Have you been tasked with planning your marketing team’s content calendar for the entire year? No doubt, this can feel like a tall order. It requires including key themes defined in your content marketing strategy and planning for various types of content. Likely, the driving force behind your content marketing success is your business blog.
Setting out to create a long-term blog content calendar can be daunting – even for seasoned marketers. To help ease the pressure and avoid extra stress, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to walk you through the process of building an effective, robust content calendar to empower your team to develop strategic content all year long.
We use this process for each of our clients who publish an average of two articles per week (100 per year). Read on to learn about the specific tactics and tools we use. They’ll help your team stay on track and work ahead if desired. Most importantly, this process will help you impress your boss and create engaging content consistently for your target audience.
- Every content calendar should focus primarily on the customer rather than your business.
- Many free resources exist today to help you identify keywords, develop relevant blog topic lists, and learn what customers are searching for in your industry.
- Diversifying your output with various forms of content (e.g., blog articles, infographics, podcasts, etc.) is essential in implementing a successful content marketing strategy.
What is a Content Calendar?
A content (or editorial) calendar will help you plan, organize, and schedule your content successfully. It’ll help you and your team stay on track and enable you to work ahead. You can build a content calendar using a basic spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, a physical calendar, a content calendar app like CoSchedule, or a project management tool like Trello.
The Role of Content Marketing Today
You’ve probably heard the standard business advice circulating the internet today: “Remember your why.” This tip applies directly to content marketing. By focusing on meeting our buyer’s needs first, you can address their challenges and offer relevant solutions to their problems.
The buyer’s journey has shifted over the past several years. Today, with such easy access to the internet from nearly any location in the U.S., consumers rely on their own knowledge and self-education to find the best products and services for their needs. Consumers are in complete control of their purchasing journey. Access to multiple platforms gives them full control over the information they consume and with whom they share their discoveries.
As content marketers, it’s our job to create content that resonates well with our target audiences. We must create content that builds trust, share specific information about our products and services, and have an end goal of converting prospects and leads into paying customers.
How to Build an Effective Content Calendar for Your Blog and Other Content Formats
To develop an effective content calendar for the upcoming year, you must identify your goals, know your target customers, and understand the buyer’s journey. Only then can you identify, plan, and organize the most relevant topics and content formats to engage your audience successfully throughout the year.
Follow these seven steps to build a simple, SEO-driven content calendar for your business.
1. Identify Your Content Marketing Goals
Ultimately, the goal for most businesses is to generate more customers and improve ROI. But what does that process look like for your business specifically? What S.M.A.R.T. goals do you have to move your business forward and reach more of your target audience effectively?
Your content marketing strategy should address consumers in each of the three phases of the buyer’s journey: the awareness, consideration, and decision stages. Your marketing plan should also include retention marketing strategies to keep your current customers happy.
- Top of the funnel (TOFU)/awareness stage: In the first phase, you should focus on attracting new customers. Your content should be helpful, relatable, and easy to share. Avoid mentioning specific products or services at this stage. Instead, offer relevant advice, address pain points, and focus on educating consumers to help build their knowledge of your industry.
- Middle of the funnel (MOFU)/consideration stage: During the second phase, consumers are somewhat familiar with your brand and beginning to trust you. They might follow you on social media or subscribe to your newsletter. Continue building trust and positioning your brand as a thought leader in your industry.
- Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)/decision stage: It’s decision-making time in the buyer’s journey. In this phase, consumers are usually ready to take the final step toward making a purchase. Provide product-specific content based on what you now know your target audience is seeking. You’ve earned their trust and want to encourage them to make the final jump.
Of course, the sales journey doesn’t end when consumers reach the bottom of the funnel. You’ll want to create content that reengages past and current customers so they remain loyal to your brand and continue engaging with your business.
While all stages of the customer experience are vital, most of the content you produce should be geared toward consumers in the first two stages. The awareness and consideration stages are often the most time-consuming parts of the buyer’s journey. It takes time to build trust and credibility with a target audience.
Our research suggests that for every single buyer, around 100 individuals are looking for answers to questions that trigger a buyer’s journey. Examples of TOFU/MOFU content include educational blog posts, brand stories, and thought leadership articles.
