If there’s one thing you need to know about having a successful business, is this:
There’s no success without a plan.
This principle is applied to the world of content marketing in the form of a content calendar.
Unfortunately, planning a content calendar can be hard. There are too many moving parts, and sometimes you can fall into a paralysis by analysis situation.
Since I don’t want that to happen to you, in this article I will show you how you can create a simple content calendar in under 60 minutes.
Grab your timer and get ready. We have a lot to cover.
Step #1: Determine Length of Calendar
Time Needed: 5 Minutes.
The first thing you need to define is how long will your content calendar be. You can’t just start coming up with ideas if you don’t know how many you need. Defining the length of your calendar is the only way to solve this problem.
There’s no reason to over complicate this, however. When choosing the scope of your content calendar length, you just have a few options:
- 1 month
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 1 year
I recommend choosing one year as your timeframe since it gives you a long enough time window to come up with all the necessary ideas for all the different seasons and holidays. This doesn’t mean that you have to keep a strict calendar which can’t be changed as new events unfold. On the contrary, a year-long calendar should help you plan your time and efforts efficiently without sacrificing flexibility.
If you have never developed content for your own site and you don’t want to overcomplicate things, then you can choose a three-months timeframe as a trial, and then go with the year-long one.
Step #2: Brainstorm a List of Content Ideas
Time Needed: 20 Minutes.
This is by far the most lengthy step of all, and one of the most important. In this step, you decide what content ideas you will develop throughout the time period you chose in the previous step.
If you chose the one year calendar, then you can probably imagine there are a lot of events that happen during this time period. Some of these events you can easily prepare for (e.g. an industry’s event, a holiday, etc.), and for some you can’t (e.g. a breaking news, a new trend, etc.).
Since we can’t prepare for the latter, we will start by focusing on creating a list of the former events you expect to happen. Open your favorite note app (or grab a pen and paper if you are one of those old-school people), and come up with as many events you can.
Think what months of the year will you use this calendar. If you chose a year-long calendar, what events happen in all those months? Events like New Year’s Eve and Christmas can help you come up with a lot of topic ideas.
On the other hand, what kind of seasonal content can you write about? For example, at the end of each year, most blogs focus on writing about:
- New trends
- Last year’s review
- Learnings of 2016
- Best of 2016 articles
Then, what seasonal content related to your industry can you write about? For example, if you write about apps, every time Apple launches a new iPhone (around September) you know you will have a lot of new content to develop. The same can be applied to industry conferences and industry-related events.
With this list of events, you can already start coming up with a lot of ideas. Make sure to write non-stop for 10 minutes straight. Also, write every idea without judging it.
Once you finish, you should have at least 20 ideas written down, although more in the 50 range would be better. As I said, don’t think about their feasibility, you’re just coming up with ideas. Most of them won’t be published (unless you plan to publish a lot).
One thing all these ideas have in common is they are all focused on time-sensitive events. This is great to start with, but they can get a bit too repetitive after a while. You need to come up with new fresher ideas.
Here I list a few ways to find new ideas to develop:
- Think about the problems and questions your customers have. This is the most important of all. You should always focus on what your customers care about. You can send them a survey, or simply ask them every time you talk to them to see what they want to know more about.
- Analyze what your competitors are doing. Read their blog and the comments people leave on their site. What works? What doesn’t?
- Look in Google Keyword Planner for more ideas. Put a few broad keywords related to your industry, and see what results come up. Those that look relevant and have lots of searches represent ideas with a high demand.
- See what content people share using a tool like BuzzSumo. This is a great way to find ideas guaranteed to work. Just put your competitors’ site in it, and take notes on the content most shared. These ideas are almost guaranteed to work.
After you consider all of these options, repeat the previous process. Start writing down all the ideas that come up to you in a 10-minute sprint.
After you finish, you will have developed over 50 ideas, maybe close to the 100. In the following steps, you will be trimming all the unnecessary ones.
Step #3: Define the Type of Content to Publish
Time Needed: 5 Minutes.
There’s a difference between planning to write a 1500-words article and developing an infographic — you need to plan your content accordingly.
What you have to do here is really simple: define what type of content you are going to be publishing. This may seem trivial, but it’s not. Longer and more complex pieces of content, like ebooks and infographics, can take weeks to develop, edit, and design.
There is a finite number of content types you can develop:
- Short articles (under 1k words)
- Medium-sized articles (between 1k to 2k words)
- Long articles (over 2k words)
- E-books and white papers
- Slide decks
- Audio versions of articles
If you have scarce resources, then focus on the simplest ones: articles. That is always a good start. However, remember that the majority of other companies will probably do the same. Choosing a more complex type of content gives you a competitive advantage that can help you differentiate yourself while getting more traffic and leads.
