Whether you’re just starting to develop your content strategy, or you’ve been trying to get on top of your content for ages but haven’t quite cracked what works for your business, then you’ll be looking at ways that you can do so. An editorial calendar is necessary for ensuring ideas and themes don’t get forgotten, and for making sure that your ideas are turned into content that gets published on time, and even for ensuring you pay your writers or designers invoice templates on time. By creating an editorial calendar, you can help your content to achieve your business aims and more, which all add up to increased profits – so it is well worth taking the time to do it properly.
What is an editorial calendar?
An editorial calendar is a way to see a schedule of work in a visual format. The editorial calendar might show the workflow for the day, week or month, and will ideally show all the types of content you create, as well as the channels that they will be published, the date of publication and the author for each piece of content.
It can be set up in several different ways – from paper-based calendars or diaries, to using a regular online calendar, to utilising an automated system that links with your website. There is no one perfect solution to how an editorial calendar should look, so whichever system you decide to adopt, it needs to be one that works well for every member of the team.
Is my content strategy the same as my editorial calendar?
It definitely shouldn’t be. As we spoke about here, your content strategy looks at what needs to be created, what should be updated and what should be removed completely from your content. It helps you to understand why each content asset is relevant, and helps you to understand how you can allocate your resources to create those assets.
Your editorial calendar will simply outline the status of your content. Your content strategy can’t replace your editorial calendar, nor vice versa – they are two separate things. Generally speaking, your content strategy should come first – because it will help you gain clarity about what types of topics and themes you need on your editorial calendar.
Although it might seem at first that we’re encouraging you to do more paperwork for the sake of it, trust us – it is much easier to do it this way, and as a result, your content will be much more likely to hit the targets that you want, and need them to.
Is an editorial calendar the same as a content calendar?
Most businesses will create their editorial calendar first, and then a separate content calendar, and a social media calendar as well. This is because the editorial calendar informs the content calendar and social media calendars, since it contains the high-level topics and themes over a much longer period of time. This allows the team to build the content calendar and the social media calendar more effectively, which can be updated by the relevant teams as they decide on, create or repurpose and curate the appropriate content to be published.
A quick recap then:
- Your editorial calendar details the themes, topics and opportunities in more general terms over a longer period
- Your content calendar will detail what you’re creating and when each piece is due on a daily or weekly level
- Your social media calendar will detail what you’re posting on a daily level
As you’re getting started – especially if your team is made up of just you – you might have the same calendar for all your needs, but you’ll probably find pretty quickly that you need to separate it out, and have separate calendars for everything.
Before you create an editorial calendar
Like we’ve just mentioned, before you set up your calendar, you’ll need to have established your content strategy. This will help you to identify why you’re going to be creating content, what business goals each piece is going to help you to achieve and more. Once you’ve got that established, here are a few considerations that you might need to think about before you start creating your calendar.
How many pieces of content are you creating and publishing each day, week or month? Knowing how busy your team is likely to be will help you to decide the best way to visualise and refer to your editorial calendar.
How many different types of content are you creating? If you’re creating several blog posts, videos for YouTube, podcast content and a monthly eBook then you might not want all of those types of content on the same editorial calendar. Having several calendars is likely to work better for your business. You might also need to see them on the same page, and if that’s the case then you might need a system that allows you to toggle different calendars on and off, like you can with Google and Outlook calendars.
How many team members will need to be able to access and update the calendar? If you’re a team of one, then your Outlook calendar is likely to do the trick just fine, but if there are several team members who need to be able to view the calendar and managers that need to be able to edit, you’re probably going to need something with a bit more functionality. Some advanced tools allow many users to work collaboratively and add feedback on work in real time, without even leaving the calendar.
How many stages are in your editorial process? The more stages, the more likely that it is that you will need a more sophisticated tool that means each person in the process can approve it. If there are pieces of work that are similar, can the calendar or tool tell the difference between them, especially if they are at different stages in the workflow.
If you aren’t sure of the stages in your workflow, now is the time to get them documented – even if it is just loosely because you’re in the early phase of implementing a content strategy. Your documentation doesn’t need to take up much time or energy, it is just to help you keep things on track.
How do you want your calendar to be laid out? Once you’ve established the answer to all of these questions, as well as considering the targets your team has to hit, you’ll be better placed to decide the right way to lay out your editorial calendar for your business.
Why use an editorial calendar?
