What is a content calendar?
Let’s start with a clear definition. A content calendar is a schedule of all the content you’re going to publish. It’s also known as a content marketing calendar.
It shows what content you’ll publish and when on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis, depending on your content strategy.
Here is an example of our 2021 content calendar:
Want to use ours as a template? No problem—click the button below to get it sent right to your inbox.
Some people use the term “editorial calendar” in place of “content calendar”, but we find that term to be restrictive unless your content is solely written content like blogs, case studies, or whitepapers.
It’s also worth noting that a content calendar is different from a content strategy. A content strategy covers what content you’re going to post while a content calendar is simply a tool for mapping out when it will be published and who’s responsible for it. There is a bit of overlap between the two, but their objectives are different. We often see the terms used interchangeably so we wanted to make that distinction clear to avoid any confusion. We cover the basics of what a content strategy is and how to build one below, too.
Why is a content calendar important?
Imagine how difficult cooking even a simple meal would be if the recipe, all of your ingredients, cooking tools, and appliances were in different rooms. You’d take one item out of a fridge, run to another room to get a cutting board, another for the knife, back to the first room to chop it up, then into another room to start cooking it. It sounds ridiculous, right?
Planning your content without a calendar is kind of like that. You’re unorganized. You don’t know when you have to do what. And you’re always running around to figure out what to do. A content calendar keeps things clear, easy to follow, and with the info you need in one place—and all it takes is just a bit of up-front planning.
These are a few key benefits of having a content calendar:
1. You avoid frustration and wasting time
Having a content calendar ensures you always know what you need to do so you can allocate your time and resources effectively, and meet your deadlines. You won’t be left wondering what’s next. Your calendar is your single source of truth.
By planning ahead, you also allow yourself time to review your content and ensure it aligns with your brand and business goals. And it gives the creator of the content lots of time to know what’s due and when, which helps you avoid rush jobs and elevates the quality of the content they create.
2. You have a bird’s eye view of your content strategy
A content calendar shows all the tangible media (e.g., written, visual, downloadable) you need to create over a period of time.
When looking at yours, you should be able to answer most of these questions:
- What will you produce and publish?
- Do you have enough content to publish?
- What channels will they publish on?
- Is it owned or paid?
- What content formats are you focusing on?
- Who will be responsible for creation (writing/design/video)?
- When will be the deadline for each piece of content?
- Do you already plan content for major events and holiday seasons?
3. You maintain a consistent publishing cadence
“Post consistently” is one of the most common tips you’ll get from experts, whether you’re trying to increase your web traffic or social media followers.
A content calendar gives you the flexibility to plan, create, and distribute your content in a consistent way. For example, if you have more content than usual, you can move some to the following weeks. Or, if you notice the calendar for next week is light, you can add more content and schedule them at appropriate times.
Just make sure that if you do need to move content around to fill in gaps, that you’re doing so with holidays, events, and other time-sensitive matters in mind. After all, you don’t want to promote a conference your company will be at a week after it’s over.
4. You can plan around important events
Upcoming holidays are an excellent opportunity to market products and build brand awareness. So a strong content calendar will always plan ahead for such occasions.
Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veterans Day, Back to School—there are so many annual events that you can prepare content for to promote your brand.
Starting as early as possible is the key to have a successful holiday marketing campaign. If you leave everything for the last minute, you might find yourself in a position where it’s impossible to create good content and time. And that often means missing a golden opportunity to drive tons of sales for your business.
With a content calendar in place, you always know when you need to take action.
5. You keep your team informed and accountable
Creating a content calendar allows everyone in your team to see how their efforts work together. They know their responsibilities and how they’re helping to achieve business goals.
One person should own the calendar and update it regularly. Some might take charge of creating content. Some will review, edit, and publish drafts to the blog. Others might handle the promotion part like sharing, link building, guest blogging, etc.
Once assembled, your content calendar can show the big picture of all marketing efforts and how they support each other.
Let’s take a closer look at what the essential elements of a good content calendar are.
What should a content calendar include?
A content calendar can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. How it looks like and what it includes can depend on your needs and even your industry.
