You Need a Content Calendar for Your Blog

It’s been awhile since I blogged about blogging, but I’ve been planning to post this month about how to create and use a content calendar for your blog. How did I know that I’ve been planning to write about content calendars? Because I put it on my content calendar for December.

Full circle. Blog post over.

How to Create and Use a Content Calendar for Your Blog

Not really. There’s actually more than 2,000 words left to read. Feel free to bail now.

Anyway, today I’m going to cover what a content calendar is, how you can create one, how mine is set up, and why all of this content calendar nonsense is important.

What is a Content Calendar?

If you come from a journalism or editorial background, you might be wondering what the difference between a content calendar and an editorial calendar is. The answer to that question is nothing–at least in my opinion. I use the terms interchangeably. Case in point: My content calendar file is actually named “Mommy Sanest Editorial Calendar,” so you do you.

What ever you call it, a content calendar is basically a tool that helps you plan the content that you intend to publish. As far as I’m concerned, beyond that very simple definition, the other details you include in a content calendar are up to you, and you can make it as basic or as complicated as you want.

You’ll notice I said “intend.” That’s because when you’re dealing with a small publication like a blog, it’s likely that you alone are creating the content, designing the graphics, formatting the articles, and hitting “publish.” You want to plan to the best of your ability, but you’ll probably need to move posts around a bit; you’ll furiously write something unforeseen and want to add it in; you might want to move an article to later in the month because sometimes life gets in the way of being a publishing mogul.

How to Create a Content Calendar

The concept of a content calendar was not foreign to me when I started my blog. I am a planner by nature and also do “content marketing stuff” for a living, but I struggled to find a format that worked for me. Every time I searched for content calendars, the examples I found seemed overwhelming and not at all intuitive.

At first, I tried using Google Calendar as my blog’s editorial calendar. I love the visual format, and I’m comfortable using Google Calendar, so it seemed like an easy answer. My plan was to add the name of the post to the date it would be published on. It would be simple and clean–except in practice, it didn’t feel like it was enough information. Moreover, even though I thought I would do best with a visual calendar layout, I found that it wasn’t how I wanted to see this information.

For the record, I see a lot of bloggers offering blog planners/content calendars that can be downloaded, printed, and used offline. Honestly, I’ve never once even looked into using something like this. I wanted my calendar to be online and accessible from anywhere. In addition, there is an editorial calendar plugin for WordPress — I did try it — but it also uses a visual calendar format and populates using your posts, so basically, to add something you had to have a draft started. I didn’t like that. Anyway, I bailed on the plugin pretty quickly, so maybe it’s awesome, and you should ignore everything I’ve said.

Moving on…

One morning, when I was in the process of getting this blog off the ground, I was laying in bed thinking about how to set up a content calendar (sadly, this is a true story), and it came to me–a content calendar spreadsheet built in a Google Spreadsheet with categories that made sense to me. Like the mother of the year that I am, I turned on some cartoons for Emme that morning and got to work.

I tend to get a little spreadsheet happy, so what I use might not work for you. You might do better planning offline or in an actual calendar format. You may find that one of those content spreadsheets I found confusing makes total sense to you. But without further ado, here is a sample of my content calendar from earlier this year:

Ridiculous, right? I haven’t even filled out all of the sections that I came up with. I was going to back fill it, but then I thought it would be more realistic to show you that I don’t have everything planned out all of the time (most of the time). But I do know exactly how I want to use each section, and as I make my way from frazzled blogging novice to slightly-less-frazzled blogging goddess, I will hopefully do a better job of it.

How I Setup My Content Calendar

I plan my content month by month. The month is the column on the far right. Each month I decide how many times I am going to try to post. With the exception of November, I shoot for two to three posts a week at this point. Then I look at a real calendar and decide what days I’m going to post–i.e., I will often post Mondays and Thursdays. I fill in those dates for the month and start brainstorming ideas.

Let’s go through the sections, shall we?

Date: The date that the post is scheduled to be posted.

Status: The status of the post. The options for this field include: Idea, Draft, Scheduled, and Posted.

Post Title: The title of the blog post or the working title.

Post Type: A description of the post type. I’m pretty loosey goosey with this section and have wondered if it’s redundant. But, it might be a good tool if you want to diversify your content. This can be an easy way to see if you’ve balanced the number of “how to” posts in any given month with the number of “personal essays” or whatever.

Author: I added this section in November when I started working with contributing writers.

Categories: The categories section corresponds to the categories I have set up in WordPress (most of which appear in the top navigation bar). I try to stick to three categories or less for each post. Categories represent the major topics I blog about.

Tags: This section gives me a chance to think about what tags I want to include in WordPress. Tags are different from categories–instead of representing major topics, they describe the post in more detail. For example, if a post falls under the category of Recipe, a post about pasta will be tagged with “easy weeknight dinner recipe” and “pasta recipe.”

Keywords: I use the SEO Yoast Plugin as well as the Google Adwords keyword planning tools to try to figure out how to best optimize my post based on searches. This section is where I write the keyword (or words) that I plan to optimize in my post.