Many of the same reasons that we talked about in our content strategy post apply here too. Perfect preparation prevents poor performance – it is a well-worn (and often hijacked with four-letter words!) saying for good reason. Your editorial calendar will help to ensure that your content doesn’t go off track.
You’ll never be stuck for inspiration. You’ll have created your content plan ahead of time, which means you will be able to simply create whatever it says on your plan, rather than having to think about what you should write about. And since your content plan will have been designed to help you hit your targets, you won’t be guessing if what you’ve written is the right thing or not.
You’ll be able to track the performance of your posts. If you’re posting and not considering how your content hits your KPIs, then how do you know if you’re getting good return on your investment? Being able to analyse the performance of your content can help you to establish what topics and formats work well for your audience and what don’t, and refine your future work.
You’ll be able to plan better. Think about it – you will probably already know when a lot of a certain type of content will be called for throughout the year.
- In the lead up to Christmas, you’re likely to have gift guides or seasonal special offers
- As the spring starts many businesses will create content about how to create the perfect garden
- As summer holidays start there’s the inevitable ‘back to school’ content
You can probably think of plenty more examples too! That means you can plan ahead for your seasonal content at the start of the year, and you’ll be able to fill in the space between. Not only that though – you’ll be able to repurpose, refresh and reuse a lot of what you already have for that seasonal content, so that you can work more efficiently.
What should be included in your editorial calendar?
It really does depend what is going to be useful for you and your team. Whether you have a separate social media calendar or you have everything all on the same one, there are a few elements that might be useful:
- Important dates for your business, such as clearance sales or industry events
- Seasonal holidays
- Themes and topics – maybe subtopics if they are relevant
- How often you’re going to be posting
- Where you will be posting your content
Your calendar might also detail the content owners, and detail who the task needs to go to for producing each piece of content. If you need to know at what stage the piece is at, (such as ‘in progress’ or ‘awaiting approval’) then you may add deadlines for those too, so that things are clearer if anything is delayed.
Some of the best, and most effective features of editorial calendars that really help include:
- They have a clear system with colour coding or symbols to aid understanding
- They are made visible to the whole team, even if they are not editable by users outside the marketing team
- They are created and used as working documents
- They help make content production easier, rather than creating additional work
- They are realistic and don’t end up with the team running out of momentum
You don’t need to follow a strict protocol set by anyone else for your editorial calendar – the main thing is that it is useful for your team, and that you are able to use it consistently. This should enable your team to create and deliver content on time, so if there is an aspect of keeping the calendar updated, or that team members are struggling with, review it. If there is another way to keep tabs on whatever that point is, you can change it! It’s your editorial calendar, so make it work for you.
Challenges that can prevent you from creating an editorial calendar
There are plenty of good reasons to create, and work from an editorial calendar. But it isn’t always easy to get to the point that you’ve actually created one – especially if your team have been used to winging it as many small businesses do.
Being unsure about the plan
Maybe you’re not sure how your editorial calendar should really look, maybe you’re not sure what the goals are – and maybe you’re just not sure about any of it! Taking the time to go back to basics, documenting your business goals and referring to your content strategy will help you. But that brings us to the point you’re probably already thinking next – when are you going to have time for that, right?
Having enough time to plan
Trust us – we hear you! There are barely enough hours in the day to fit in everything we need to fit in too. But without pausing to get together and create your editorial calendar, you won’t be able to reap the considerable benefits of working with one. Blocking out a certain amount of time each month – whether it is an hour or a morning – to dedicate to working on the editorial calendar will help you to create a calendar that really works. You might also use that time to look at the performance metrics for your posts too.
Not knowing the right KPIs and metrics to work with
There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to which KPIs and metrics are appropriate. There are just too many variables and every business has different reasons for creating content. But it can be pretty simple – essentially, you just need to know why you’re creating your content. Here are some questions that can help you to set SMART targets for your content:
- What do you want your content marketing to achieve?
- How will it help your business to grow?
- How will you share your content, and how will you measure the success of it?
Once you’ve established who your content is for, you’ll have a better idea about how to set KPIs. You’ll know from your target customer research which channels and formats are likely to be the most successful, and knowing this will help your content to achieve what you want it to achieve.
What format should you choose for your calendar?
We don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘the perfect editorial calendar’ – since the needs of every business are different, what constitutes a perfect calendar will be different depending on where you’re looking from. Before you decide on the right format for your business, take a look at the options with your team and choose the option that provides the best functionality for the way you work.
