How to Plan Your Blog Content Calendar for the Entire Year

Ideas! Ideas! We need more ideas.

If you have been tasked with planning out your company’s content calendar for the entire year. You need to make sure it includes the themes defined in your content marketing strategy, as well as a variety of different types of content.

This can be daunting, even for a seasoned content marketing professional.

Before you stress yourself out, we’re here to walk you through a process that will (1) provide you with tools that will reduce overwhelm and help you stay on track, and (2) most importantly, create a content calendar that will be well received by your boss and target audiences.

Quick Takeaways:

  • The focus of any content calendar should be on the customer.
  • Plenty of free resources already exist that can help you identify keywords, list out topics, and see what customers are researching within your industry.
  • Diversifying the type of content planned (how-to articles, infographics, etc.) is a key component of a successful content marketing strategy.

Content Marketing and the Customer

“Remembering your why” is a popular piece of advice circulating the internet these days. Perhaps it is no more applicable than in content marketing where it’s all about the buyer.

In the last decade, the buyer journey has shifted dramatically. Buyers are now self-educating and in complete control of their journey. With access to multiple platforms, they are able to control what information they read, where they read it, and who they share it with.

It’s our job as content marketers to create content that resonates with our target audiences. This content can build trust, enabling us to become more product or service specific, with the end goal being that our target audience becoming paying customers.

Identifying Content Marketing Goals

While our ultimate goal is to generate more customers, the content marketing process is more nuanced depending on the maturity of your content marketing campaign and your business goals.

An effective content marketing strategy identifies three important phases in a buyer’s journey: Awareness, Consideration, Decision. In simpler terms, top, middle and bottom of funnel content. The definitions below should give you a deeper understanding of the three phases:.

  • Top of Funnel (Awareness) –  In this phase, the focus is on attracting new customers with relatable, shareable content. We do not mention our specific products at this time, but answer any pain points the customer may have.
  • Middle of Funnel (Consideration)  – At this point, the buyer is at least slightly familiar with your brand. They may follow you on social media or subscribe to your newsletter. This is an opportunity to build trust with your target audience and position yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
  • Bottom of Funnel (Decision) – It’s decision making time! At this point, the buyer should be ready to take that final step. This is the place where you should provide product-specific information as you’ve already learned what the customer is looking for and have earned their trust.

 

The most important thing to remember is that the majority of the content you put out must be focused on the top and middle funnels to cultivate trust and credibility with your target audiences. In fact, research indicates that for every one buyer, there are 100 folks looking for answers to questions that trigger a buyer journey.

What to Include in Your Content Calendar

You have your “why” (aka the customer). Your goals have been identified. For example, a new content marketing campaign calendar would consist of mostly top of funnel content: infographics, articles, news, and social posts.

Now it’s time to start planning.

CONTENT TOPICS

In order to identify the right content topics, the first step we take is to generate a list of questions and topics that we know are already being asked in our industry. Topics and questions can be sourced internally by asking a sales representative and looking at past campaign analytics. Testimonials are another resource to consider repurposing for new content.

You can also simply use the internet to consult a variety of resources so you don’t have to come up with it all on your own.

Here is a list of tools you can use to come up with topics, see what questions are being asked, and generate new ideas for your content marketing strategy:

Google: This may seem like an intuitive answer but Google autofill gives us clues into what people are searching for given any topic based on the number of searches already performed. You can (and should) enter the personas you are targeting and any keywords relevant to your strategy.

For example, I love to type in “marketers are,” “marketers will,” or “marketers should.” This gives you a good sense for what your target audience is thinking when they search. The final step is to look at the news around each persona and keyword on the “news” tab.

Google Trends: This allows you to see the popularity of top search inquiries over time. It is often a great starting point for determining relevant keywords and their relative volume to each other. Is AI in Marketing more important than Personalization in Marketing? Google Trends will tell you.

AnswerThePublic: With a memorable home page experience, Answer The Public is another valuable, free resource to content marketers. It scrapes Google to identify, categorize and visualize the questions people ask around a keyword. You can remove certain inquires if they are not relevant to your campaign and download your results as a CSV file. This one tool could provide you with enough content to fill a calendar.

BuzzSumo: Allowing you to search for the most socially engaged content for any site or keyword, this tool provides content marketers a way to not only plan their content calendars but see what worked well for their competitors. It does require a license after a certain number of searches, so plan your usage accordingly.

KEYWORD RESEARCH WITH GOOGLE KEYWORD PLANNER

Most businesses and brands need help determining the subject matter or topics to make up their content strategy. In addition to creative brainstorming and conversations with clients, we use the Google Keyword Planner to cultivate ideas.

The Keyword Planner is easy to use. Focus on pinpointing both short-tail and long-tail keyword phrases that represent the brand and its audience (and ultimately the content supporting both.) If you’re actively doing SEO, then you’ll find this exercise to be very natural.

