Surprisingly (or not), many content marketers aren’t the best planners. We scramble last minute to fulfill our publishing commitments, or worse yet, lag behind and go radio silent on our readers. As a result or poor planning, our content marketing strategies become a reactive effort of throwing together what ultimately becomes a disconnected pile of assets. With this disconnected pile of assets, we’re unable to measure the efficacy of our program because, well, it’s not a program. So how do we change that? We plan our editorial calendars correctly.
First thing’s first. It won’t help you to jump into planning your editorial calendar without the necessary inputs. Below is the checklist of information you need BEFORE you start:
- Mission Statement
- Content Categories
- Content Topics
- SEO Keywords
- Editorial Guidelines
- Imagery Guidelines
If you have these six items, we’re ready to start planning. Putting together an editorial calendar requires a few different phases. Ideally you should be planning your calendar on a quarterly, monthly and weekly basis, taking different aspects into consideration for each.
On a quarterly basis, you mostly want to think of timely events you’ll need to plan around. Consider any inflexible event such as industry events, company webinars or employee vacations. These are going to happen whether you want them to or not so it’s best to proactively plan around them. For industry events, you’ll want to plan to do recaps of presentations or key takeaways and engage in the online conversation. For your own company’s events, you’ll want to think of what content you can create to drive registration. For employee vacations, you’ll need to put coverage plans in place so there’s no lapse in your publishing cadence.
“Big rock” content is other major piece of your strategy you’ll want to think about on a quarterly basis. According to Marketo, big rock content can be defined as, “Your big kahunas, the large thought leadership pieces that not only illustrate your unique point of view, but that you can also break up and use to create smaller content pieces.” For this type of content, think whitepapers, customer videos, definitive guides, etc. This type of content should be planned on a quarterly basis for two reasons. First, big rock content should be extensive enough to fuel a quarter or month of supporting, smaller pieces of content, such as blog posts that drive to download a gated guide. Second, these large pieces of content should be highly differentiated from competitors, which requires a large investment in time and resources. For anything that is such high stakes, you want to allow yourself time for creativity to brainstorm something that’s going to provide tremendous value for your brand.
In the template below, we’ve allotted for four pieces of big rock content per quarter. This may or may not be realistic for your team so commit to what you can, but aim to create one per quarter at a minimum.
On a monthly basis, we want to think at a slightly more detailed level. Think about the cohesive theme or story your content is going to tell over this time period. One way to think about this is have weekly themes. An example theme for this blog could be paid distribution. Within that theme, I could discuss budget, vendors and case studies to fuel that week. Additionally, think about how the theme can fit within that planned piece of big rock content.
At this cadence, you’ll also want to plan out your articles’ titles and descriptions. Thinking about this information on a monthly basis allows you to see how each piece of content will fit together and complement each other. When writing the description, you should be sure to include what value each piece of content will provide to your audience.
Ownership is also an important component to be discussed and assigned monthly. If your program uses a small network of freelancers, you’ll be able to assess the bandwidth of your contributors and project managers. Monthly calendars also give guest contributors enough notice to prepare around their existing commitments.
On a weekly basis, we want to think about tactical execution. This is the most granular level of planning. The purpose of this granularity is to make sure all pieces of content are correctly tagged and organized within your CMS. Although it can be a pain, this will make future content audits and analysis much, much easier.
At the most basic level, you should plan to tag each piece of content with the appropriate categories, topics and SEO keywords. Doing this will allow you to see if you are covering all categories, topics and SEO keywords relatively evenly. If you notice a significant lopsidedness, adjust your editorial calendar accordingly.
Another helpful tag for your content is the buyer stage that each piece supports. Top-of-funnel content should cover broader, shareable topics that relate to a large audience. This type of content should answer your prospects’ early-stage questions such as, “What are the best paid distribution methods?” Middle-of-funnel content should be slightly more niche to your expertise, products or services and be more substantial. Bottom-of-funnel content should be fairly promotional and speak to your brands offering. Customer case studies are the most common type of this type of content. To ensure you’re providing content that moves the reader through the buyer journey, be sure you have the right ratio in your content library. 60-70% should be top-of-funnel, 20-30% middle-of-funnel and 10% bottom-of-funnel.
Tagging the desired action for the reader after he or she consumes your content will help you see if it is converting properly. Maybe you want the reader to subscribe, continue reading, sign up for a webinar or visit a product page. Recording this in your system will give you a deeper understanding of how people are interacting with your content and better inform your editorial planning efforts moving forward.
While these are important planning benchmarks you should be considering for your program, there is no exact science to an editorial calendar. Every organization and team operates differently and have different publishing commitments. The key is to test what works best for you and stick to it. For more information and a customizable template to plan your own editorial calendar, download the SlideShare below.