Keeping your editorial calendar offline
Prior to so many useful tools being made available, content creators used a paper calendar, a diary or a chalkboard to schedule their work. If your business is relatively new, or you’re a sole trader, you might decide to work this way. Using pens that are different colours, post-it notes to move ideas and your schedule around – they can all be useful, especially in the start of the planning process.
While it can be a useful way to work to get things started, we don’t recommend keeping your editorial calendar completely offline forever. There are just too many things that could potentially go wrong that could mean your calendar is lost, no matter whether it is on a wall calendar, a diary or chalkboard. And really, keeping your editorial calendar offline isn’t anywhere near as convenient as it can be with the use of technology.
The majority of us walk around with a smartphone these days, and a halfway-decent smartphone can contain all the tools you need to manage your business, create content and publish it. Keeping your editorial calendar offline where you can’t update it when you’re out and about and inspiration strikes just doesn’t make sense in today’s world.
Our advice? If you think better visually and using pens and paper works for you, then great (and there are some absolutely brilliant printable content calendars out there, so be sure to Google before you spend time creating your own) – but be sure to have that information saved somewhere online, to prevent complete disaster if your diary gets lost, your bag gets soaked in the rain, or your chalkboard gets accidentally erased by a ‘helpful’ child.
Your web-based calendar
A web based calendar – such as your Google Calendar, an Outlook or Office 365 calendar – are absolutely fine to use. They’re easy to share, and if your team is small, using a regular calendar is possibly one of the simplest solutions. Outlook and Google calendars allow you to have multiple calendars open at the same time, which can be really useful.
However, as you’re probably already aware, there is a lot more to managing projects, and managing content than just a date that the content needs to be published, so using a calendar may not be quite enough by itself. Additional documents, or spreadsheets might be needed to give you and your team a much more rounded picture.
There are several reasons that we rate Google Drive for your editorial calendar. Not only does the Google Suite already have a calendar built in, with incredibly easy to manage permissions functionality, but you’ll be able to save any lists in a Google doc, and if you’re using a spreadsheet, you can use a Google Sheet. You’ll be able to set sharing and collaboration permissions for each, so there’s no need to email anything and everyone will always have the most recent version of the documents.
If you’re a pro at using Excel, you’re probably already thinking ahead and realising the potential to create a really useful working document. If you love seeing everything lined up and in neat rows and columns – well, Excel (or Google Sheets, for that matter!) is almost certainly the way forward.
The great thing about spreadsheets is that they work well with calendar apps and other content tools due to the flexibility that it can provide. Once you’ve got all your data into the spreadsheet, you can create a .csv file, and then you can add the information to wherever you need it.
For those of you who love spreadsheets once they are set up but don’t love the process of actually setting them up, then a quick search online will afford you plenty of offerings of templates that you can customise for your own use. To get you started, here’s one from Microsoft.
Kanban board or project management tool
Kanban is a way to show your project management in a visual way. Each time something changes in on the project, the card moves to a different board. It’s especially useful in companies where more several people need to be involved with a piece of content.
Using a Kanban board can be a great option to manage your content calendar. Some of the options that we love – such as Trello, for example – have calendar functionality built in, so that you don’t have to worry about whether your calendar has synced. These calendars can then be imported to whichever is your preferred calendar.
We’re big fans of Trello. It’s a Kanban way of managing your projects on boards, and it works really well if your team works collaboratively – but it’s also great if you’re a sole trader who needs to keep track of everything AND your editorial calendar in one place. Your Trello boards are available as an app too, so you can take them on your travels and still stay informed.
There are a ton of different features and ‘powerups’ that you can add to your Trello account, including the calendar view. You can sync your Trello deadlines with your personal calendar too, which is really useful when you don’t want to have to check yet another app.
A content calendar app
There are plenty of apps and add-ons that you can use for handling your editorial calendar. Some of the best content management systems have calendars alongside powerful editors and integrations with the other tools that you use. As a rule, they will also have functionality that help you to manage your content as well as your editorial calendars, and will allow for multiple users to contribute.
There are too many to count available online (and new ones are being developed and launched all the time!) so be sure you have done sufficient research and testing before you jump in with one. Most content calendar apps will have a trial period, so be sure to do extensive testing with your team to make sure you’ve found the right one – especially if you’re going to be paying a subscription.