Graphics: I describe the graphic(s) I am using/creating for the post in this section.

Promotion: This section includes the social media platforms where I will be promoting the post.

  • Twitter: Two or three sample tweets to go along with the post. This way I can easily copy and paste them into Hootsuite.
  • Instagram: Most of my posts say N/A right now, but I have experimented with adding a photo with an #ontheblog hashtag in Instagram. I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep promoting my posts there or not.
  • Google+: What I plan to post on Google+ to promote my post.
  • Pinterest: The “alternative text” or “alt text” I plan to write for my pin-able image. I usually create one image for each post that is optimized for Pinterest. Pinterest typically (but not always!) grabs the alt text when someone pins your image, so you want to make sure that you write a good description of your post.
  • Facebook: What I plan to post on Facebook to promote my post. Typically this is very similar to the Google+ post.

If there’s one thing I think my content calendar lacks, it’s a spot to identify holidays in advance, but since I sit down and plan with a regular calendar, I kind of just know when stuff is coming up. The other thing I probably need to add is a section that has the actual URL of each completed post. I’ll do that right now. (See? The Google Spreadsheet format is flexible to your needs.)

Again, whatever you choose to do or not do with your blog’s calendar is your call. But I do think it’s worthwhile to check a few different calendars out and think through what makes sense to you and for your blog.

We’ve covered the how; onto the why.

Why You Should Use a Content Calendar

Back in ye ole blogging days, I would have never set up an editorial or content calendar. It never even occurred to me. I was just blogging by the seat of my pants when the mood struck me. And sometimes the mood struck me like 20 times a month and other times the mood struck me like never.

I feel like I should add a caveat here: There is nothing wrong with choosing to not care about this stuff. If you prefer the free form style of blogging what you feel like blogging when you feel like blogging, then that is awesome and you should do that. But if your goals are a bit more lofty, there are good reasons to be more planful.

Here are five of those reasons:

1. A content calendar will help you treat your blog like a business. If you care about people finding and reading your stuff because of love or money or pride or fame or whatever, then you need to accept that running a blog is like running a very small, poorly funded, barely staffed magazine. In other words, if you want blogging to be your business or even just part of your business, you need to treat it like a business and you need to plan your content. That doesn’t mean it will be successful; it just means it will have a better chance of being successful.

2. A content calendar can help smooth the bumps of writer’s block. Remember when I said that sometimes with my old blog, I would write all of the time and sometimes I wouldn’t post for months? It was like two paragraphs ago. A content calendar can help you plan for the times when you feel a bit less creative and inspired. I keep a running list of ideas and half-written posts, and I draw on that to help fill my content calendar. So let’s say I wanted to write about New Year’s resolutions, but wasn’t feeling it… I look at my content calendar, and see that I’ve already started a draft of a post about creating a content calendar for your blog. I move a few things around and ta da! The blog is saved, and a post will go up as planned–just not the post that was originally planned. The content calendar also eases my mind when it comes to posting frequency. It can feel overwhelming to come up with a whole new month of posts, but if you’ve decided to post twice a week, you can look at your calendar and see that you really only need eight pieces of content. Eight sounds doable, right?

3. A content calendar will help manage your audience’s expectations. If you’re using a content calendar, you can easily get yourself on a posting schedule. This manages your audience’s expectations about how often you’re going to post and also builds trust as they see they can count on a certain number of fun new things to read or watch each week.

4. A content calendar will give you an archive that you can use to promote your older posts. Do you promote stuff you wrote a month ago? Or a year ago? You should. And an easy way to keep track of that content is in a content calendar. And, if you’re including social media in your calendar, you can easily copy and paste your tweets and posts for reuse.

5. Because it’s all about the content, it’s also all about the content calendar. How many times have you heard that blogging is all about the content? And moreover, how many times do we need to be told that our content needs to be optimized? If you’re providing good content, you want people to see it. Planning in advance with a content calendar will (hopefully/eventually) get you off the panic cycle of “OMG I HAVE TO WRITE A BLOG POST.” It will help you get a handle on your content mix and plan for new topics, series, and/or guest writers, and it will give you time to think about SEO and do keyword research, which will help boost organic traffic.

I’m sure there are more reasons to have a content calendar, but my word count is pushing 2,300, so I’m going to let all of this sink in. Have I convinced you that you need a content calendar? Do you already use one? Is it way better way, and can you give me your secrets, please?

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What is a Blogging Tribe? (Plus, How to Find Your Tribe)

Back in the day, when I had my old blog, I made a few blog friends — other bloggers who regularly read and commented on my site. I loved getting to know these women via the Internet, and I continue to follow the ones who are still around. I didn’t call them anything other than “blog friends,” though one of them used the term “blends,” which not surprisingly, didn’t catch on.

How to find your tribe. Tips for new bloggers on how to find a blogging tribe. Get to know other bloggers, promote your work, and share the love.

When I started Mommy Sanest, I researched — and I continue to research — how to be successful in this very crowded mommy blog space. And over and over, I keep seeing that to be successful, you must find your tribe.

