Ah, the wonderful world of content calendars. If you’re not a content enthusiast the two C’s probably fill you with dread. You might be thinking, “What’s the point?” “How much of my time is that gonna take?” “How am I supposed to know what to write about?”
To answer your queries quickly:
1. There’s lots of point.
2. Not that much, actually.
3. The topics are probably right in front of you.
Don’t worry, that’s not all the context we plan on giving. Before we get stuck into the meaty stuff though, here’s the reasoning that’ll gain the business-wide buy-in you need:
They drive action.
If, up until now, your blogging strategy has been sitting down, going with the first idea that pops into your mind and then putting pen to paper, you know all too well how disorganised it can become.
Your posting probably isn’t consistent. The end goal likely isn’t clear. And no-one, including yourself, knows where it’s going to be used.
Having a content calendar in place gives you a tangible plan to stick to. You know what’s coming up. You know why you’re writing it. You know where it’s being used. You know when you need it by. And you know who’s writing it.
Welcome to the easy life.
They get buy-in.
If you were proposing a new product or service you’d need to present the business with some sort of proposition document, right? Your content calendar is the wordsmith’s equivalent.
Presenting key stakeholders with your plan will:
a) Put their mind at ease that you’re not planning on publishing gibberish,
b) Show them which business areas it’ll benefit (social, email, PPC and customer retention, for example), and
c) Give them a good idea of how and where the money and resources are being spent.
If you want a more in-depth guide (or some evidence to show the superiors) on how content can drive things like lead gen in B2B marketing, head right here.
They drive the whole department.
Your content forms the backbone of the entire marketing team’s activity. Social media need it for their posts, prospect emails need it to strengthen their case, and client retention need it for their value-adding efforts (like newsletters).
By having a pre-planned calendar, everyone can easily see what’s coming up, plan for their own campaigns and plug any gaps way in advance - because no-one wants to be told today that employee X needs a 2,000-word guide on Y tomorrow.
Does format really matter?
Not really, just go with whatever works for you and your team. One way to go is a spreadsheet with these columns:
- Publish date
- Topic title
- Type of content (blog, guide, case study, video or infographic)
- Audience (prospects, customers, partners or social)
- Status (started, need to proof, awaiting sign-off, ready and live)
- URL (once published)
- Notes (this was left blank most of the time but it was where I’d jot down key details, like if it was tied to an announcement, for example)
Here are a few examples to steal some more inspiration from:
How long should you plan for?
This is another answer that’ll largely depend on you and your team, but I’d recommend three to six months as a guideline because:
- Any longer and you risk the stuff you’ve planned being outdated, and
- Then you can use your results from the previous cycle to shape the next, and a year is a long time to wait to make improvements.
When you’re building new calendars remember to look out for key learning from previous ones (if you have them) like:
- Did certain types of content consistently outperform others?
- What were your top 5/10 pieces?
- Which sort of content resulted in the most leads?
- Did some content go down better with a certain audience?
- Did the type of content impact things like bounce rates and time on page?
Every cycle’s a learning curve so don’t let the data you’ve gathered go to waste.
Be prepared for change
Remember, your content calendar isn’t always gospel. There are some things you can’t predict - like breaking news that directly impacts you and/or your customers - and when that happens, you need to be prepared to react and adapt; that might mean juggling your dates or putting certain pieces on hold while your focus is shifted.
Where to get your ideas from
Your customer service and sales teams (if you have them) are almost certainly sitting on a gold mine of data. They speak to the people you’re trying to target day in, day out, so extract as much insight as you can with questions like:
- What kind of questions are customers asking?
- What’s the reason people are leaving?
- What’s the main reason people come to us?
- What kind of questions do prospects have about our product/service?
- Are you noticing any trends?
And remember, even if something sounds niche (within reason) if one person’s asking it, others are probably thinking it.
Speak to these guys every time you’re pulling a content calendar together too, patterns change over time so you’re bound to pick up a few new nuggets with each cycle.
That’s right, scour their sites and steal some ideas - they’ll be doing it to you! Hopefully it goes without saying you shouldn’t outright steal, but see what kind of topics they’re covering and if there any holes you’re not filling; because the last thing you want is prospects and customers turning to them because they couldn’t find what they were looking for with you.
Google likes fresh content, so regularly adding to your blog alone will help your organic efforts, but why not take it a step further while you’re at it? Do some keyword research, see what you want and need to be ranking for, and then feed those terms into some of your ideas. Here are two important caveats though:
Caveat 1: don’t let keywords dictate your whole content calendar, if you do, it’ll soon become pretty repetitive and dull.
Caveat 2: even if you’re writing something purely for SEO purposes, readability and user experience should be front of mind: a) because that’s what Google looks for, and b) because it won’t convert anyway if it’s a rubbish read, and what’s the benefit in lots of organic traffic if it’s bouncing right back out?
If you’re new to keyword research here are some free sites to get you started:
- Google Trends
- Keyword Shitter
- AdWord & SEO Keyword Permutation Generator
- Answer the Public
- Google Correlate
- Keywords Everywhere
- Wordtracker Scout
- Google Search Console
- Suggestion Keyword Finder
Just type your keyword into the search, and then get ideas from the ‘People also ask’ box at the top:
Want more? Not a problem. Keep clicking on the questions and more and more will continue to load.
FYI: these are questions Google already knows people are searching but it doesn’t appear for all queries.
And ‘Searches related to’ lists at the bottom:
Do the same for each keyword, add to and refine your queries for different results and you should be left with a fair few ideas by the end of it.
What type of content’s gone down really well in the past - how-to guides? Listicles? Podcasts? Research pieces? If it’s working, it’s working, so funnel it into your next content calendar to try and replicate your past success.
Two things to consider here though:
1. Don’t overdo it. Let’s say it was a listicle or two that did the trick last quarter, if you start publishing them three times a week, every week, next quarter the novelty will soon wear off.
2. Don’t rule things out completely. Maybe that video didn’t go down too well, but it doesn’t mean they should be kyboshed completely. It could’ve been down to the topic, length, speaker, audience or where it was distributed, so do plenty of trial and error before you bin something off for good.
If you’ve got a decent social media presence and people actually engage and ask questions on it, make a point of jotting them down as you go and then reviewing it for what can be used when the time comes.
But maybe your content calendar planning seems good on paper, but it's just not landing with people. It might be time for a social media audit, to make sure you're heading in the right direction. We've got a handy guide to get you started here.
So the plan's ready! Now's time to get down to producing some content for it. Blogging is a great start, and we've got some tips for spicing up your B2B blog here.