Don’t you hate it when you accidentally close a tab on your internet browser because you have so many open that they look like pages in a book? Or how about when you have so many sticky notes on your desk that it looks less like an office and more like a crime board?
No? Just me?
In chatting with my fellow creatives, I know that I’m not alone in this frustration. In fact, far from it. This is just part of the job for many bloggers and content marketers.
But does it have to be?
If you’ve been put in charge of blogging or content marketing for your business or organization and are feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to consider that a chaotic and disorganized system for keeping track of topics, pending copy and published pieces is no system at all (and neither is managing everything in your email). Rather, this is a sign that you are desperately in need of an editorial calendar.
In this article, I’ll explain what an editorial calendar is, when you need one, what the benefits are and how to create your own custom calendar quickly and easily by using existing free downloadable templates available.
While you can certainly start an editorial calendar at any time, why not start the coming new year off right by creating a killer editorial calendar? Keep reading to learn how.
What is an editorial calendar?
Before we talk about the reasons why you should have an editorial calendar and how to create one, first it helps to have a clear definition of what we’re talking about.
An editorial calendar refers to a documented (and usually visual) process or workflow that helps content teams manage content planning, scheduling, publishing, promoting and tracking.
Editorial calendars can be managed on a daily or weekly basis for laser-focused campaigns, or a monthly or even yearly basis for a high-level overview. They are commonly used when multiple people are involved in content creation and marketing in order to better coordinate efforts and facilitate communication between copywriters, editors, managers, strategists and directors.
While no 2 editorial calendars may be exactly the same—since yours should be customized to better serve the needs of your company or organization—editorial calendars generally answer the following questions:
- Cadence (frequency). How often do you wish to publish new content on your blog or website? Daily? Weekly?
- Type. What type of content will you be publishing? Blogs? Articles? Videos? There are a million and one types of content, so clearly describing the medium of publication is a necessity in any editorial calendar.
- Themes/topics. What topics will you be covering? What category/theme do these topics fall under? Do these topics and subtopics align with your larger goals for content creation?
- Status. Where is the piece of content in the production timeline? Being written? Edited? Is it published and in the distribution/promotion stage?
- Ownership. Who is responsible for each stage in the content workflow? Who authored the content? Setting clear responsibilities that everyone can see is a great way to promote transparency and reduce backlogs.
We also like to include a Notes section or column in our editorial calendar for miscellaneous comments pertaining to the piece, such as its priority. Other folks create a separate column for listing the final URL of the content piece, that way they can keep track of the entire process from inception to publication. Another possible data point to track in your editorial calendar is the main target keyword/keyphrase in the content.
Personally, I like to keep my editorial calendar as simple and streamlined as possible, and track these other data points elsewhere. But to each his or her own. Find what works best for you.
Editorial calendar vs. content calendar
What’s the difference between an editorial calendar and a content calendar?
Understanding how editorial calendars and content calendars differ can be challenging since many people use these terms interchangeably. Part of the reason for this is because some publishers (us included) choose to combine elements of both into 1 master document.
Generally speaking, the purpose of an editorial calendar is to help plan and schedule content over a period of time based on high-level themes. An editorial calendar can assist in planning topics and determine when to start working on projects in order to allow ample time to create, edit and promote the content.
Content calendars, on the other hand, deal with the meticulous, detailed and organized planning of the content itself. For example, if you were to include a column in your editorial calendar for keywords or keyphrases that you wish to target in a specific piece of content, as well as what landing page you want to link to or promote, this would start venturing into content calendar territory.
To better understand the nuanced distinctions between editorial calendars and content calendars, think of it like a construction project. If your editorial calendar is the architectural plans or blueprints, then your content calendar is the construction schedule or task list.
Why create an editorial calendar? (What are the benefits?)
Editorial calendars (in some form or another) have been used by magazine, book and newspaper publishers for centuries, long before terms like “digital marketing” and “SEO” entered the lexicon. In print media, publishers often make their editorial calendars public so that advertisers can identify the best placements for their ads.
