Editorial calendars, also known as content calendars, are one of those marketing tools many businesses know they should look into, but never do.
We get it—they can seem like one of those non-essential components of a content marketing strategy. You may think you’ve gotten by fine without them thus far.
However, if you value such metrics as more website visitors, higher conversion rates, and richer community engagement, editorial calendars should have a place in your company.
But unlike some content marketing resources which state you must use X type in order to reap their benefits, or Y type is the be-all and end-all editorial calendars, we at Compose.ly would like to present a new point of view:
Choose the editorial calendar that suits the needs of your business.
That is, rather than push a “one-size-fits-all” editorial calendar for your business to use—we advise that you instead choose a calendar that will best support the nature of how your team works, your overall content marketing goals, and your budget.
Don’t know where to start? Below, we’ll discuss what they are and why they’re important. Then we’ll run through a variety of options, and make suggestions about which one is most suitable for each type of business. Finally, we’ll cap off by providing some tips for you to make the most of your editorial calendar—whichever one you end up choosing.
What is an Editorial Calendar & Why Do I Need One?
An editorial calendar is a tool that allows you to better plan and manage your content creation output and publication. Using one helps to establish an extra layer of organization to the editorial process by keeping key parties (such as editors, writers, and managers) accountable for their respective responsibilities.
As you’ll discover below, editorial calendars come in many different forms—each with their advantages and disadvantages.
But before we dive into which one is right for you, let’s first explore why you even need one in the first place. Editorial calendars allow you to:
- Ensure you are posting content in a consistent manner
- Plan in advance what topics to cover
- Keep track of who is writing what and when it is due
- Organize when posts will be published
- Identify gaps in your content or publication schedule
- Better collaborate with your social media team
- Notice if you’re writing too much or too little about certain topics or themes
While you can seemingly “get away” without using a calendar, you’ll be missing out on all of the benefits mentioned above. What’s more, without any unified system of organizing the creation and publication of your content, you may have trouble down the line when you try to scale your content marketing strategy.
Free Downloadable Template
Need a calendar to help organize your content strategy?
Look no further—we’ve got two free editorial calendar templates for you to download.
Use one or both to plan and map out your content strategy; that includes when to publish blog posts as well as when to share them on social media. You can print both templates or simply keep track of them online as PDFs.
Curious what other content calendar options exist, though?
Here's our review of five major types.
Printable Editorial Calendar
The printable editorial calendar is by far the most “old school” approach to content calendars. Search “printable editorial calendar” or “paper editorial calendar” (or alternatively, use “editorial calendar” in your search term) in Google, and you’ll get back countless results—including a variety of free options. You can even search Pinterest for a roundup of more aesthetically pleasing calendars.
Depending on their format, printable calendars can either be used in two ways:
1. Write your content plans directly on it
If you are happy planning and detailing your content plans with just a good ole pen and paper, writing on a printable content calendar may be a sound option for you. The advantage of this approach is that it’s dirt cheap, as well as portable (so long as you make it small enough!).
But as you can imagine, making any changes to your content calendar becomes tricky—unless you’re writing with pencil and can just erase your errors or modifications, you’ll have to use white-out.
2. Use Post-it notes to organize your calendar
An alternative to writing on your calendar is to write your ideas on Post-it notes. Simply find a calendar that is designed for Post-it note usage, or print off one that is large enough that it accommodates for them.
You can even just stick Post-its directly on your office wall—which is what Australia’s largest women’s website, Mamamia, does.
The advantage of using Post-it notes is that you can easily move around your content ideas. You can also use different colored Post-it notes to aid the organization of your calendar.
For example, if you run a business blog, pink could represent topics about entrepreneurs, blue could represent topics about established businesses, and yellow could represent topics about your own company.
Colors can also be used to delineate between different mediums of content, e.g., blog, video post, interview, white paper, etc.
<div class="tip">Why not have the best of both worlds? You can always start off planning your ideas using a printable content calendar, and once you have a clearer idea of your plan, move them over to one of the online options below.</div>
Google Sheets / Excel
There are two types of people in the world—those who love spreadsheets, and those who hate ‘em. Jokes aside, if you or your team can’t stand spreadsheets, why would you host your content calendar on one?