That said, there are five elements that every content calendar should have, as shown below.
1. Type of content
Type refers to the format of your content you’re publishing. It could be:
- Blog posts, infographics, or other website content
- Social media posts
- Email campaigns
- Ad campaigns
- Print magazines, brochures, newsletters
Who owns any given task? This element is necessary as it prevents anything from slipping between the cracks by showing who’s responsible for the creation (or at least the management) of each piece of content. That could be a freelance writer, your in-house designer, a project stakeholder, or, of course, you.
3. First draft date
For written content, this shows the deadline you give your writers or yourself to complete the first draft of each content piece. For visual content, this can include initial wireframes, photography, or storyboards. Either way, a first draft date is important to allow for revisions, design, proofing, and publishing.
4. Live date
When do you plan to publish the content? The live date tells you when the blog post publishes, the video is uploaded to your social channels, or the email is sent out to your email list. Be sure to create some room between draft and live dates for feedback, revisions, and any other production considerations.
Where do you publish or promote your content? Do you share it on your Instagram account or Facebook groups? Do you send a newsletter to your email subscribers? Do you post it on other websites? Or both?
Promotional channels let you define where and/or how a piece of content will be shared or promoted.
While creating an effective content calendar can seem daunting at first, it’s actually pretty simple when you break it down to its most-basic elements.
Just put in your content type, assign owners, set dates, and pick channels to promote your content—you can do these in minutes.
Keep in mind that a content calendar is a living document and it probably won’t be perfect the first time you fill it out. You’ll end up adding and remove projects, or changing the scope of things as the business requires. But to help you avoid as many mistakes as possible, let’s look at what some of the more common ones are.
Common mistakes made when creating a content calendar
Mistakes. Everyone makes them. Here are some of the more common mistakes that content marketers make when planning out their calendars—especially if it’s their first time.
1. Publishing too much
You need to publish consistently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to post content several times a day. In fact, as a small business owner, that kind of volume would pull your attention away from other things that are more important to your business.
Typical guidelines for a large business (with big marketing departments) would be 3-4 blog posts a week, with anywhere from 1-15 social posts on various social networks a day. That’s to say nothing of any email or ad campaigns. Obviously, not sustainable for an entrepreneur or small business.
For a solo entrepreneur, a blog post and a handful of social posts a week would be a good goal to set.
A small business with a marketing team could expect to pump out a couple of blog posts a week as well as daily social posts.
Truthfully, it varies depending on business needs and priorities. But the most important thing to consider when thinking about post frequency is: focus on consistency and quality first, volume last.
2. Never using it
Have you ever planned out your entire day and ended up not sticking to your plan? You end the day feeling busy, but not accomplishing much.
The same thing can happen when you create a content calendar, but stop using it.
As a small business owner, you may love seeing your content calendar at work after planning it out. It makes everything so clear and simple.
And with everything so clear and simple, you stop relying on it. And of course, over time, it stops working.
Sounds obvious but it’s a common issue. In order for a content calendar to work, you need to stay on top of it.
Take a few minutes (literally—like 5 minutes tops) every day to look at your calendar. You’ll spot opportunities for improvement, think up new content ideas, and keep hitting those deadlines. It’ll keep you on track, and that means achieving your goals.
3. Having no content strategy
You can have a beautifully laid out and expertly planned content calendar filled with blog post dates, social campaigns, customer emails, and more. But if there isn’t a strategy behind what kind of content you’re creating, why you’re creating it, who it’s targeting, a content calendar isn’t going to help you meet your objectives.
Having a rock solid content strategy is an absolutely essential part of any successful marketing plan. It’s all the thinking behind what content you need to create and why. Which brings us to….
How to create a content strategy
Entire books have been written on how to create a content strategy. And they’re definitely worth reading. But knowing what a content strategy is—even at a basic level—is a precursor to having an excellent content calendar. So we’re going to cover the basics of one below.
Step 1: Audit your content
Before you start planning your 2021 content strategy, take some time to think about your content efforts in 2020. Here are a few questions to keep in mind when reviewing your content:
- Who is your target audience? Where are they? Which channels are they active most on? How do they want to engage with your content?
