Agencies and in-house marketing teams that organize their content projects around a content calendar reap rewards. With greater leeway to plan content in advance, teams with content calendars can develop long-term relationships with media partners, build campaigns around landmark events, and react better to newsjacking opportunities.
Creating a content calendar for clients—or for your own content team—is the first step in executing a successful content strategy. Building your content calendar can be distilled down to five steps. We will walk you through what each entails and provide a template to get you started.
Itching to get started? Access the content calendar template now.
Why use a content calendar?
A content calendar provides a high-level outline of a brand’s content production over 12 months. The most effective content calendars holistically capture every event that affects content production, such as industry functions and new feature releases.
A content calendar comes with no shortage of benefits. It should serve as your single source of truth to provide transparency and accountability—both internally to your team and externally to your clients. By making your content calendar shareable across departments, you can expect a number of positive outcomes.
- Plan around key events, including important internal dates, such as product or feature releases, and external dates, such as Black Friday. Many industries will be affected by the same events, which might include sales periods, holiday periods, or national holidays. Easily keep track of these events with our downloadable content calendar template.
- Spot upcoming content opportunities. Bigger projects require prioritization, efficient time management, and input from people across multiple teams. A content calendar keeps your team coordinated by clearly communicating which projects are due, and when.
- Get buy-in from clients or managers, and avoid content scope-creep. Your content calendar is useful beyond just keeping your team organized. When you send a content calendar to clients or managers—and receive their approval to move forward—you are setting clear expectations. You’re also getting everyone on the same page early on, which can prevent major changes that derail the production process down the line.
- Save time. Communication is key to efficiency. With a shared content calendar, your team stays connected and aware of who is doing what, avoiding redundancy.
- Match changing client needs. Whether it’s due to shifting priorities or new product releases, content needs change over time. Your content calendar should bring structure to your marketing plan but provide a degree of flexibility to adjust as needed.
- Search engines value “freshness.” Consistent publishing sends positive signals that help your content rank better. A content calendar lays out a clear plan so your team is always aligned on what to work on.
- Plan PR and link-building efforts in advance. Done right, PR and content distribution require planning. For example, what channels or promotion partners will be involved in getting your content out into the world? Line up a plan early on—weeks or even months before an official due date.
The example calendar shown above is clean and simple. In one central location, you can keep track of all relevant holidays as well as the full production of a single piece of content. As you can see, color coding is an effective way to show different stages of production. You can also use colors to display different roles or types of content.
How to Create a Content Calendar
Every content calendar will be different. That said, agencies and teams that follow a tried-and-true process will be more efficient than those that take a scattergun approach to planning. Create a content calendar with this step-by-step approach.
Step 1: Audit previous content
The first step to building a content calendar is taking a step back to audit existing content gaps, highlight potential opportunities, and identify the type of content that has worked well in the past. For example, you may see a trend for high traffic on posts that include videos. An audit also helps identify content that should be refreshed, repurposed, or redirected. In particular, your audit should:
- Report any site errors. Run a thorough SEO audit and report any errors you find. For example, the site might have duplicate titles, which can affect a search engine’s ability to categorize and rank a page. (Check out Alexa’s Site Audit tool for this purpose.)
- Determine popular content channels. Take a deep dive into your Google Analytics to pinpoint which channels are top performers. If you’re an agency working with a new client and don’t have access to Google Analytics, start with the client’s Site Overview data.
- Identify the most popular posts. Review which content is performing well in terms of month-over-month views, time on page, and bounce rates. Notice trends that result in consistently better performance, and reuse them in future content strategy.
- Refresh, repurpose, or redirect. If content is performing well, consider refreshing or repurposing it. For example, assign a stronger keyword to optimize, or reframe an article to bring more value to your core audience.
Step 2: Analyze the Competition
Once you’ve completed your audit, the next step is familiarizing yourself with competitors. A well-researched competitor analysis should guide your content calendar creation. Simply by looking at what competitors are doing, you’ll learn what works, identify different strategies, and figure out how to beat them:
- Define relevant competitors. A strong competitor analysis begins with figuring out who your key competitors are. This doesn’t just mean direct competitors—you’ll want to figure out who is competing for the attention of your audience. Use Alexa’s Audience Overlap tool to find out which other sites your target audience visits.
- Compile a list of keywords: Parse which keywords competitors are targeting in organic and PPC. Discover which keywords drive them the most traffic. It may make sense to work these into your client’s content plan. Check to see what keywords you’re ranking well for that competitors aren’t—this may present an opportunity to create a niche marketing campaign and expand your footprint in that topic area. Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix and Site Keywords tool can help with this step of the process.
