By Jodi Harris published November 18, 2014

A Content Marketer’s Checklist: Editorial Calendar Essentials

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(Editor’s note: Because editorial calendars continue to be the cornerstone of content marketing planning, we’ve updated this 2014 post.)

Is there anyone in the digital marketing industry these days (or any industry, really) who thinks that they have their jobs completely under control?

No matter how good we are at what we do, or how many years we’ve been doing it, we all seek the elusive “better way” to accomplish our everyday tasks – new tools to explore, new techniques with which to experiment, new information to take into consideration – innovations are constantly emerging to help people do what they do in less time, with less wasted effort, and with greater success. Reinvention is practically a commodity we trade these days to keep pushing our digitally enabled society forward.

Even the most steady and stalwart of tools in the content marketer’s arsenal – the editorial calendar – has transformed itself over the years, from a simple spreadsheet for tracking what we publish to an essential component for managing the entire life cycle of our organization’s content marketing program.

To help you stay in step with the progress our industry has made when it comes to working with editorial calendars, I’ve compiled a set of tips, tools, templates, and takeaways from the annals of the Content Marketing Institute blog. Whether you need to build a new system from scratch or just want a few tricks to make your calendars more efficient and robust, these expert-endorsed resources can put you on the right path to content marketing success.

1. The basics

Start by gathering the key content marketing strategy information on which you will be basing your content creation efforts. Your answers to the following questions will help you determine what you need to track in your calendar, as well as help you stay focused on your marketing goals as you plan your content creation.

  • Who are you creating content for? Keeping your target audience top of mind as you create your calendar will be essential for planning how to deliver on its needs through your content marketing.
  • Why you are creating content? Are you looking to generate leads? Increase your thought leadership? Drive attendance to your events? Your content marketing mission and goals will impact what you publish, where you publish, and how often, as well as how your team prioritizes, organizes, and categorizes/tags its content creation efforts.
  • What skills and resources do you have at your disposal? Whether you have a dedicated in-house team of writers and videographers, a stable of industry pros looking to share their insight, or just a handful of reluctant execs who will need some serious content creation hand-holding, the formats, frequency, and overall workflow you track in your calendar will likely depend on who is writing and where their expertise lies.
  • How can you stand out? What unmet industry needs can be addressed with the content you create? What gaps exist in your current content creation efforts – or the efforts of your competitors? What industry events happen throughout the year to which you can tie your content for added exposure potential? Knowing where you can play a lead role in owning the audience’s attention will help you fill your editorial calendar with impactful content that helps you meet your business goals.

2. Setting up your calendar

There are lots of dedicated tools on the market that offer a wide range of calendaring capabilities.

In addition, many content collaboration solutions have integrated tools that can help marketing teams manage editorial processes.

However, if you are not looking to work with an enterprise system, it’s perfectly fine to start out with a simple Excel spreadsheet or a shareable Google Sheet to track your content’s progress through your editorial process.

For example, Shanna Mallon offers some suggestions on a quick, easy way to build a content calendar that maps to your sales cycle.

Of course, how you design, share, and access your editorial calendar will ultimately depend on your particular marketing goals and available resources. But at the most fundamental level, we recommend that your editorial calendar include the following fields:

  • The date the piece of content will be published
  • The topic or headline of the content piece
  • The author of the content
  • The owner of the content – i.e., who is in charge of making sure the content makes it from ideation to publication and promotion
  • The current status of the content (updated as it moves through your publishing cycle)

Depending on your company’s specific goals, your content team’s workflow, the formats, and platforms with which you plan to work, and the volume of content you will be creating, you may also want to track these elements to help you stay organized and on track over the long term:

  • The channels where your content will be published: This can include only your owned channels (such as your blog, Facebook Page, website, YouTube page, email newsletters, etc.), or you can expand your tracking to include paid and earned channels, as well.
  • Content formats: Is it a blog post? A video? A podcast? An infographic? An original image? To get more mileage from the content you create, you might want to consider repurposing it into other formats at some point. So it’s handy to keep tabs on the types of assets you have on hand right from the start.
  • Visuals: Speaking of assets, it’s important that you don’t overlook the appeal that visuals can lend to your content, both in terms of social sharing potential and overall brand recognition. Tracking the visual elements you include in your content efforts – such as cover images, logos, illustrations, charts – will make it easier to ensure that your work has a signature look and cohesive brand identity.
  • Topic categories: This helps make your calendars more searchable when you are looking to see about which target topics you already created a lot of content – or which you haven’t covered often enough.
  • Keywords and other meta-data, such as meta-descriptions and SEO titles (if they differ from your headlines), which will help you keep your SEO efforts aligned with your content creation.
  • URLs: This info can be archived as an easy way to keep your online content audits updated, or to link to older pieces of content in the new content you create.
  • Calls to action: This helps you ensure that every piece of content you create is aligning with your company’s marketing goals.

Bonus tip: The CMI editorial team uses a multi-tabbed spreadsheet that’s based on the editorial calendar template below, so that all the various editorial information we track can be found in one document.

Click the image below to download your own copy, which you can customize to your team’s specific content needs (go to “File > Download As >” and select the format you would like).

Click to enlarge

3. Keeping your calendar filled and focused

One of the most challenging parts of building your editorial calendar is making sure you have enough relevant ideas to fill the schedule.

As you can see in the sample template above, the CMI team also uses our editorial calendar to track the topic ideas we want to try to cover in future content pieces. Keeping a running list of ideas within our calendar spreadsheet makes it an easy reference tool when we need some topic inspiration or starter ideas for brainstorms.

Again, the fields you set up in your spreadsheet can vary by need, but at the very least we recommend that you track:

  • The topic idea
  • The owner of the idea
  • The target keywords/categories to which the content would map
  • Who might be available/qualified to author the piece
  • A time frame for when you will publish it

In her post, How to Put Together an Editorial Calendar for Content Marketing, CMI’s VP of Content Michele Linn suggests tracking different types of ideas in separate tabs on the spreadsheet, such as:

  • Existing “brick” content that can be used as a call to action in new content pieces
  • Ideas for content that can be repurposed into multiple content pieces
  • Content that can be compiled and curated

Bonus tip 1: Speaking of content curation, Heidi Cohen offers nine ideas for filling your content calendar with compelling curated content.

Bonus tip 2: Roger Parker has come up with a two-part editorial calendar approach (along with a helpful template) that helps marketers choose 12 monthly topics (or themes) in advance for the upcoming year. His process aims to simplify decision-making, and identify relevant, practical topics and schedule tasks far enough in advance to allow timely production and editing.

More ways to use editorial calendars

Editorial calendars can be useful for a range of content marketing tasks beyond basic tracking of your content team’s efforts or managing your publishing workflow. For example:

  • They can be used to align all the content-related efforts of the various teams operating across an enterprise. Sharing your content calendar with your sales, marketing, HR, public relations, or other departments makes it easier for them to understand your efforts – and to alert your team when they are involved in an upcoming event that might inspire new content ideas.

The possibilities are practically endless when it comes to ways to use editorial calendars to organize your content marketing and keep your efforts moving in the right direction. What additional tips, tools, and ideas have worked well for your calendaring efforts? If you have other suggestions, please share them with your fellow content marketers in the comments below.

Creating and managing an editorial calendar is one of the many topics on which you can get detailed instruction through CMI’s Online Training and Certification program. Sign up today to access over 35 courses, taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

Editor’s note: Because editorial calendars continue to be the cornerstone of content marketing planning, we’ve updated this 2014 post.

Image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As an experienced content management consultant, Jodi focuses on helping businesses analyze their content needs and resources; build infrastructure and operations; and create and distribute relevant, engaging brand messages across multiple media channels and platforms. Jodi has developed and managed print and digital content projects for marketing, entertainment, automotive, health care, and biotech publishers, as well as for entertainment industry and media brands. Follow Jodi on Twitter at @Joderama.

Other posts by Jodi Harris

  • JesseWisnewski

    Helpful article, Jodi. Thank you for sharing.

  • Shai Geoola

    Very helpful indeed. Thanks for sharing!

