatever, then you need to accept that running a blog is like running a very small, poorly funded, barely staffed magazine. In other words, if you want blogging to be your business or even just part of your business, you need to treat it like a business and you need to plan your content. That doesn’t mean it will be successful; it just means it will have a better chance of being successful.
2. A content calendar can help smooth the bumps of writer’s block. Remember when I said that sometimes with my old blog, I would write all of the time and sometimes I wouldn’t post for months? It was like two paragraphs ago. A content calendar can help you plan for the times when you feel a bit less creative and inspired. I keep a running list of ideas and half-written posts, and I draw on that to help fill my content calendar. So let’s say I wanted to write about New Year’s resolutions, but wasn’t feeling it… I look at my content calendar, and see that I’ve already started a draft of a post about creating a content calendar for your blog. I move a few things around and ta da! The blog is saved, and a post will go up as planned–just not the post that was originally planned. The content calendar also eases my mind when it comes to posting frequency. It can feel overwhelming to come up with a whole new month of posts, but if you’ve decided to post twice a week, you can look at your calendar and see that you really only need eight pieces of content. Eight sounds doable, right?
3. A content calendar will help manage your audience’s expectations. If you’re using a content calendar, you can easily get yourself on a posting schedule. This manages your audience’s expectations about how often you’re going to post and also builds trust as they see they can count on a certain number of fun new things to read or watch each week.
4. A content calendar will give you an archive that you can use to promote your older posts. Do you promote stuff you wrote a month ago? Or a year ago? You should. And an easy way to keep track of that content is in a content calendar. And, if you’re including social media in your calendar, you can easily copy and paste your tweets and posts for reuse.
5. Because it’s all about the content, it’s also all about the content calendar. How many times have you heard that blogging is all about the content? And moreover, how many times do we need to be told that our content needs to be optimized? If you’re providing good content, you want people to see it. Planning in advance with a content calendar will (hopefully/eventually) get you off the panic cycle of “OMG I HAVE TO WRITE A BLOG POST.” It will help you get a handle on your content mix and plan for new topics, series, and/or guest writers, and it will give you time to think about SEO and do keyword research, which will help boost organic traffic.
I’m sure there are more reasons to have a content calendar, but my word count is pushing 2,300, so I’m going to let all of this sink in. Have I convinced you that you need a content calendar? Do you already use one? Is it way better way, and can you give me your secrets, please?