A comprehensive content strategy is the umbrella under which a well-constructed content calendar sets the course of action. Scaling a blog requires consistency. So does building a content calendar. Just like any other worthy goal, there are going to be days when you just don't want to put in the work.
And that's understandable. You're only human. But you have to anyhow.
A calendar which outlines daily, impactful activity can be a great motivator. Regardless of whether this is done on paper, a mobile app, or on your desktop. Crafting a calendar can be kinda difficult.
However, there are some tried-and- true tactics worth considering.
Developing Your Content Calendar
Developing content and marketing plans is dynamic. It's hard to know where to begin. Before you can build an editorial plan, it's important to know what you're planning toward. What the deadlines are for the content you're creating for your blog, and other blogs in your niche.
At a minimum, you need to know what content is coming soon. Also, long-form, cornerstone content is another play which may require a heavier lift, additional resources, and a longer timeline. Repurposing above-average content into other forms also could be a part of the equation.
In short, breaking the daunting task of a long-term goal for your blog into more achievable, smaller goals aided by building a content calendar is what we would suggest. It sets a roadmap for some wins along the way. And wins always help to keep you motivated and working toward that big picture goal.
Before we get there, though, let's talk about maturity a little.
Just How Mature Are You?
No, this isn't a question your high school crush’s dad is asking you when you meet them for the first time. It's about the maturity of your blog. It's far too easy to build a one-size-fits-all content and editorial calendar without taking your blog’s maturity into consideration.
It’s vital to consider.
The Stages of Content Maturity
They type of content you should produce depends on your blog's life stage. Let's consider three stages:
In the infancy stage, you're just starting to understand your blog’s voice, and who your audience is. You're doing plenty of A/B testing to see what types of content resonates. Your social media outlets have to start crawling before they can walk. So here, they're crawling.
Building a content calendar full of fresh, new ideas – that, admittedly, are probably all over the place – given you don't yet know how people will react. And that's perfectly fine!
As the growth stage rolls around, your traffic base has grown. You have a good feel for what content your audience loves. You create more of that content, accordingly. Your social media outlets are starting to get some legs and some traction, maybe driving a little traffic.
Your domain authority in your niche is increasing, and you're starting to get some requests to guest blog, yourself, on other sites in your niche. In general, things are on the up-and-up.
In the maturity stage, you have a well-oiled content creation machine. By this point, you might even have a few folks writing for you, or maybe a part-time social media manager. Your content is likely more focused on the bottom of your “funnel”. Content encouraging your readers to subscribe to a service, sign up for some consulting, or maybe buy a product.
As you can see, content creation is never static. It changes as you grow. Building a content calendar should always reflect this, and be a representation of the work to be done to continue growing.
Regardless of your blog's maturity, the basic elements of building a content calendar remain the same.
The Basic Elements
There are a few basic elements which guide the development of building a content calendar:
- Draft Due Date
- Editorial Revision Due Date
- Publish Date
- Post-Publish Content Marketing
- Content Calendar Tools & Resources
Draft Due Date
The draft due date is the date a draft must be completed to be reviewed by your editors (or you, if you're the editor). It can be a very, very rough draft. Yeah, that rough. It's not going to be the final product after all, it's just the baseline you and your editor will be working through to create the publish-ready version.
If you are the editor, the draft due date should be a few days in advance of when you would ideally like to publish the post. This gives you plenty of time to do a thorough editing job. And maybe even grab a second set of eyes to re-check your work for quality of copy, style, voice and context.
Editorial Revision Due Date
Editorial revision due dates take a few things into account. The editorial process can be a little different for different types of content. So it's valuable to set timelines for the editorial process, accordingly.
Also, editors tend to work very differently. Some like to do a full, first-pass run through of an article doing a few small copy edits along the way. Then return later to do a more in-depth contextual edit on a second pass.
Others like to do it all at once, then maybe in a second pass roll back through and re-check their work. Knowing how your editor prefers to work can go a long way in setting an editorial due date that's fair for everyone involved.
The publish date is your targeted date for the post to be published live to your blog. This date should be several weeks out from the draft date – and probably at least a week or so out from the editorial due date – to give everyone involved in the process plenty of time to do their work.
Publish dates tend to move the most within a typical editorial cycle. It's easy to establish a best-case scenario when an article enters the creation pipeline. It's rare, however, the pipeline remains unchanged and dates don't change. This is especially true with all of the factors at play. Many times factors that aren't within your control.
Just know, going in, that it's a target. And just a target. There's no need to panic if it becomes a moving one. That's just the nature of the beast, whether your editorial team is just you, or a team of 20.
The most important thing to remember is your due dates serve as a guide. Not something that's set in stone and inflexible. But instead pliable and responsive to the reality of life happening and interfering in your best-laid plans.
Post-Publish Content Marketing
Publishing content is less than half the battle. Promoting published content to your loyal readers and followers is just as important – if not more so – than getting it published. This isn't to say you shouldn't celebrate getting articles published. You absolutely should. It’s just part of the battle, however.
