how to create a content calendar

For many, many, MANY writers, the process of blogging begins like this:

Step One: Realize you promised yourself you’d write a blog post today.

Step Two: Sit down to write the blog post.

Step Three: Stare at an empty screen and struggle to come up with an idea to write about.

Step Four becomes one of three things, for most people in about equal degrees of frequency:

  • Give up and go do something else, skipping that day’s post entirely.
  • Write a tepid blog post about something you finally come up with.
  • Get inspired and write a pretty good post.

This, to use a technical term, sucks. But what if I told you there was a better way? What if I told you that way not only prevented that kind of blog blocking, but also helped your entire blog perform better on search engines? What if I told you it would even save you time while writing?

I’m going to tell you all of those things. Welcome to the brave (not so) new world of:

Content Calendars.

What Is a Content Calendar?

A content calendar is a list of what you’re going to write about, and when you’re going to write it. If you want to go big, you can also include tasks for sharing your work on social media and analyzing results to improve the next post you write.

But at its simplest, a content calendar is a to-do list you write when you’re at your most creative, which you then cross off when you’re at your most productive. It accomplishes three things that will improve the quality of your blogging life.

1. Content calendars reduce writer’s block.

You’ll never sit down at the keyboard and wonder what to write. You’ll know already, and you’ll have spent time at least subconsciously thinking about how you’re going to write it.

2. Content calendars improve site performance.

Because you map out your blog topics ahead of time, you can write strategically to serve the trends that drive searches. You can also organize your posting to maximize internal linking, and content clusters, both of which can help your site rank higher on searches.

3. Content calendars help you write faster.

By knowing what you’re going to write about ahead of time, you often sit down with a basic outline and theme already in mind. That means less time beating your head against a blank screen, and more time creating compelling content.

Sold?

Excellent. Let’s talk about how you make one happen.

Step-by-Step Guide to Content Calendars

You want a content calendar? Great! Make a content calendar. Stat with:

Step One: Determine How Many Posts You Need

This is simple math. Most blogs get their best results with one or two high-quality posts per week. Multiply the number of weeks you want to plan for by the number of posts per week.

If you’re doing a quarter’s worth of posts, that’s 12 weeks. At two posts per week, you’ll need to plan out 24 posts.

Step Two: Assign Dates for Each Post

Decide when you’ll put each post up. Blogs get the best results from posting predictably, so base the dates around appearing on consistent days of the week.

For the 24 posts in our example, we’ll say we put a new post up every Tuesday and Thursday, then look up the dates for the quarter we’re planning to write within.

Step Three: Look for Impactful Events

Scan the dates of your posts and the yearly calendar, event calendars for your industry, school calendars, local calendars, and any other source which might tell you when something might be on everybody’s lips. For example:

  • A tech blog will want to write about CES in February
  • A blog by a children’s author will want to incorporate summer break
  • A sports website should include mention of the Super Bowl, March Madness, and the Olympics

You get the idea. On the dates around those events, find ways to write about things that have to do with them. Get as creative as you want to — as creative as possible — but take advantage of the trends in reader interest to generate free views and shares.

If our 24 posts were to be made in a blog supporting my sci-fi novel fall in quarter two (April – July), I’d want to be sure to include my local iteration of ComicCon and the premiers of any sci-fi blockbusters released in early summer.

Step Four: Create at Least One Series

As you plan the rest of your blog posts, make at least one series of four or more posts. These should discuss one particular topic or subtopic in depth, and link internally between each of the posts.

A series of posts works like any other kind of serial publication. If the first posts are excellent, people will look forward to the next posts. That builds momentum and readership in a way individual posts don’t.

Besides, I find writing a series is less work that writing stand-alone posts. A lot of creative energy applies across every post in the batch.

For our example, I would do a geeky, creative series of posts where I statted out all the major characters in my book for one or more popular tabletop role-playing games. That would definitely pique the interest of a whole bunch of my core set of readers.

Step Five: Brainstorm the Rest

Take your most creative time and simply assign ideas to all the open slots. This isn’t a complex concept, but can be tough like any brainstorming session.

But really, it’s just a matter of sitting down and thinking about awesome content until you fill all of the slots. In our example, I’d sit down with a couple of friends and some beer, then make a list of blog topics ranging from the writing process, to cool science discoveries related to my world, to reviews of books I like, until I’d filled the entire calendar.

Break the Rules Once You Make the Rules

Like most forms of organization, a content calendar is not meant to be a straitjacket. You should always feel free to step “off script” if you have a better idea.

If you get jumped by inspiration and can write just the best ever blog post on another topic, write that instead of what you had originally planned for that day.

If something in the news requires you to respond or comment, write about that instead of what the content calendar says.

If you finish a book you want to review or talk about, write that review instead of what you originally planned.

You get the idea.

Even if you end up with a better idea for every single post you write this quarter, having a calendar and deviating from it is better than working without a calendar at all. Just remember that it’s also better than forcing yourself to stick with your plan even if you’re more excited to blog about something else.

Now: Your Turn

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go forth and create a content calendar for the next 3 months. Take the process we talked about above and go through it step by step. When you’re done, you’ll have a listing of blog posts and dates of posting for the coming quarter.

If you’re of a mind, share them in the comments. We’d love to see what you come up with!

And for more on blogging and generating reader interest on social media, read on!

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Jason Brick

Jason Brick is a professional writer, martial artist, travel addict, and dad whose work has been published across multiple genres and formats. He has contributed over 3,000 articles and short stories to print magazines and online sites on topics ranging from home improvement, to health and wellness, to cocktail recipes, to small business management. Some of Jason’s top-level corporate clients include Black Belt and Thrillist magazines, American Express, Intuit, and Mint.com. Find him online at Brick Comma Jason.