- Which channels have experienced the most growth in the last year? Look through your analytics to find out the reasons behind every increase or decrease. Is it a specific content type that’s attracting audience attention? Does the time you publish content affect engagement?
Make note of what was successful and what wasn’t. See if you can identify why. By doing this, you can understand what works, what needs to change or remove from your next content calendar.
Step 2: Determine your goals and target audience
Your content strategy needs goals. Without them, your content is aimless and exists only for the sake of existing.
For example, driving traffic to your website, collecting email addresses for your newsletter, or increasing Instagram followers are all good goals to have.
Now, with those goals in mind, you’ll be able to hone in on what kind of content and tactics can help you achieve them.
For example, if you want to drive traffic to your site, you might run a campaign on your organic and paid social channels. If you want to grow your email list, you might consider writing a series of gated ebooks and case studies. And growing your Instagram followers? That’s all about posting more visual content (in addition to using the right hashtags and engaging with people).
Goals give your content a purpose. So spend some time to really dial them in.
Step 3: Choose your marketing channels
Establishing your content goals will help you choose which channels you need to focus on. Social media platforms are typically the most effective marketing channel for small businesses, followed by email marketing, and PPC (paid per click) campaigns.
Because these social networks have so much data about their users, they’re able to offer incredible targeting options that allow you to reach your intended audience with very little wasted budget.
But keep in mind that social isn’t the be-all-end-all for small businesses. You still need to put effort into your other channels like email and PPC to grow your brand and nurture your leads.
Step 4: Brainstorm content ideas
With a few of the key parts of your content strategy in place (your goals and your channels), now it’s time to have some fun: come up with ideas. Here are a few ways you can do that.
- Set a timer for 15 minutes and write down all the content ideas you have for your audience and business goals. You won’t use every idea that you come up with, but you’ll likely uncover a few gems in the process.
- Google a few keywords that are important to your business and make note of the Google autocomplete predictions that come up as you type.These predictions are what people are looking for around that keyword, and that can help you inform what kind of content to create.
- Look at social media comments on your competitors’ pages and profiles. Unearth the questions that people ask inside relevant Facebook groups and online communities that get the most engagement. Make note of any that relate to your product. Any of these could make an excellent blog post or guide.
Step 5: Narrow down and organize your ideas
At this point, you should have a wealth of good content ideas to choose from. Some will take the form of social posts. Some will be blogs. Some will be how-to guides or ebooks. Decide which ideas fit into which format.
Be a ruthless editor. You may find that you have a lot of great ideas that don’t necessarily align with your content goals or business objectives. Ditch them. Or, at least, keep a document of them saved for later.
Step 6: Fill in your content calendar
Your content strategy has taken shape. You have tons of great content initiatives in the pipeline. Now, you just need to plot out where everything goes—and that’s where this content calendar comes in handy.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. But keep a few things in mind: the amount of time it will take to create the content, any special dates or events the content needs to align with, as well as any gaps in the calendar that need to be filled.
How to use the 2021 Leadpages content calendar
There are more than a few different ways to make a content calendar. You can go with the classic pen and paper approach or build one out in a spreadsheet. Remember, your content calendar doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t be—its job is to make things easier for you and your team.
If you’re looking for the fastest and simplest way to get started, the Leadpages 2021 content marketing calendar can help.
Everything inside is laid out in a way that’s easy to understand and use. It includes a tab for instructions so you know how to use it, plus tabs for annual, monthly, and end-of-year campaign planning.
Go create your content calendar for 2021
With a content calendar, you’re rarely in a situation where you don’t know what you need to do next, or what you need to write about.
You’ve done the research. You’ve done the planning. And you should know what the content creation process looks like in the coming weeks and months.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
You might be thinking, “Do I really need to do all of this?”
The honest answer? No.
But producing good content consistently can be a game-changer for your business. It’s helped turn more than one home office operation into a multi-million dollar business. It has turned countless entrepreneurs into authorities in their spaces and built a brand that people trust.
And in every case, they almost certainly did it with a content calendar.
Hopefully, we’ve provided you with the insight and resources you need to create your own. Have any questions? Leave them below!