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Lessons Learned From A Year Using An Editorial Calendar

By January 15, 2014July 1st, 2015Writing & Content Marketing
Lessons Learned From A Year Using An Editorial Calendar

Just last January we began using an editorial calendar and I wrote about it then, raving about what a difference it had made in just a short time.

Now, after a full year of putting it to the test and daring it to fail, I can share what we’ve learned so it might help you as you plan for your blog’s success – because as you know, blogging is a whole lot more than just writing.

When you’re done, you can download our updated 2014 version, based on what we know now and the changes we made to better suit our planning. Remember, you can (and maybe even should) change it up to fit your needs.

It’s Not Static

To my point about changing it up, it’s important to realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect calendar. Even the one that is perfect today may be not-so-perfect tomorrow.

We started out thinking we wanted to track certain bits of information and then realized that tracking it was becoming more of a job than it should have been. In other cases, we realized we wanted space for other things that we hadn’t originally included. After a while even the colors started to bug me!

The trick is to know when you’re making things harder on yourself – and when you could be making them easier. Even if it’s something as seemingly irrelevant as a header color, change it to work.

You Have To Be Flexible

I started out by planning the whole year. Not the topics, but who was writing and when. I also planned out at least a month at a time – for topics and overall categories and themes.

Sometimes it went well.

And sometimes reality hit. People got sick. Or there was a really interesting bit of current news to cover. Orโ€ฆ in the world of the internet, things changed. Imagine my post about Facebook marketing a month after Facebook had just released some major changes. Back to the drawing board!

The calendar should be a guide. It is not set in stone. If something interesting happens in your niche and you want to write about it but there’s no room in the calendar, then it’s the calendar that has to change – not you.

Opportunities popped up for us that we didn’t figure into the schedule, from interviews to book reviews to timely guest posts. Sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot, as they say. Start moving things around and make that calendar work for you, not the other way around.

Gaps Will Become Obvious

When you’re publishing off the cuff and going with what works, whenever it works, you’re not really paying attention to patterns. But when you’re tracking everything down to the keyword, it will start to become very clear where you’re missing the mark.

We could easily glance through our calendar and tell that we’d phoned in our keyword research for a few weeks. We could tell that we hadn’t covered a broad enough range of topics and that we were starting to narrow our vision down to the few things we perhaps felt strongly about but that weren’t really doing much for our audience.

We were able to see, in combination with our analytics, what our readers were pretty clearly telling us was a subject they hungered for vs one they probably wished we hadn’t bothered to write.

It’s hard to deny it when it’s there in black and white in front of you – the repetitious subjects, the missing calls to action, the overused angles and the cheap shots at titles.

It’s a little tough to look at your work and think, “Wow, this is pretty bad,” but it’s an honest exercise that you must go through if you want to improve.

You’ll Know When You Fall Off The Wagon

We were super diligent in the beginning. We met all our due dates, planned topics, did our research and made all our notes.

And then we didn’t. We got a little lazy, a little busy, and things would slide a bit. Before we knew it a whole month had gone by with nothing in there at all and we ended up backfilling what we had already written instead of planning forward.

We learned a few lessons as a result. One, failing to plan leads to a whole lot more work. Instead of organizing our topics and then creating content around them, we scrambled to fill in the gaps, to find ideas, to stir inspiration. Writing took twice as long as it should have. We were constantly behind the eight ball.

Two, our results suffered. When we ended up under pressure to publish, without a clear plan or goal, we fell back into old habits. Repetition, lack of clarity, lack of proofreading.

Once you get used to how much time and effort planning will save, it will be glaringly obvious when you fail to plan. And then you’ll go running back to your calendar and beg its forgiveness.

Topics Are Good. Outlines Are Better.

We noted our post topics then found out that by the time we were ready to write, we didn’t remember exactly what we wanted to say or why. Especially if we were planning a month at a time, it was tough to keep all our ideas in order when the only thing we had to rely on was our memories.

