Does writing content feel more like working in a coal mine rather than a content marketing team? If yes, then an editorial calendar might be the answer to your struggles.
This isn’t just a mere calendar to plan future posts and give you the much needed consistency. Or should I say reassurance? But also a tool for developing a solid content marketing strategy that’s tied to actual business results – be it more traffic, leads, or loyal customers.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through the steps on how to create an editorial calendar and what it implies.
What is an editorial calendar?
In its most basic form, an editorial calendar lets you plan content throughout the year and organize it after main topics, without having to wonder what type of content to tackle next.
A more advanced one will serve as the bedrock for your content strategy, mapping out the content cycle (assuming writers, editors, and publishers are involved), posting frequency, and important publishing dates. But we’ll deal with this later.
For now, just remember that it’s more of a planning tool to organize content topics on a meta level.
Editorial calendar vs content calendar
So if an editorial calendar is a planning tool, isn’t a content calendar the same thing?
Not really. There’s a difference between an editorial calendar and a content calendar. Even though a content calendar builds itself on top of an editorial calendar, the former one is much more granular. In the sense that it contains the exact assets, messaging, tone, and preferred channels where the content will be published.
To sum it up, an editorial calendar deals with planning the content to be published in big lines, while a content calendar deals with scheduling the content in detail. You could also say an editorial calendar is strategy, while a content calendar is tactics and execution.
Benefits of an editorial calendar
Back to the editorial calendar, its most obvious advantage lies in the bird’s-eye view of all the future content that’s going to be published. This helps you organize content topics around major events (e.g. Super Bowl), without having to go into fight-or-flight mode over what topics to come up with in the last minute. Something every content marketer hates!! (been there, done that 😅)
However, there are other less obvious benefits. An editorial calendar will allow you to:
- Improve ROI – Tie your content efforts to actual business results. Want to drive more traffic? Write top-of-the-funnel articles that attract more readers. Want to build loyalty? Focus on e-books, hands-on guides, or plug-in templates that actually bring value to your existing customers. By doing so, you’ll reach your goals and improve the ROI on your metrics much faster.
- Do robust SEO research – How often did you have to piece together a post in the last minutes, only to see it rank on the 4th page of Google? An editorial calendar can provide the much needed buffer time to do a proper keyword research. In return, your posts will be SEO optimized and more likely to be discovered by the right audience.
- Support marketing campaigns – Unfortunately, the spray-and-pray touches product launches and marketing campaigns as well. You can’t half-ass a launch blog post, then expect people to use your product. Plan deliberately for it. Create supporting assets to run a fly-wheel around your main launch and increase its chances of success.
What to include in an editorial calendar
Now that you’ve convinced yourself about the utility of an editorial calendar, it’s time to actually choose one. Here are the most essential criteria to look after:
- Important events (such as holidays)
- Topic of the content piece
- Publishing date
- Status of content (as the content moves through the content lifecycle)
If you publish content on a frequent basis, you might be looking for more in depth features to match your volume, features that lean towards a content calendar though:
- Distribution channels (newsletter, Instagram, etc.)
- Content type (blog post, infographic, videos, etc.)
- Design assets
How to create an editorial calendar in Paymo
When it comes to making an editorial calendar, I believe you can have the best out of both worlds: the overarching structure of an editorial calendar combined with the depth only a content calendar can provide. You might just call it an editorial content calendar – there, I just made that.
However, what most people struggle with are apps and processes. Which in most cases, are either too complex or all over the place to make for an executable plan that’s actually scalable. Or at least less prone to human errors.
What I’ll show you next is an editorial calendar example built in Paymo, so you can manage all your content in a single place. Wouldn’t call it necessarily an editorial calendar template, but a system for publishing content on a regular basis alongside a team. Let’s dive in!
1. Brain dump content ideas
Yes, you read that right. The first thing you should do is get all your content ideas out of your brain and into a trusted system. After all, how many times have you come up with a brilliant headline, only to forget it two minutes later?
As David Allen, the creator of the Getting Things Done framework put it, our minds are made for having ideas, not holding them. So create a stream of content ideas, even though some might not hit the press ever again.
