Using a content marketing editorial calendar sounds like a great idea, but do they really help?
When it comes to content marketing, many companies that struggle with consistency have found an editorial calendar to be the perfect solution. Even those that don’t have that problem have been using a content marketing editorial calendar for years.
So, what about your organization?
Could you benefit from adding an editorial calendar to your content marketing plan?
Most of us know that the answer to that question is yes. We know that the number one way to get traffic is through the very habits that an editorial calendar will help us develop—organization and consistency.
However, a lot of marketers still struggle with knowing exactly how to set up and use a calendar to achieve their goals.
If that sounds like you, it’s time to learn what journalists have known for decades: editorial calendars are essential for maintaining busy, successful publishing schedules.
- Free Editorial Calendar Template
- What Do You Need to Build an Editorial Calendar?
- What Is Content Marketing?
- What is a Content Marketing Editorial Calendar?
- Why Should Content Marketers Use an Editorial Calendar?
- Two Types of Editorial Calendars: Spreadsheets vs. Software
- Getting Started With Your Editorial Calendar Strategy
- Outline a Basic Publishing Schedule
- Building Calendar-Based Workflows
- Managing Your Calendar
First, Get Your Free Editorial Calendar Template
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
You’ve probably heard that quote before.
There’s good reason for that. It holds true. Especially for content marketers.
Without proper planning, content is liable to fall flat. Or not get done on time. Or at all.
Speaking from experience, creating better content more consistently starts with strategic use an editorial calendar.
If you don’t have one yet, though, you’re in the right place.
You can build one fast with this free Excel-based template below. Then when you’re ready to upgrade, consider an alternative like CoSchedule.
Now, there’s no excuse not to get organized.
Get Your Free Content Marketing Editorial Calendar Template
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What You Need To Start A Content Marketing Editorial Calendar
There is no shortage of free templates available for creating your editorial calendar. Some are digital, and some are even written out on paper, but none are more prepared for the modern age than the fully digital options.
The best part about using a paper editorial calendar is that it can help you start the habit of using one to plan your content marketing. Eventually, you'll need bigger and better tools, but this is a great way to start out without making a major financial investment.
No More Spreadsheets: The Digital Content Marketing Editorial Calendar
When you're ready to upgrade, a tool like CoSchedule can provide a fully digital solution, connecting your content calendar directly to your WordPress blog and social media networks. This powerful tool combines social media and content marketing scheduling with a robust productivity tool that will allow you to share tasks with your team and leave comments or critiques on their work. You can also schedule your blog posts with a drag-and-drop ease.
What Is Content Marketing?
Before we get too much farther into the importance of editorial calendars themselves, it's essential that both you and your team fully understand what content marketing really is.
We often hear buzz words like "content marketing" and "editorial calendar" without fully understanding their implications.
According to Wikipedia, content marketing is:
"Any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc."
In short, it's marketing that doesn't suck. It's marketing that's actually helpful to its audience. But, what does strong content marketing actually look like?
Let me share a simple example.
Popular grill manufacturer Weber knows how to do content marketing.
A few years ago they launched a new site called "Weber Nation" that is 100% committed to helping its audience. It provides tips on grilling the best steaks, caring for your grill, and how to use a great grill to entertain your guests.
While the advice works great for customers of actual Weber grills, owners of any grill brand can benefit from their information.
Their efforts paid off so well, they doubled down with an iOS app.
What does that tell you?
Content marketing is worth the investment, and it's not just for startups.
Does this mean that everyone who visits their site will purchase a Weber grill? Probably not, but it's likely that Weber has gained millions of new fans that could all be potential customers.
It's not about a quick sale. It's about building an audience that trusts you long-term.
That is the ultimate goal of content marketing.
What Is A Content Marketing Editorial Calendar?
Most of us are familiar with the idea of a traditional editorial calendar that helps us visualize our content publishing on a calendar-like interface, but how does that differ from a content marketing editorial calendar?
Content marketing is highly strategic.
That means you need to understand your audience, what motivates them, and what they need to hear from you in order to make a connection to your brand.
A content marketing editorial calendar is essentially a planning document that gives your team a plan of attack. Like a traditional editorial calendar, it gives you a bird's-eye view of what is going on. However, it should be expanded to fit all the different channels a marketing team specifically would care about.