Good ones to start your hunt with include Loomly (15 day trial, then from $25 per month for two users) and CoSchedule (14 day trial then from $12 per user per month) but there are plenty of alternatives, so be sure to dig deep. Remember that not all systems are created equally! Different systems will offer different functionality, so although one might appear cheaper at first, you might be able to get much more use out of the features of another one. Make sure you’re getting the value for money that you need.
WordPress Editorial Calendar
If you’re hosting your website on WordPress, then using this plugin can be a great way to keep on top of your editorial calendar. It has a five star rating, with just five people rating it as less than five stars – which is pretty impressive. You can also customise the calendar, so if you prefer your calendar layout to be different to Monday to Sunday, it is easily done. If you’re happy playing with CSS, you can change post styles and colours as well.
Permissions are granted as per your WordPress permissions – so, administrators and editors can do absolutely everything, while authors can edit, move and publish their own posts, but posts from other users are read-only. Contributors get less permissions, and subscribers can’t see the calendar at all.
One small downside – you won’t be able to use the WordPress Editorial Calendar to schedule content for your Pages – it only works with WordPress Posts at the moment.
Who should you share your editorial calendar with?
We’re going to give you another subjective answer – because it really depends on the needs of your business. Small businesses might share the calendar with everyone because everyone is involved, whereas bigger businesses might keep their editorial and content calendars editable only by the marketing team. It is usually a good plan for everyone to know the sort of content that is coming up though, since your teams – certainly your customer service and sales teams – will be able to make use of those new pieces as you publish them.
You might even share your editorial calendar with an agency or freelance creative that your business works with – whether that’s a permanent thing or someone you work with only occasionally. Whoever you decide to share your editorial calendar within your business, it should be because it is useful for them to know.
Keeping your editorial calendar up to date
It can be tricky to find time to update your editorial calendar, but doing so will keep you and your team on top of the content that your business needs. Your content will help bring in new customers, help to maintain a relationship with your existing customers and ultimately, keep your business growing – so it really is time well spent.
Don’t over-fill your calendar with ideas
Sometimes it might feel difficult to be inspired and fill your calendar, and at others, you’ll probably experience the exact opposite problem – too many great ideas! If you’ve got a run of great ideas, channel them all into a working document that can be accessed by the whole team, so that if you happen to have a few weeks where the ideas aren’t flowing, you’ve got some great options.
You’ll need to be sure that you’re not repeating topics, and that you’re keeping everything relevant to your target customers, since when you have a great idea it can be hard to not go on a huge tangent.
If you know what you already have (because you’ve done a content audit) then you can use that to inform what you don’t need to do. During your idea generating discussion, remind yourself and your team of your target customer personas and the keywords that you want to target, but be careful not to get too caught up in outlining the topics or articles. At this stage you’re just getting a plan in place – although we know how hard it can be when you are full of enthusiasm because an idea has taken root in your brain!
Once you’ve got your topics in place, think about how you might work with guest writers or influencers to fill the slots on your calendar.
Schedule in advance
When you’re encountering that magical time when there is no end to the number of ideas pouring from your team, then use caution. Your team might be able to create a ton of content, and you can end up posting every day so as not to waste it, but if you then find that that inspiration dries up, your team might struggle to post more than twice a week – which doesn’t reflect well on your company. There’s nothing at all wrong with your team getting ahead with the amount of work they are creating, but don’t publish it all at once. Publishing consistently, at expected times is a much better approach.
We’ve mentioned planning ahead and why you should do it. You don’t have to plan for a whole year in advance, you can work on a six-monthly basis, or even quarterly, but planning ahead will ensure that you’re able to hit all those seasonal markers and holiday dates.
Our final point? If your content is targeting different target customers, be sure to switch between them on a regular basis so that none of your customers will feel that you don’t cater to their needs.
Make sure your calendar holds the right information
You definitely don’t need to have a fully fleshed-out plan for your content at this stage, but having the relevant information will keep you and your team on track. Ensure that for each topic, you are clear about:
- Who will take the lead on each piece and who it is targeting
- The purpose of each piece – what will it create for the business?
- Deadlines and the date the piece will be published
- Key words, links and any research that has inspired the piece or topic
- Where the piece will be published, and how it will be promoted, and on which channels
- Who needs to be involved with the piece – will anyone be editing or approving? When will their deadlines be?
Again, each business will have different requirements, but these questions are a good place to get you started.
Allow contingency time
As recent world events have reminded us, people get sick and plans get changed. You never know what might prevent a content creator from hitting their deadline, so plan for that by setting your deadlines before the date the piece is due to be published. By having a deadline at least half a week in advance, you can help to avoid missing a publishing date.
