Content Strategy

May 23rd, 2011

Content Strategy 101: How To Create An Editorial Calendar For Your Blog

According to BlogPulse, there are 162,456,520 blogs on the Internet. The vast majority of them are semi- or inactive, and some reports say most blogs quit after 2 to 3 months.

Why? Darren Rowse, the wordsmith behind ProBlogger, says quitting often comes down to lack of traffic or engagement, lack of profit, or lack of things to say. If the 2-3 month failure statistic is true, it’s likely that the underlying disease, and cause of death of most blogs, is a lack of patience and planning. It’s no secret that much of the blogging world tends to fly by the seat of its pants.

As the cliche goes: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Why Editorial Calendars Work

In order to keep up with their fast-paced publishing cycles, newspapers traditionally keep an editorial calendar, or a schedule of who’s writing what. Articles are pre-scheduled down to the page, column length, and position on that page.

That’s so editors can know what’s coming up well in advance, so the paper goes out each day like clockwork. An editorial operation without a calendar is like a ship without a map; at some point it’s going to turn wrong and miss port. Man overboard, shark-infested waters, pirates climbing aboard to steal booty.

Unless your blog is for meandering personal use, you’re going to want to keep it on course. An editorial calendar helps you do it.

How To Structure An Editorial Calendar

Step 1: Set high level goals
Start with the end in mind. To return to the ship analogy: choose a destination, or at least a course heading. Whether your goal is to “build brand awareness” or “drive up ad pageviews” or “generate leads,” the goal should be more than simply “get traffic.” For what purpose do you want the traffic?

Who are your audience? How will you reach them, speak to them, engage them?

At Contently, we call this “building a brand profile” or creating a style guide and direction. We want our blog to focus on helping businesses succeed at publishing, and we’re blogging to create awareness for our brand, so people can think of us as smart guys, and so perhaps the subset of our readers who don’t have time to blog for themselves can let us help them out. Because of that, our brand profile consists of internal rules about how we should write, whom we should write to and from what perspective, and how we should use sources to enhance our content (how much is based on our own advice and how much is third-party research driven, etc).

Step 2: Set topics or beats
Once high-level goals are in place, drill down into specific topics you want to cover. There are typically two approaches to beat selection: 1) Defining specific keywords and phrases which you’ll exclusively write content around (typically SEO-driven sites); and 2) Defining topics that will help your audience build trust in you. As with many things, the best approach is typically a mixture of the two.

To start, come up with half a dozen topics that you believe will interest your audience, and brainstorm how you might work stories with your target keywords into those topics. For example, if your keyword of choice is “self-cleaning ovens”, perhaps you will choose “baking made easy” as one of your topics. Within the “baking made easy” category, you might focus attention on ways to keep your oven clean, how to choose ovens that are easy to maintain and what to look for in a new oven, all of which will enable you to talk about “self-cleaning ovens” in a natural and useful way rather than a sketchy, SEO-keyword-cramming manner.

Step 3: Set up a “master calendar”
You’ve got a vision; you’ve got topics. Now you need to chart your actual course. You’re going to create a master calendar from which you’ll template-ize each day/week/month’s stories.

For new blogging operations, the simplest way to do this is to schedule specific posts or series on specific days of the week. This post, for example, is part of our “Monday Features” category in our master calendar. Tuesdays we do interviews, Wednesdays we do case studies, Thursdays we do guest posts, and Fridays we do roundups. That’s the template, at least.

You might structure your master calendar by type of post – like we have – or you might do it by topic. Mondays = Pizza. Wednesdays = UFOs. Fridays = Robots.

In larger newsrooms, the master calendar will often involve staggering deadlines between writers, who have their own daily or weekly assignments, within their own beats, and with different post types. Post volume isn’t as important as the fact that a template is in place.

It’s ok to deviate from the master calendar, so long as you do it on purpose, or can course correct. In fact, it’s important to have a contingency plan for when you a story is late. A backlog of pre-written, evergreen posts or a team member whose job is “damage control” when things go wrong is important in keeping the ship afloat when the sea gets rocky. (We’ll ditch the maritime analogy now before it gets older).

Step 4: Brainstorm initial stories
With master calendar in hand, the next step is to brainstorm a batch of post ideas, long enough to throw out mediocre ones and give you a couple weeks’ worth of material to start working on. Then, you can schedule brainstorming, ideation, or story pitching into your weekly calendar as well. (Mondays = pitches due! Yay!).

How To Run Your Editorial Calendar

Once the calendar is up and running, all you need to do is follow your own routine, adjusting when needed, based on resources, feedback and, hopefully, growth.

Our process goes basically like this:

Step 1: Brainstorm new stories for calendar
Step 2: Write, edit and edit some more
Step 3: Publish and evaluate
Step 4: Repeat

Example of one week’s editorial schedule (Contently client: Grasshopper Group).

Where To Go From Here

Making a plan is half the blogging battle. Now you’re ready to fight it with purpose. Get started with a calendar, and start blogging, even if you’re unsure if you’re doing it right. The act of blogging is practice you need in order to hone your craft.

In future posts, we’ll dive further into things like topic selection, publishing frequency, content variety, and promotional strategies.

Until then, happy blogging!

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