Overall, it should accomplish the following:
- Provide a place to generate post ideas and key topics.
- Assign writing and other editorial tasks to key members of your team.
- Create a publishing schedule that helps you maintain a consistent presence.
- Allow you to make in-process adjustments with drag-and-drop ease.
- Visualize your marketing strategy in a way that everyone can understand.
- Act as a communication point to team members.
A content marketing editorial calendar gives you and your team a framework for being deliberate and intentional about how you are reaching and building trust with your audience. In part, it is a strategic marketing tool. In another way, it is a place to keep your team organized and on top of things. Both of these things are going to be very important as you move ahead.
Why Should Content Marketers Use An Editorial Calendar?
Journalists and news publishers understand the value of editorial calendars.
They’re essential tools for planning ahead and sticking to deadlines. Without them, it’s extremely difficult to plan content around centralized themes (think how magazines target themes each issue), or to even know who’s doing what, and when.
In other words, creating content consistently without a calendar is like driving a car without a steering wheel.
It doesn’t work.
Smart content marketers understand this, too. However, even if you know why you need editorial calendar software, it’s possible your boss is tougher to convince. This may be especially true if the person holding the credit card isn’t actually a marketer.
If this situation sounds familiar, stick with us through this post. We’re going to show exactly what you can accomplish with editorial calendar software.
If you want to create great content consistently, it pays to know what you’re going to do before you do it. As we like to say at CoSchedule, “plan your work, then work your plan.”
When it comes to planning, too many content marketers just wing it.
“Winging it” isn’t a real editorial strategy, though. It leads to creating directionless content that doesn’t produce results. Deadlines get missed, projects get planned haphazardly, and teams waste time spinning their wheels.
An editorial calendar helps create order out of chaos. It provides a simple planning tool for laying out:
- What content you’ll create.
- Why you’re creating that content.
- Who will create each piece of content.
- When that content will be due.
That sums up the basic functionality of a content calendar. Take things a step further with editorial calendar software like CoSchedule, and you can also achieve the following:
- Successfully plan out coordinated content campaigns and themes.
- Lay out your content publishing schedule alongside your social media promotion.
- Manage your team member’s workflow.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Let’s dig deeper and see what an editorial calendar app can do for you.
Keep All Your Content Ideas and Projects Organized
Having a great idea, only to forget it later, is frustrating.
Having a great idea and simply not executing on it may be even worse.
At CoSchedule, when we have a great content idea, it goes straight on our editorial calendar. That way, nothing gets forgotten, and those ideas get turned directly into actionable content that helps our audience and makes us more successful.
Stop Missing Deadlines and Get More Stuff Done
According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Without constraints, people take as much time as they have to get their work done. This isn’t necessarily because they’re lazily, but because it’s built into the way humans operate.
This is why we also often feel like we get more done under pressure. When deadlines are fast approaching, we’re more motivated to get the work done. With a clear content calendar to keep track of your deadlines, it’s a lot harder to forget when things are due.
Clear deadlines, combined with a tool for ensuring they’re enforced, results in more content getting created. It’s as simple as that.
Two Types of Editorial Calendars: Spreadsheets vs. Software
Spreadsheets are a common editorial calendar solution.
They're free and flexible. If you're just getting started, they're better than using nothing.
But, they do have some downsides:
- Lack of automation. There's no way to automate publishing or content promotion via spreadsheet.
- Disconnected workflows. The calendar is separate from social networks and email platforms used to promote content.
- Communication is missing. Without commenting functionality, teams must rely on outside communication tools.
Fortunately, there's a solution.
Why Use Editorial Calendar Software?
Technically, you can use spreadsheets to build editorial calendars. They work well enough and they’re cost-effective. However, their functionality is fairly limited, they can be time-consuming to maintain, and ultimately, they aren’t a ton of fun to use.
Using an app instead can turn your content calendar from something you have to use, to something you actually want to use.
See Everything In One Place
The value of seeing your entire editorial strategy in one place can’t be overstated.
