You know you need a marketing calendar.
Without one, you risk flying blind. With one, you can organize and visualize the execution of your marketing strategy, and everyone is better able to stay on the same page.
Sounds great, right?
Well, it turns out you have a lot of options for tools you can use to organize your calendar. Which one is best?
Here are some starting points:
No matter which type of tool you choose, you might need help using it. All the actionable advice in this chapter will work with any format your marketing calendar takes. With that said, while spreadsheets are the easiest way to get started (and you have to start somewhere), purpose-built software is the most powerful option and it’s the solution we recommend. It is, after all, the reason we’re in business.
You might just need a guide and a little something to write on while you read this post. I’ve got your back.
Download our free guide that will help you implement all of this advice with actionable, step-by-step information. You’ll also get a five different Excel marketing calendar templates:
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Now, let’s get to the good stuff.
So where am I going with all of this?
I’ve read dozens of other posts on marketing calendars, editorial calendars, content marketing calendars, social media calendars—you get the picture. And I checked out a monster list of marketing calendar templates in a post on Crazy Egg’s blog.
There are tons of folks who have really good ideas of what to include in your calendar, and starting with a template to get your brainstorming underway is a solid way to begin.
So here’s how to plan a marketing calendar that really works—with a few tips from us at CoSchedule, and a lot more from the other rock stars out there.
Sure, you need a marketing strategy, but that strategy is useless without execution.
Now, hear me out.
Business plans are no longer normal.
In fact, they’re now considered a faux pas and seen as a mere “business guess.” But that wasn’t always the case. Before the lean startup, the business plan was a document that assumed we knew everything there was to know about our business, a plan set in stone. It was done, or so we thought.
In reality, it was just a big huge guess.
Marketing plans and gigantic old strategy documents aren’t much different. They may sound novel and responsible, but the reality is that they are just guesses, too. So, what can marketers learn from the lean startup model?
The more time you spend strategizing, the less time you spend creating real content that will influence sales (which, let’s face it, is the entire reason to plan your marketing calendar).
Whether you have a marketing strategy already or not, there are just a few things you need in your strategy to help you validate what content to create:
That really looks like this:
From here, turn your strategy into content. And use the data from what you create to plan more:
So now that you have a minimum viable marketing strategy to get started, the next step is looping in who’ll help you create that content. This will help you define expectations for everyone—even if it’s really only you as an all-in-one marketing team.
I’d rather have a first-rate execution and second-rate strategy any time than a brilliant idea and mediocre management. —Jamie Dimon
Ann Handley has an awesome idea when it comes to who should be involved in your editorial flow, and thus, have access to your marketing calendar to understand when pieces will publish:
These are roles not staff positions. Each role might be filled by one person or perhaps by a dozen, depending on the size and complexity of your own organization.
Let’s take a look at those roles quick:
That’s a pretty good list. And while that list works for Ann, it might not for you. For a small team, you can narrow that list of roles down even further:
Essentially, these folks are the ones who’ll help you plan, create, and share the content according to your marketing strategy. Get everyone on the same page now to make actually producing content a lot easier down the road.
Now it’s time work that marketing calendar: Plan what topics you’ll cover.
John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing plans out his marketing calendar based on themes. The themes help him look at a calendar that connects with topics he wants to cover for his audience.
Note that this isn’t actual content yet—it’s just a note of the topics he’d like to address in his content:
The first step is to start making a list of your most important themes. I generally try to find three core themes and about nine supplemental themes. (Nice tidy 12 monthly themes.) Your core themes are the kinds of things that might be found on your homepage or even in the title attribute of your home page. Or, perhaps the main navigational elements of your site.
While it scares me to plan 12 months ahead because the data from your current content should help you plan new content, this is an awesome way to plan strategically (and super efficiently) and keep your content on point.
John shares exactly how he chooses themes:
Start with brainstorming. Lock yourself away and start thinking about the kinds of things people ask about the most, where you make your most money, or where you see the greatest opportunities in your industry. This is often enough to create a good start to your list. Obviously, if you have a team, get them involved – they may actually know better than you. (Industry jargon that means nothing to the prospect must be left out here.)
John mentions this is a nice way to get past staring at a blank marketing calendar without any clue of what content to add to it. I also love that about themes.
Marcus Sheridan from The Sales Lion has a simple solution to help you plan your marketing calendar based on projects that will have the biggest impact on your business. He addresses prioritizing your marketing calendar very simply:
Remember, content marketing is about generating more sales. When all is said and done, that’s what matters.
He suggests prioritizing more “Buyer’s Content” instead of so much top of the funnel inbound content.
By understanding this, the aim is to plan content on your marketing calendar that will help prospects make purchase decisions instead of purely focusing on content that’s great for the top of the funnel but just generating traffic.
