Matthew Kaplan

Legos were one of my favorite toys as a child. I could spend hours building random structures and creatures out of the mismatched blocks. The only problem was that the final products were never as good as I’d want them to be. See, I’d establish a rough idea in my head and then blindly build, only to discover a finished product that looked more like a horrid knockoff of a Picasso painting than a mansion.

This problem is not unique to kids. It’s something that plagues content marketers, too.

Sure, you may start a content strategy with a grand vision of what you want to achieve and roughly what will help you get there. But, without a handy step-by-step guide leading you along the way, what you see at the end of six months or a year will likely bear no resemblance to your initial grand plan.

This is why the fastest way to content marketing results is to document your strategy.

At the end of the day, you need a blueprint to follow to make sure your overall content marketing vision actually comes to fruition. In the world of content creation, this means creating a content calendar. A good content calendar provides the nuts and bolts about what specifically you will be creating and posting over time to see long-term results.

Here are seven steps to creating a great content calendar:

Step 1: Start with your goals

It’s hard to reach your end destination if you don’t know what it looks like. Before you even get around to putting topics down on paper, it’s important to define the desired end goal for all of your stakeholders.

This process will help you frame out the topics and formats in your content calendar. Here are some examples:

  • Are you working toward traffic? You will need assets that build your search presence, use core keywords and catch readers’ eyes.

  • Are you attempting to build brand awareness? You will need to produce content that defines your company’s identity and reaches new audiences.

  • Are you looking to generate more leads? You need to have resources with clear value that nurture interested browsers into prospective buyers.

When you know the purpose of the content you’re creating, it’s easier to measure whether or not it’s working, so you stick to your goals.

Step 2: Brainstorm topic categories

Once you know your goals for the content, create a list of the topic categories you want to cover. Some companies do this based on audience, others do it based on product verticals.

For audience personas, you might have topic categories broken down by:

  • Age groups: Millennials, baby boomers and seniors

  • Job titles: Administrators, managers and VPs

  • Buyer behaviors: Laggards, early adopters and savvy users

For business offerings, you might have topic categories broken down by:

  • Product verticals: Cat toys, dog toys, etc.

  • Budget: Small biz solutions, mid-size solutions, enterprise

Step 3: Ask your stakeholders about common pain points

One really good way to kickstart the brainstorming process is to get as many customers, clients and internal stakeholders as possible in a room together, and ask all of them about their jobs and some of their common pain points.

Admittedly, I’m stealing this idea from Hollie Farrahi, but it’s too good not to share. This helps you learn what customers really care about, and then craft the content around how your business addresses those concerns and provides concrete value to them.

Using the information in the content calendar from step one, and then from the big company-wide chat session, I like to invite all of the people creating the content into one room to come up with some options. These days a good content marketing strategy involves multiple elements, and it’s beneficial to have many creative people with different backgrounds coming together to develop interesting ideas that speak to your brand and your audience.

Step 4: Create a list of ideal headlines

Start brainstorming headlines that fall under each of these categories, reflect your stakeholders’ input and align with your brand’s identity.

This is an important opportunity to build your brand’s identity. All of our clients fill out a creative brief, so our content team has a clear understanding of how everything should sound and look. That way, your writers, editors, videographers and graphic designers are always on the same page throughout the content creation process as far as underlying messages and brand values are concerned. This is how you promote consistent branding through your content.

brainstorming headlines

Need headline help? Here are some resources to check out:

Step 5: Pick your formats

As we’ve noted before here, you need at least 251 ideas in a year for a full content marketing strategy. That means you need to start brainstorming ideas early and often for a diverse calendar of content.

With the headlines you’ve brainstormed for each category, pick out content ideas that are best suited for written formats, visuals or video projects. Some will lend themselves naturally to a specific format, such as:

  • Infographics

  • Blog posts

  • White papers

  • Animations

Make sure you have realistic deadlines set for these projects. A white paper or an animation will take longer to produce than a blog post, so plan for those assets to go live later in the calendar.

It’s a good idea to stagger the go-live dates to accommodate production time and promotion plans. You don’t want your most valuable assets competing with each other for attention. It’s better to drive steady results to your website with regular blog posts and high-investments resources mixed in. This timing allows for each asset to be appropriately promoted so it reaches its maximum potential.

Step 6: Pen the calendar

Now that you have a strong vision of what you want to cover, what formats you want it to take and where it all fits together, it’s time to get those dates on paper (or in a Google Doc).

We recommend spacing your content out, so you have assets going live throughout the week (or even scheduled to publish over the weekend). Plan to publish bigger projects, such as infographics and white papers or videos intermittently – once a month or once a quarter, based on your content resources.

Even something as basic as posting more on Tuesdays instead of Mondays, or using “simple” instead of “easy” in headlines, can make a world of difference.

Step 7: Analyze and revise based on the results

Analytics is near and dear to my heart, and I don’t think you can create a successful content calendar without hard data.

You should check in on things after you’ve been following your calendar for about three months or so, and then every one to three months after that. That data will be critical in telling you what is and is not working about your calendar.

Even something as basic as posting more on Tuesdays instead of Mondays, or using “simple” instead of “easy” in headlines, can make a world of difference as far as what does and doesn’t work with your audience. Be sure you’re using analytics data appropriately when crafting your calendar over time.

A good content calendar is not static, and should change and evolve over time. You’ll know you have a good one in place when everyone involved in your content marketing strategy is working seamlessly together and you’re seeing great results. You can attempt to start a content marketing strategy without one, but be prepared for a mess of a result in the end. Like a fine classical conductor, your content calendar keeps everyone on the same page and in tune, so that the end result over time is a masterpiece.