With CoSchedule, you can see all your content in one place. This includes blog posts, social media messages (which can be toggled on or off), and anything else you're working on. You can also connect your Google Calendar so events and meeting times can be synced on your CoSchedule calendar:
If you want to move something on a spreadsheet, you have to copy and paste it.
When you have a lot of stuff on your content calendar, this can be a pain.
With CoSchedule, you can drag-and-drop content anywhere you want on the calendar. This makes adjusting your calendar to reflect shifting priorities easy.
Collaborate In One Place
With spreadsheets, your calendar and communication tools are separate.
As a result, discussion around projects can easily get lost. That’s why collaboration features are built directly into CoSchedule.
Integrate With All Your Other Tools
CoSchedule connects with other tools you’re likely using to help you get more organized and save more time. Here are some examples:
- Transfer content from Google Docs or Evernote directly into WordPress. Or, use CoSchedule's built-in text editor:
- Connect your WordPress blog to schedule posts to publish automatically. Then, use either our WordPress plugin or web app to manage your calendar.
- Hook up all your social networks to schedule all your social media promotion in advance:
Plus, with advanced features like Best Time Scheduling and ReQueue, keeping your calendar full of social media posts takes minimal effort.
- Automatically add UTM tags to every URL on every piece of content published through CoSchedule. This helps improve tracking in Google Analytics.
It seems like a small detail. However, if you’re used to planning content in spreadsheets, you probably have elaborate color-coding schemes set up to make them easier to understand.
You don’t have to lose this when moving up to CoSchedule. Every item you place on your calendar can easily be color-coded for quick recognition.
Store Drafts for Later (and Never Lose an Idea Again)
Have an idea for a post you don't want to lose? Or, do you have something in progress you won't be able to finish until a later date? No problem. Just click an item on the calendar drag it into your Drafts bin:
Getting Started With Your Editorial Calendar Strategy
If you're going to try and implement an editorial calendar with your team, you will need to be able to make the case as to how it will help you grow your traffic and improve your business. This will take you right back to some of the things we discussed earlier in the guide about the business value of content marketing as a whole.
Here are some key benefits to communicate:
- Better visibility across projects and campaigns. Everyone knows when each piece is publishing, and who is responsible for it.
- Ability to finally get organized. Disorganization leads to frustration and lack of productivity.
- Reducing the number of missed deadlines. No one likes missing deadlines. But, without a calendar to track them, it happens.
- Spending less time planning and more time executing. Spending time planning and getting organized saves more time later on.
Those are some strong benefits that most any marketing team will get behind.
Understand Who You're Talking To With Personas
It's cliche to say that you need to understand who your audience is, but it couldn't be more true. Not only do you need to make sure that you understand your audience, but your entire team will need to know who they are as well.
A good place to get started would be with some basic customer profiles or audience personas.
Take An Inventory Of Your Team
Who's on your team, and how will each of them be contributing to the end product? This may sound simple, but it is an important question. If there is only one of you on your team, this step may be better spent writing down some of the tasks that will need to be completed and the order in which you will do them.
Here are some roles that'll likely be working off your calendar:
- Project Managers.
- Social Media Managers.
- SEO Specialists.
- Content Strategists.
If they're on your marketing team, they can get value from your editorial calendar.
Develop a Basic Channel Strategy
Not all content is equal, so you should decide what yours will look like. The basic starting point is usually a WordPress blog, but you might have other channels, too. Those include:
- Social media (broken down by network).
- Email marketing.
- Video platforms.
- Landing pages.
The world of content marketing is vast. And all of it can be planned on your calendar.
Find Your Content Core
The content core is the intersection between your brand's purpose and your customer's interests.
Understanding this will help you plan content that's both:
- Relevant to your audience. What do they want from you?
- Delivers results for your business. How will it attract the right audience to your company?
How Will You Plan?
Most teams that use content marketing editorial calendars like to have regularly scheduled meetings to plan out their content. Decide if you'll do one of the following:
- Run group brainstorming meetings. Great ideas can come from anywhere.
- Leave content planning to an editor or strategist. These folks are closest to the data that will guide you to success.
- A mix of both. This way, you can take advantage of the pros for each approach above.
Outline a Basic Publishing Schedule
Determining how often you will publish new content will also determine how far ahead you plan your content. This is a very subjective question.
