There's no doubt about it - content marketing is here to stay. When done right, it's a powerful tool in your marketing efforts, helping improve your brand's recognition and reputation, as well as giving a big boost to your SEO.
But getting started can seem daunting. Today, we're going to look at the basics of content marketing planning and some tips and tools for creating your first content marketing calendar.
We'll look at:
Content marketing puts content at the heart of your marketing efforts, using high-quality, refined content to engage your potential customers.
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
Let's unpack that definition.
The key takeaway here is that any content you produce should be consistent, valuable and relevant to a predefined target audience.
It isn't enough to occasionally update your blog when you have something to say and hope for the best. It needs a clearly defined strategy. And that's where a content marketing calendar can be really helpful.
You'll often hear the phrase content marketing together with SEO. Content marketing can help feed your wider SEO strategy - it's the perfect place to target those longtail keywords and phrases that your customers are searching for, and capture them earlier in the sales funnel.
For example, someone shopping for new blinds for their home may not want to immediately take the plunge in ordering made-to-measure blinds for every room in their house. Instead, they want to spend time researching the difference between the various blinds available. They might search for a phrase such as 'Which blinds are best for sliding glass doors?'
If a blinds retailer ranks in Google for this term and is able to provide high quality, valuable content to help with the decision process, then the customer may be more inclined to get in touch with them when they're ready to make a purchase.
We've already spoken about how your content marketing should be refined and carefully planned in order to provide value to your target audience. That's where strategy comes in. But how do you define your own content strategy? Here are a few things to consider:
Understanding your audience, their motivations and the questions they want to be answered will help you understand how to provide them with valuable content. There's a whole range of ways to understand your audience better through surveys and user testing. We recommend creating buyer personas (if you don't already have them) and looking at your sales funnel to understand how different people navigate the buying process.
Your existing content
Your existing content is a goldmine of information. It can help you understand what works and what doesn't, and identify any gaps in your current offering. Take a look at your analytics to identify top-performing content, and any gaps in your current strategy.
This is where SEO comes into play. It's important for your content to be valuable, but it's also crucial that it's relevant to your audience and what they are searching for. Remember, with all keyword research, you want to find the low-hanging fruit - keywords with good search volume, and lower competition.
Once you've done your research, it's time to put that information and content strategy into practice, using a content calendar.
A content marketing calendar is a visual schedule of your content plan. It could cover a publishing schedule for your blog and social media marketing and a schedule for promotion and distribution too.
It's a simple concept, but it can take many different forms. You might choose to plan on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. It could be a colour-coded visual workflow, or a simple Excel spreadsheet.
It's all down to what works best for you and your team to help you get organised and understand your content strategy, workflow and distribution.
So, now you've got an idea of the type of content you want to include, it's time to organise that information into an editorial calendar.
First things first, what will house your content calendar? There is really a whole range of options for this, so it's important to find the solution that works best for you. Some of the more common platforms are:
Sometimes, the more traditional option is the best. You could start by building your calendar in Excel or Google Sheets. This allows for plenty of customisation, as you can add columns and categories as you see fit, and sort by numerical values such as date or search volume. You can also include additional sheets for future content ideas, and evaluating and auditing past content.
The natural home for your calendar might in fact be a calendar. Google Calendar is our favourite choice for this, but there are plenty of online calendar platforms available. Seeing your content plan in calendar form will help you visualise and spot gaps in content, quiet days or opportunities. You can also add colour coding based on channels, authors or themes.
Using a calendar app is great to provide your team with a big picture overview of your content schedule, but it might allow for less granular detail or customisation than some of the other options.
Project management software
Project management software is popular for a reason - it helps to simplify complex projects, allowing you to create a visual workflow that everyone can collaborate on. There's plenty of options out there offering different functionalities, from apps like Trello to those created specifically for content like Coschedule and social media management platforms such as Hootsuite.
What information should you include in your content calendar? This might depend on the platform you use and how detailed you want to get, but here are a few elements to think about.
Content format - This could include articles, infographics, video content, whitepapers, downloadable templates and more.
- Content theme - An understanding of the content theme will make it easier to organise topic clusters and sections further down the line.
- Title, meta data or social media copy - Depending on your calendar's functionality, you may want to include details of the copy within the calendar, or keep this separate.
- Target audience - All content should be created with your audience in mind, so try to refine your audience or pick a buyer persona to target every single piece of content you create.
- Target keywords - These are the search terms you'll be trying to target when creating your content, so it's important to understand these from early on in the process.
- Team members - Is each piece of content assigned to an individual team member? Do you have a range of authors who collaborate or take different topics? Consider the time and skills required to create the content, to get an overview of how your content will impact your entire marketing team's time.
- Timescales - Use this section to define deadlines, and how long each stage in your content creation process will take. This way you'll have a realistic timeline for publication, and everyone in the team should be on the same page.
- Dates - It may sound obvious, but adding dates to your content strategy and plan is what makes it a calendar. It's also an opportunity to consider the seasons, key holidays and occasions and how your content can fit into that.
- Status - For example, writing, editing, uploading, etc. Your calendar should be a living document, updated at every stage in the process.
- Channels/Distribution - Consider what channels your content will be published on and how you'll promote and distribute it. If you're just starting out with a content calendar, it may be best to simply start with a blog editorial calendar. This can be expanded at a later date to include channels such as social media and email marketing too.
- Assets - You might want to include extra features such as images, designed infographics or even tools as part of your content. Setting out what assets are needed and who needs to provide them can be really helpful.
If you're looking for further reading or a content marketing calendar template to get you started, we've rounded up a few of our favourites below. You may need to provide your details in order to download these content calendar templates. Remember these are just a starting point - feel free to expand and make it your own!
This Excel editorial calendar is a great place to start for blog content. It has a number of columns including author, funnel stage, keywords and calls to action - but don't be afraid to add your own to suit your business!
Marketing project management website Coschedule offers two Excel templates, one overview calendar and one specifically for social media
If your blog is in WordPress, this WordPress plugin gives you a calendar overview to easily check when all your blog posts are scheduled.
This newly launched WordPress plugin offers a more modern alternative, with an attractive colour-coded calendar view where you can add, edit and schedule your content. Strive is $7 a month, but you can start with a free trial.
Hootsuite offers a range of templates to get you started, including a basic editorial calendar and social media calendar. They all run through Google Sheets, but you may need to sign up to download some of them.
Take control of your content in 2021
We hope this has helped you understand the thought process behind putting together your first content calendar.
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