I stumbled across a Slideshare presentation from an SEO pro last week that said, among other things, that you don’t need an editorial calendar. Let’s be clear – this is horrible advice. You do need an editorial calendar.

We don’t need to pretend that an editorial calendar is the Bible, but it is a fairly indispensable document for any worthwhile content marketing effort. Having an editorial calendar brings rigor to the content creation process. It helps to manage your content marketing. Talk to any organization no matter the industry, and content creation is often something that slips on to the backburner; next thing you know, three months have gone by and you haven’t updated your blog.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Consider the recent Content Marketing Institute study of B2B firms. It showed that organizations with a documented content strategy were far more likely to be effective than those without one:

Of those who have a documented strategy, 60 percent consider their organization to be effective. In contrast, only 32 percent of those who have a verbal strategy say they are effective. To take it a step further, 62 percent of the most effective marketers also say they follow the strategy “very closely.” 

Now, an ed cal is not a strategy all by itself, but it is a roadmap for where you’re heading. It is the execution plan for your strategy. An organization that has a documented content strategy almost surely has a corresponding editorial calendar. It is the guide to the work that needs to be done in order to succeed.

Sure, you can get where you’re going without a roadmap or GPS… but why would you try to do that? Are you really too lazy or too busy not to plan before heading out on the journey?

Planning is essential, but plans are useless

This is perhaps the most important aspect of building an editorial calendar: It’s a plan, and sometimes you need to abandon the plan. You must know that you will veer away from the editorial calendar on occasion. As time goes by, some ideas will become less important, and new ideas and events will present themselves. If there’s a significant industry event that you need to address, do it. You can push an “evergreen” idea down the road, or just produce extra content.

The content creation process is chaotic. Organizations have to embrace this chaos in order to enable content creators to do their best work. That’s just the nature of content creation. However, by putting a plan in place and introducing rigor to the process, an organization can manage and measure its content strategy much more proactively.

How to build your editorial calendar

Building an editorial calendar does not need to be difficult. In fact, if you’ve gone about building your strategy in a thoughtful way, it should be easy. There are several online solutions you can use for your editorial calendar. However, most organizations are best suited by starting simply, with Excel or Google docs. Again, don’t overthink this.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Identify topic areas. They should be related to business. Start with the content pillars (the main themes) of your content strategy, and then brainstorm ideas that fall within those areas.
  • Identify the types of content. Whitepapers? eBooks? Blog posts? Ideally, you’ll set out to create big, meaty content types, and then atomize the information into blog posts and social media posts.
  • Determine how often you’ll create content. This is a balancing act between what the audience desires and what you can reasonably deliver. As they say in the newsroom, you need to feed the beast. But you need to do it with high-quality content that educates or entertains the audience. The more quality content you create the more frequently the audience will return to your site.
  • Create your master calendar. Include external events such as trade shows, anticipated announcements, etc. This is the roadmap you’re going to follow for the months ahead. The easiest way is to make a repeatable template. Every Monday you cover Topic A, Tuesday is for Topic B, etc. Chart this out against external events – trade shows, or even holidays.
  • Make assignments. Determine who will produce what content. Stick to this schedule – don’t let people off the hook. You need to have a realistic idea of who can do what, and what resources are available to you in order to create an efficient content production team. If the Head of Engineering is a lousy writer but you need him involved in content development, don’t rely on him to produce the content – instead, interview him and quote him extensively in order to position him as a thought leader.
  • Don’t be afraid to veer away from the calendar. Remember, planning is essential, but planning is useless.

The editorial calendar is a critical guide that helps you to manage your content marketing strategy. It helps you succeed. Build one… and then know when it makes sense to go off the plan.