Still, be honest with this. Talk with your CEO, CMO, lead designer, and anyone who may have a saying in your content marketing, and define this before moving forward. This will help you plan your time and resources better.
Step #4: Define the Most Important Pieces of Content to Develop
Time Needed: 10 Minutes.
Remember when you came up with all your content ideas in the step #2? Back then I said you didn’t have to criticize the ideas that you came up with since you were looking for as many ideas as possible. Now it’s when you have to edit that list so you end up with a high-quality of ideas.
First of all, make sure your list looks good. If you feel there are some ideas lacking, come up with some ideas more. Just don’t eliminate any ideas yet. If you come up with more ideas in between these steps, or even after you finish following the steps of this article, make sure to write them down.
What you will do now isn’t eliminate ideas per se, but rather, categorize them by their relevance and priority.
Ask the following questions for each piece of content:
- How close is this piece of content to my audience’s needs and problems? Grab your marketing personas and compare.
- What impact could this piece of content have to my overall content marketing goals? For example, if you are looking for leads, an ebook is a bigger priority than a 1k-words article.
- How much are people searching for this? Doing a Google Keyword Planner search can help you see this.
- Has anyone ever tried to talk about this? Make a quick Google search to see what comes up, and how it looks.
- Will I be able to fulfill the content’s promise? Be honest, do you have the expertise and resources to create and give value with this piece of content.
Make sure to go over these questions quickly (we have 10 minutes after all). Ignore all the pieces of content that have a low relevance and a low impact. Instead of deleting these ideas, leave them aside in a separate note.
After you finish with this process, you should around a third of the original ideas you came up with in step #2. This is going to be the final list of ideas you will be developing (although, as I explained before, can and should change as time goes by).
Step #5: Plan Your Resources and Timeframes
Time Needed: 10 Minutes.
Now you know what content are you going create and for what type, it’s time you start planning the creation time for each one.
Creating a 1500-words article can take 1-2 days for most professional writers, whereas creating a video can take a few weeks from start to finish.
Since you already know what type of content you are going to create, and the exact topics for each one (at least for the most important ones), you need to plan how long it’s going to take you to create each piece of content, and what elements you need to create one.
If you are only going to create 1500-words articles, then the only thing you need is a writer. If you have one, tell him the ideas you have and the time he thinks will take him to create it. Write down everything he says, and make sure to benchmark his production with these times. Obviously, things can go wrong and estimates can fail, but by doing this you are already planning yourself for success.
On the other hand, if you are going to create a more complex type of content, think what resources you need. For example, if you are going to develop an infographic, you need a designer. If you have one, ask her how much would it take her to have one done. Write it down and repeat the same process I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
If you don’t have a designer, then you need to look for one. That will take some time on its own, although I don’t include it in this step as it’s unrelated to the content calendar. Still, knowing what you need to have is key to make sure you start your calendar with the right foot.
Step #6: Define the Dates and Start Preparing
Time Needed: 10 Minutes.
Now you have everything in place, it’s time to define what piece of content will go for each day. This step is as simple and complex as it may seem. It’s simple because, duh, you are just giving each piece of content a date of publishing. How more complicated can it get? It can if you consider you are basically saying when you have to have a piece of content finished, with all the work publishing a high-quality piece of content entails.
In order to help you out decide what specific date you should give for each piece of your content, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Put a time-sensitive piece of content close to the day of publication. If you are going to write an article related to the Super Bowl, define the date of the content one or two weeks before it.
- Let your content writers (and/or whoever is needed to develop that piece of content) tell you when they think they can develop each piece of content. This goes as an extension of the previous step. If you think an article can and should be published in a certain period of time, when the writer doesn’t agree, then you need to listen to his words. He’s the one doing the hard work, after all.
- See in Google Analytics what days get you the most views. In order to do this, you need to create a custom report, like it’s explained in this article.
Finally, remember to be flexible. Lots of new events will happen that will force you to come up with new content in a short period of time. Some of the non-important pieces of content can be postponed so newer and more important ones are published.
As you have learned, creating a content calendar isn’t so hard after all. If you focus on moving fast, breaking things, and getting things done, you should have a pretty good content calendar ready to use.
Once you finish, share your calendar with all your teammates, make it public, and if possible, print it out.
Your content calendar will be the light that will guide your company’s content marketing efforts for some time, so make sure it flashes everyone in your company.
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