An editorial calendar is an important piece of the content production puzzle. It houses all of the planning, production, and publishing deadlines for each piece of content that lives on your site.
Using an editorial calendar to plan out your content ahead of time gives you more room for unexpected events, helps you define your marketing objectives early on, and makes it easier to measure results. At Portent, we create and use editorial calendars for our clients all the time as an essential part of our content strategy.
In this article, we’ll walk through the importance of using an editorial calendar, how it differs from other calendars, and how to create your own (and keep it updated)!
What is an Editorial Calendar?
An editorial calendar is a living, often collaborative document that provides a long-term timeline and publishing schedule for all sorts of content. In content strategy work, editorial calendars come in handy when we envision the marketing strategy for a client or campaign and the deadlines for the execution of related content.
This content could be blog posts, social media posts, videos, and other branded content. By existing as a collaborative document, the editorial calendar is continuously updated by team members, so the latest status of each content piece is accurate.
Editorial Calendar vs. Content Calendar
An editorial calendar is similar to a content calendar in that they both keep track of the status of projects. However, an editorial calendar gives you a long-term view, perhaps stretching over an entire quarter, while a content calendar looks at a day-to-day view of accomplishing publishing goals.
Why Do You Need an Editorial Calendar?
Editorial calendars offer many benefits to content marketing teams, such as keeping team members aligned on strategic goals and tracking produced content. Not only do sites need to publish fresh content to stay competitive, but it’s also important to know when older content ages out and needs to be updated; an editorial calendar helps with both.
The Big Picture for Content Strategy Planning
While on-the-fly content can be beneficial to keeping up with fleeting trends or breaking news for your business, planning out content far in advance around seasonal and recurring topics keeps you on track to meet your content strategy goals. For example, if you want to rank or trend for back-to-school topics, it’d be best to plan and publish content in mid-late summer so that you get in on valuable traffic.
Editorial calendars are especially helpful when it comes to planning and creating a content hub and the subsequent spoke pages that come along with it. Since spoke content can be plentiful, keeping track of key dates for each post will help you keep track of what content you’ve already covered and what’s next in line.
Organization and Tracking Progress
On a team with multiple people, it’s easy for projects to get lost in translation. Having a content manager oversee these projects can help. By keeping track of progress updates in an editorial calendar, the whole team gets visibility to the owner of a particular content piece and what stage it is in. In our template, progress tracking is often color-coded or sorted via a drop-down menu; but you can use whatever formatting you prefer.
Editorial calendars also tell us a lot about past work that has been done; by sorting content via publish or refresh date, we can see if any content may be out-of-date and in need of updating.
Working out of a living document means your content team as a whole has access to the status and links to content pieces at any time. When team members are on the same page, communication and collaboration are easy. That means fewer messages back and forth about deadlines and progress and more focused meetings on strategy and goals.
Consistent Content Creation Timelines
By getting your content planning done ahead of time (such as planning for Q4 as you enter Q3), you have a timeline you can lean on without having to come up with fresh content ideas and turn them around in one week’s time. This gives your team some breathing room to plan out individual work depending on the content pieces assigned to them in advance.
Avoid Duplicate Content
Just as you can take a look back in time to see which content pieces may need updates, you can also use an editorial calendar to ensure you’re not duplicating your efforts. Including article titles, funnel stages, key dates, and even keyword information in the editorial calendar allows you to keep a clear record of all the content you’ve created.
During the topic ideation process, it’s not uncommon to find yourself brainstorming topics you’ve already covered, but thanks to your editorial calendar, you might find that those new ideas could fill a gap that was left open the last time you addressed them.
How to Create an Editorial Calendar in 10 Steps
Now that you’ve learned the importance of using an editorial calendar, we can get into the details of creating one that works best for you and your team.
Step 1. Establish Content Goals
Only you and your team can really determine your specific content goals, whether that’s building brand awareness, capturing a featured snippet, generating demand, etc. Whatever goals you decide on, it’s important that you spend the time to solidify these at the beginning of this process since your goals will ultimately narrow down the topics and type of content you will want to work on.
