How to move from blogging to true content marketing using some actual strategic planning. Craft your content marketing calendar with this ultimate guide.
If there was one single thing that I’ve seen make the difference between those with successful online businesses and those still chasing it, it is planning.
Content marketing and blogging is a powerful, POWERFUL thing. However, what makes it so powerful is when one does it strategically. If you’re flying by the seat of your pants all the time, blogging will seem like a colossal waste of time.
I know because I’ve spent a lot of time doing it wrong. Trust me, I’ve spent my share of time flying by the seat of my pants. But, when I’ve done my best in business, it was when I got my discipline together and pre-planned.
Not planning means I was reacting. Instead of DRIVING my content schedule, instead I would be reacting to it. Reacting to the calendar going by. This is the perfect recipe for what I have affectionately referred to as the “blogger rat wheel”. The rat wheel is why too many bloggers eventually burn out. The rat wheel is why a lot of business owners end up giving up the powerful marketing potential of a blog… because they think the blog is going to be too much work.
You should be treating your content marketing calendar with as much importance as you do your taxes.
When I’ve done it, it has always provides more order, more focus, and more revenue and results.
Why Do The Extra Work Of Planning First?
The obvious question is…. WHY?!
Certainly, it isn’t easy. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of racking one’s brain, and a lot of time. But, the difference is everything.
This would be much more difficult if you have a high content frequency. However, keep in mind that high content frequency usually goes hand in hand with a lack of advanced planning. If one has an entire editorial team dedicated to a blog, then you could do long-term planning and high frequency at the same time, but for most of us, that is not only unnecessary but also dumb.
I believe every piece of content you publish should have a strategic reason to exist. Outside of that, it makes no sense to publish it. My own personal content strategy is:
- For this blog, I apply the redwood strategy. Less frequency, but higher impact.
- I publish more frequently (every week day) via email, in The Daily publication.
Sometimes, The Daily is still flying by the seat of my pants. However, my overall strategy is doing that via email rather than the blog is quite intentional. The blog, however, is much slower and pre-planned. As of this writing (in April), I currently know what’s going to be appearing on this blog through the end of September. This is much easier to do when I only publish 3-4 posts per month (and some of them are revisions).
When I see what’s coming up, I can do things such as:
- Have the content jive with stuff going on inside the Lab, opening up obvious promotional opportunities.
- Ensure I have assets lined up for each post to further my marketing goals (such as content upgrades to build the list)
- Have content jive with any marketing campaigns I may have going on.
Pre-planning also makes things so much easier because it removes a major bottleneck: DECISIONS.
One of the largest hits to productivity is decision-making. The decision of what to talk about is often the hardest part and people get hung up on it. Once the decision is made, you can bang it out. You see this in a lot of different systems where executing sequential steps is easy but one can get hung up on the decisions.
So, what this long-range planning does is gets all the decision-making out of the way in advance. It alleviates that primary constraint in advance.
Making Your Content Marketing Calendar Simpler
Obviously, pre-planning your content marketing in advance takes some work. Your calendar can get more beefy and more complicated based on:
- How often you post
- How many different mediums you publish on at the same time
- How far out into the future you plan
If you have a very active posting schedule, then that’s just a lot more stuff you have to plan. It is a lot more spots to fill. If you don’t put the pressure on yourself to publish very often, then it eases up the pressure.
This is why I personally think that The Redwood Strategy is, by far, the preferred way to go. It means less frequency, but higher quality posts. It also means that not every post will be brand new, but that sometimes you will simply update an existing post and re-publish it as new. It is content recycling, so to speak.
So, let’s say you post roughly once per week. That would be 4 spots per month. You can DO 4 spots! 🙂 Especially if not everything you publish has to be brand new and from scratch.Most bloggers spend 80% (or more) of their time writing and the remainder on promotion and things to build revenue. You should reverse that.Click To Tweet
A lesser post frequency also allows you the time to do the things that will REALLY make that post perform for you. Writing and publishing a blog post doesn’t necessarily do much to grow your business. However, if that post is well optimized for SEO, has a nice content upgrade for list building, has the assets in place for a higher viral coefficient, leads to a targeted sales funnel… all these things make that post perform as a true marketing asset.