Now, your publishing frequencies may vary depending on each channel. Here are some starting points if you're fresh to the content game.
Your Company's Blog
Your Brand's Social Media Presence
Your Organization's Email Marketing Schedule
You're most likely sending marketing emails either daily or weekly per list segment. So, here are the best times to send those emails (according to 10 studies):
Videos, Landing Pages, White Papers, eBooks and More
If it's content, it can go on your editorial calendar. Not everything necessarily needs to be on a fixed schedule. For example, landing pages and white papers might be things you create on an as-needed basis, rather than making up your bread-and-butter content.
But, the best way to keep it all organized is to plan everything on your editorial calendar. That's the key takeaway here.
Back to the Top
Building Calendar-Based Workflows
Calendars can support your entire content marketing workflow. Here's how.
Brainstorm Topics and Campaigns
Before you can use your calendar, it needs content. One simple process that's worked well at CoSchedule is to run a 30-minute content planning session.
Here's how the process works:
- Spend ten minutes writing down ideas. Have each team member jot down ideas on Post-It notes (one idea per note).
- Spend ten minutes scoring those ideas. Put those ideas up on a board. Read each one out loud. Then, have each team member score them on a three-point scale (3 = Awesome, 2 = Meh, 1 = Dud). You'll end up with ideas that fall into all three categories, and that's okay. This isn't about shaming anyone.
- Spend ten minutes selecting the very best topics. Take all your ideas that scored mostly 3's, and decide which are the very best. These will go on your calendar.
This video offers a more detailed breakdown on how this process works:
Map Content to Marketing Funnel Stages
Next, map each topic to a marketing funnel stage. You'll need content that fits each of the following stages:
- Top of funnel. This is content that broadly interests your audience, but is only loosely connected to your brand. People looking for this content are likely not aware of your company or product yet.
- Middle of the funnel. This is content that speaks to potential customers who are considering buying the type of product or service you offer.
- Bottom of the funnel. This is content that converts shoppers into customers.
Here's what a basic marketing funnel looks like:
The majority of your content will likely be top of the funnel, since these topics typically generate the most interest. However, content increases in value, even as it decreases in volume, the further down the funnel you go.
Establish Clear Workflows
Figure out which steps are required to create a single piece of content. Then, determine how long each step should take.
You can do this easily by first figuring out what needs to be done. Create a list:
- Generate an idea.
- Determine deadline.
- Do keyword research.
- Write an outline.
- Write content.
- Handoff for graphic design.
- Review and content.
- Ensure content is optimized.
- Write social media posts to promote content.
- Draft email copy to promote content to your list.
- Schedule publish date and time.
That's a hypothetical checklist for a single piece. Next, figure out who is responsible for each step. Now, this list might look like this:
- Ideation (team/strategist).
- Determine deadline (editor/manager).
- Keyword research (strategist/SEO specialist).
- Write outline (content writer).
- Write content (content writer).
- Design graphics (graphic designer).
- Review content (content writer/editor/manager).
- Ensure content is optimized (editor/SEO specialist).
- Write social media posts (content writer/social media manager).
- Draft email copy (content writer).
- Schedule publish date and time (editor/manager).
These don't necessarily need to be assigned to specific job titles; just tasks or roles different team members may fill, depending on your team size and structure.
Now, figure out how long each step should take. Having your team use a time tracking app like Toggl can help you estimate this more accurately. To get started, determine how long each task usually takes right now, per step.
At this point, the list might look like this:
- Ideation (team/strategist - 30 minutes).
- Determine deadline (editor/manager - 5 minutes).
- Keyword research (strategist/SEO specialist - 2 hours).
- Write outline (content writer - 2 hours).
- Write content (content writer - 8 hours).
- Design graphics (designer - 4 hours).
- Review content (writer/editor/manager - 1 hour).
- Write social media posts (writer/social manager - 1 hour).
- Draft email copy (content writer - 1 hour).
- Schedule publish date and time (editor/manager - 5 minutes).
These times are completely hypothetical for example purposes only. Next, determine how many work days this entire workflow will fill. Then, add two weeks. That's how far out in advance your content should be placed on your calendar.