For this, open Paymo and click on the Quick Add Button to add a project. Name it “Editorial Calendar 2020” and add all authors, editors, publishers involved.
Quick add button in Paymo
Re-name the initial task list as “Stream of content ideas”, then start adding the headlines as they come to your mind. Again, the purpose of this step is to document your content ideas in a simple to-do list, that we’re actually going to work on next.
Add “Stream of content ideas” task list
TIP: You can use the task priorities as a numbering system to mark headlines in the order of their importance:
- Critical – To be posted in weeks 1-2
- High – To be posted in weeks 3-4
- Normal – To be posted in weeks 5-6
- Low – Backlog for content ideas
Use task priorities to number headlines
2. Plan content in big lines
With a stream of content ideas in place, it’s time to establish the frequency of your posts and main content topics that will help you look like a publishing house – even if your team is made up of only two in-house content marketers.
Frequency is debatable, with HubSpot recommending 3-5 blog posts/week for organic traffic and 1-4 blog posts/week for brand awareness. Don’t follow these numbers religiously though. Choose a frequency that you can keep on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.
In terms of the content topics, a perfect editorial calendar should cover a mix of subjects that engage different buyer personas. Long-form blog posts that act as main content pillars, followed by original series, case studies, infographics – you get the point. Otherwise, you risk losing potential readers that will look for content in other places.
Ideally, you want to plan content a month in advance. This gives you enough bandwidth to not run out of ideas and write things in the last minute, while also making sure deadlines are manageable.
To implement this in Paymo, create a separate task list called “Content type and frequency”. Then add each type of content as tasks (monthly newsletter, bi-weekly infographic, Tuesday wrap-ups, etc.), we’ll rename them later once we decide on the headline.
Add “Content type and frequency” task list
Next, open each task and establish its frequency from the recurring profile in the top right corner. This will be your publishing date.
Define the recurring profile a task/post
What’s left is to match headlines with the actual content types for the following month. Find the articles that have a Critical and High priority (from the first task list), then copy their headline and paste it after the content type tasks (under the second task list).
Copy paste the headlines from the first task list into the second one
If you switch from List to Calendar View in the top right corner, your editorial planning calendar should look something like this:
Editorial calendar in Paymo
3. Create a content cycle
What you have in front of you is an editorial calendar for beginners. While this might serve you well in keeping all deadlines in sight, you also need a system for streamlining your publishing process – especially if you have writers, editors, and publishers involved.
Luckily, you can do this in Paymo quite easily. Identify your content cycle, a.k.a. the stages an article goes through before publication. Most common ones are:
- Ready to be published
Then map it out in Paymo, by creating a workflow with these stages as columns. You’ll be able to drag and drop articles from one stage to another once you’ve finished working on them. Just make sure to add a filter for task lists, and choose the “Content type and frequency” one.
Defining a workflow in Paymo
4. Schedule posts in detail
Backlog of content ideas, checked. Editorial calendar, checked. Content cycle, checked. The only thing left is to schedule posts in detail. Here’s a few tips on how to make it work for you.
First, open up the full task details of a task. Assign all the users involved in the editorial process. This works well if you have multiple stakeholders, so each can update the task status when their turn comes.
Full task details in Paymo
Next, create a list of subtasks with the channels where the post is going to be shared. This will help the publisher keep a track record of where to spread the word about it.
The biggest debate though remains whether the deadline should be the same as the publishing date, as this encourages people to slack off. An antidote to this might be the due date alert. Set in 1 week before the deadline, so writers get a nudge to finish their work in advance.
Once done, let the author post a Google Doc link in the description area, so editors and publishers can access it and get to work.
Google Docs link as a task description
The last step is to schedule tasks in the writing stage for at least 1 month in advance of the actual publishing date. You don’t want to put too much pressure on your writers, you aim for quality content posted on a regular basis. Not quantity.
Back at you
The blueprint for your 2020 editorial calendar lays in front of you. Take action and deliberately plan your content, whether you want to get more traffic, leads, or sign-ups.
This is the only sustainable way to post quality content that will stand the test of time. Or should I say any Google algorithm update. There are no shortcuts (luckily). Good luck!