So what exactly is an editorial calendar? It’s a tool that some bloggers have shamelessly stolen from the print world. Magazines use editorial calendars because their issues need to be planned weeks or sometimes months in advance – they have to assign writers to stories and tell their sales staff the issue’s theme or nothing will get done in time. It’s easy to understand why they’d need one for the writers, but why do they cue in the sales staff? Well, if Car & Driver publishes a special issue featuring the top ten hybrid vehicles, the sales staff can then go to hybrid vehicle makers and let them know they’ll have a very targeted audience for their ads that issue, which should make it easier for them to get the sale.
But why should you use an editorial calendar? You can have a blog post finished and live within minutes. You don’t need to deliver your camera-ready content to the printers, get your publication on the newsstand, or leap over any of the hurdles that the staff at major magazines face every day, right?
Not exactly. You do face a few of the same problems. First, you need a regular supply of fresh content; without it, you will see your traffic drop off. Which of course brings us to our second point: you need a readership, and thanks to magazines, many readers expect to see new content on a regular basis. Third, if you’re doing this for money, you probably need advertisers – and advertisers like to know what to expect.
An editorial calendar can help you with all of these issues and more. Not everybody uses one, but they seem to be a manifestation of the increasing professionalism of bloggers these days. If you want to be taken seriously as a journalist, it helps if you act the part. The responsibility for creating an editorial calendar usually lies with the editor-in-chief, but if you’re a blogger you’re the equivalent of your publication’s “chief cook and bottle washer,” as my dad used to say – string reporter, publisher, and yes, editor-in-chief.
One of the biggest advantages of an editorial calendar is the most obvious. If you know what’s coming up, you can plan around it – get the research done in advance, polish the writing, make sure all the images are in place, contact anyone you need to, etc. The posts you present will be more polished and less rushed; they’ll be both a pleasure to read and to write.
Your struggles with figuring out what to post will end once you have an editorial calendar in place. Since you’ll have the topics all laid out for you, your work is already a third to halfway done. This may not entirely prevent writer’s block, but it makes it a lot less likely.
Editorial calendars also fight writer’s block’s disreputable cousin: procrastination. If you can see in black and white pixels that you WILL go live on Tuesday with “Ten Ways to Improve Your YouTube Videos,” you’ll probably start writing that little masterpiece all the sooner (assuming you don’t get too caught up in the research!). An editorial calendar makes concrete a promise you’ve made to yourself. If you’re like me, it’s easier to keep that kind of promise than something that stays in the head; this is why people are encouraged to spell out their goals in writing, after all.
Editorial calendars are also a promise you make to your readers. If you choose to make your editorial calendar public, as many bloggers who use them do, they will know what to expect every day you post. This means that they can make it a point to come by your site whenever they know you will be posting on a topic that interests them. You can even ask your readers what they would like to see you cover regularly, which can help you flesh out your calendar.
If your blog features more than one writer, and you’re striving for professionalism, an editorial calendar is practically a must. It’s a time-tested way to coordinate several writers at once. Also, if you do have multiple writers for your blog, an editorial calendar lends it an air of stability and continuity that it might not have otherwise.
If you do sell display ads or other advertising on your blog, an editorial calendar will help you by letting potential advertisers know what to expect. You can focus on the ones who would be interested in readers seeing their ad near particular content. If you’re writing a blog for re-enactors, and you’re trying to convince a maker of findings for jewelry to advertise with you, chances are he’ll be a lot more interested if you can show him on your editorial calendar that you have an upcoming series on reproducing the look of period jewelry by making it yourself.
After you’ve worked with an editorial calendar for a while, you will have statistics for your web site that show you which items bring more traffic. For example, if you notice a spike in traffic on Wednesdays, and that’s when you usually publish an interview with a small business owner in your community, you know that your readership is interested in this topic. You might tweak your other weekly topics to give them a more local focus and see if that increases your traffic, or do a “Starting a Small Business Checklist” on days when you run lists, or explore other reasons that readers were drawn to those articles by bringing those angles into other items.