As the funnel suggests, you’ll have a larger audience at the top of the funnel. As you start getting more specific with your content and weeding out those who aren’t serious about paying you for a solution to their problem, your audience will grow smaller. Those who make it to the BOFU are usually more serious prospects. They’ll be much more likely to become loyal customers than those at the TOFU. Focus on quality over quantity.
At MIG, we plan our content calendar based on our company goals. Most of the content we produce focuses on our top priority. We then fill any gaps by addressing our secondary goals.
2. Conduct Keyword Research
The first step in identifying relevant content ideas is generating a list of questions and topics you already know people ask in your industry. Speak with individuals on your sales team, and look at past campaign analytics. Customer testimonials can also prove insightful.
Another easy way to brainstorm new ideas is by searching online. Here are several content marketing tools to help you develop new topics, identify questions people are asking today, and generate specific topics for your content calendar.
Test out Google autofill by entering the first part of a query into the search bar. The autofill will show you what people most often enter into the search bar for any given topic. Try entering your target personas and keywords you’re considering to see what appears.
For example, we could enter “marketers will” or “marketers are” to get a sense of what our target audience is thinking, doing, or looking for online.
Also, look at the “news” tab on Google for current events and keywords to consider targeting.
Google Trends shows you how popular different search terms are over time. It’s a great place to start determining relevant keywords based on their relative search volumes. Compare two or three similar terms to identify which ones are more interesting to the public.
AnswerThePublic is a free, valuable resource for content marketers. It scrapes Google to identify, categorize, and visualize questions people are asking surrounding specific keywords. You can remove irrelevant results and download a customized list as a CSV file.
With BuzzSumo, you can find the most socially engaging content for any website or keyword. This robust tool gives content marketers an organized way to plan their content calendars while also viewing competitor data. Keep in mind that you’ll need to subscribe to a paid plan after a free 30-day trial.
Google Keyword Planner
Keyword Planner is another easy-to-use tool that can help you cultivate additional topic ideas. Focus on pinpointing short-tail and long-tail keyword phrases that accurately represent your brand and target audience. Ultimately, you’ll develop content based on select keywords to support both. If you’re already actively involved in search engine optimization (SEO), this process should feel natural to you.
3. Select Relevant Keywords Based on Your Research
After you’ve brainstormed keyword and topic ideas, it’s time to narrow down your list by selecting the most relevant keywords and phrases. You’ll use these to build topics and optimize your content throughout the year. This keyword data will be the foundation of your content calendar.
After generating your keyword data, it’s time to review your findings and select the phrases that make the most sense for your business and target audience. Here’s the basic process we use.
In the following example, we want to reveal insights surrounding the keyword “film transfer,” a service that involves converting old film to DVD and other digital formats.
- Using Keyword Planner, submit a related keyword phrase where it says to “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website, or category.”
- Next, extract all keyword phrases relevant to your target audience and future content strategy. You can easily save keywords using the “Add to plan” option. In the next phase, we’ll refer to this data.
- Review the keyword ideas Google suggested, then add phrases to your plan if they have significant meaning and are relevant to your project. You can view annual search trend data by hovering over the bar graph icon next to each keyword.
- Next, it’s time to leverage your trend data to create your content calendar and learn when to schedule content when people search for it most.
- In our example, the phrase “film transfer to DVD” has the highest search volume between November and January, probably because of the holiday season when families spend more time together.
- To keep your data even more organized, you can create new “ad groups” or related keyword categories. This will make your data easier to analyze for future use.
- After gathering enough keyword data, download your data into a spreadsheet to further analyze and organize it for your content calendar. You have several options when downloading your keyword data. Make sure you check “Segment by month” to include monthly search volume so you can analyze search trends.
- You can also “Save to Google Drive” if you’d like to work directly from Google’s spreadsheet interface.
4. Format Your Keyword Data Spreadsheet
After you download your keywords, open your spreadsheet. You’ll see several columns that are irrelevant to this process. We suggest formatting your spreadsheet in a way that makes reviewing the data as efficient as possible. It’s time to remove unnecessary information.
We usually delete columns A through I and rows labeled “keyword type,” “segmentation,” “forecast quality,” “impression share,” “organic impression share,” and “organic average position.” We also delete rows 3 to 8 to further tighten up the data.
