What is a content calendar?
A content calendar is a way to address your needs around planning and executing a content marketing campaign. Think of it as a tool to track everything that you need to accomplish to ensure a successful content marketing effort.
The most common use of a content calendar is to plan and produce blog posts, but that's not all it's good for. Aside from content creation, you can also use a content calendar to address content promotion. The more you plan for success the more success your inbound marketing campaign will have.
Why You Need a Content Calendar
Content calendars will keep you on track. Plain and simple, they'll keep you working towards the goals you've set for yourself and your team. A good calendar will keep you focused on the actions that matter to drive traffic to your website.
If you've done your job correctly, each task you check off on your content calendar should move you closer towards your content marketing goals.
I like to use a calendar to schedule and track almost everything that my team and I are working on. For us that includes:
- Monthly performance and KPI reports
- Writing and blogging activities
- Social media management including content promotion
- Paid advertising (PPC) management & monitoring
- Digital asset creation and landing page work
- On-page and off-page SEO audits and improvements
With a strong plan, you'll be reminded to post articles, you'll keep your social channels up-to-date, and you'll increase your inbound marketing leads.
What Tools Are Good for Building a Content Calendar?
There are plenty of scheduling and planning tools available out there. Before you decide what's best for you, consider how you want to work, and think about your team’s culture and maturity. Are you more of a checklist kind of team, or an in-depth project planning, scheduled to the last minute kind of team? The process that you think your team will adopt will drive you to a tool that will make the most sense for your team. Remember, whatever you choose should help, not hinder your team’s productivity.
My personal preference is to schedule everything out to the day, but yours may not be. Let me walk through a few tools you might want to consider. I'll start with the simpler tools, and then share some thoughts on the more complex tools available.
The to-do list or checklist is the easiest way to get started. If you don't have any planning in place, completing a simple list of blog ideas or thoughts will help you structure your tasks. At the same time as you go through the list you'll feel some level of accomplishment as you mark things off.
This type of approach is great for those new to planning. It will get you started, but it generally doesn't work well if you’re working with others and planning a long-term campaign.
If you're looking for some tools, there are plenty of apps for managing checlists. One of my favorites for managing to-dos is Evernote. It has a handy feature to include clickable check boxes in a note, or you can create individual notes with reminders if you want to get more complex. As you go through notes and lists, you check things off. I find that checking things off provides a huge sense of accomplishment. For someone that needs to feel progress this is a good thing.
If that even sounds like too much, you can be just as successful using a text editor or word document to keep a bullet list. It’s all up to you.
The Excel File (or Google Spreadsheet)
If you want to take your planning to the next level, an Excel worksheet or Google spreadsheet is the logical next step. If you work on a team with everyone making contributions to the content plan, a shared Google Spreadsheet or Excel file on a shared drive might be right for you. Include at least three pieces of information for each task you identify in your plan. Think about adding columns in your spreadsheet for each of the following:
- Task name
- Who will do the work
- When the work will be completed
With this level of planning you are starting to get into the basics of project scheduling. Having deadlines and assigning accountability will allow you to take your planning to the next level. Don't be afraid to make the jump. Having tangible target dates and deadlines is sometimes exactly what your team will need to stay motivated.
Project Scheduling & Project Planning Tools
If Excel doesn't cut it for you and you want something that is better at planning and task assignments, consider looking to a project scheduling tool. In the past, this would have been something like Microsoft Project.
Project scheduling tools have interfaces and features for managing work across an entire team, and not just for a single person. They often have some reporting features as well. These reports help you keep on track and understand the progress you and your team are making towards your content marketing goals at a quick glance.
Project scheduling tools are best for teams that are used to following a process and rigorous tracking. If you have a team of specialists where different team members take on different roles, a scheduling tool might be right for you.
If you're looking for a totally free tool, Gantter is a free scheduling app for Google Drive that does wonders. If you are used to Microsoft Project or something similar, you'll have no problem learning Gantter.
If you want something more robust a tool, consider Teamwork PM. Teamwork PM is something that we use here at Fielday Marketing. Teamwork is a great project scheduling and management tool that works well in several different scenarios. If your team is just getting into project planning it can be used purely as an online shared checklist. If you have a more seasoned project manager running your marketing campaign it can be used as a full-blown project management tool.
Teamwork has a cost associated with it. As of August 2017, you'll spend about $69 a month to get small office access which is more than enough to run any content marketing campaign you'd like to manage. There is a 2 project "Free Forever" plan that is part of their 30-day trail. While you'll be limited in adding 100MB of attachments, if you aren't adding documents or content and are just using Teamwork for task management, this very well could be all you need.
A Free Template to Start Your Content Calendar
To get you started on your own content calendar and blog post scheduling, we've created an excel template for you.
This template was designed with a 12-week blogging campaign in mind. Depending on how regularly you blog a campaign can be condensed or extended as need. Take this only was a guideline and get creative.