The Step by Step Guide to Your First Editorial Calendar

editorial calendar

When you sit down to write a post for your company’s blog, do you have a plan? Do you have a topic, title, or inspiration ahead of time? Or do you just wing it, every time? Winging it isn’t always bad–sometimes, writing a post or article while you’re inspired or fired up is when you create the best, most interesting articles that get shared plenty. But if you’re completely flying by the seat of your pants, you need to get an editorial calendar.

What’s an editorial calendar?

An editorial calendar basically covers who posts what, when. If you’re the lone-wolf writer for your content marketing efforts, it’s still useful–it keeps your content marketing efforts focused and strategic, instead of scattered and haphazard. And that kind of effort is what’ll get you results.

It might sound like a daunting task. It will take a few hours of work–but probably less work than you think, and the results will be worth it. Ready to get started?

Three steps to your brand spanking new editorial calendar:

Research

Before you start creating post ideas, you want to make sure you have plenty of fodder for those posts. This is where the research stage comes in. Spend an hour or two digging into what people are talking about in your industry and what questions they have. You can search on Twitter or Quora (or even Reddit, depending on your target market) to see what questions people are asking about your industry.

If you have analytics installed on your site (Google Analytics is full featured and totally free), now’s the time to look at it. Check out:

  • What keywords do people search for that bring them to your site? This can give you insight as to where their frame of mind is at.
  • What pages do people spend the most time on or what pages have the lowest bounce rates? This can tell you what they want to learn more about or have the most questions about.
  • Where are people coming from? Search, Facebook, Twitter, inbound links? If certain social networks are sending disproportionate amounts of people your way, it makes sense to tailor parts of your content and sharing strategies towards those sites.
  • If you have existing blog posts or other forms of content marketing on your site (videos, etc.), which ones are the most popular? Which ones underperformed? Getting a handle on what people want to know lets you create better content in the future.

If you don’t have analytics set up on your site already, now’s the time to do that. If you use WordPress, the Yoast Google Analytics plugin can get you up and running.

Think about your audience, too. What’s their role in their professional and personal life? Do they have to get someone elses’ approval before buying your product or signing up for your service? What’s running through their minds when they’re looking around for solutions to their problem? What’s running through their minds when they’re hitting the buy button?

Pull all of this data together in one spot and start brainstorming topic ideas based on everything you know about your audience, the questions they have, what’s done well before for you. Try to come up with at least 30 topics. They don’t have to be super fleshed out at this point in time, you just want to come up with as many ideas as possible so you can figure out what to do with those ideas later.

Planning

Now that you’ve got a list of topics to work from, it’s time to start actually planning! First, you need to decide on your posting schedule.

You’re probably wondering how often you should post. There’s a lot of data that points to the sweet spot being approximately 2-4x a week; basically, more is better (as long as quality is maintained). That might sound overwhelming and maybe you’re thinking that there’s no way you can keep up with that. That’s totally okay! The general rule of thumb is to do as much as you can, and do it regularly. Posting once a week, every week, without fail, is better than posting twice one week, then four the next, then one the next, then zero. My suggestion? Start with once a week, and if you find that easy to maintain, you can always ramp it up from there.

After the “how often” question, the next pressing planning question is how far to plan in advance? If you come from a traditional business planning background, your instinct might be to plan a year of more or content at once. Definitely don’t do this. You need to leave room in your plan for industry changes, changes in search engine algorithms and content marketing trends, and, of course, you also want to leave room to adjust your plan based on what you learn from your marketing efforts. Instead of creating a plan far into the future, plan for the next 3-6 months at a time.

This stage is also when you can look at the topics you’ve got and flesh them out some. Do you see any opportunities for a series of posts, that you can repurpose into an ebook (or a video series, or something else) if they do well? Can you take a larger topic and pull out 3-4 smaller pieces on it? Which topics are evergreen, and which ones tend towards the trendy side? Keeping up with industry trends (and helping your customers do so, too) is important, but evergreen content tends to do well over long periods of time (hence the name). Make sure you’re mixing up these categories with your content plan.

After the planning process is when you’d start creating that content you’ve so meticulously brainstormed and planned out. But we’re not going to talk about that here since that’s an entirely different process from actually creating your calendar. Instead, we’ll move right along into…

Adjusting

Another benefit of planning only 3-6 months of content at a time is that it gives you a natural break in the creation process about once a quarter. That way, you can review the data from the last several months and adjust your plan accordingly. Look at:

  • What performed well. What drove traffic and leads to your business? Once you know what kind of content resonates with your readers, you can repurpose it into different forms and get more mileage out of it. You can also create follow up posts or series based around those same ideas and themes.
  • What didn’t perform well. What’s the difference between this content, and the successful pieces? What conclusions can you draw about what your visitors want to read, based on that?
  • What social sites or link sources are sending you traffic. Once you know that you’re already getting more visitors that turn into leads from Pinterest, you can create Pinterest-optimized images to put in your posts. If you know Twitter is a huge source of traffic, you can tweak your blog posts so that they have specific tweetables worked into it (and use a plugin that lets people highlight, then tweet, those sentences, like Ivy or SumoMe). And so on.

Three steps: research, plan, adjust. Now, you’re off to the races with a working editorial calendar–and you know how to make it get better results over time. Good luck!