Whether you’re a writer, editor, blogger, publicist, or marketer, a content editorial calendar can be an important tool to implement in your business toolkit. It not only outlines clear indications of when and what content needs to be delivered, but provides businesses with a visual and working document that assists with solidifying marketing strategies in both the short and long term.
Why use an Editorial Calendar?
For many businesses, a content calendar is a critical component of any content marketing strategy. Providing the direction for content creation and publishing, it’s a useful tool for both freelancers and content marketing teams alike. The calendar can provide recommendations for the entire content creation process, enabling all parties involved to define long term marketing strategies for website, blog and social media content.
As Tim Lavelle, Director of SEO and Social Media at U.S Interactive Media explains, “The editorial calendar is vital to our campaign’s success. Many of our clients are generating thousands of new organic visitors each month simply by following the recommendations in our editorial calendars. We use them for SEO purposes, especially to guide Blogging activities.”
As Tim explains, the content calendar can be used both in house and as a communication tool when interacting with external clients and contractors. It assists in guiding SEO content strategies, and can outline how these strategies reinforce overall marketing campaigns, providing a clear plan for both short term promotions and increasing long term growth.
What should be included in an Editorial Calendar?
According to industry experts, a good editorial calendar should provide a range of the following details:
- Topic, descriptions and approaches to content
- Content headlines or titles and type of content (text, video, image, quote)
- Post angles and variations
- Places content will be published and pitched
- Keywords, title tag, meta description tag, header tags, internal links
- Resources and similar existing content
- Goals and prompts for assessment of goals / strategies
Editorial Calendars and SEO
Often used to guide SEO objectives, the editorial calendar is the easiest way to view and communicate content ideas, execution, editing, timelines, delegation of tasks, emphasizing the importance of having a strong strategic campaign for both clients and agencies.
As Heather Ferguson, Content Manager for Main Path Marketing said, “You have to build a train of thought over time, and build content that grows over time, to truly showcase your expert opinion,” Ferguson mentioned. “It is also helpful to have a strategic vision in an accessible place so that everyone working on the marketing strategy can refer to it.”
Heather described her content calendar as the backbone of her content strategy, informing all social media, email, and media placements by providing an open document with a consistent message across relevant campaigns.
The calendar also enables you to stay on course with your content strategy and communicate the company’s vision to your team. It not only holds teams accountable to their deadlines for content publishing, but ensures everyone is accountable to the overarching marketing goals.
Social Media Outreach
Editorial Calendars can also assist in identifying and connecting with the influencers related to your content strategy. As Noel McCann, Marketing Analyst from yourhomesuite.com states: “In addition to helping me and my colleagues stay organized for the month, maintaining a content calendar helps me identify which influencers my company wants to reach out to,” Noel says.
“Planning a piece on business travel a few weeks in advance, for example, gives me time to find contact information for relevant editors and writers that would be most interested in my company’s piece.”
If social media is a major part of your content marketing strategy, it seems the use of a content calendar provides the means by which to organize which influencers your business is in contact with, contact details, platforms and any communications with them to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Clint Evans, Co-Owner of StandOut Authority, believes editorial calendars are critical to content marketing, providing a clear and measurable format for publishing content. Through building relationships and publishing with companies who have their target audience, Clint and his team check the content calendar each day to see what each team member is accountable to create, and what date the content is due by.
“I believe your editorial calendar is critical for accountability, whether you’re a freelancer or working with a team,” said Evans. “With a team it has the added benefit of getting each team member on the same page… it provides you with accountability to publish by a deadline and allows you to measure your results.”
Editorial Calendar Tools
1. Google Docs
Clint Evans uses Google Docs spreadsheets as his editorial calendar template, as he believes it fits the needs of the company, is easy to access and free. “It’s very useful because it provides clarity,” said Evans.
“It’s measurable. At a glance we can see what each team member is accountable to create.” Being easy to access by all team members, including freelancers and contract staff is a convenient factor for using Google Docs for marketing teams across the board.
Michael Heiligenstein, Director of SEO at Fit Small Business, also finds the accessibility and ease of use a major drawcard when using Google Docs as an editorial calendar template.
