January 1, 2018, posted by Kevin Smith
How to Build a Content Calendar
Like many New Year’s resolutions, building a marketing content calendar is easy to start, but difficult to maintain. That’s because life tends to get in the way and become ‘too busy to plan.’
Content is a critical part of marketing today. From an SEO perspective, on-page content is your most valuable asset and search engines reward new, and current content. From a customer perspective, your content helps prospects navigate their consumer decision journey: addressing common questions, guiding them through comparisons, and providing them with valuable information to ensure customer satisfaction and, ultimately, loyalty.
Your content calendar should be at the heart of your marketing plan, and everything should tie to it. The calendar provides a high-level view of your content, allowing you to prioritize topics to discuss, anticipate needs as they arise, and understand how to distribute your content to obtain the widest, and most relevant, audience.
If your past marketing efforts have suffered from consistency issues, a content calendar is an excellent solution. The following steps will help you create a content calendar to achieve your marketing? goals.
The Goal of a Content Calendar
Your content calendar does not have to be overcomplicated or feel like a set of rules and promises that limit your creativity. After all, most plans fail because they are too rigid and therefore eventually ignored in favor of a more casual approach.
Instead, a good content calendar should be a ‘living document’ that your marketing team can use to plan all content-related activity. Employing a program like Excel, or using an actual calendar, will allow you to visualize your content themes, and how they will flow throughout the year.
A content calendar will allow you to plan content around key events in your industry (i.e. trade shows, conferences) or crucial dates in the calendar year (i.e. beginning or end of a fiscal year/quarter, Black Friday, Christmas). Importantly, mapping your content will reveal gaps in your content plan. Ask yourself:
- Are you creating content for each target persona, product, and/or service category?
- Are you addressing customer needs and questions based on your analytics and market research?
Furthermore, building a content calendar will force you be more mindful of how to publish and distribute that content to achieve the greatest ROI for your efforts. If your typical method of publishing content is ‘whenever it’s ready,’ a content calendar may be right for you!
4 Steps to Building Your Marketing Content Calendar
Step 1: Identify and understand your audience
Most brands have more than one audience in mind each with their own persona. These personas help you prioritize your audiences, and provide guidance regarding what content is of interest to them, what barriers to purchase they face, and how they like to receive content from you.
Understanding your audience will focus your content marketing and help you in determine the appropriate amount of your content – educational, inspirational, product-focused, etc. – across each audience.
When determining how much content to dedicate to each of your audiences, it will help to have a realistic understanding of what you can actually produce as a content team each month/quarter/year. Don’t forget to factor in any approval process and related delays into your timeline as well. Once you understand how much content you can create, you can then determine what percentage to focus on each specific audience.
Step 2: Know what content you already have
Even if you haven’t had a formal content marketing plan in the past, you have produced content. Before you begin creating your content calendar, quickly audit existing assets, such as:
- PowerPoint presentations
- Survey results
- News stories
- Infographics or data prepared for an internal meeting
- Interviews of internal subject matter experts
- Old blog posts
Understanding the shape of your existing content assets may spark new ideas and reduce the pressure to create 100% brand new content.
Additionally, you may find some pieces that need to be updated due to outdated data or gain a new understanding of your SEO strategy and marketing goals.
Step 3: Know when to publish your content
Now that you have done the work to understand who and what, it’s time to plan when. Include scheduled dates for publishing your content, as well as a plan for how you will support that content with social media activity (i.e. PPC, email newsletter inclusions, PR outreach, etc.) in your content calendar.
To guide this planning, dig into your site analytics to get a sense of visits, engagement, and other KPIs to assess which content is most successful and when.
Key dates, such as conferences or big shopping days, identified within your content calendar will determine the timing of specific pieces of content. Plan the rest of your content with the goal of setting a repeatable cadence for your audience, and ensure that you are mixing topics in a way that not only meets your audience’s needs, but keeps your site fresh and interesting.
Step 4: Measure and Adjust
We’ve discussed the importance of knowing your audience (who), the topics and content types important to them (what), and the timing of content (when). Now let’s talk about the why, in other words, what are we hoping they do after reading our content.
We recommend that your marketing content calendar include a column for goals, and each piece of content should have a specific goal in mind. Knowing your content goals will not only help you to create content, but it will allow you to ensure that each piece of content aligns with your broader marketing objectives. Some examples of content goals are:
- Website traffic
- Subscriber growth
- Search ranking
- Average time on page
- Social media followers
- Social media shares
- Bounce rate
- Links and domain authority
- Clickthrough rate
Once you have a goal in mind, schedule a recurring time to monitor how your content is performing against the goals and troubleshoot where needed.
Tips for Success
The beginning of this post compared the creation of a content calendar to a New Year resolution, so it only makes sense that some of the same tips for how to be successful apply:
- Go at your own pace. Your content calendar should eliminate stress on your team, not cause more of it. Be realistic in your planning and don’t be discouraged when things fall off the rails here and there – adjust and keep moving forward.
- If you get stuck, look at competitive content, industry events or editorial calendars of industry publications to spark some new ideas. You don’t have to be the first person to ever write about a topic; you just need to add your brand’s perspective to it.
- Schedule time to revisit your content calendar often and adjust as needed. Your content calendar should not be a ‘set it and forget it’ deliverable. It should serve as a living document to help you plan and manage your marketing message.
Like any new habit, it may take some time before planning your content becomes second nature, but adopting a marketing content calendar – and sticking to it – will reduce your stress and enhance the results of your content marketing as a whole.