Finally, map this all out to a checklist your team can use. If you're a CoSchedule customer, this can be done with Task Templates. These are reusable checklist templates that can be added to each piece of content on the calendar.
Select a piece of content on the calendar and click the Template icon:
Next, click Add Template:
Then, enter steps to complete each task. You can also assign team members and due dates to each step:
These can easily be re-ordered any way you'd like:
When you click each task, it'll show the whole team that step is complete. This will be reflected by the completion percentage on the calendar:
Each time a team member checks off a completed task, it'll be reflected on the Team Performance Report, which tracks everyone's overall productivity:
Add Content to Your Calendar
Now you're ready to add content on the calendar. As a reminder, take the estimated amount of time each piece, and add two weeks. This will give your team enough time to get each piece created, without constantly pushing up against deadlines.
If you're using the template in this post, complete each field in the spreadsheet per piece of content:
For CoSchedule customers, select a day on your calendar. Then, add the Content Type:
Give your content a headline (plus add a description and any tags you'd like to use for organization):
Assign an owner, color-coded label, and set the publish date and time:
Hit Create Blog Post (this button text will change according to the content you're creating). Next, you'll be able to add tasks or a task template:
The content will now appear on your calendar:
Communicate and Collaborate on Content
As you're creating your content, you'll need to communicate with everyone on your team. You've got two options here:
- Use a chat app. Slack and HipChat are popular options.
- Use calendar software with built-in chat. CoSchedule incorporates Discussion Threads for this purpose.
If you're using CoSchedule, click the Contributors icon on the right, and make sure all required team members are assigned to your piece of content:
Now, you can pass comments and trade files back and forth:
This ensures no notes get lost and helps manage version control.
If you're using CoSchedule with the WordPress integration, your post will automatically publish at your specified date and time. If you have social media campaigns and email newsletters promoting your content, you can create and manage those in CoSchedule, too.
For those using spreadsheets, you'll need to make sure everything is lined up in your Excel or Google Sheets calendar, your social scheduling tool, and email platform.
Managing Your Content Marketing Editorial Calendar
So, you've decided to take the plunge and start using an editorial calendar for your content marketing.
You've made the right call.
Not only will you find yourself producing better content, but you'll also become more consistent with your publishing. In turn, it should lead to a steady increase in traffic.
As you go, there are seven things that you are going to need to keep an eye on at all times.
1. What's Happening This Week? What's Happening Next Week?
If you are doing it right, you should have an answer to these questions at all times. How does your calendar make this easier?
2. Does Your Team Know What To Do?
Tools like CoSchedule allow you to assign tasks to each member on your team, making communication easier than ever. Everyone should know what they are supposed to do, and when they are supposed to do it.
3. Is There Healthy Communication?
Discussion about a new piece of content and how to make it better should be a normal part of the process. You should have something in place that allows you to have discussions, and share thoughts with your team.
4. What About The Assets?
Images and graphics can be important elements for great content marketing. Who will be responsible for them, and how will they be assigned? Again, CoSchedule makes this pretty easy with simple tasks that can be assigned to each team member.
5. Implementing Editorial Review
At our office, we use a peer review process to improve the quality of our work. Gathering feedback from our peers is a low-cost way to constantly improve the content that we create. Your calendar and editorial plan should accommodate for a step like this.
6. Reschedule As Needed
One tip for users of a paper editorial calendar is to use colored sticky-notes rather that just writing on the paper calendar itself. This gives you the same drag-and-drop flexibility that you will find in a tool like CoSchedule.
Keep Your Social Media In Check Too
While it is often missed, promoting your content on social channels is also very important. It is really the best way to spread your content online. CoSchedule makes this easy, allowing you to schedule your blog posts and your social media messages on the same calendar interface.
No matter what tool you choose, you need to select something that will set you up for success. I often find that those who take the time to plan, edit, and execute their editorial calendar are far more likely to succeed, and build the traffic that they need for the long run.
Start Creating More Consistent Content Now
Content marketing editorial calendars aren't necessarily new, but you might be surprised at how many people choose to not use them. That's their loss and your advantage. The content marketers that dedicate themselves to great planning and content creation will always come out ahead.