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July 9, 2012

Why an Editorial Calendar is the Equivalent of a Xanax

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You wake up in the morning, it’s there. You go to sleep at night, it’s there. You know you have to keep writing content for your blog, and there’s literally no end in site. Ever. Feeling a little anxious? That’s OK, because I’ve got a magic little pill that will help take all your worries away. It’s an editorial calendar, and it promises to release a ton of pressure from your daily content-creation process. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Man Jokingly Strangling Himself with Necktie

Does your blogging schedule make you feel like this?

Choosing Topics for Your Blog

Whatever industry you’re in, there’s bound to be discussion surrounding it. This is a good place to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

External Inspiration

1. Industry news and events. Do a quick survey of the topics at upcoming conferences or industry events, start listening to the pulse of your industry. Use content aggregation and other services like Google Alerts to monitor the news on the industry.

Once you determine what is important now, think about how your blog can contribute to the conversation with a unique perspective. Be mindful that if you’re in a fast-paced industry, news can get old fast. So try not to plan too far ahead with “soup du jour” topics.

2. Guest authors. You always hear people talking about guest authors as part of your blog strategy, and there’s a reason for that: Because it’s awesome. Hosting outside voices and expertise adds richness to your blog. And guess what else? It frees up your time! (Well, that’s not completely true; remember there is definitely some project management involved.) Consider both industry folks and others from within your company as potential guest authors.

3. Analytics. I put this into the “external” section because here, your audience is telling you what they like. When you check out your Web analytics, you can discover what the most popular blog posts are. Google Analytics’ content reports and social reports are a great place to start. Take analytics metrics and other metrics like comments per post to find out which have the most activity that is important to you.

Internal Inspiration

1. Company news and events. Now that you have external inspiration, you’ll want to balance this with internal priorities and happenings. Consider what sorts of services, events and newsworthy things are on the horizon at your company. For example, are you or any of your colleagues going to be speaking on a topic soon? How can you integrate that into an upcoming post or two?

2. Business objectives. Perhaps you have a new product or service you’re launching. You’d never want to use your blog as a hard-sell platform, but there are ways to start positioning your brand for the release. What are some of the common problems this new service/product addresses, and how can you begin talking about these types of things ahead of time?

3. Your blog. Maybe you already have well-defined categories on your blog. This is another great place to find inspiration. Take a look at all your categories and see if some of them couldn’t use some beefing up. Or maybe there’s old topics in need of “evergreening”? You could also find there are enough gems collectively on one particular topic to create a more in-depth piece of content on the topic.

Refining Your Topics

Want to be really anal? Start breaking down your topics into outlines. See, having a general idea for a topic is a great start, but if you really want to start alleviating the stress that comes with writing a post, start thinking about what the post will look like and who you are talking to.

Some blogs have several types of information-seekers. Uncovering your blog’s audience and what a type of information speaks to them is a whole different post; but, keeping that idea in mind, think about the angle of your post.

Will it be a “how-to” post focused on a 101-level education or an expert-level look into a matter? Perhaps it’s an opinion piece, an interview or even a compare-and-contrast approach. Is it from a bird’s eye view or will the post look at one component of a matter?

Once you’ve refined the angle, think about planning for content elements. Consider the following elements you might include in a post:

  • Additional quotes from people within or external to your company.
  • Authoritative resources to link to.
  • Video content on the topic (original or other).
  • Graphics (original or other).

Planning these sort of outlines gives you time to bookmark research, delegate tasks (like if you need to rope in a designer or an interviewee), and jot down ideas ahead of time that will give the topic depth.

More planning = less anxiety … are you sensing a theme here?

Creating the Editorial Calendar

How to Manage the Calendar

You might be asking, how far in advance should I plan? Well, depending on your business and industry (opportunities, objectives, the pace of the industry, etc.), it may be easier to plan in shorter, 90-day spurts or way further ahead of time. You decide, based on what’s right for your business, industry and most importantly, your sanity.

Sometimes, a month ahead of time is all you need. Take the last week of a month to start brainstorming for the next month. That way, by the first day of the month, you are ready to hit the ground running – and without all the added pressure that comes with being forced to think of a new topic on the spot, every day.

How many days a week you blog depends on your resources. Again, filling in the blanks with guest authors is a great way to keep your blog going even if you and your team don’t have the resources to blog daily or even every other day.

