How to Strategize Your Annual Content Calendar Without Going Crazy

December 14th, 2015

How to Strategize Your Annual Content Calendar Without Going Crazy

Remember that time when you wrote content to promote a new product the day before it launched? What about the campaign you nearly forgot to create for the event on Monday—but it’s Friday right now?

Well, if you don’t remember, I certainly do. I’ve been there. And it sucks.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could seriously get ahead with your content strategy to actually plan your work, then work your plan?  And what if you didn’t have to compete for attention because you’re creating content that your audience will love?

As marketers, it’s time for us to become project managers, too. And it doesn’t have to be complicated (trust me on this).

The magical thing that will save us from a cringe-worthy, flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants state is a well-thought-out, well-managed content calendar. It sounds simple, and it is. You just have to actually do it.

Step 1: Start With Your Content Calendar Template

You can grab one here from us at CoSchedule to get you started. Print it to start your brainstorming, or open Evernote, Google Docs—whatever you need to do to not just read this post, but turn your new knowledge into an actionable content strategy you’ll execute for the coming year.

Step 2: Find Your Blue Ocean

There are millions of blogs, and make no mistake, a lot of them are in your niche. Have you noticed that a lot of them sound like…well…the exact same thing over and over?

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote a book called the Blue Ocean Strategy. In it, they break down two types of businesses, calling them red oceans and blue oceans. You can apply their idea to your blog and marketing in general to help you plan a content calendar that will help you stand out from your competition.

content calendar

Red Ocean, Blue Ocean…?

Red ocean content is the kind that competes in existing markets, practically begging for audience attention. Because of this, nearly every piece seems very similar to another—which will only give you meager growth.

On the other hand, you have blue ocean content. This is how you create your own market without competition, taking a very unique approach to stand out and capture new demand.

If your content sounds like a red ocean right now, that’s fine—it’s probably why you’re reading this post. It’s time to review what your blog stands for so you can plan your content calendar to stand out.

Red ocean content typically:

  • Has me-too headlines that could exist on any of your competitor’s blogs and websites.
  • Covers similar topics again and again with the same solution over and over.
  • Targets keywords with massive amounts of monthly searches to capture traditional organic traffic.

 

Blue ocean content is uniquely different because you’ll analyze what your competitors are doing and create something unique yourself that no one has done before.

How to Plan Your Content Calendar With a Blue Ocean Strategy

Get started by researching the big competition in your current market and documenting how they’re marketing today. You could look at:

  • The types of headlines and topics they’re covering.
  • The length, design, tone, and general quality of the content they’re publishing.
  • The audience they’re targeting with their messaging.
  • How they’re generating traffic and focusing on converting that traffic into paying customers.

 

From there, you have a pretty good idea of what not to do with your content. It’s time to do something different.

Brainstorm the topics your readers really care about that your competition is ignoring. Think beyond headlines and keywords right now and really dive deep into your readers’ problems and biggest fears.

Our co-founder at CoSchedule, Garrett, constantly challenges me to do this by asking, “Why?” to every answer of a question until I’m about 50 whys deep. It’s a tactic Simon Sinek dives into, too, (although slightly differently) in a really awesome TedTalk you should watch right now. This process really gets you thinking about your audience’s problems, goals, and the reasons they’d read your content instead of others.

Q: What topic should we cover on our blog?

A: Agile marketing processes

Q: Why?

Let yourself go down the rabbit hole and see how deep it goes. You may be surprised at the number of topics you come up with, and how you can connect those topics deeply into what your readers care about.

content calendar

Write down the best topics—no matter how many—and rank them according to importance for your readers, coupled with a ranking factor of some kind for your product or service.

You’ve found your blue ocean that will help you flesh out an awesome content calendar.

Step 3: Complete the 3 Stages of Content Calendaring

Magazines are arguably one of the first publications to rock content calendars. Most focus on a different theme or topic every month because they’re monthly publications. Their content calendars do this traditionally to help their customers (marketers) know how to connect their advertisements into the big picture of each magazine issue.

While that’s a pretty specific use case, there are a few things content marketers can glean from magazines to rock a successful content calendar:

The Topic Calendar

There are a few things to consider for your topic calendar:

  • When is your business planning new product launches?
  • When are there specific events in your industry, region, or company?
  • What holidays will require your support?

 

You could probably think of a few more questions you could ask yourself that are very specific to your niche, community, or business. Brainstorm the answers, and add them into your content calendar.

Your topic calendar takes a blank slate and adds relevance. From there, it’s easier to break a topic into the types of content you’d like to create.

content calendar

Even though you might have topics that could span an entire year, you’ll want to review the data from the content you’re publishing to improve your calendar based on three important questions:

  • What is performing well?
  • What is performing poorly?
  • How can we improve?

 

You may have guessed it, but you can ask yourself, “Why?” with all of those questions to really iterate upon your current strategy.

So while you could plan your entire year at once, I’d advocate an agile, iterative approach, so you can use your own data to improve every piece of content you publish throughout the year. Let’s take a look at that.

The Campaign Calendar

This is when you actually dive into the details to break down your events and topics into the actual content you’ll create. From there, you can add these pieces right into your content calendar to find the perfect balance of publishing amount versus the resources you have to complete the projects.

Break Your Topics Into Content

At this stage, you’ll:

 

For every piece of content on your calendar, you’ll want to include a few things for your team to help them create what you’re expecting without a lot of running around trying to find the answers:

  • A potential headline to lay out the subject and angle of the content.
  • A summary of what the content will cover.
  • The keyword your content will target (if appropriate—remember, you’re trying to avoid red ocean content).
  • The goal of the piece so your team can figure out how to measure success.

