Blogging is hard work. You must consistently create and publish great content. Today’s post is about saving yourself time and stress by implementing a simple editorial calendar. Sure, it’s going to require a little work up front, but – trust me – you’ll thank me once you’re up and running.
The Editorial Calendar – what is it?
In case you’re not sure, an editorial calendar is a content plan that is laid over a publishing schedule. Magazines, for instance, have monthly editorial calendars that start out as a broad list of key topics and eventually evolve into highly detailed outlines of each issue’s content.
How do I create one?
I’m an Excel junkie, so I tend to go old school when setting up an editorial calendar. For collaborative projects, however, I find Google docs to be very helpful. The “living” nature of a google doc means you never have to worry about version control. Sweet.
My typical calendar has at least three worksheet tabs:
- Calendar – Laid out to reflect all my publication dates, this tab gives me a place to schedule each post.
- Pending – This is where I capture all (and I do mean all) the ideas I have for posts.
- Published – This is an archive of everything I’ve published. (Yes, I know this is automatically generated in most blogging platforms, but I do have a reason for duplicating the effort.)
- Guests – If the blog plan includes ingoing and/or outgoing guest posts, I like to track those works-in-progress separately from my core content.
- Open Items – Although it can certainly be a separate document, I like to roll my “punch list” of blog upgrade and maintenance items into my editorial calendar.
Here is an Blog Editorial Calendar Template (Excel) that you can use to get started.
Once you’ve got the framework set up, you’re ready to put it to work:
Have you ever had a genius idea for a post while standing in the shower, and then – five minutes later as you’re toweling off – completely forgotten what it was? Painful. Tragic. Unnecessary. One of the primary rules of blogging: write ALL your post ideas down. Pen and notepad (or smartphone) should accompany you everywhere (or, in the case of a shower situation, at least be close by). Step two – transfer your great ideas to the “Pending” worksheet in your editorial calendar for future inspiration.
Create Your Publishing Plan
Does your content lend itself to monthly themes? Do you have a seasonal sales cycle that will influence the types of topics you cover at various times of the year? Do you need to create specific content for people at different stages in the buying process? The criteria that are important to your business are the criteria you should consider when developing your broad brushstroke publishing plan. You should identify how frequently you’ll post, on which days of the week, whether you’ll have recurring “columns” or more freeform content. Nothing is written in stone, but it’s good to start with some kind of plan.
Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty business of filling in those publishing “slots” with specific topics. You can schedule posts out for a week at a time, or six months – whatever makes you comfortable. It’s kind of like a puzzle – your ideas are the pieces and your publishing plan is the picture you’re trying to create.
So, what’s the payoff for all your hard work?
Reduce Writer’s Block
It’s 9:40AM and your post is supposed to go live at 10. You have no idea what to write. Panic sets in. With the editorial calendar, you may never face this terrifying situation again. Whether you go with the topic that’s scheduled, or switch it up and pull something from the pending list, you will always have a list of ready-made topics to choose from.
Laying your blog’s content plan out in an organized way helps you to see and create useful patterns. For instance, you might decide to run a series of posts that correspond to some of the questions most frequently asked by prospects and then package them up in an aggregate post that you can include in your most popular posts list. By planning ahead, you can also identify (and have time to execute) opportunities for relevant guest posts, event-based content, and other collaborative efforts.
There are literally dozens of ways to track different Web and blog stats, but I like to aggregate some key stats into my editorial calendar on the Published tab. If you do it on a regular basis, it only takes a few minutes and will make later analysis much more impactful. For instance, you might track the following for each post: pub date, title, topic, #/comments, #/tweets, #/facebook shares, #/trackbacks.
Optimize Your Strategy
Once you have a baseline strategy and plan, and you’ve dutifully collected stats on your post performance, you have everything you need to do a bang-up analysis of what’s been working and what’s been falling short. Look at the trends and the patterns behind those trends. Is engagement driven by topic, day of the week, tone, type of content? These simple stats can provide valuable insights that will inform a stronger, more successful content plan and editorial calendar.
With all that said, it’s important to remember that real life may cause you to change things up at the last minute. Whether your plans are changed because you’ve become uninspired by a particular topic, or because you’ve become wildly inspired to write about another, always give yourself the flexibility to go with your gut. Having a plan can help you be more strategic and reduce the stress you feel when it comes time to churn out brilliant content, but sometimes winging it has merit too.
What works (and what doesn’t) for you when it comes to wrangling your blog content?