So rather than just a topic or title, I started making a short outline – nothing like the nightmares you may remember from high school, just a few bullet points to note my talking points or even my post subheadings. Then when I was ready to write, let’s say a post about what’s new in SEO, I didn’t have to first try to figure out what I wanted to say or wrack my brain trying to remember what the heck I had been thinking by picking that topic in the first place.

It’s Not Enough

An editorial calendar is a great tool. But it’s not the be-all-end-all of blogging or content marketing or planning. We realized that as good as it was for what it did, we still needed other tools, other calendars, like our social scheduling calendar, and other plans.

We needed to keep track of our promotions and our social metrics. In short, we had more work to do! The great thing about planning is that it’s sort of a snowball effect…once you get rolling, you build up a whole lot of momentum.

So let the calendar help you where it can but also let it be a catalyst for other types of planning documents that you may find work in conjunction with your calendar to keep you organized, on track and following through to meet your goals.

Ready To Get Your Plan In Gear?

Pop your name and email into the box here and I’ll send you a link to download our revised 2014 calendar. It’s in Excel format which is great for creating all kinds of data fields, and it can easily be imported into Google Docs if you want a centralized version that you can share with your team. That’s what we do – everyone who needs it gets the link and fills in their own information. And remember to protect the data that you don’t want other people to be able to edit! It will keep your calendar clean and make sure that you’re the one with full editorial control.

And remember, if you need help planning your content or want us to take a look at the direction you’re heading and share our recommendations, we’re always ready to help.

Contact us online or call us at 732.615.0842 and let us know how we can be part of ensuring that this is your most successful content marketing year.

Update: You can now get the editorial calendar and a bunch more useful resources in the Marketing Game Changer Kit.

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Great story, it is true on your point that these are living breathing documents. I also find one of the best uses is that the team can get a great overview of what is happening and we share it with our clients so they to can have a look to see what is in the pipe.

  • Ian Cleary says:

    Hey Carol, we try to work off an editorial calendar but I do agree you need some flexibility. What I love about it is that when you start writing it out you start to get more ideas and you also spot the gaps. So it’s a must for everyone!

  • Hey Carol,

    I am using an editorial calendar for blog posts (you know, the WP plugin). With other tasks, I am using Evernote (granted everything is in different notes, like monthly goals in one, social media goals in other and so forth…I don’t really have one centralized ‘note’ or file).

    I do have a little time this weekend (perhaps I could make an excel file…I do have everything in a central location, and the last time I tried something like that, it ended up ‘congested, which I don’t really like).

    With blog posts, I write down the ideas as titles (I don’t really use outlines…I use the titles to remember the main points..of course, this also means, sometimes the titles don’t really make sense – as a title :D).

    I can relate back to falling off the wagon…particularly with the last week. I didn’t write my blog post during the weekend (weekends are my dedicated blog post writing time, and that costed me my commenting time). Of course, I was able to catch up with the commenting part, but it did cost me.

    It’s not too bad though – it’s a lesson learned (and remembered) ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Hi Jeevan,

      I haven’t tried the plugin but I know people who like it. I also know what you mean about things being congested. I don’t think there’s any one tool or place you can organize everything you need. As long as you have a system that works for you, that’s what’s important. And it sounds like whatever you’re doing is working! Of course, you are always ahead of the game and seem to be pretty darn organized about things ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Yeah, maybe it’s for the better. Imagine if someone gains access to our account (everything will be lost!).

        Plus, having a whole set of tools might mean that we are flexible (what if Google randomly buys the tool and shuts it down?).

        Thank you, Carol. Well, to compete to against all of the awesome bloggers out there, I have to have some advantage/strength right? Planning is one of them ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Amy Peveto says:

    These lessons definitely fall in line with what I’ve learned managing editorial calendar for the Digett team as well as my personal blog. I’m the type that goes a little crazy with planning, and I’ve had to learn that editorial calendars are living documents that will probably always be in some kind of flux. It’s nice to see other people coming to the same conclusions. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      In flux indeed! I started out with a bunch of things I thought were so brilliant and then after a month or two I thought… why on earth would I do this?? That’s not a bad thing though, it means we’re paying attention to what’s important ๐Ÿ™‚