There’s no right or wrong way to organize your data. Focus on which categories are the most relevant to your team so you can format your spreadsheet in a way that is easy to interpret. The outcome may look similar to the figure below – an organized list of key phrases with monthly keyword data.
5. Review Your Keywords to Identify Trends
The final phase of keyword research involves reviewing your data to pinpoint trends. Look for keyword phrases that inspire high-quality, relevant topics for your audience and business. Many of them will be long-tail phrases that searchers use to ask questions or find a desirable solution.
Below, we’ve selected a few phrases that we could use to produce relevant content marketing topics for our example client.
As selecting keyword phrases in this phase, consider the months in which particular keywords are popular. Highlight the months with the highest search volume so you can maximize your SEO traffic potential at the right time of year for every piece of content you publish.
6. Determine Your Publishing Schedule
After conducting keyword research and before building out your content calendar, you need to pick a content publishing schedule you can stick to. Consistency is the key to success when it comes to content marketing.
Aim for publishing at least one or two blog posts per week. According to our research, the sweet spot for publishing frequency in terms of traffic and conversions is two to four times a week. Of course, this will depend on your business’s size, goals, and industry. However, as a rule of thumb, the more often you post on your blog, the more traffic and conversions you tend to get.
Your volume will depend on your available resources, so choose a blogging frequency you can stick to long term to start seeing positive results over time. Identify deadlines for each stage of the blogging process: outline, first draft, copyediting, and publish date. Also, schedule in time to update older blog posts so they remain relevant. Remember that blog post traffic compounds, meaning it gains more traffic exponentially over time.
Setting up a clear framework will help you get everyone on your team on the same page. Having a clear plan upfront will also allow your team to work ahead of schedule.
6. Construct and Organize Your Content Calendar
It’s time to put together your content calendar. Once you know your topics and have decided on a plausible content schedule, the next step is choosing the types of content formats that fit well with the topic, your business resources, and your target audience. As we mentioned earlier, the buyer’s journey should also help you determine which types of content will work best for each stage.
Here’s a quick list of content types you could work into your content calendar:
- How-to articles
- Case studies
- Interactive content (like surveys, polls, quizzes, maps, personality tests, etc.)
- Pillar pages
Next, we’ll move onto the final step in the process: choosing a tool for building your content calendar. Google Sheets and Trello are two great tools for content marketers who are serious about staying on schedule and making trackable progress.
We like using Google Sheets because it’s easy to share, update, and customize. HubSpot has a nifty spreadsheet template that you can download for free. It includes space for topics, different content formats, brief details about the project, target keywords, personas, and calls to action/offers.
We recommend setting up your content calendar similarly so you know the purpose of every piece of new content you produce. Try to include these core components at a minimum:
- Working headlines
- Content format
- Target keywords and phrases
- Calls to action or offers you want readers to click on
- Responsibilities (e.g., writer, editor, designer, strategist, etc.)
You can break down your content calendar by week, month, or topic, depending on your publishing volume. You could also incorporate social media planning into your calendar to know where you’re going to distribute which pieces and whether you’re going to pay for promotion.
Trello has various templates you can use, including one specifically labeled “Content Calendar.” It allows you to add specific rules for your team to follow, use color-coded labels for different categories, and build your workflow – right into the platform.
7. Celebrate Your Progress
Once you’ve filled out your content calendar, take a minute to congratulate yourself. You spent a lot of time researching and planning an effective year-long strategy to set your marketing team up for success. That deserves recognition. Next, it’s time to start creating content.
Leave Your Content Calendar, Blogging, and Marketing to the Pros
If building a content calendar and keeping up with consistent blogging sounds overwhelming, we’d be thrilled to step in and lend a hand. Our Content Builder Service includes keyword strategy, content planning, content creation, regular blog publishing, and SEO. We also measure search visibility for our clients and report ROI so you know exactly what you’re getting from us every step of the way.
If you’re ready to get more organic traffic to your website using quality content, we’d love to get you on the phone for a quick consultation. Start bringing more traffic to your website to get the results you’re looking for.
Sign up for a free consultation and to learn more about our Content Builder Service.