We advise that only those who don’t mind working on Google spreadsheets or Excel to opt for this type of editorial calendar. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself begrudgingly updating it, and eventually it will be as good as gone.
So if you are someone who is pro-spreadsheet, what benefits does an editorial calendar based on a spreadsheet provide? Spreadsheets offer a clean, no-fuss overview of your content plans. No gimmicks—just simple cells you can customize to fit your needs.
If you’re planning to go the spreadsheet route, you can either create one from scratch, or use a template you can modify to reflect your preferences.
There are all kinds of spreadsheets to choose from—varying in detail and design. For instance, in addition to fundamental categories such as the post title, subject area, author, status, and projected due date, a spreadsheet may contain any mixture of the following additional categories:
- What stage of the buying cycle the post is aimed at
- The intended audience
- Who the editor will be
- The post’s due date
- Related promotions
- Target keywords
These categories represent just some of the categories you can add to your spreadsheet. You can have as few or as many as you want—making the spreadsheet one of the most flexible forms of editorial calendar for you to consider.
<div class="tip">Consider making a DIY editorial calendar template by taking the best ideas out of each design and combining them in one, original calendar. All you need to do is download a variety of free calendars, and borrow any ideas you’d like to add to your own.</div>
Using an actual calendar as an editorial calendar? It almost seems too ingenious! But hey, the best ideas are often the simplest ones.
This idea comes from the folks at Hubspot, whose marketers rely on Google Calendar to add a layer of organization to their editorial needs. Just read this glowing review they shared:
“After trying a ton of other solutions, our team found that we really operated the best with just a simple Google Calendar. In fact, this has actually been the longest-running editorial calendar solution our team has ever seen.”
So why do they so strongly recommend their readers to use Google Calendar? Here are some of the reasons they shared:
- As existing G Suite users, Hubspot's team is already familiar with the ins and outs of Google, so they found it was easy to get in the habit of checking Google Calendar.
- It’s simple to move and schedule things, as well as keep relevant people in the loop because these features are already built-in.
- Using an actual calendar proved more effective than trying to “hack” the calendar function of other types of editorial calendars.
- Adding people to view the calendar is straightforward, making it easy for “multiple teams to collaborate, see what's being published, and figure out when they might be able to launch content and campaigns.”
Trello is the go-to content management tool for an increasing number of companies, including big-names like Mashable and ReadWrite.
If you’re unfamiliar with Trello, it’s an interactive board that allows you to intuitively organize content tasks. To take it straight from the horse’s mouth: “Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable you to organize and prioritize your projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way.”
If you’re after a general overview of all projects in the pipeline, Trello’s sleek user interface makes this easy and uncomplicated. And if you’re after more details of a specific project, you can simply click on a project card to see all of the components involved. There’s even the option to view all of your tasks in a traditional calendar view.
Now, all of this may sound like a native advertisement for Trello—but it’s not. We’ve tested out other content calendars—including the more “sophisticated” and pricier options below—and have overall found Trello to be the most useful and user-friendly tool for content management.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s free (forever!) to access Trello’s standard service, although there are paid plans available if you’d like to make use of additional features.
However, the drawback of Trello is that it doesn’t have all of the flashy integrations that paid options have (which we outline below). As such, the flow of tasks and passage of communication between different teams, such as the content team and social media team, is somewhat limited. For example, in order to link Twitter to your Trello board, you will have to use a third-party integration, whereas many paid editorial calendars offer this as a built-in function.
If you’re interested in learning more about Trello, take a read of their how-to guide for using Trello as an editorial calendar, or see a live version of the Trello board pictured above—which is complete with clickable features.
Paid Editorial Calendar Options: CoSchedule & DivvyHQ
If you want to invest in the Rolls Royce of editorial calendars, you may want to look into paid options.
There are a handful of companies—such as CoSchedule and DivvyHQ—that specialize in providing state-of-the-art editorial calendars with all of the interactivity and features you could imagine.
So what enticing features do paid calendars provide?