“For a long time, we simply published articles as soon as they were ready. But as we started adding writers and trying to do the promotion to match, I started the editorial calendar so I could figure out that the timing of articles and make sure we can promote everything we publish.”
A browser based application like Google Docs allows team members to collaborate across time zones, to instantly publish and edit the spreadsheets online. By inviting others to edit documents using the share function, Google Docs provides an easy, yet powerful tool to plan, enter and track content between team members and external clients.
Deb Briggs, Brand Content Strategist at Pole Position Marketing uses a third-party Google sheets template customized to each client’s needs when overseeing a client’s blog posting strategy.
“It allows for easy sharing and collaboration with the client,” said Briggs. “As opposed to communicating back and forth via email on topics and approvals, a content calendar makes the blog post creation process more efficient.”
Efficiency, particularly when working with clients and remote freelancers, is a major concern for many businesses. Using Google Docs spreadsheets, that can handle up to 50 collaborators at once, also enables Deb’s clients to add their own ideas to the calendar- keeping them engaged in the content and further adding to the pool of content idea generation.
As Noel points out, a major drawcard to using a content calendar is its ability to plan out the timing of pieces, perhaps in line with certain events, promotional periods or releases. “One major benefit to Google Docs is that it’s free to use,” he says.
“My company is deliberate with how it spends its marketing budget, and having access to a powerful office suite for free means we don’t have to worry about software creeping into our budget. Google Docs also makes it simple for team members to share documents, spreadsheets, and other materials, meaning writers can share their drafts and ideas to me on the fly.”
For blogger and freelance writer Brita Long, the calendar function of Google Drive provides a free and easy means to monitor her SEO and social media marketing strategies. She uses a personal calendar, Instagram calendar and content calendar to keep on top of things.
“I look at the big picture to make sure I’ve balanced out the popular topics of my blog,” said Long. “I also layer it with my personal calendar to keep vacations, family commitments, etc. in mind so I don’t overbook myself.” As a freelancer and one-woman team, Brita includes topics for blog posts, publishers and deadlines in her calendar. “It helps me when I don’t feel inspired to write. I can just pick up a topic and start working on it.”
Digital Content Strategist and founder Niamh Lynch, provides a Google Docs editorial calendar template for clients who are focused on SERP’s, content marketing or lead creation. She believes a content calendar is pivotal for business growth.
“Editorial calendars help everyone and anyone, so even if the team is just one person, I still recommend them,” said Lynch.
“When the team grows, especially if freelancers are being used, it’s even more important. I haven’t seen many examples of scaling up without a calendar.”
She remarks that clients who are new to using editorial calendar templates always want cheap and easy, and Google Docs hits both of those buttons. She believes businesses can’t produce content at scale without one; remarking that it gets way too complicated and disorganized, way too quickly. Niamh recommends filling your editorial calendar template in weekly and then consulting it daily.
“Editorial calendars don’t have to be complex, but they do have to be organized, up-to-date, and taken as gospel. Ideally,” said Niamh, “Ideally, you want the editorial team to work like clockwork, even when you are not there, the calendar is a central element to making that happen.”
Known as an easy-to-use tool that helps content marketing teams communicate and complete tasks on time CoSchedule is used by a range of businesses to organize and develop content. Chris Brantner runs the blog CutCableToday, and alongside 10-15 writers at any given time, uses Coschedule through the entire content process, checking it multiple times per day.
Chris described his editorial process including;
- First, setting event reminders for upcoming events needing to be written about
- From there, a team member goes in and creates assignments for each event notice
- Then the managing editor assigns them to writers, who are automatically notified by email
- Once the writer is done an assistant editor posts to wordpress, and schedules social media shares
He also makes note of one particular function that other content calendars don’t often contain: the ability to integrate with wordpress and post the content to Social Media directly.
“Before we found Coschedule,” said Brantner, “We were doing everything through Google Calendar and Google Docs, and then manually copy-pasting to WordPress, and manually scheduling social shares in Hootsuite. It was sooooo inefficient.”
The only downfall to Co-schedule, he says is that having such a vast amount of content in the calendar tends to slow the program down.
3. Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets
Having created their own template using Microsoft Excel, US Interactive Media has standardized the editorial calendar templates they use to be the same format as their traditional SEO checklists, delivering the same SEO-relevant recommendations, whilst targeting traditional pages of the client’s websites.
According to Tim Lavelle, there is no format more flexible than MS Excel. Using the content calendar on a weekly basis, Tim and his team use Excel Spreadsheets to provide monthly updates and add more Blog posts to the queue to ensure clients don’t run out of topics to work on.
“If you’re not using one now, you’re missing out on one of the most important parts of the SEO process,” he says. “There’s no better way to organize Blogging efforts, or to tie them together with Social Media activity. Editorial calendars are essential to the success of modern Content Marketing activities.”
By combining existing editorial calendar templates, Michelle Swaney, business owner of The Potty School, also uses an Excel based content calendar.
“I tried starting our blog without one and it just wasn’t worth it…,” said Swaney.
“It really helps that we have a way of making sure the publication dates and the editorial dates are in-check.” By planning a month’s worth of postings all at one time, and consulting the document at least twice a month, Michelle uses her editorial calendar to increase traffic to her website, thus increasing attendance to her online and in-person classes.
“I have used really complex calendars before and you need a project manager just to make sure the calendar gets updated and used,” said Swaney. “This is wonderful, simple reference tool that actually gets used… every time!”
Although the only downfall, she mentions, is the spreadsheets aren’t web-based, something Google Docs seems to have over traditional desktop publishing programs.
For Marketing Assistant Rebecca Crowe from FMOutsource, the content calendar enables writers and editors to track the updates of each piece, as content moves through each stage of the editorial process. “It’s extremely useful just to keep on top of where everybody is at,” said Crowe. “The ability to reorder it instantly by different fields is invaluable and makes it simple to see any issues or roadblocks in our editorial process.”
For FMOutsource, link building is the priority in order to direct traffic and hopefully transform the traffic into conversions for other facets of their business, such as customer service or software development. Their editorial calendar template is comprised of a combination of color-coded excel spreadsheets, Trello and DaPulse.
Using color coded spreadsheets that she keeps in the background throughout the day, Rebecca uses multiple tabs for tracking client-based work in order to quickly see what stage different members of their team are at. Her team is currently moving from Trello to DaPulse to manage personal day-to-day workloads.
“In doing this, everything is in one place,” says Crowe, “we can color-code it so that we can see any issues at a glance, and categorize and order the calendar by due date, writer, client, even medium.”
Rebecca also includes in her editorial calendar template exactly where in the editorial process each piece is, separating content into 3 columns: Pre-production, Production and Post-production. These are then further classified into 5 color-coded research stages: proofing, redrafting, planning, publishing, seeding.
Cautions and downfalls
Creating and sticking to a content calendar is critical to running any content strategy campaign. However, as Naomi puts it, “It annoys me when clients don’t see the value, or don’t use it and then complain about the mess, but that’s not the calendar’s fault!”
Managing and planning content may be one thing, but sticking to those plans and executing strategies are another. In the end, as Deb mentions, an editorial calendar is a guide – you need to have the flexibility to improve upon ideas. Another major factor is having the team and resources to get the content actually written and linked.
“Even when everyone agrees that it’s a good idea to create a Blog post about some particular topic, getting the content written sometimes takes longer than we’d anticipated,” said Tim.
Another downfall, even with the use of an editorial calendar template, is that it shines a light on procrastination. As Clint so aptly sums up, “If I’ve been slacking off or prioritizing other tasks, there’s nowhere to hide or pass the buck.”
Whether the overarching strategy of your business includes increasing traffic through SEO campaigns, lead generation, link building through guest or blog posts, building relationships with influencers and communities or positioning your clients as industry experts, an editorial calendar template can assist your business throughout the editorial process.
Depending on which tool your business chooses to use, the editorial calendar provides the ability to break down content ideas into tasks and categorize them throughout the stages of the editorial process. It can also provide you with a collaborative platform when working with clients and freelancers, making content creation more productive, and hopefully generating a greater amount of traffic and conversions for your business.
Free Editorial Calendar Template
Here is a simple, easy to use minimalist editorial calendar you can download and start using now. Simply click the image or link, open in Google Sheets and download as an Excel Spreadsheet.