You can certainly run tests on how often to blog by watching your analytics, and seeing how posts are being responded to. If in-depth bi-weekly posts are more shared than shorter daily posts, you might take that into consideration. Also watch your traffic patterns, your comments and any other metrics that are important to you.

For more on tracking the progress of your content through analytics, check out this post on Google Analytics social reports.

How to Fill the Calendar

Now that you have a good handful of topics, you can start filling in the days of the calendar. Digital calendars are easily sharable with key people across your company, but I like to start with a good old-fashioned oversized paper calendar.

This offers plenty of room to brainstorm, cross things off with a red pen, use Wite-Out and spill my coffee on, giving it more of a “Mad Men” feel.

Here’s some tips on filling in the calendar:

  • Start penciling in your topics and be sure to coincide the days these topics are featured with any important internal timelines or upcoming events.
  • Designate “news” days within the schedule, and instead of planning the topic way ahead of time, wait to see what sort of conversations are happening leading up to that day.

    Two Thumbs Up

    Make like The Fonz and say “Ayyyyy” with your new content strategy.

  • Sometimes things come up, so be flexible in your approach. If you have a newsworthy item or you’re sparked by creativity, go for it! Use the calendar as a guiding light, not a prison for your creativity.
  • For each post, put together mini-marketing strategies. What time of day will you post it and where will you promote the content? Make the strategy appropriate for the channel. For example, if it has a great graphic, think about Pinterest. A good video? YouTube. An interesting conversation starter? LinkedIn groups. Truth is, one post is usually appropriate for many channels. Annotate ideas in your calendar as you finish filling it in.

At the end of this process, you might be surprised to find that a well-planned editorial calendar for your blog can lend itself to your overall content strategy pretty easily. Blog posts can become white papers, eBooks, direct mail topics, marketing collateral and much, much more.

But for now, take one step at a time. If an editorial calendar doesn’t help relieve some of your daily work stress, then perhaps it’s time for that Xanax.





6 responses to “Why an Editorial Calendar is the Equivalent of a Xanax”

  1. Kent writes:

    Hi Jessica, the most important is habit. We need to develop a habit for our content. My habit is

    1) I comment 10 blogs per day (when you read other people blogs, you won’t run out of topics)
    2) Answer 10 tweets per day (This is for building relationship)
    3) Do 3 links per day (this is for seo link building)
    4) Add 3 people on Linkedin per day (this is for b2b business relationship)
    5) Talk to local media at least once a week (this is for local media to notice you and get interview to build your reputation
    6) Facebook? Sorry, not for my business.

    If we can do this consistently, we not only can blog, but we actually building our reputation.

  2. Andy @ FirstFound writes:

    I dunno, I’ve still never managed to stick to an editorial calendar. I need that chaos to think of good posts!

  3. Jessica Lee writes:

    @Andy: I agree that you have to have some chaotic, inspirational moments. But when you’re in the business of content, you have to have a scheduling process to keep things moving and to stay sane. Thanks for reading, Andy. :)

  4. Jessica Lee writes:

    @Kent: Thank you for your comment, Kent. Process is great. It helps us stay on track. There’s something about that strategy that feels very close to automation though — maybe it’s the number attached to it. Personally, my hope would be that someone is commenting on a post (or any other social action) because they are inspired by it, not to meet a quota. On the other hand, if you don’t have goals, things won’t get done. With social though, stringent quotas almost feel like the point of social is being missed altogether. It’s like going to a party with a goal to meet five people, get two people’s numbers and make one professional connection all before the night is over. Thoughts?

  5. Kent writes:

    @Jessica, agree with you. I do it everyday (the list I posted) is not just about numbers, it is about relationship.

    Each time when I read and comment blog posts, I look for building relationship with the blog owner. But in order to get quality, we need quantity. E.g, if the percentage of building relationship thru’ blog comment is 3 out of 10, and my goal is 10 in one month, then I need to get 30 blog posts to comment.

    If we don’t have numbers, we don’t have quality relationship. Imagine if we have only one person in our business network, it won’t help for our business, but if we have 100 people in our networks, then we can ask for help from the 100 people. :)

    I agree with your comment! :)

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    I do see your point about the percentages; recurring visibility is important to building a brand. This is kind of a tangent, but I think at some point, there’s a shift that comes from trust of the community. This is where the brand becomes something people are vying to interact with. Consequently, that’s where the great brands continue to shine by never losing that personal touch, and interacting with everyone they can.



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