While the features vary from company to company, Coschedule, which brands itself as “One Calendar To Rule Them All,” offers features such as:
- Saved calendar views
- Task templates
- Social media scheduling
- Integration of third-party tools such as Google Analytics and Evernote
- The ability to identify who’s working productively, and who’s not
In comparison, DivvyHQ, which boasts a recommendation from Content Marketing Institute, provides features such as:
- The ability to track content performance via Divvy’s analytics
- Content strategy audit and reporting tools
- Customizable content types and content strategy fields
- Campaigns management
- Custom content workflows
Of course, all of these helpful features come at a hefty price tag, paid for on a tiered monthly basis. But if you can afford it, and require a more integrated and advanced approach to your editorial calendar, it may just be worth the investment.
3 Tips to Make the Most of Your Editorial Calendar
So now that you’ve chosen the right calendar for your business—whichever it may be—there are a couple of steps you should take in order to make the most of your calendar.
Sure, you could just start using it—but you’ll miss out on the opportunity to develop a better understanding of what your content needs are.
1. Know who your target customer is and write for them
Before you begin creating any content for your editorial calendar—you should know who your customer is. After all, how will you know what topics to write about and what tone and angle to take if your content doesn’t take into account the very people you’re trying to target?
One of the most effective ways to identify who your target customer is to make comprehensive user personas. As our step-by-step user persona guide shows, user personas are used by businesses to paint a more comprehensive picture of their target customers.
Once you know who your target customer is, you can start writing with their needs and interests in mind. Instead of just guessing what they would enjoy reading, you’ll have the data to establish a content strategy based on both research and reason.
Popular blogs and other means of content creation don’t just become popular by accident. The companies behind the world’s most successful pieces of content have a strong understanding of what posts will make their customers tick. They can do this because they have an intimate knowledge of their customers—garnered through the information collated via user personas.
2. Conduct an audit of your current content
A comprehensive content audit is one of the best ways to identify what type of content is working, and what needs fixing. Without auditing your content, you won’t have a clear understanding of your particular business’ content needs.
Perhaps you could make your content more engaging by adding multimedia throughout your posts, such as relevant videos, images, or infographics. Or maybe you could boost your content strategy by shaking up the medium on which you publish your content. For example, publishing a white paper will have a different impact than publishing an ebook.
A content audit will help you figure all of this out. Once you’ve conducted your content audit, you should update your content calendar accordingly. It’s a good rule of thumb to conduct a content audit regularly, as your content needs and your audience’s preferences won’t necessarily stay the same over time.
This is particularly true as your business expands. You will need to learn how to scale your content strategy so it adapts and continues to thrive as your business grows.
3. Determine how often you should post
There are many benefits to maintaining an active, relevant, and engaging blog. From increasing your customer and client base and strengthening your search engine optimization strategy, to helping foster brand equity and providing content for your social media channels, the value of blogging for your business is undeniable.
So you may be wondering, “How often do I need to post to reap the rewards of publishing content?”
While we’d love to say that there is a hard and fast rule for how often is ideal—it really is dependent on a number of factors.
As SEO marketer Neil Patel explains, there is no magic number for posting frequency. Patel points out that while Huffington Post has found posting 1,600 to 2,000 posts a day to be an effective content strategy, this is simply impossible for most other businesses.
Instead, he suggests the following steps to identify the right strategy for your business:
- Define your business and content marketing goals.
- Work out how many blogs you have already published, and identify which posts led to an increase in traffic.
- Track both your blog’s organic and social media visibility.
- Determine both your audience’s demand for your blog posts, as well as your bandwidth to create new posts.
- Experiment, research, and continue to revise your strategy until you find a “sweet spot.”
You should also keep in mind that many variables affect the time needed for a content marketing strategy to take hold. Simply posting often won’t necessarily lead to a quick boost in rankings or site traffic. Profitable outcomes can generally take between six and twelve months, so you need to exercise patience when your efforts aren’t immediately fruitful.
In other words, consistency is the key when it comes to reaping the rewards of creating content.
As you’ve learned, editorial calendars have substantial benefits when it comes to your business's marketing. We believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for an editorial calendar, which is why we encourage businesses to read our overviews of the different options available in order to determine which is most suitable for their needs.
Let us know in the comments below which editorial you use at your company. Do you have any handy tips or tricks for making the most of this tool? We’d love to hear them!