An editorial calendar can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be; use whatever works to keep you motivated and posting consistently. You should probably start with some kind of calendaring software; an Excel spreadsheet can do the trick, or try Google Calendar. You might not even need to get anything new at all; plenty of calendar creators simply use a word processing document.
Start by deciding how many days you won’t post. That may sound counter-intuitive, but for the really hardcore it can help to build that in from the beginning. It’s strangely easy to forget. You’ll also want to allow time for research. Finally, figure out how many days per week you’ll post. Those of you who maintain multiple blogs or otherwise post more than once a day on a regular basis (mazel tov!) face a more difficult juggling act, but the basic idea is the same.
The next step involves brainstorming. That can go a number of ways. At the simplest level, you come up with categories or formats for each day of the week you’ll be posting, and write to those formats. For example, suppose you write a blog aimed at people trying to get and stay organized. You’ve decided you’re going to post five days a week, Monday through Friday. Your schedule might look something like this:
- Monday: Getting and keeping your office organized.
- Tuesday: Helping your kids get and stay organized.
- Wednesday: Housework – keeping your house clean and everything in its place. (Could include an occasional special focus on the kitchen).
- Thursday: Organizing your hobby supplies.
- Friday: Great web services to help you get organized (I.e. Google Calendar) alternating with reader tips.
With all of the categories laid out neatly for you like this, you can get a number of articles done in advance, giving you some serious peace of mind. You won’t have to worry so much about not being able to blog on a particular day because you’re sick or your system is down, leading to a lack of new content!
If you feel that using topics is too confining, you can always focus on formats. For example, you might have a day when you do lists (top ten of this, top five of that), interviews, reviews (books, articles, web sites, whatever is appropriate for your blog), business profiles, detailed how-to instructions…the list is endless.
In the previous section I gave you the bare bones instructions for how to construct a simple, relatively primitive editorial calendar. For many bloggers, it is probably enough. If you want to take your blogging to the next level and feel that you would really benefit from the extra structure, you might want to set up your editorial calendar to cover an entire year. That’s not nearly as overwhelming as it sounds, or at least it doesn’t have to be.
Angela Booth wrote a post on the topic in BloggingTips. She described it as a four-step process. You start by choosing seven to ten categories for blog posts. You should create these categories with the search engines in mind; they need to attract attention. Maybe you do a travel blog; one of the topics could be traveling on the cheap (entire blogs could be devoted to that topic alone, but I think you get my point). Other topics could be family-friendly destinations, educational vacations, and so forth.
The next step is to brainstorm five blog post ideas for each category. Let’s take up the topic of educational vacations. Your list might look like this:
- Touring historic Williamsburg
- A trip to Huntsville, Alabama’s Space Camp
- Planning a vacation around visiting museums
- North Carolina’s John C. Campbell Folk School
- Vocation Vacation: The vacation that lets you test-drive a new career
If you do this for ten categories, Booth points out, you now have 50 ideas for blog posts, which should put you well on your way to filling your blog with tons of fresh content.
If you have a staff or regular group of writers, the third step is to inform your staff. You could have brought them in on the brainstorming process if you wanted to, of course. They can pick which of the articles they want to do. Make sure you have firm dates for when each article will be finished and when it will go live.
If you’re writing your blog yourself, of course, this step is somewhat easier. Take your lists and put your topics in the appropriate places on your calendar. Fifty topics gives you one for each week of the year, with two weeks off for own vacation. You’ll need to do more brainstorming if you’re going to post more often than once a week, of course, but this is a start.
Finally, once you’ve solidified your editorial calendar to your own satisfaction, you should announce your calendar on your blog. This way your readers and potential advertisers will know what to expect. Congratulations! You’re giving them – and you – something to look forward to.