What is a content calendar and why do you need one? An in-depth guide.
You’ve heard the term editorial calendar, but what can one do for you?
In an earlier blog post, we put together a simple guide to content and editorial calendars, including what they are, why you need one, and the basics of what they should incorporate. In a nutshell, a calendar is an extremely useful way of making sure your content strategy matches the needs and habits of your customers, by keeping up to date with key events in your target marketplace throughout the year. Here in the UK, our annual calendar is stuffed with memorable dates like St. George’s day, Easter, Christmas, the end of the school holidays and the start of a new academic term, Pancake Day, Black Friday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the winter and summer solstices and many, many more occasions to occupy our attention throughout the twelve months.
This in-depth guide will help you to make the most of these events and help you to implement a strategy in a timely manner.
Editorial diaries: planning ahead for content success
Businesses have gotten very adept at tailoring sales campaigns around notable dates in the calendar, but not so great at tailoring their content marketing strategies to support these promotions. These days, it’s not enough to simply slash prices in the run up to December 25th and hope that clients will flock to your promotion. If you want customers to buy your products at Christmas, we recommend planning ahead, months in advance of the time period you are hoping to focus on. Take John Lewis as a good example- even though it’s now July, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Christmas 2019 campaign is well underway.
The best way to do this is to use an editorial diary, or content calendar, to produce compelling copy well in advance.
So for example, if you are an online travel agent looking to sell package holidays to families over the summer, the time to start writing about it is during the winter. Sound counter intuitive? It’s not, for two reasons. The first, is that discerning shoppers often research holidays well ahead of time, in the hope of being able to save money. You need to make sure your content is there for them to read when they need it- not after they have already purchased from a competitor. Secondly, from Google’s perspective, it takes time for a piece of content to rank for the keywords you want it to. So if your blog post is targeting keywords like ‘best package holidays summer 2019’, it’ll take a good few weeks for Google to find the content, crawl it, and move it to a more prominent position in the search results for that key phrase. New content rarely reaches page one as soon as it is published, so making sure you are ahead of the game is essential.
An additional benefit to planning content in advance is that you can schedule your work load more effectively. This allows you to streamline the content writing process, and make sure the right content is posted at the right time, to the right platforms. Your writers need enough time to create stuff that is well-written, engaging and compelling. Rushed content is unlikely to be any of these things.
So what does a content calendar look like?
Good question, and the short answer is: it varies. Every company and business is different, and every strategy is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to what your editorial diary should include.
However, there are things worth bearing in mind, such as the following:
What topics are relevant to your audience and your business, and how do they fit into your calendar?
This ties in closely with the point above, but if your content is targeting a certain keyword, phrase or variation, it should probably be detailed in the calendar.
When are the key events your customers care about actually happening? Mark them down, and, as we said before, start blocking out time well beforehand to write about those dates.
How often do you want to release content? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? It makes sense to highlight the dates you want to release new content in your calendar so that everyone knows what the schedule is.
Do you have more than one person responsible for creating content? Make sure responsibilities are delegated, and those creators responsible are clearly included in the calendar- colour coding is a great way of doing this quickly, and is visibly easier to manage and digest.
Where is your content supposed to be going? Social media? Your blog? An email campaign? Newsletter? Vlog? Something else? Categorise your content types on your calendar for ease of management. Drop-down boxes are the easiest way of making sure this is done tidily.
how are you judging success for this content? Number of shares of a post? Visitors to a page? Products purchased from a call to action or specific URL? A different metric? Record it on your calendar so you can see at a glance what worked, and what didn’t.
- Outreach opportunities:
Are you planning any of this content as part of a quality outreach and link-building campaign? Time to start thinking about where you can place this content, then. Your content marketing calendar could include outreach opportunities such as suitable websites for you to potentially place your article or post on, or a list of already agreed sites and resources. Keeping this information all in one place is a good way of ensuring you don’t attack the same site with multiple pitches that may not be a good match for them.
These are only a few considerations in a large number of possibilities. If this still doesn’t help you much with your content planning, Hubspot and Coschedule have free annual content calendar templates you can download, to get things moving. Or, consider hiring a content marketing expert (like us), and we can take the hassle completely out of the process, creating a comprehensive editorial calendar for you. Once you have one in place, updating it becomes a matter of best practice, and your annual planning exercise becomes much easier the more you do it.
Research, research, research
To properly leverage the theme of a special day and turn out some topical content that grabs attention, you need to research. Find out everything you can about that date, and use it to your advantage. By this, we don’t mean take a look at Wikipedia and dump everything you find on there into your blog post. For one thing, that’s duplicate content. For another, your customers won’t be that interested, because it says nothing about you as a company.
No, by research, we mean think about the date in question- let’s use Christmas again, for the sake of ease. What is it about that date that is so special to your clients? Are there any traditions that you can write about, specific to your target market? What about Christmas is so important to your company, and why? Are there any interesting statistics out there that you could write around, to illustrate your point? How does all of this tie into your product, or service offering? This type of thinking is key to writing compelling copy that will actually resonate with your audience. Creators who don’t ask these questions often put content out there that looks and reads like a company trying to take advantage of a date in the calendar at the last minute, rather than planning their activities around it with thought, and care.
Content calendars: mistakes and pitfalls to avoid
- Not having one.
Yep, that’s the first mistake. Without a calendar to help you organise your efforts, any work you do put into your content risks being untimely, uncoordinated, and unappealing to your target audience. So it’s worth setting aside a portion of time to get one in place, even if it starts off as a basic tool, and evolves with time.
- Not sharing or collaborating on your calendar.
What’s the point of this great, tactical document if no-one else can see it but you? Shared documents are so useful and immediate, and ensure that everyone is on the same page. It’s so easy to collaborate these days, thanks to the cloud, Google Drive or a good old fashioned shared drive on your company network.
- Being over-ambitious.
Does your completed calendar look like a tactical moon-launch plan from NASA? Then you might have gone too far in the other direction and overloaded your calendar with ambitious publication schedules and goals. Remember that all content should serve a purpose, and quantity doesn’t equate to quality, especially in the eyes of Google, who increasingly care about relevancy to a search topic over all else these days. A daily publication schedule is all well and good for the giants of content like Buzzfeed, but is likely to be overzealous if you are a smaller business looking to develop your online presence. Consider prioritising content, so that what you do produce is better written and more carefully researched.
Outsourcing your content planning and strategy
So now that you’ve read the above, are you feeling a little daunted? Producing a calendar that is timely, reasonable and relevant is no small achievement, and the reason many companies don’t yet have one is that the task seems at first try to be greater than the rewards. Or, it takes too much of a person’s valuable time to put one together. This is particularly the case with smaller marketing departments, where resources are stretched. In such cases as these, the solution is simple: hire an expert to put a content calendar together for you.
As part of our client service process (which are the things we do as standard for our clients, free of charge), Impressona can create an editorial diary for you. In order to help us do this, we will conduct an information-gathering session, or sessions, where we establish what times of the year and which dates are the most important to you business, and why. We’ll look at your target audience, their needs and motivations, and any current content strategy you might have in place. Finally we will asses what resources you have at your disposal, and will suggest topic and category lists to help you better structure your content when it comes to writing it. Basically, we can create then tailor your editorial diary to suit your needs.
Sound like a good idea? We’d be happy to discuss it in more depth, if you’d like to get in touch.