  • rogercparker

    Thank you, Jodi, for an exceptionally rich and well-linked coverage of a very important topic. Something in this for content markers at all levels of experience.
    Roger

  • Phil Sylvester

    Your opening par has made my day. It’s great to know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by it all.

  • Jodi Harris

    Hi everyone. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I’m glad you’ve all found the post useful. If there are other complex topics you would like to see us break down in a similar manner, please let me know! We are definitely looking to do more of these checklist-style posts in the near future.

  • ravekrishna

    Whew! Jodi, that was one comprehensive article. Thank you. I am in the unenviable position of creating (and executing) content calendars not just for my internal brands, but also for my clients….so you can only imagine how often I feel in control, and on top of things! I certainly will use CMI’s calendar template…thanks for sharing. And am sure our job in content marketing is only gonna get tougher as ‘brand noise’ increases.

  • http://www.evirtualstaffsolutions.com/ Jeemar Vilan

    Definitely need this one :) Thanks for posting this Jodi, I really learned a lot!

  • Amy Dunn Moscoso

    Hello Jodi,

    Thanks for breaking this down into actionable steps. Getting a content calendar organized saves so much time and energy and helps make sure that content drives business instead of being “filler”.

  • http://organicseopress.com Hannah Eisenberg

    Hi Jodie,
    Very good article. Editorial calendars can be scary. BTW: I use Trello (I tried Excel sheets, Google docs, paper, etc.) but Trello is much easier to move things around and I am able to structure it. I was going to write up my way tomorrow in a blog post if anyone is interested.
    Hannah

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Hi Hannah,
      One idea I have percolating for a CMI post is how content marketers are using Trello (I’m a big fan as well). I’d love to read your post! Can you please share the link here?

      • Laura Landoll

        I am interested to learn more about Trello so I’d be the first to read your CMI post if you decide to write one.

        • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

          If you have any specific questions or ways you’d like to use Trello, let me know, and I can cover that in the post. Feel free to respond in comments or reach out directly: michele at contentinstitute.com. Thanks, Laura!

          • Laura Landoll

            Hi Michele,
            The questions I have about Trello are: what types of projects are best to track in the tool, does this replace other workflow tools, archiving of projects (can I refer to it later) and any suggestions on getting internal buy-in. I’m thinking I’ll start small, get familiar with it myself and then roll it out to other teammates.
            Thanks!
            Laura

      • http://organicseopress.com Hannah Eisenberg

        Hi Michele, here you go: http://organicseopress.com/trello-editorial-calendar/ I included a slideshare deck to show how I manage the entire content creation / publication process.

  • http://carrieannefoster.com/ Carrie-Anne Foster

    Hi Jodie!

    I’m so glad that you mentioned Trello. I’ve been using Trello for my editorial calendar for about a month now and it has made a huge difference.

  • Mary Jane Kinkade

    Really great post. So many resources…all in one place!! Thanks.

  • John Seitz

    Jodi,

    Thank you for all the great insights. Would you recommend having 3 or 4 consecutive posts on a theme or is it OK to jump around a bit – 1 post on SEO, the next one on UX, etc.?

    Thank you,

    John

    • Jodi Harris

      Hi John. I think both strategies can be successful — it all depends on the particular informational needs of your audience, how broad your editorial focus is, how often you post, and who is contributing your content.

      For example, at CMI, we post new content 7 days a week, so it makes sense for us to “mix it up” so we can cover a broader range of topics. It also allows us to see which topics are resonating most strongly with our audience at the moment.

      On the other hand, if your company is known for its unique expertise on a specific area that doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the marketplace, why not play to your strengths and schedule a series of “deep dive” posts that explore that one subject from a few different angles?

  • Lea

    Thanks for such a nice post. I have just found a awesome list of project management software for 2015 and this list is very handy.

  • http://www.synerhgon.com.br/ Rico Mader

    Very important subject for planning marketing actions.
    Thanks a lot!

  • http://www.bluecorona.com Betsy McLeod

    We use http://www.centraldesktop.com and it’s absolutely amazing for deadlines!

  • marandria

    Great help! What do you mean by
    Calls to action: This helps you ensure that every piece of content you create is aligning with your company’s marketing goals