A content calendar (or "editorial calendar") is a system used by content and marketing professionals to organize, manage, and schedule content production. At the macro level, a content calendar provides an overview of everything that is published in a specific period.
At the micro level, each calendar entry also lists information about a single item of content, e.g.
- Due date
In contrast to an idea backlog, in which all content possibilities and ideas are listed, a content calendar usually only contains parts that are already planned and / or that are being worked on.
This guide covers the following:
4 reasons why you should use a content calendar
A content calendar is an essential tool for anyone involved in content creation, whether you are a sole proprietorship or part of a large team. It will help you:
- Schedule your work
- Align teams and contributors
- Make your content process repeatable
- Manage content in one place
1. Schedule your work
The most practical reason to have a content calendar is to schedule content production weeks and months in advance. A calendar ensures that what you plan to do is possible given the time and resources available. You can also anticipate and take into account ad hoc content initiatives (such as when your company is about to launch a new product) so you can organize the work ahead of time.
2. Align teams and contributors
There are many moving parts in content creation, and a content calendar keeps everyone on the same page. You may need to work with an illustrator on a blog post, direct your social media team to promote new content, and manage posts from freelancers and guest authors. With the help of a content calendar, you can break down each piece into its individual components and assign them to specific people with clear due dates.
For example, for every blog post we publish, we need to assign and track:
- Header illustration
- custom images (e.g. graphics)
- Screenshot annotations
This is what we do in our content calendar:
3. Make your content process repeatable
A good content calendar isn't just about data on a page, it's about a system for creating a repeatable process. Once you've planned the steps required to publish a particular piece of content, you can simply repeat them with each new piece of content instead of starting over. Not only does this save time, it also makes it easier to estimate the duration of each task and ensures that no step is skipped.
4. Manage content in one place
Because it stores all of the available information about every piece of content in your pipeline, a calendar acts as a single source of truth for your team. Aside from saving you time for everyone (e.g. directing your teammates to the calendar and avoiding unnecessary emails or status update meetings), a calendar ensures that information is available at all times and not just in the minds of a few people are. Plus, stakeholders like your boss or manager can quickly check the calendar to see what you're working towards.
How to create your content calendar in 4 steps
A content calendar is extremely useful for organizing your content marketing efforts. However, a perfectly organized content calendar alone does not guarantee that your content efforts will be successful. Before you start creating any content, you need to invest some time in figuring out exactly what type of content will serve your goals in the first place.
Here is the process:
- Review your content strategy
- Set up your calendar
- Add content to the calendar
- Add relevant subtasks
When you have defined your content marketing strategy, proceed directly to point 2. If not, read on.
1. Review your content strategy to determine priorities
What you add to your content calendar depends entirely on your content marketing strategy. This is a plan for consistently creating high quality content aimed at turning strangers into customers.
For example, the content strategy at Ahrefs is to publish educational content on the topics our target customers are looking for, to rank on Google and YouTube, and to increase organic traffic month after month. So we don't just fill our content calendar with random keyword ideas, we follow a few specific steps first.
- We use Ahrefs' Keyword Explorer to do keyword research and identify topics we want to cover:
- We examine the traffic potential of the topic in the Keywords Explorer:
- We prioritize topics based on their "business potential". We assign them a score from 0 to 3 depending on how easy it would be to talk about Ahrefs in a particular piece:
- We'll add the topics that drive our keyword-driven, product-driven strategy to a table. Only when someone starts actively working on a piece do we add it to our calendar.
Your approach may be different, but the point remains: the most effective way to fill and maintain your content calendar is to first have a clear strategy and understand how each part you create goes with it.
2. Set up your calendar
There are many tools you can use to create your calendar, from simple spreadsheets to specialized content management software (and see some examples below). However, the tool you choose is less important than deciding what information to put on the calendar.
Basically, a content calendar only needs two fields: a title and a due date. You can add as many additional fields as you need to ship each piece. We have 19 including content type, category and main keyword:
There's no rule about what and what not on your calendar: focus on the information you and others on the team need most to create content. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
- Level of the funnel to which your piece belongs
- User Personality you are writing for
- Author and contributor
3. Add content to the calendar
Once you've got a structure in place, the next step is to fill the calendar with your upcoming pieces and make sure the cadence is in line with your strategy: with a social media-centric approach, you may need to post multiple times a day while long form Educational content can only occur twice a month.
The goal is to have a full understanding of everything you and your team will be working on, at a glance. Hence, you should include:
- All formats for which you are responsible. For example, if you are working on both blog posts and newsletters, adding both formats will help you see the overlap of tasks and plan capacity
- Both new and old pieces. For example, if you want to update or tweak existing items of content, adding them to the calendar make sure you take into account the time and resources it will take to get the task done
If you publish different types of content, you may find it helpful to color-code entries to make it easier to scan your calendar.
