When it comes to running a successful content marketing operation, a content calendar is one of the first things you’ll want to figure out.
It’s an obvious thing to focus on: by having all of your plans and due dates in a single place, you’ll save time and energy in your day-to-day work. It’s a great way to make sure every piece of content comes to life on time.
The issue? It’s easy to think that once you have a content calendar, you have a strategy in place. Content Marketing Institute raised this issue in one of their most popular articles from 2017.
If you pick a content calendar tool or template and simply fill it with any topics that come to mind without your marketing and business goals as guidance, your content will fail.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, I’ve covered the five key elements of a content calendar that helps you publish high-performing content and hit your goals.
I’ve also added some templates and suggestions at the end, but remember that tools alone won’t be enough! You need the right processes in place, which is what this guide is all about.
Key element #1: It reflects your strategy and future launches and campaigns
One of the most frequent mistakes I see businesses make is looking at content as a nice-to-have. They don’t make it an important part of their strategy. Instead, they use it as a way to fill up the blog section of their website and a way to keep their social media profiles active.
An example I always bring up when it comes to this is a mobile app development platform. Their target customers are non-technical marketing teams and business owners. Yet, they publish content on topics like best programming languages for app development.
This happens when your only goal with content marketing is to write about topics related to your expertise.
The opposite way to go is the one where you map out your product launches, updates, and other events, and build content that supports it.
Here’s an example of a company that runs in-person training sessions:
- Your next session is on September 15th
- You publish 2 blog posts per month in June, July, August, and September
- You launch a free, automated 5-day email series with hands-on tips, starting in July
- Your social media activity promotes this content, as well as short video testimonials and small sneak peeks into the course material (slides, graphs, tools)
The topics of this content is entirely related to getting set up with a topic you’re teaching on, on a less advanced level. It builds the awareness of your expertise, nurtures the audience that’s craving to learn about that topic, and primes the audience for your upcoming offering.
That’s what a powerful content calendar is about.
Key element #2: It’s shareable and collaborative
It may sound simple, but it’s crucial: if you work with a team, can they easily access your content calendar?
Or is it a file that needs to be sent around?
Make sure that your calendar is:
- Simple to access from any browser (i.e. without additional software requirements like Microsoft Office)
- Easy and safe to log into (ideally, everyone who uses it will have their own login or profile)
- Always up-to-date (i.e. there can’t be two versions on two devices; everyone can only access the latest version)
As you’ll see in my suggestions later, the best way to do this is by using a service like Google Sheets in a shared Google Drive, or a content calendar tool.
Here’s just one example of a simple, but powerful setup (it’s one of the templates I’ve linked to at the end of this post):
Key element #3: It relies on established content marketing processes and checklists
Adding content that supports your launches to your calendar isn’t enough—you need to know what it takes to create and publish that content, too.
- If you’re recording podcasts, you may need to book a recording booth, schedule interview appointments with your guests, etc.
- For blog posts, you need to research and collect data points and expert quotes, design a custom graphic as the featured image, etc.
These are tasks you (and/or your team) do over and over again. If they don’t happen, your content won’t get published.
Create a chronological list of tasks for every type of content that you regularly create. You can keep these lists in your content calendar document or tool and refer to it every time you work on a specific content type. Bonus points if you add it to your project management tool!
Here’s a blog post checklist example from CoSchedule:
If you want to learn more about templatizing your processes, check out my previous post on streamlining your marketing workflows.
Key element #4: It emphasizes ownership of tasks
The previous two elements of great content calendars—shareability and process—are made even more important with this one: everyone on your team needs to own their tasks.
The idea behind this is simple: when something needs to be done, you and everyone else will know who’s in charge of it. This helps you avoid the “But I thought you will do that!” scenarios, as well as delays and frustrations that come with it.
Even if you’re not using a tool that’s specific to content calendars or project management, every team member will ideally have their tasks and due dates in their calendars or to-do lists.
Here’s my own example of that. Here’s a screenshot of my calendar within a client’s Asana account—I can’t see any of their other content projects or tasks, but all of my assignments with them and everything I need to keep an eye on is here (plus, I get notified about it regularly):
Key element #5: It’s color-coded for quick big picture overview
Calendars are visual tools by default, so if you’re a visual person by nature, you’ll love this element.
There’s huge value in color-coding your calendar so that you can always have an overview of your entire content operation.
You make your own rules in this case, so you can color code by:
- Giving each content type a specific color
- Making each campaign different from the other with its color
- Differentiate evergreen content (like blog content or YouTube videos) from ephemeral content (like Instagram stories or email newsletters)
Most tools will let you tag or otherwise categorize your projects or tasks, giving them different colors on a calendar. Here’s a tagging example from Trello:
Before you go: templates and tools you can use
As promised, here are some free, straightforward options to get you started in case you don’t have a content calendar, or if you need to revamp your process:
- An extremely simple content calendar template from Brian Dean, in Google Sheets (make a copy to use it!)
- Yearly content calendar template from CoSchedule
- Social media content calendar from HubSpot
- Airtable content calendar template
- Editorial calendar template from Content Marketing Institute, in Google Sheets (make a copy to use it!)
- Trello editorial calendar (copy it by clicking “Create board from template”)
Tools you may want to check out:
Finally, if you want to look at how some real-life content calendars look like behind the scenes, these are great places to start:
- See how Brian Dean of Backlinko organizes his content calendar
- Look the behind-the-scenes of Pat Flynn’s content calendar
These tips and resources should be more than enough to get you started right away. Anything else you’ve found useful in your own content calendar that I haven’t mentioned? Share it in the comments!