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How to Create a Content Calendar

Here’s what you need to know to develop an effective content calendar — and what mistakes to avoid.

Creating a Content Calendar Hero

By Rebecca Au-Mullaney

What is a content calendar?

A content calendar, also known as an editorial calendar, is a tool used to anticipate and visualize the upcoming content on your organization’s blog or content hub. It can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as elaborate as a custom-built project in a project management tool, but the governing principle is the same. A content calendar gives you a systematic way to plan your content, so you and your team can work more efficiently, identify opportunities and ensure your content is covering all of the bases it needs to.

How do I start my content calendar?

Before you create your content calendar, you need a content strategy to identify the audience, goals and topics of your content hub or blog. Drawing from your content strategy, start mapping out the kinds of content you plan to produce. Keep the following puzzle pieces in mind as you map out your content:

  • Content types. Plan for a variety of content types — articles, listicles, Q&As, how-to guides, interactive charts, quizzes, photo essays, explainers and more.
  • Categories. Make sure you’re checking off multiple categories every month and not focusing on just one or two. For example, a destination marketing organization might want to hit food and drink, arts and culture and family-friendly activities all in one month.
  • Audiences. Include a field in your calendar where you can identify the audience(s) for each piece. This way you’ll ensure you’re reaching your various target groups on a regular basis.
  • Seasonal content needs. Think about the seasonal topics that make sense for your organization to cover and how you’ll approach them in fresh ways. Healthcare organizations, for example, would anticipate that consumers are thinking about diet and exercise in January and preventing skin cancer in the summer.
  • Calls to action. Every piece of content you create should encourage your audience to take an action — schedule, book, sign up, register. Including a call to action in the planning phase will ensure this crucial piece of the puzzle doesn’t get forgotten.

Tip: If your organization has an existing blog, audit the last year of content to see the average number of posts per week and the range of topics covered. This can serve as a benchmark for the upcoming cycle.

Once you’ve written down each of your content types, categories, audiences, seasonal needs and CTAs, draft sample headlines under each month in your plan. Use the truly evergreen topics to fill out lighter months.

How far in advance should I plan my content calendar?

The cadence of your content calendar — annual, quarterly, monthly — depends on the needs of your organization. Higher education organizations, for example, might find it easiest to plan three times a year for the fall, spring and summer semesters. Whatever pace you choose, we recommend planning at least six weeks in advance to allow time to commission articles, research, edit, optimize for search, secure photography and conduct the necessary reviews.

How do I format my editorial ideas into a content calendar?

The simplest way to construct a content calendar is to make a spreadsheet that includes a column for each field you want to track. Here’s a list of sample fields:

  • Headline
  • Writer
  • SEO Information
  • Category
  • Content Type
  • Images/Media
  • Target Post Date
  • Status

Keep in mind that producing content can take several weeks from start to finish, so a spreadsheet or a project management tool (especially for larger, more collaborative teams) is valuable to keep content moving through the workflow.

What are the biggest mistakes to avoid when creating a content calendar?

Don’t let your content efforts get derailed by these missteps.

  • Focusing internally. It’s a mistake to primarily consider your internal audience when planning your editorial calendar. You can use email to share company updates; your content hub should speak to your target audiences and encourage them to take action.
  • Skipping SEO. Let the data speak! As you’re drafting a headline, conduct keyword research so your writer can be sure to include the relevant keywords, not just in the headline, but throughout the piece. Optimizing for search will help more readers discover your content and help raise brand awareness.
  • Forgetting about imagery. There are a lot of great (free!) sources of imagery like Pixabay or Unsplash, or the Noun Project for icons. But if your organization is able to commission original photography, you’ll need to dedicate a portion of your content process to planning, editing and approving imagery that accompanies each piece.
  • Resisting innovation. It might save time in the short run to do things the way they’ve always been done, but that approach is going to hold you back in the long run. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new content types or topics — as long as they are in line with your overall strategy.

Let’s Create a Content Calendar Together

Are you ready to rethink your editorial calendar? We’d love to help you out.


Rebecca Au Mullaney Blue
Rebecca Au-Mullaney Editor

Rebecca has more than a decade of experience in nonprofit, healthcare and higher education marketing, with roles ranging from alumni magazine editor-in-chief to director of strategic communications. At C/A, she spearheads content programs for clients such as the Osteosarcoma Institute and Rutgers University.

When she’s not working, Rebecca can be found exploring every park in a 30-minute radius with her two young daughters. She enjoys journaling, painting and talking big ideas with her husband and friends.

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