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How to Create a Content Calendar

by Kelly Anthony

If creating great content to drive inbound traffic is part of your marketing strategy, having an efficient way to manage your content calendar is a must. You need a way to plan the content in alignment with business goals, coordinate and communicate with your team as well as external content providers, and have easy visibility into the big picture. After some trial and error, here’s the system I’ve worked out. You are welcome to use it.

Step 1. Write it all down in an organized way

It’s no secret that creating organized lists frees your brain to focus on the creative work you really want to do. Nowhere is this truer than when managing a content calendar. So get it all down on paper or screen, and out of your head. A spreadsheet is great for this.

The column headers you use are significant, because they force you to identify critical aspects of each piece of content. To make it easy, here’s a screenshot of my content calendar in spreadsheet format with all the headers shown. Feel free to steal them, because they really work. 

Screenshot of content calendar spreadsheet

As you can see, for every single piece of content, we track:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Draft due date 
  • Publication due date
  • % Complete
  • Objective (more on this below)
  • Primary keywords
  • Secondary keywords
  • Target audience/persona
  • CTA
  • Media type
  • Art requirements

If this list feels like a lot, think of it this way: The next time someone offers you an idea for a blog post, you can sit together with the editorial calendar and say, “Let’s see where this fits in with our content plan.” Within a few minutes, it will become extremely apparent why something will or won’t make the cut without you ever having to play the role of bad guy.

2. Identify the objective of every piece of content

Obviously, not every piece of content is for primarily for lead generation. (Oh, the horror!) Sometimes you just need to educate your existing users about a new or existing feature, or maybe you’re inserting your company into a current news story in order to be part of a larger conversation. (“Newsjacking” is more about awareness than lead gen, and it’s fine as long as you are being relevant, tasteful and on brand.)

Do this in a disciplined way by creating a fixed list that you choose from each time - not some never-ending proliferation of choices like the tags on your blog posts. Here you can see that we use a drop-down menu, so there is no cheating.


3. Track the big picture

You know the 80/20 rule, right? In a good content mix, at least 80% of posts should be information the prospect actually wants and no more than 20% should be promotional or about company news.

I’m such a geek about making this visible that I actually color-code my content by objective. If you create your calendar on a white board, colored markers will do the trick. Since my calendar is built in a cloud-based spreadsheet, I use conditional formatting. (Note: conditional formatting changes your spreadsheet data or formatting automatically based on certain conditions you set.) Using this trick, the sheet color-codes the content for me automatically.

Whether you use Excel, Smartsheet, a white board, or any other solution the point is to have a simple way to keep your eye on the overall content mix.

Here is a screenshot of how it looks with the color-coding after I have toggled my content calendar from spreadsheet view to over to calendar view. (Green is for inbound content, blue is for product announcements and other company news.)

Color coded view of objectives

Even though we don’t post new content every day, we can easily see that what we are posting is working overtime to achieve our objectives, and where we have opportunities to do more, or might want to make adjustments.

4. Have a system for keeping everyone informed and accountable

Sharing the calendar with your collaborators goes without saying. There are a variety of ways to do this, but we prefer the cloud, because we work with several freelancers.

In addition, using conditional formatting allows you to systematize alerts that go to everyone who shares the calendar. For example, in our content calendar all draft due dates are set to automatically turn red one week before the publication date. (See red due date circled in the screen shot below.) If you use a white board you can also change dates to red by hand, so everyone who checks the calendar can instantly see what’s due soon.

5. Connect your to do list reminders to your calendar

Many apps offer this function; if you are choosing an online solution, make sure you choose one that does. Personally, I set email reminders to go out a week before items are due. (See yellow alerts in the screenshot below.)

Due dates and email reminders

There you have it. 5 simple steps to getting your content calendar organized and focused this new year. Try our free 30-day trial to see if Smartsheet is right for you and your company.