It is the difference between driving in first gear and fifth gear. Smart blog owners get a lot of mileage out of low RPM because they post less but make sure each post counts. Everybody else just writes and publishes, rinses and repeats… as fast as they can. And they get nowhere at high RPM.
This style of blogging also leaves you way more time for the actual promotion. You’ll have time to set up ads to promote your posts. You’ll have time for guest posting or other traffic building strategies. You’ll have the time to build your funnels, your lead magnets and all the rest.
How Far In Advance Should You Set Your Calendar?
We’ll be getting into HOW to create your calendar and fill it in a minute. But first…
How far out should you be planning this stuff?
Some really successful content marketers will define their content calendar for a full year in advance. I’ve seen it where they will have one structured product launch per quarter and perhaps a sale per month. They will define those things in advance for the full year. That isn’t very difficult when you have 4 launches per year. Then, around those launches they plan the actual content.
Some people do it quarterly.
Some do it monthly… or even weekly. Once you get down to being just a week or so ahead of schedule, I think you’re still shooting from the hip to a large degree and that defeats the point.
Personally, I usually do it one or two quarters ahead. What I like to do is head out in my motorhome to a nice campsite and spend a couple days on business strategy per quarter. It gets me out of my office and into a new environment. But, part of that planning session is to define the content marketing calendar for the quarter ahead.
Getting Content Ideas For Your Planning
As you look ahead at your calendar, you’re going to want to place some content on that thing. But, what exactly?
One way to go about it is to just throw out a bunch of random ideas and then begin to fill your weeks with them. Of course, that is better than nothing but it also ignores much of the benefit of this kind of planning to begin with.
Remember, this is content marketing. That word “marketing” must not be forgotten here. The stuff we publish on your blog should be put there for a reason, such as:
- To attract a certain type of person who would be a lead for a product you’re selling.
- To engage your audience and move them into a marketing campaign you’re currently doing.
- To target certain keyword phrases for SEO purposes – again, to attract certain kinds of people
Your content, in short, is there to attract the right people and then funnel them into the business machine.
To do this, the topics we post should be strategically created so as to fulfill that purpose. This isn’t random. It isn’t about filling spots on the calendar, ultimately. It is about fueling your sales funnels with people. What you put on your content calendar should be tightly related to your revenue plans.
So, to begin actually planning out your content marketing that far in advance, start out by asking yourself:
- What kinds of questions or challenges are you routinely getting from your customers and prospects? In my case, my autoresponder sequence contains the 7-word question, so I am always getting these kinds of things sent to me.
- What “holes” are there in your content library? In other words, is there any area that your prospects are routinely asking about where you believe that your current content isn’t covering adequately?
- What posts have performed well in your Analytics, and how can you expand upon it?
- What products or services do you intend to launch in the coming year, and what kinds of content would be perfect for attracting ideal prospects for it and generating leads?
- What topics can you discuss which would allow you to answer it with a solution provided by your business? In my case, I already have several courses and action plans available here. So, while NEW products are fair game for content in the coming year, I can also position content so that my existing offers would be a good fit.
- What flagship (redwood) posts need to be updated?
As you can see, we’re gaining our ideas for the calendar based around marketing campaigns, our products and then more strongly covering the hot topics and questions being asked by your target market.
Aligning Your Content Around Your Marketing Goals
If you don’t make your money makers part of the planning, you simply won’t make it. Your content will be disconnected from sales and you’ll constantly feel as if things just aren’t working.The secret to making sales without feeling like a pushy salesman is to have your content designed strategically around your offers and naturally pull (not push) the right people into your funnel.Click To Tweet
So, it starts with lining up some marketing campaigns. This list will help you get started:
- What holidays are coming up that you can plan a promotion around? (Example: Black Friday)
- What industry-specific dates are coming up that might work for a promotion? (Example: Valentines day if you’re in the dating niche or marriage niche)
- What flash sales do you want to schedule into the plan?