Ensure everyone who needs access has access
Anyone who is going to have anything to do with creating content will need access to your editorial calendar, and any other resources that the team are going to work from. Ensuring that everyone has the access that they need upfront will save any potential issues down the line.
Keep content flexible
Sometimes, when you’re writing, the piece takes on a life of it’s own and it doesn’t fit the planned content exactly. Your content writers are imaginative, and may pick up an opportunity before you do. Allowing your team to be flexible with what they are creating can lead to incredible results – so don’t be too rigid in your management style.
Plan for busy times
Sometimes your business will be busy with events that require all hands on deck, other times it will be that your team is overwhelmed, off work sick, or they are just not able to create content to their usual standard. During times when your business is just too busy, consider how you can help your team to get ahead, or consider outsourcing or working with a freelancer temporarily to keep your content on track.
How can your editorial calendar help keep your content calendar full?
We mentioned earlier about the fact that your calendar will be able to be populated with seasonal content ahead of time. That’s true, and the earlier in the year that you can start it, the better. As your team are creating content for publication in the near future, if they know what they will need to create a few weeks later, they will be able to save links to inform and inspire that content as they work on it.
If you’re planning your editorial calendar in January, and you’re not ready to think about summer or autumn content yet, then putting over-arching themes in and adding to it periodically, at times that suit you will help you to stay on schedule.
Your calendar needs to be updated regularly so that things don’t slip. Whether you’re updating the editorial calendar weekly, monthly or even much further ahead than that, keeping on top of it is time well spent. Depending on the needs of your team and what you already have scheduled, add to your calendar when you have your meetings. During those times, you’ll be able to check that everyone knows and understands what is required of them in the coming weeks, and then brainstorm for ideas and add them to the calendar, as well as keeping tabs on ideas that crop up in between times.
Evaluating your editorial calendar
Like everything in business, you need to know that your editorial calendar is doing what you need it to. If it isn’t serving the purpose you want and need it to, then it might be time for change – whether that means making a change to your calendar, or making a change to the way in which your team is working.
After the first content cycle has run is a good time to evaluate your editorial calendar, but there is nothing to stop you from doing so part-way through – especially if you’re finding that the editorial calendar you’ve started out with isn’t doing what you need it to.
Evaluating your editorial calendar isn’t a one-off process though. As your business evolves, or the aims for your content change, you may find that the way your editorial calendar is presented may need to change too. Your wall planner might work just fine when you’re a team of just one, but when your content has been successful and you need to take on more staff, you’ll probably find you need a different approach.
Setting a reminder on your calendar to do a formal evaluation of your editorial calendar is a good idea. Scheduling a formal evaluation with your team when you’re nearing the end of a content cycle is one way to do it, but it doesn’t need to be linked. It might make more sense to keep the decision separate – but from previous experience, we’d definitely advise you not to make a big change without informing your team!
Keep talking to your team, and find out where their pain points are when it comes to your editorial calendar. What causes them to lose time, and how could it work more efficiently? People might not enjoy implementing change – it can take a while to make changes and get used to new ways of working, after all – but when the result is a good one, it is well worth doing.
Although a lot of the advice we’ve given through this post has been along the lines of ‘it depends on what the needs of your business are’, but we hope the guidance we’ve given will help you to create your first editorial calendar.
Whether you’ve chosen to use a low-tech option to start with such as your Google Drive with Google Calendar, or you’ve decided to add more automation from the get-go, once you’ve gone through the process once and created the first few months of content, you’ll be able to establish what works, what doesn’t and refine the strategy further.
If you’re in the initial stages of creating your content strategy and editorial calendar and you’re really stuck, you aren’t sure how you can hit the targets you’ve set for yourself, or you want to reach much more ambitious targets, get in touch for an initial discussion about how we can help you create and manage the content you need.
Last Updated on August 27, 2020
Aires Loutsaris is a content marketing specialist working with some of the world’s biggest VC funded startups and eCommerce companies. He has 15 years of experience in organic search optimisation and content writing with over 2500 students enrolled in his Udemy SEO course. An ex-head of two award-winning agencies, he has lectured at the University of the Arts, London College of Fashion on content marketing and has consulted for all three of the Universities he studied at: The Open University, The University of Hull and Kings College University of London. Feel free to connect with Aires on LinkedIn or Facebook.