Whether you decide to make your calendar public for your customers or clients, or choose to keep it as an internal resource for your team, editorial calendars are vital to staying organized and sane. When juggling multiple projects and tasks for various departments or sections of your company’s website, it’s all too easy to lose track sooner or later and miss the ball. Without an editorial calendar to stay organized, content often gets lost in the shuffle—which hurts your overall efficiency and ROI.
In addition, an editorial calendar can help streamline the content production process by making it easier to delegate work and keep track of the status of a project in real-time. If your calendar is regularly updated and shared with the entire team, then this can help cut back on those pesky emails asking “what’s the latest” on an ongoing project.
Editorial calendars aren’t just essential for large teams churning out multiple pieces of content daily or weekly. Even if you’re a small or 1-person team with a relatively conservative publishing schedule, an editorial calendar can play a key role in mapping and tracking your progress in meeting your content goals and objectives. This can come in handy when company stakeholders, executives or others outside of your department ask to be updated on what you’ve been working on.
Another benefit of editorial calendars is that they enable consistency in your publishing schedule. Consistency in content creation is important because it helps train your target audience (and Google) to anticipate and expect fresh content. Creating a calendar will help you and your team meet publication schedules and stick to deadlines.
Lastly, editorial calendars make it easier to plan ahead and select timely topics based on upcoming holidays, events and themes. In many cases, successful and viral content can be simply attributed to having the right message at exactly the right time. Your editorial calendar can help give you that high-level view you need to strategize the best time to publish certain topics across a month or year.
How to create your own editorial calendar
Editorial calendars come in all shapes and sizes. Some are made using Excel spreadsheets and Google Sheets, which is the format we’ve chosen. Other editorial calendars are created using project management software and apps like Trello, CoSchedule and Contently, many of which are paid tools.
Prefer to go old school? The traditional calendar method (using a big paper calendar in your office) is a tried and true technique, though the downside is it makes it more difficult to collaborate and share the agenda with your team. The most effective editorial calendars make it easy for various team members to view progress, offer ideas and leave comments right in the calendar—in real-time.
Whichever format you choose, there will be pros and cons to each. You’ll need to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of each format and decide which works best for your team. There’s no one “right” way to make an editorial calendar (though there are a couple of wrong ways).
Pro tip: When it comes to editorial calendars, it’s best to avoid using a PDF or XPS file since it will need to be updated regularly.
Once you decide on a format, it’s time to dive into the nitty-gritty and start your editorial calendar.
First, create a list/log of all the content pieces currently in progress or pending some step. This is known as your “backlog.” Be sure to thoroughly review all of your work folders and emails to get an accurate accounting of your backlog, and plug them into your newly created editorial calendar.
Next, consider your goals and develop a documented content strategy on how best to achieve these priorities. To do this, you’ll need to understand your target audience, analyze your competitors, determine your allotted hours/budget, decide on your unique selling proposition and call-to-action (CTA), and set clear key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your success.
After you’ve created a documented strategy, get started planning and scheduling your topics. I suggest starting small by planning the next week or month, then move on to planning the next week or month. Do this until you’ve planned out as far as you want. Right now, it might seem overwhelming to plan content for an entire month or year, but just take it 1 step at a time.
As you implement your editorial calendar and content production workflow, be sure to monitor how the process works and make tweaks as needed to improve efficiency, avoid bottlenecks, eliminate unnecessary data (or add missing required information) and update your metrics.
Free editorial calendar template
While there are countless paid software and solutions out there that can help you create a custom editorial calendar from scratch, you can find plenty of free, downloadable editorial calendar templates online provided by successful and reputable organizations.
Why reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to?
Save yourself some time and money by downloading one of these free templates and tweaking it to better suit your needs:
Do you have an editorial calendar? If so, what tool or format do you use for your editorial calendar?
Comment below or on Facebook.