Having a robust and well-thought out content promotion calendar is essential. There are a few different ways to do this. Some prefer to use something like Google Calendar or maybe ICal, or another similar tool.
The more old-school out there may even still write things down on paper.
Some people prefer project management software.
Whatever your speed, that's fine. Just know planning out your promotional and content marketing activities is just as important as planning out the content you will publish, and making it live!
Content Calendar Tools & Resources
There are a wide variety of content calendar tools and resources out there which make the planning and promotion process much easier. You can find something which works well for your work style regardless of budget available.
Let's take a look at a few across the spectrum:
- CoSchedule – higher-end
- Trello – medium-end
- WordPress Kanban Board – simple and free
CoSchedule is a fantastic cloud-based collaboration tool that allows your editors, writers, and maybe even social media managers to work together in building a content calendar on a shared platform. I've used it in several organizations to manage large content initiatives – and in building my own blogs – and for what it offers, the price is very reasonable.
Here's a quick look at a typical CoSchedule dashboard:
The visual representation of the different types of activities and who is responsible for them makes for a really nice birds-eye view of the content that's scheduled to publish, and also what's in development.
Their pricing can be a little on the high side, but:
If your blog is at the maturity stage, and you're already monetizing well on a monthly basis, the investment is well-worth the time savings and the headaches spared trying to use something more simplistic. Your staff will love using it to collaborate, and the variety of social media scheduling and collaboration features it has are unparalleled.
For the project management-minded of y'all out there, Trello is a great tool. It's perfect for the budget-conscious – with base versions essentially being free, apart from some add-ons you can choose to use, or not. Trello's drag-and-drop card boards make building a content calendar very easy.
Their boards are fully-customizable, and you can add people to different boards or even specific tasks. It's also possible to add files, and comments directly to a task to make collaboration easy.
I know this sounds like a Trello endorsement – which I don't intend – but I've used the program extensively, and it really is easy to use and awesome for people who love visual looks at where their projects stand.
Here's a screenshot of a typical Trello card board for reference:
To move cards from one column to another you simply grab the card and slide it to the next column. Color coding, due dates and background customizations are fun options for the cards as well.
Trello's monthly subscription charges range from free up to $21 a month for their enterprise plan, which is likely far more in-depth than you'd need running a blog:
If your blog's low in maturity, and you're looking to spend as little as possible – namely, zero – on a content calendar tool, WordPress Kanban Board is worth a look.
WordPress Kanban Board
WordPress offers their own version of the Kanban board that's central to Trello's software. It's called, you guessed it, WordPress Kanban Board. WKB is 100% free and offers a much less aesthetically pleasing version of what Trello does, but serves the same function. It's not attractive, but it's functional.
Here's a screenshot of a WordPress Kanban board:
It’s essentially the same thing, just the bare bones. It's absolutely a good alternative to Trello and the price is right: ZERO.
These are just some of the tools I've worked with over time. The internet is flooded with options along these lines. Find one that works for you and run with it!
Don't Forget to Update Your Older Content
Creating new content for your own blog, and for guest posting is just one part. It's important to consider updating your old content, also, as part of your general content strategy. This updated content should have a very important home on building a content calendar.
Updating older content can have instant SEO benefits, and help your older pieces to earn a fresh life, and fresh traffic. This isn't to say you should constantly update old content. It's a very calculated process. A good place to start is to look at articles that get strong organic traffic, and see if these articles have started to trend downward since the original publish date. If so, all it may take is an update of some new facts to get it humming again and driving traffic!
While it's valuable to mix in some updates of old content, it's just as important to determine what activities are most impactful in your blogging journey.
The Importance of Impactful Activity
Scaling a blog comes through consistent, impactful activity. The definition of “impact” is different for everyone. Regardless, building a content calendar should be full of these impactful activities. Maybe you are looking to build your blog's domain authority. In that case, your most impactful activity is to secure and write guest blogs on sites with quality content and good domain authority.
Maybe your domain authority is already pretty strong, but your traffic is flat. You need to grow your email list. Building a lead magnet and promoting that on your blog as a way to acquire emails should be a priority.
Maybe your social media outlets need some love.
You get the point. Your content calendar – regardless of your site's maturity level and goals – should always be a direct reflection of the most impactful activity you can do at any given time.
A great question to ask yourself is this: If I had just one hour today to dedicate to growing my blog, what would I do?
The answer to that question, my friends, is your most impactful activity, and should be the foundation of building a content calendar.
Celebrate Your Wins!
What fun is building a blog if you can't celebrate your wins! As you start to achieve your goals make sure to give yourself a pat on the back. Reward yourself with something meaningful and enjoy the small victories.
A comprehensive content calendar is one way to help ensure the victories you celebrate will come often, and not be few and far-between.
Kris Hughes is the Founder of Blog to Scale, where he teaches bloggers how to grow their sites through daily impactful activity rather than constant content creation. Kris has built, developed, and sold several blogs over his blogging career that started in 2010. He also works as a Content Marketing Manager for a nationally-known financial technology company and has been quoted in publications including the Huffington Post, Forbes, The Ladders, Tech Republic and Yahoo!