Back in the aughts, this wasn’t a thing you set out to do (or at least, I didn’t). You stumbled across a blog, you read it, you liked it, you commented, they checked you out, they liked you, they commented, and ta da! Best Blogging Buddies Forever.

Now, according to every blogging resource everywhere, if you are a new blogger, you must find your tribe… like right this second. And, it makes sense that you can be more successful and feel more confident in your work if you have blog friends who dig your content, comment on a regular basis, and promote your stuff on social media.

I don’t know about you, but this near-hysterical directive to “GO FIND SOME BLOG FRIENDS, LOSER” is daunting. As a new blogger, how do you even start to “find your tribe”?

Well, I don’t have one, so grain of salt and all that, but I’m a little wary of this whole blogging tribe thing. But maybe that’s just because the word “tribe” makes it seem like there’s a group of people out there just waiting to lift me up and make my blog successful. I just have to find them… and make them like me. Easy, right?

The only problem with that plan is that I really believe that relationships with other bloggers need to happen authentically, so when I wander around the Internet attempting to find a tribe, it all feels forced and desperate and kind of like a horrible, virtual high school situation, and For me, it’s more about connecting with individual bloggers in a way that makes sense.

Find Your Tribe: A Relatively Painless Plan for Beginning Bloggers to Make Connections with Other Bloggers

Figure out who you are. Finding your tribe and making blog friends come easier when you have a sense of what you’re trying to do. A lot of us jump into blogs and just start writing. While I know my content strategy on Mommy Sanest will continue to shift, taking a Mediabistro class forced me to write a blog business plan and think about the kind of content I want to share here. While my blog business plan is a working document, I’ve referred back to it several times because it laid the groundwork for answering big questions like, who am I, and why am I here? Answer these questions first, then worry about what the rest of the blogiverse is doing.

Find a blog spirit guide or two. There are a lot of bloggers out there (#understatement). And after rambling around the Internet for several years, I found two blogs/bloggers that really give me a sense of what I want to be when my blog grows up. Now these bloggers have zero idea who I am — I actually rarely comment on their sites. And, I’m not looking for them to be mentors; I’m just using their hard work and success to help me define where I’m (hopefully) going.

Seek out similar blogs. Good lord, I fell down the mommy blog rabbit hole the first few months I was doing this. There are just so many subcategories! It took awhile, but I’ve started to find other bloggers whose content is more similar to my own as well as bloggers who have been blogging about the same amount of time as I have and bloggers who seem to have reached a level of blogging success that is just a smidge ahead of where I am.

Using Feedly (or another RSS service), start a category of feeds called “Bloggers to Follow.” Yep, I literally put blogs into a category called Bloggers to Follow. These blogs have content that interests me, and I regularly feel I can add something to the conversation. I have eight blogs in this category. Keeping up with other people’s stuff can get overwhelming, so do yourself a favor and pick a few that you really, really like. Now granted I have about 50 other blogs in my Feedly, but I pay special attention to these five.

Put yourself out there. Did you find some bloggers and put them in your Feedly? Good! Go comment on their stuff; follow them on social channels; tell them how you came across their site. If they are newer bloggers, they are likely looking for a tribe just like you are and will be happy to return the love.

Follow a blogger who blogs about blogging. I just wanted to see how many times I could use the word “blog” in that sentence. Seriously though, these bloggers know their stuff, and it’s easy to find one whose voice and style appeals to you. Keep an eye out for a site that helps foster a blogging/writing community. Often, they’ll have blogging or social media challenges; opportunities for you to get your stuff out there; classes you can take about a specific topics; sometimes they’ll even have active Facebook groups. I like these four: SITS Girls, Blog Clarity, by Regina, and Beyond Your Blog.

Check out your commenters. You already know that you should respond to your commenters. Take it a step further, and go see who they are. Chances are if someone felt moved to comment on your stuff, their content might be interesting to you. Go find out. Maybe it will be a relationship made in blog heaven.

Be authentic. It’s nice to think that you can go around commenting on every post that comes your way, but if you’re not feeling it, you’re not going to come off as sincere. That doesn’t mean that “How to Sew Your Pet Ferret a Christmas Mumu” isn’t a totally valid and interesting post for the right audience, it just means that you’re not the right audience. If I can’t think of a better comment than, “What an interesting post. Thanks for sharing,” (which basically makes it seem like clicking on my name will send you to a site for knockoff designer bags), I best be moving on.

Go to Facebook and search for blogging groups. They are there. Go find a few, hang back for awhile, then join in. It’s a great way to get your stuff in front of other bloggers, and you will definitely find some blogging soulmates in the mix.

Don’t take any of this too seriously. Remember that blogger you LOVED, and you gushed about her post in the comments section and never heard a peep back? Whatever. Keep following her if you like her stuff, but don’t spend time wondering why she gave you the cold shoulder. If someone seems disinterested in your interest in them, put your energy elsewhere, but don’t over-think it.

That’s pretty much where I’m at in my “find your tribe” journey. Do you find this process as daunting as I do? Or have you figured out an easy way to make blog friends? I’d love to hear other tips that have worked for you.

Already found your tribe (or not)? Then you probably need a content calendar for your blog.