Step 2. Choose a Format/Platform
At Portent, we prefer to set up our editorial calendars using a template we created in Google Sheets. However, plenty of other tools could work for you and your team, such as calendar apps, digital whiteboards like Mural, project management tools like Asana or Trello, or designated content calendar software.
Your choice of platform should come from what allows you to format the calendar to your specifications and what’s easiest for your team to manage.
Step 3. Determine Content Workflow
Another more personal piece to the puzzle is determining your workflow within the editorial calendar. How many rounds of edits and feedback does a single piece of content require on your team? Do you have subject matter experts (SMEs) that need to review work? Do you work in-house and can get approval same-day, or do you work at an agency and need to pass off content for client approval?
Once you know the steps required to get a piece of content across the finish line, you can build out columns in your spreadsheet, create tasks in your PM tool, etc. You’ll also get a better idea of how far out you need to ideate and plan content.
Step 4. Topic Ideation & Prioritization
Once your template is squared away, the creative part can finally happen. Now you can begin the process of topic ideation to fill in your editorial calendar with new content ideas. This task generally entails keyword research, competitor analysis, and possibly developing a content hub strategy to fill any content gaps.
Make sure you prioritize your list of new content ideas before adding them to your editorial calendar. This ensures that you’re working on content ideas that will give you the greatest return with the least amount of effort first. It is crucial that you have a solid content strategy before moving on to the ideation phase, so if you aren’t yet zeroed in on your goals there, pause on this step until you are.
Step 5. Identify Content Details
In your editorial calendar, it’s important to have all the essential details for each piece of content readily available and all in one place.
Different types of content will require different pieces of information, so some fields in the calendar may be blank for some pieces while others are filled in. Although many fields will stay consistent for all content types (owner, publish date, links to content, etc.).
These are the content details we recommend including space for in your editorial calendar.
- Publish Date
- Refresh Date
- Content Type
- Funnel Stage
- Target Keywords
- Distribution Channel
- Live URL
Step 6. Include Distribution Plan
We also need to know where a piece of content is going to be published once it makes its way through each step of the editorial calendar process. Will it appear on the website only? Be promoted on social media? Be guest posted on any other sites? Whoever is in charge of publishing the content will need access to any channel or platform that you share on.
Step 7. Create Copy Briefs
For content pieces like blog posts, you’ll need to create copy briefs before production can begin. It’s likely easiest for the blog post owners to own the copy briefs as well, but ownership and completion should be based on your specific team’s capacity.
Step 8. Assign Tasks
Once your editorial calendar is planned out far enough as you see fit, you can start assigning work to your team. When an owner is attached to each project, collaborators will know who to talk to to get their questions answered.
Step 9. Measure Success
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the process for a piece of content. Now you can use the editorial calendar to monitor how each piece is doing over time and when it might be time to give it a refresh. For example, you might notice the bounce rate increasing for a certain piece of content over time or pageviews decreasing, which could be an indicator that your article is no longer answering the most popular query for that topic and that it should be rewritten.
Step 10. Update the Editorial Calendar
Sometimes, the greatest challenge that comes with using an editorial calendar is keeping it updated along the way. It might take some getting used to adding it to your team’s workflow, but in the long run, it will help keep your team organized and well-informed on progress. After all, one main purpose of the editorial calendar is to cut down on the miscommunication (or complete lack thereof) surrounding content work and project status.
Free Editorial Calendar Template
If you think the spreadsheet method is the right choice for you and your team, take a look at our free template to use as a guide for creating your own editorial calendar. The good news about starting from a template is that you can save time and still customize it to your liking.
Other Editorial Calendar Examples & Tools
There are many other editorial calendar templates that also do a great job of organizing work. Take a peek to see what other examples might be a good fit for your team:
- Project Management Tools
Editorial calendars can provide a single source of truth for your team while offering up a new, streamlined way of collaborating on content projects. Try out a template that could work for your team to see the benefits of organizing all of your content projects in one place, whether that’s a spreadsheet, project management tool, or curated software.