The team at The Sales Lion even have a simple algorithm they use to prioritize their projects that you can use, too:
Essentially, we have every client rate their planned content (be it blog titles, videos, etc.) on a scale of 1-3. A “3” score means it’s “Buyer’s Content” and therefore marked as most urgent—moving it to the top of the calendar. If it’s a “1” grade, then we’ll wait to produce this content because it’s either a top of funnel question that a buyer may be asking or even an “outside of the funnel” question/subject—meaning that although it may be relevant to the business and buyer, it doesn’t necessarily represent someone who is seriously considering making a purchase right now.
From here, you can plan a balance of content focused on selling and content focused on inspiring interest in your business on your marketing calendar.
And when you start planning actual pieces of content on your calendar, there are a few things to keep in mind:
This is the fun part! And there are many ways to do this:
While editorial calendars work particularly well for managing blogs, you can use them to organize all of your marketing.
So I wanted to know how the other pros out there plan more than just blog and social media content, but a true all-in-one marketing calendar that you can also do with CoSchedule. Here’s what they had to say:
You used Marcus’ algorithm to prioritize your projects, so let’s make those into actual pieces of content on your calendar. John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing had some more solid advice on planning projects as content:
Now take that list to the Google Keyword Planner and see if you can find themes that have significant volume. You must balance key terms with being too generic though. A term like “marketing” wouldn’t make sense as a theme, even for a marketing consultant, but a term like “referral marketing tactics” might.
To summarize: While all of your content may be connected to a theme, choose a keyword for every single piece of content you’ll publish. These may be keywords all related to the same topic, but unique enough to help you connect your different content to the terms your audience is searching for.
Then add the keywords into your projects on your marketing calendar according to the priority you defined through Marcus’ scoring exercise.
Joe Pulizzi from Content Marketing Institute has a lot of insight on the content marketing process, and marketing calendars are a huge element of successful strategies turning into real content:
One thing is certain: if you don’t keep an editorial/marketing calendar, the content doesn’t get done. —Joe Pulizzi
Joe breaks it down into such a simple idea:
An editorial calendar simply tracks what content you are going to cover, what tactic it’s for (blog, newsletter, etc.) and who’s responsible.
Best practice is to set up a master calendar for all your content initiatives, and then a separate marketing calendar for each initiative. Traditionally, we’ve set up editorial calendars 12 months out and then constantly change them as we tweak the marketing plan.
The good news is that your themes are the year calendar, and now you’re ready to plan real projects for each “initiative”, as Joe calls them.
So let’s recap everything you just learned, and use Joe’s advice to get your projects on your marketing calendar.
I couldn’t say this better than Rebecca Lieb from (who’s brilliant, by the way, and worth following) on combining your marketing calendar with a content production process:
Many editorial calendars also incorporate the production process into the mix, which is a great way to ensure content creation is on track. This can include who’s responsible for individual content elements, the due date of a first draft, who conducts the copyedit, and a date (often, with a specific time) for receiving and proofing the final draft, entering it into the CMS system (or newsletter template, or blog platform), and when it will be pushed live, or published.
Where Rebecca started, Jodi Harris from Content Marketing Institute provides a few more details to help you set up your marketing calendar:
- The date the piece of content will be published
- The topic or headline of the content piece
- The author of the content
- The owner of the content – i.e., who is in charge of making sure the content makes it from ideation to publication and promotion
- The current status of the content (updated as it moves through your publishing cycle)
Jodi continues with a few more items to include:
- The channels where your content will be published: This can include only your owned channels (such as your blog, Facebook Page, website, YouTube page, email newsletters, etc.), or you can expand your tracking to include paid and earned channels, as well.
- Content formats: Is it a blog post? A video? A podcast? An infographic? An original image? To get more mileage from the content you create, you might want to consider repurposing it into other formats at some point. So it’s handy to keep tabs on the types of assets you have on hand right from the start.
- Visuals: Speaking of assets, it’s important that you don’t overlook the appeal that visuals can lend to your content, both in terms of social sharing potential and overall brand recognition. Tracking the visual elements you include in your content efforts – such as cover images, logos, illustrations, charts – will make it easier to ensure that your work has a signature look and cohesive brand identity.
- Topic categories: This helps make your calendars more searchable when you are looking to see about which target topics you already created a lot of content – or which you haven’t covered often enough.
- Keywords and other meta-data, such as meta-descriptions and SEO titles (if they differ from your headlines), which will help you keep your SEO efforts aligned with your content creation.
- URLs: This info can be archived as an easy way to keep your online content audits updated, or to link to older pieces of content in the new content you create.
- Calls to action: This helps you ensure that every piece of content you create is aligning with your company’s marketing goals.
It makes sense to simply include all of this advice right in your marketing calendar as you create it. Here’s how:
All the actionable advice in this post will work with any format your marketing calendar takes.
CoSchedule is actually designed to be your all-in-one marketing calendar, and it helps you do all of this way more efficiently. What would your marketing look like if you could manage all of this in one tool?
Are you ready to get started?
This post was originally published on June 17, 2015. It was most recently updated on April 6, 2020.