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Master Your Content Calendar in 5 Simple Steps

Creative and engaging content is the lifeblood of solid inbound marketing. It’s the reason customers seek out your company, and it’s an avenue to becoming an industry innovator. Producing a stream of content that’s relevant to your audience and important to your company’s overall strategic plan can be complicated. One of the best ways to plan, organize and implement a multifaceted marketing and communications approach is through a content calendar.

Building A Content Calendar One Post at a Time

We’ve outlined five simple steps to help you master your publishing calendar:

1.  Start with a management system

You’ll need a tool to help you lay out the messages you want to send, the medium you’d like to use and the time you feel it’s right to post. This is the actual calendar part. You can pick from several options to create your content calendar. From a pre-formatted Google Doc to a custom-made Excel spreadsheet, you can choose the one that best suites you and your company.

How do you create a content calendar?

Let’s say you want to create a content calendar of your own in an Excel file. A Google search will pull up a variety of templates for you to choose from, but we’re going to make a few recommendations. First, set up a workbook for a full calendar month using the date for the first column and day of the week for the second. Then, make a list of all the variables that are important for you to track — content message, content type, people tasked, date due, date to publish, etc. Create a column for each of the listed items. Now you’ve built the structure to house your content. 

Pro Tip: You can copy and paste this spreadsheet into twelve new tabs in Excel. Then tweak the dates to reflect each month of the year. Now you have one workbook where you can reference an entire year’s worth of content.

2.  Compile content

Now it’s time to start adding specific content to the document you’ve created. Coming up with content for a whole month can seem overwhelming, so try not to put too many parameters on your brainstorming sessions.

Odds are you will find a place to use every idea, even if it’s not for the upcoming month. Start by identifying your overall message for the month, and then list every piece of content that could relate back to it, reiterating your strategic communications through a variety of channels.

How do you come up with a variety of content?

Your list from above could include list posts, videos, guest posts, repurposed content, infographics and more. We’ll start at the beginning and work our way through.

List posts are a great way to share information in a quick, digestible way. Take this post for instance. You’re learning how to do something in five steps. Find something your company is an expert at and explain how to do it to your audience in steps.

Next are videos. With the advent of video ads on social media, this medium is thriving. The great news is that you don’t need to spend thousands outsourcing videography anymore. The more organic and brief the video, generally the better. You can also invite industry experts to write guest posts, find ways to reuse old content in a fresh way and even take important factoids from previous content and use graphics to share it visually in an inforgraphic.

Pro Tip: Check out our ebook on how to repurpose content for more great ideas.

3.  Schedule a variety of content at different times of the day and days of the week

Every audience is different, so it’s important for you to understand your buyer personas and post content while they’re most likely to see it. Across the board, afternoons are the best time to share content with Wednesday being the highest content day of the week. This doesn’t necessarily mean this is true for your target audience, but it could be a good starting point. 

How do you know when is the best time to send content?

Research is everywhere. Nearly everything on the Internet is trackable, so do your due diligence and figure out when your audience is online. Learn what their main interests are and how they use technology to pursue them. Knowing their average age, income, favorite browser and most common devices can all be key to determining what day of the week and time of day your content will be seen the most.

Pro Tip: Buyer personas are vital to every step of inbound marketing, including knowing when to post content.

4.  Analyze your results

Testing is the most effective way to tell if your content is doing well. It’s important to pay attention to the post-publish data for your content so you can find ways to improve and learn of your successes. A/B testing can be used on nearly every part of your content. You can test headlines, images, times of day and even the accuracy of your buyer personas.

How do you conduct effective A/B testing?

A/B testing is performed by altering content and analyzing the results. For instance, say you have two types of blog posts, and you’re not sure which one will generate the most click-throughs. Publish a “how-to” blog post at the time of day and day of the week you think would provide good results. The following week at the same time, publish a post that uses an infographic instead of step-by-step explanations. Pull the analytics on each post and compare. You’ll quickly begin to recognize areas of strength and weakness.

Pro Tip: Test as much as you can. It’s time consuming but will pay dividends to your overall strategy. You can get a more in-depth explanation of A/B testing here

5.  Adjust your content

Testing doesn’t mean much if you’re not willing to make changes once you see the results. If the post with the infographic in the example above had more click-throughs, find ways to include visual components in your content. If you’ve found a certain type of image to work better, or a specific way to word your call to action shows better results, listen to the numbers.

How do you turn test results into tangible changes?

As mentioned above, the data from your content will tell you a lot. When you see a dip in reach, click-through rates, engagement, etc., take the time to analyze what that means. Try changing word choice, the tone or length of your writing, the style of your videos, the time you send an email and any other constants you can change until you start to see the results you’re looking for.

Pro Tip: Testing and adjusting never ends. As an inbound marketer, you’re never satisfied with good enough. Keep evaluating your content efforts and finding new ways to keep your audience engaged. 

These five steps will help you get started on a quality content calendar, but don’t be alarmed if you get to a point where filling the days becomes a stretch. It’s important to remember quality over quantity. Don’t feel pressure to bog down your content calendar for the sake of posting something. Wait until you have relevant content for your audience. You may even find that by building two-way communication through inbound marketing, your audience will offer you up some content ideas of their own.

Written by Chelsea Robinson / August 19, 2014

Chelsea Robinson is a communications professional dedicated to inbound marketing. Currently a full-time Marketing Manager for a NCAA Division I university, Chelsea is passionate about digital and social communications. She contributes posts covering a variety of topics to the Lean Labs blog. When she’s not writing, Chelsea enjoys exercising, fishing with her husband and hanging out with her dog.

Articles by Chelsea Robinson