Creating a Blog Content Calendar You Will Actually Use
By now, if you’ve been reading my blogs, you know that business blogging is a powerful tool to drive traffic to your website and establish you as a thought leader in your industry. In my last post, I discussed how to brainstorm blog topics that are keyword-searchable, fresh, and most importantly, helpful to your customers. You might assume the next step in the process is to begin writing and posting all those blog posts, but there is still one very important step that often gets overlooked, and that is to plan out your content calendar.
Creating a content calendar is crucial to your blogging success. Without it, you will tend to post haphazardly without thought to cadence or varying content type. And there’s a good chance you will start out strong with a flurry of posts, then run out of steam as life gets busy, or you get tired of writing.
So, how can you set up your content calendar for optimal blogging success? Two things come to mind:
It must be easy to use, and
It must have a solid strategy.
Let’s break those two ideas down a bit.
Ease of Use
Just like with exercise plans, or phone apps, this rule of life applies to your content calendar:
If you make it too complicated, you won’t use it.
Here are some tips for making your content calendar simple enough for you to stick with it.
1) Choose a Format that works for you. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to structuring your calendar. The best plan is to go with whatever format makes the most sense for your brain.
If you want to keep your social media calendar and your blog calendar on one page, I recommend this Hubspot template, which uses Google Sheets. If you want to keep those calendars separate, I’d suggest keeping them in the same Google Sheet or Excel document and using separate tabs for social and blog content. Hootsuite and ContentCal also have good free templates you can snag.
If you are not posting to social, and you just want a blog calendar, keeping your calendar on a spreadsheet is easy, or you can always set up a Google Calendar just for your blog content.
2) Decide on a posting frequency that works for you. Blogging is a long game. It takes months and sometimes years to gather enough compelling content to make Google pay attention. There is no rush to put out a blog post 3 times a week. Quality is always better than quantity. Shoot for two or three posts a month at first, then increase to one per week if you can shorten your writing process without sacrificing quality.
3) If you have a team, use them! You’d be surprised who on your team might emerge as an enthusiastic skilled blog creator. Once you have a list of topics, ask around to see if anyone on your team might want to tackle a few of them. You may still have to edit for accuracy and tone, but getting your team involved will make regular blogging much less intimidating.
Another idea for getting more content is to invite an outside guest to post on your blog. This requires a bit of research on your part to find out who you could ask. A good place to start is with your suppliers or vendors. Who do you work with closely to create or sell your product? Who already has a blog and would like to do a blog swap for mutually beneficial backlinks?
4) If it’s not working, don’t dump it, adjust it. Your content calendar is a living document, to be reviewed and updated regularly. Set aside time each month to evaluate how well you are able to follow the calendar, and how well it is working for you. Make necessary adjustments based on your bandwidth, the performance of certain types of posts, feedback from your audience, or changes in your business strategy.
Now let's talk about how having a solid strategy for your calendar will help you be successful.
1) Spread out your content types. You don’t need me to tell you that writing only long-form detailed posts that explain the finer points your complex product is a recipe for blog burnout. Not only will writing 2,000-word meaty blog posts make you want to quit after about the 3rd one, but it could create a small niche readership.
I love the food group analogy created by Rick Burns of Hubspot, and explained in this great LinkedIn Infographic. It explains how it’s important to not only alternate your content topic types, but also how many of each type. Lean most heavily on your whole wheat and grain posts (how-to’s, listicles, relevant industry trends, tips), and your vegetable posts (thought leadership, case studies). Go lighter on your meat posts (research & analysis, POV’s, larger thought pieces), and desserts (inspirational or humorous posts). Then sprinkle in your condiments (controversial, thought-provoking content) to add spice from time to time.
2) Vary your target stage. In my last post on brainstorming content ideas, I said you should target different blog posts to different stages in the customer journey. It’s a good idea to categorize your topics by their customer stage, then space out those posts accordingly. You do not want to put posts that target one stage too close together.
3) Use events, seasons, and holidays. Pay attention to upcoming seasons and holidays, and plan your content around them. Company anniversaries, fun days like Pi Day and May the 4th, or benefit days like Giving Tuesday and National Volunteer Day can also help shape your content calendar.
4) Analyze and measure your results. I like to keep a receptacle of all blog topics as the first tab of my content calendar. These are all the blogs you have posted, or are planning to post. Create columns for the date scheduled/posted, the blog type (you can even use the food groups if you want), the customer journey target, and finally, the performance. The performance column should measure how well the blog was received. Did it get likes or shares on social media? Comments in the blog itself? Measuring the success of your posts will help you identify what works and what doesn't, allowing you to make necessary adjustments to improve your content strategy.
A content calendar is essential for any blogger looking to stay organized and consistently publish quality content. I hope this post has helped you learn how to create a system you can maintain, and a posting strategy that works well for you and your team. If you have any other tips for creating and maintaining an effective content calendar, I’d love to hear your thoughts.