- What new offers do you plan to launch and when?
- What existing offers do you want to schedule in a promotion for?
- What JV/Affiliate promotions do you want to push for awhile?
You determine what these marketing campaigns are going to be and when they will be. You then plot those things on your calendar. Then, you work backwards to determine what content would be a good fit to go live around the time of that campaign. You look at the kind of people you want to attract and the actions you want people to take and you publish the content which will do that.
As a simple example, if I look at my calendar for June, I have a planned relaunch campaign of the course Perfect Blog Blueprint since I will be doing a large update to that training. So, that week, I have planned a big redwood post on a guide to the perfect blog layout. That post will go live on Monday and I will be promoting it that entire week. That post will offer a content upgrade which is suitable and it will lead right into the offer for that training.
So, the idea is to have a fit and solid pairing between the content and the marketing goals you have. You want it to align.
Placing Your Content On The Planner
A lot of the heavy lifting of this process has been covered in the sections above.
The last – and final – step is to officially map these content pieces to your actual calendar. I personally find it helpful to have both your planned marketing campaigns and your content on the same calendar so that you can see how the two jive together.
I usually outline my campaigns in Dyanlist, which is my top productivity tool. Then, for the calendar, I simply use good ol’ Google Calendar. Google Calendar allows you to have multiple calendars at the same time which appear simultaneously as layers. Here’s my current calendar list:
The arrows points to the calendars which are most relevant to my own content calendar:
- Content. This is where I place actual content releases such as blog posts.
- Marketing/Revenue. This is where I track actual marketing campaigns I have planned. I usually put them on as multi-day events so that I know the date range I will be promoting it.
- Training/Delivery. Since I am in the training business, I use this calendar to track content releases and work for THE LAB. I do this separately than public content.
I assigned different colors to these calendars so that I can look at the big picture:
By doing it this way, I can easily move things around so that everything flows. I can make sure I don’t schedule campaigns too close together. I can make sure that my content jives with whatever marketing campaign may be going on at the time.
This also becomes a primary planning tool. I look ahead on the calendar to see what’s coming up so that I can be prepared with the assets I need. One thing I do inside of Dynalist for each campaign is I create a to-do list and a list of assets I need to prepare to be read to run the campaign. For instance, for an upcoming flash sale coming up, I have the following on the list for prep:
- Prepare landing page
- Craft 4-day email campaign
- Set up retargeting ad for Facebook
- Set up a Daily ad to run in the Daily during those days.
Those are to-do items I place onto my action list a week or so before the actual campaign is scheduled to begin. Then, when the day arrives, I essentially hit “play”.
This is the system I use. There are other ways to go, if that works better for you.
- Some people like to use a physical desktop calendar.
- You may want to use your own calendar system (not Google Calendar)
- You may want to use a spreadsheet. It works if you are only planning content, but I find it more difficult if you’re trying to coordinate different things on the same calendar.
- You could use a dedicated tool such as CoSchedule
There is no “right” way to do it. In the end, you have to craft a planning system which works best for you.
Taking Your Planning Through To Completion
Now certainly, what we’ve discussed in this post is just the “bird’s eye view”. There is more that goes into it. And I couldn’t possibly cover it in one blog post.
I invite you to take the next step with me, which is found in the online training I’ve created called Building A Content Marketing Plan.
In this training, we’ll be covering:
- The finer details of the step-by-step plan to creating your content calendar (including additional templates to help)
- The reader awareness ladder and how to strategically target your content to move readers up this ladder (hint: It has everything to do with making more money without seeming pushy)
- 5 different content types, when to use them in your calendar
- How to handle your “in between” time, when you don’t have any active promotional campaign under way
- Multiple strategies for how to speed up content creation once the planning has been done
But, either way, I highly encourage you to do this. Stop flying by the seat your pants with your blog. That kind of aimless, time-based blogging is just no way to operate.