- Explore your competitor’s backlink profile. Look at your competitor’s backlink profile to find out what attracts links. Are they commonly getting links to evergreen content? Is a newsjacking strategy working for them to get links? Who is the target audience of their commonly linked to pages? Researching backlinks helps you identify new audiences, as well as uncover opportunities to develop a stronger backlinking strategy.
Step 3: Allocate Editorial Resources
A content calendar helps apportion resources and establish roles and responsibilities. This is particularly important for small teams or agencies where resources tend to be much more limited. Organize your team by outlining the following items:
- Identify who is responsible for what content. Directly within your calendar, note who is responsible for producing what. The clearer you are about who is accountable, the more you will minimize confusion on task ownership. Keep it simple with color coding, or use other systems that easily display different roles.
- Set realistic time frames: You know your team’s bandwidth best. Based on manpower, set a reasonable production and publishing rhythm for the year. Your cadence should be sustainable; you should be able to produce quality content without scrambling each time.
- Allocate one person to manage the content calendar. Even if you have multiple people contributing to your content, you need to designate one person who will make sure everything is coordinated and on track. They should:
- alert the team to upcoming deadlines,
- chase late content, and
- identify when changes need to be made.
Step 4: Define Content Mix and Schedule
Content mix refers to the types of content you choose to produce. It could be any combination of blog posts, white papers, infographics, webinars, and so on. While you should keep tweaking until you find the perfect balance of content types, setting out a high-level mix in your content calendar is a good way to stay focused:
- Define your content mix. Define the type of content you use should be based on marketing goals, audience interests, and available resources. To get the content mix right, try starting with a framework, such as the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your content should be informative or entertaining, while 20% should directly promote your business. While this doesn’t apply to all businesses, it’s a good place to start. Keep diligent track of what’s working well and what content gives the best return on sweat investment after three-six months.
- Set a schedule. ased on distribution channels, publishing and production resources, and a workload your team can realistically sustain, set a publishing schedule.
Step 5: Build Promotion into the Calendar
Seventy million blog posts go live every month on WordPress alone. The fierce competition for attention means teams that plan content promotion early will be more successful than those that treat promotion as an afterthought. Given that most items in your calendar will need a promotion plan, tackle distribution based on what makes the most sense for your content:
- Create distribution-first content. Instead of leaving distribution to the very end of content creation, distribution-first content considers promotion right from the beginning. The content itself is written to perform well in a specific distribution channel. For example, you might optimize for a specific keyword to get higher search rankings, or you might feature certain individuals who will help promote your content in return. Use this approach if you’ve identified valuable distribution channels.
- Promote with PR tactics. Content calendars give you the high-level view necessary for building media relationships. By partnering up with media groups and choosing the right PR tools for your needs, you’ll unlock incredibly valuable distribution channels.
- Develop an influencer marketing strategy. Working with a handful of strategically chosen influencers gets your brand in front of a relevant and engaged audience. When influencers share your post through their channels, it’s seen as authentic, almost like a friend or coworker making a recommendation.
How to Use the Content Calendar Template
Use our free content calendar template to plan content up to 12 months out. Our template is specifically designed to help you create a more detailed calendar for monthly or weekly views. Or zoom out and use the 12-month template to plan proactively, not reactively. Tailor the template to your needs:
- Adjust it for you or your client’s industry. Add in the dates of big industry conferences and peak buying seasons to plan content accordingly.
- Shape it to your product. Your content should factor in key product events, such as launches, new feature releases and milestones. Adding important events directly into the calendar will allow you to strategically plan content that supports your entire team more holistically.
- Iterate. The content calendar is neither infallible nor set in stone. Make adjustments to optimize content performance as you go along.
- Keep it simple. The simpler your content calendar is, the easier it will be for your company or clients to use. Avoid overloading the calendar with daily tasks. Instead, build broadscale themes into the template with high-level tasks.
A content plan is key to performance
As with anything, creating content that works is always easier to tackle when you have a clear plan. In the content world, that means making a shared content calendar that aligns your team and keeps your client projects on track. Your calendar will encourage collaboration that gives both in-house and outsourced teams a shared vision, encourages long-term planning, and saves teams from last-minute content scrambles.
Your content should not be stand-alone. It should strategically tie to the content themes, product launches, or key events of your clients. A calendar puts your team into a “library approach” mentality to create a cohesive collection of content. Creating a content calendar is worth the initial investment of time and resources: strategically produced content only gets better with time.
Download our free template, and build your own content calendar to save time for your entire team.