Keyword Research & Selection

Captivate Search Marketing have developed a nifty system for improving SEO with content by developing calendars structured around keyword data. The first step of this exercise is to generate keyword data, review the findings, and select phrases that make the most sense for content creation.

Start by submitting a related keyword phrase in the Keyword Planner’s option “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website, or category.”

In this example, we’re trying to reveal insights surrounding a client’s target keywords surrounding “film transfer,a service involving converting old film to DVD and other digital formats.

During this phase of the exercise, the focus is to extract all keyword phrases that are relevant to the client and the future content strategy. In other words, save keywords that seem relevant using the “Add to plan” option. We’ll refer back to the data in the next phase.

Review the keyword ideas suggested by Google and add phrases that have significant meaning and relevance to your project. You can also hover over the bar graph icon next to each keyword to see annual search trend data.

In the next step, we’re going to leverage this trend data to create our content calendar and schedule content when it’s most commonly searched.

In the case of the keyword phrase “film transfer to DVD,” we can see that this query is most commonly searched in November – January. This could be because people want to convert their old film into a more accessible format during the holidays.

If you’re taking the keyword research exercise to great lengths, a good way to keep your data organized is to create new “ad groups” or related keyword categories. This can make the data easier to absorb and analyze for future use.

Once you’ve gathered enough keyword data, proceed to download this data into a spreadsheet where we can the analyze the data for our content calendar.

There are several options when downloading the keyword data. Make sure to check the box “Segment by month” in order to get monthly search volumes, and thus have the capabilities to analyze search trends.

I also like to “Save to Google Drive” and work directly from Google’s spreadsheet interface. If you prefer to download the data to your files and use a different spreadsheet software program, then that’s fine too.

Formatting the Keyword Data

When you open the keyword data spreadsheet, you’re going to see a lot of columns that are irrelevant to this exercise. I suggest formatting the spreadsheet in such a way that makes reviewing the data more efficient. And by formatting, I simply mean removing unnecessary rows and columns.

For instance, I’ll often delete the first rows A – I, as well as the rows for “Keyword Type, Segmentation, Forecast quality, Impr. share, Organic impr. share, and Organic avg. position.” I’ll also delete columns 3-8 to tighten up the data. Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to go about this exercise. The focus is to format the keyword data in such a way that you can interpret it with greater efficacy.

The outcome should look something like the figure below: an organized list of phrases with monthly keyword data.

Reviewing Data to Construct Content Calendar

The last phase of the exercise is to review the keyword data you’ve generated to pinpoint trends. First, look for keyword phrases that inspire good topics for content. These will often be long-tail phrases in which the searcher intent is to ask a question or seek a desired solution.

In the figure below, I’ve selected a few keyword phrases that I believe would make for good content marketing topics for this particular client.

While selecting keyword phrases, take into consideration the months in which each particular phrase is searched most often. I will highlight months that offer the greatest search volume in an effort to maximize the SEO traffic potential for each piece of content. This, in a nutshell, can serve as simple, SEO-driven content calendar.

CONTENT TYPES

Once your content topics have been identified, the next step is to determine what types of content fit best with each topic. As we mentioned earlier, the buyer’s journey determines what types of content work well for each step and appeals to the target audience. Some may prefer infographics over articles while others may want to listen to a podcast instead.

Here is a list of content types to work into your content marketing calendar:

  • How-to articles
  • Listicles
  • Op-Eds
  • Case studies
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews
  • Interactive content: quizzes, polls, interactive maps, personality tests
  • White papers

Content Calendar Final Steps

Once you have identified the key topics and types of content to use, it’s time to focus on the timeline and key components of your 2019 content calendar.

KEY COMPONENTS OF A CONTENT CALENDAR

When planning a year-long content calendar, the most important components to include are the topic, working headline, the type of content, keywords, a call-to-action and deadlines. For larger teams, this should also include a list of responsibilities (i.e. writer, editor, graphic designer, etc).

Depending on your volume, you can break this down by week, month, or topic. Your calendar can also include which social media platforms you will use to distribute your content and if any paid promotion will be used.

CONTENT CALENDAR TIMELINE

One of the keys to success in content marketing is consistency. You should aim for at least 1-2 posts on your blog per week. As recently as October 2018, this was still one of the biggest problems for content marketers with 57% identifying consistency as an issue.

While the volume you are able to produce depends on available resources, identifying deadlines for the first draft, copy edit, and to-be-published date help set up a framework for you and your team. Time permitting, the list of topics and keywords also help teams work ahead if possible.

At Marketing Insider Group, we plan our content based on our company goals. The majority of our work is based on our top priority with secondary goals filling in the gaps.

What’s Next for Your Content Calendar?

Once you have filled out your 2019 content calendar, take a moment to congratulate yourself! You have put in the time to research and plan an effective year-long strategy. Now it’s time to start the content creation process.

As someone who has been in the content marketing field for years, I’m empathetic to the everyday pressures you face. If there’s a way my team and I can help you, please contact us today!

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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