4. Add relevant subtasks
Each part you add to your calendar takes different steps (and possibly multiple people). So it's helpful to break each entry down into the individual tasks that you need to complete.
To map the steps, think of a piece of content you've already published and list everything that happened before it was published. Then use this information to help plan all of the upcoming parts.
In my previous position at Hotjar, I usually followed the same seven steps to get a newsletter published. For every newsletter issue I planned on my calendar, I simply duplicated the list of subtasks and assigned them to a specific team member with a due date:
A simple calendar tool like a spreadsheet may not have enough storage space to list all of this information in one place, while special software (Asana in my example) will help you drill down into each and every sub-task. If you want to keep your calendar simple, you can always list subtasks elsewhere and refer to them as needed.
6 examples of content calendars from content marketing professionals
In order for you to get the best results, your content calendar should be unique to you and the environment in which you work by creating yours from scratch to suit your specific needs. Even so, it is useful to take inspiration from the activities of other content professionals. So we asked some marketers to share their calendars with us, which range from super functional to very complex.
1. A functional table for a team of one
This is the content calendar that Hiba Amin uses at Soapbox for their content team of one. It's a simple and functional table that covers eight main fields including date of publication, title, content type, funnel level, and audience / person. You can use a variation of this calendar if you want to keep your calendar nice and uncomplicated and still have a clear view of what is happening throughout the quarter.
2. A color-coded social media calendar
Lani Assaf uses this table at Elpha to keep track of social media activity and additional content. The calendar uses a color-coded system so that all content falls into one of four categories (listed as "Pillars" in the top right corner) and the team can see the distribution of social media at a glance. The calendar also takes into account holidays and important dates, e.g. E.g. Employee Recognition Day on Friday March 5th.
3. A Kanban-style calendar in Trello
This Trello board checks Dom Kent at Mio several times a day to make sure all upcoming content stays on track. In a Kanban-style calendar, each card represents an item of content and is moved across the board until the "Done" column on the far right is reached. This simple system works well when you are part of a small team and you need visual clarity at every stage of the process. There is also space for unplanned content ideas (see column 1 on the left).
4. A Kanban-style calendar in Todoist
Doist's Fadeke Adegbuiy also uses a Kanban board in Todoist to break her team's calendar into weekly sprints. Everyone on the team has access to the board and can see the blog posts and newsletters in the posting pipeline. They often use comments on a single card to provide helpful resources or suggestions to the author assigned to a piece. You could use a similar board-like approach if you want to get an overview of what's happening in a given week and check that everyone is on the right track.
5. An Asana calendar with tags and comments
This Asana content calendar enables Taru Barghava at Genbook to use color-coded tags for each content item and to have conversations with her team about each calendar entry. Taru plans the content at least six weeks in advance to ensure the team can maintain its twice-weekly release cadence, and reviews and updates the calendar every week to check the progress of individual parts. You can use a similar format if you publish frequently and need to keep track of multiple articles and contributors in one place.
6. A marketing calendar with multiple tabs
This multi-tabbed content calendar is used by Justin Dunham at Ercule to keep track of all content activity on his marketing team, including events and webinars. The Calendar Issue summary on the left is auto-populated based on what has been added to the other tabs in the table. If you manage a complex marketing machine with multiple assets being created at any one time, this template can be downloaded from Justin's calendar and played around with.
3 final pro tips to help you get the most out of your content calendar
I've been working with content calendars for a while now. Here are three things I learned through trial and error that I would have liked to have known earlier:
1. Iterate your calendar
The first version of the content calendar you created is unlikely to be used forever. As your team grows and / or your content needs change, you may outgrow your current system and even need to switch to another tool.
Remember and don't strive for perfection from the start: start with something functional that can help you over the next two to three months, and keep tweaking and improving as you go.
2. Always have a buffer
When you work with multiple people, something will go wrong, there will be delays – and you should always plan for that. Identify potential bottlenecks and issues and take them into account: for example, suppose that outside employees are late with their submissions and allow extra time to account for unforeseen delays.
3. Quantity ≠ quality
True, it's tempting (and easy) to clutter your calendar and feel good about yourself when you're busy. However, sending a lot of content is not necessarily the most efficient way to achieve your goals. This is especially relevant when SEO is part of your content strategy as Ahrefs CEO In this video, Tim Soulo shows how he debunks the myth of “publish more often”.
Now to you!
Now you can create and iterate your own content calendar. Did we miss something important about calendars? Let us know on Twitter.