 

You could probably think of a few other things you need in this creative brief that would help your team jump into the project like rock stars. The main point is to answer as many questions as you can before they ever start the project to help them feel involved and empowered to create the best content ever.

content calendar creative guidelines

Here’s an example of how you can plan your content in your CoSchedule content calendar.

Add Your Content to Your Calendar

Right about now, you might ask yourself how you can publish consistent content. If you’re just now switching up your new publishing process with blue ocean content, I’d challenge you to focus on publishing really good stuff first to build the skills you’ll need before focusing on consistency.

The main question to ask yourself is this, “What matters to my audience more: Great content or consistency?” Then, “How can I publish great content consistently?” Use your answers—which will be uniquely your own based on your team and the resources available to you—to plan exactly when and how much you’ll publish your content.

Plan the actual content you’ll create on your calendar for the next month or two. Here’s a handy guide—targeting how to improve your blog schedule with this method—that will help you establish a solid content core as you improve your consistency. That gives you time to learn from your success and failure to improve your content, review your consistency to publish more, and mature with your readers’ expectations.

The Promotion Calendar

Creating content without promoting it is like hosting a party without sending out invitations. You’ll end up with a lot of really cool stuff people would love, but they just won’t know it exists.

Until now, you’ve been focusing on all of the action that happens before you publish a great piece of content. But even before you hit that publish button, there are a few things you can work through to get the most attention for your content as possible:

  • Schedule messages for social media. We recommend sharing new content at publish, throughout the same day, the day after you publish, three days later, a week later, two weeks later, and following that same schedule a month later if your content is still getting the results you’re looking for. Our soon-to-be-released research shows you can tweet 15 times a day, post on Google+ 2 times every weekday, share to Facebook once a day, post on LinkedIn once every weekday, and Pin nine times a day. That’s a ton of opportunity for sharing your content.
  • Write an email to send to your subscribers. MailChimp did some research that suggests the best days to send email are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the best time to send is around 10 a.m.
  • Include a link to the post in your weekly newsletter. Most bloggers publish 2–3 times a week, so combining those posts—along with curating some of the cool stuff from around the Web—in an email newsletter is another way to share your content.
  • Participate in aggregate sites like BizSugar, reddit, and Boxnutt. You can also answer questions in forums with links to your content—just open Google and search”intitle:forum” + [your niche keyword].
  • Advertise your content. You just spent hours re-imagining your industry in a blue ocean and creating the best content—it’s worth it to pay to share that with a larger audience. Think about promoting your content via remarketing and search engine marketing with Google Adwords and related content advertising with tools like Outbrain and Taboola.

 

I’m sure you can think of other ways to share your content with your unique audience. You can manage this process as part of your content calendar by understanding when to work on promotion and holding someone accountable for its execution rather than leaving the finding of your content to fate.

content calendar promotion

You can manage your spoke promotion schedule right in your CoSchedule content calendar as you create your hub content.

Think of your content as a hub, while promotion as spokes. The more spokes, the more stable the hub.

Even long after you publish a piece of content, you may find it important to assign tasks to your team to keep the promotion running.

Step 4: Publish, Iterate, and Habitualize

CoSchedule is a startup, so much of our strategizing comes from an agile project management style developers use to complete the projects that have the biggest impact on growth. Part of being agile includes knowing when to change things up quickly, and it’s a technique you’ll need to make your content calendar successful.

There are a ton of things about agile project management that you’ll love:

Define the Projects You’ll Work On in Short Sprints

Sprints are a way to help your team focus on one clear objective at a time to create all of the content you need quickly. They’re typically two weeks long, so you could plan two-week campaigns.

Collaborate as a Team to Come Up With the Projects You’ll Create During Your Sprint

You thought about this as you gave your team a creative brief to answer as many questions as possible before they jump into the work. While some direction is necessary, creatives often need their autonomy to give you their best work.

This collaboration gives your team the opportunity to participate in fleshing out the details of every project, including coming up with new growth hacks that will help you promote your content.

Help your team collaborate to understand who is doing what, how handoffs will take place, and when you’ll publish and distribute your content. Your team is into the details, so empower them to manage the projects as they see fit to hit every deadline.

Maintain a Marketing Project Backlog Instead of Bending for Urgent Requests

As new ideas come to the table, collect them as projects you could complete in a future sprint—but don’t let them interrupt the work you’re doing currently that you already planned into your content calendar.

When you’re sprinting, your team lead is the only person who can change the direction in which you’re heading. That keeps your team focused on projects that really make a difference, instead of getting sidetracked by urgent requests. The lead handles the disruptions, while the team works on creating the content.

Treat Every Project as a Learning Opportunity

After the end of every sprint, plan time to review the experience you just received. The short cycles give you the chance to inspect and adapt before you start working through your next topic on your content calendar.

Turn All of That Into a Habit

From here, that whole “habitualize” thing comes into play.

It might take a little effort to change up your entire content creation process to focus on a blue ocean strategy, translate that into your content calendar, and execute it with agile project management. I could see how that looks scary. But if you’re reading this, how is your current process working out for you, really?

Try this new approach for your content calendar consistently for at least six months, and I guarantee it will help you develop better content, stand out from your competition, work with your team more efficiently than ever before, meet every deadline, and improve every piece of content you publish.

When You’re Ready to Plan a Better Content Calendar…

You can definitely use this information and rock a spreadsheet to manage your content calendar. But that’s not a tool designed for marketers like you to help you improve your project management.

That’s why you should start your extended 30-day free trial of your CoSchedule content calendar.

Good luck as you get started with your new blue ocean content calendar!

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