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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Sustaining the Powers

How New Bloggers Can Grow on Facebook

This is pretty nitty gritty and probably interesting to approximately three of you, but based on the comments on my Business of Blogging post (hey, five comments is a pretty big deal for this new blogger), I figured it couldn’t hurt to put together a post about how to take advantage of the Bloggy Mom’s Friday Facebook Hop.

First of all, being a new blogger with big (or even medium-sized) dreams can be incredibly frustrating. Building an audience is a time-consuming and often confusing process. So unless you’re lucky enough to “go viral” within your first few months online (about the same odds as winning the lottery), you’re probably dealing with the same #NewBloggerProblems that I am.

There’s literally a million topics I could write about under this vast new blogger umbrella, but I’m going to focus on Facebook today. You already know that, as a new blogger, you’re supposed to have a presence and grow your fans and followers on approximately 75 different social media networks. With this in mind, you logged on to the Behemoth, Facebook, and set your blog up with a business page.

Check it off the list, right?

Not quite. This isn’t field of bloggy dreams, and even though you built it, they will probably not come unless you promote the shit out of it. So what do you do next?

If you’re like me, you invited your mom, your sister and your three BFFs to like it, or maybe you’re a bit bolder, and you sent the page to all of your personal friends, but either way, once you’ve hit up those connections for likes, it’s hard to know how to promote your page so that you’re reaching new people and getting new likes.

How New Bloggers Can Take Advantage of Bloggy Moms Friday Facebook Hop

How new bloggers can increase Facebook likes by participating in Bloggy Moms Facebook Hop

As of Sunday evening, my Facebook page had 181 likes, which is not a ton, but I just published the page on October 10. It’s been up one month, and I haven’t even added the link to the social share buttons on my blog.

Let me break down those 180 likes: Because I have not (and do not plan to) send this page to everyone in my network, approximately 40 of those likes are direct connections of mine. A handful are people who were referred to the page by my friends. The rest are other bloggers. And of those, a big chunk comes from my participation in the Bloggy Moms Friday Facebook Hop every week.

How big of a difference does participating make for me? This week, my page received 48 likes from the Facebook Hop, and for me, that’s significant. It was my fourth time participating, and it was my biggest gain. I’ve also realized that there are things you can do to make your participation count even more.

How to Participate Without Really Trying

  1. From your personal account, go to the Bloggy Moms Network Facebook page and like it. Make sure the “Follow” option has a checkmark next to it. This means that Bloggy Moms posts will show up in your newsfeed.
  2. On Fridays, Bloggy Moms will post the Facebook hop. Even though I follow the page, I miss the post sometimes, so I set a reminder to check the page on Fridays.
  3. When the post appears, comment on the post with a link to your Facebook page. I type http://www.facebook.com/mommysanest into the comment box, and that’s it. You don’t need to write anything else. A preview of your page (the header and profile image) should pop up in the post. Do not remove the preview of the page! It allows people to quickly like your page, right there in the feed.
  4. Like other people’s pages. That’s why we’re here right? You can do this directly in the comment feed if you want to make it as quick and easy as possible. Like the page, and reply directly to their comment. Make sure you tag your page in the reply. I always reply with, “New like from @Mommy Sanest” (when you use the “@” sign on Facbeook, an option to select your page should appear). Another very important note: Like pages as yourself, not as your blog. If you want the page to appear in your feed when you switch to your blog’s page, then like as yourself AND your blog. Do not just like as your blog, as those likes will not count toward total likes.
  5. Watch the likes roll in. Typically there’s upwards of 200 blogs and small businesses that participate, and every week there are new ones. This is quid pro quo, and I typically like anyone that likes me. I sometimes skip some of the small businesses if the product isn’t something I am interested in, but if that person alerts me that they’ve liked my page, unless something were to strike me as offensive (nothing ever has), I like them back.

It’s that simple, but I know what you’re thinking…

Help! My feed is filled with posts from random blogs!

I think this is probably what stops people from liking 130 pages. But there’s a way to contain all of this blog action, and neatly organize it. As posts from blogs appear in my Facebook newsfeed, I go to the pages and uncheck the “Follow” option. This will remove them from my newsfeed. But gone doesn’t mean forgotten! I have included them all in a custom “Interests” list, which I can refer back to regularly. Here’s how you do that:

  1. From your newsfeed, scroll down the page until you see the “Interests” section on the left side of your page. Click “More.”
  2. Choose “+Add Interests,” then “+Create List.”
  3. The dialog box that opens should default to Pages on the left, showing all of the pages you have liked over the course of your life on Facebook. Start checking off the blog pages that you have liked. Once you’ve chosen all of the pages, click Next.
  4. Give the list a name, and decide if you want it to be a public list, a list your friends can see, or a private list. Mine is called “Mommy Blogs,” and I keep it private.
  5. You can access this list from the your newsfeed. You can also add to this list if you continue to participate.

The other option to like all of the pages as your page (Go to a page, choose the “…” button on the far right, and select “Like as your page.” Then the blog will show up in your page’s newsfeed.

Make Your Participation Really Count

As someone mentioned on my Business of Blogging post, it can seem pointless to participate in the blog hop when you see little action on your page’s posts after the fact. But here’s the deal with Facebook: To a degree (and this is an over-simplification) it is a numbers game.

Facebook’s algorithm is designed to suppress content from business pages. Have you ever posted something only to see that the post “reached” four people? This is how Facebook works. Facebook wants you to pay to boost that post and push it out to more people. But the more Facebook followers you have, the more people will initially see that post. The more people who see it, the more chances you have for someone to like or comment on the post. Every interaction with your post leads to it organically being pushed to more people, which in turn gives the post even more chances to be liked and commented on. Another thing to keep in mind, depending on the goals you have for your blog, the number of followers that you have on Facebook matters to companies that are looking for bloggers to partner with.

I’m guessing that, if you’re a new blogger, you’re probably making less than $1 a month from your blog and paying to boost a post on Facebook isn’t really in the budget yet. So how do you get more people from the Bloggy Moms Friday Facebook Hop to interact with your stuff or even get them to connect with you on other platforms? Basically, you have to interact with them.

I don’t go out of my way for every single blog, but if I see a page that strikes my fancy (you know, a kindred spirit who named their blog something like, “Mommy Wears Pajamas All Day” or “Making Mediocre Parenting Look Easy”), I will visit their page, leave a comment, and like a few items. If I love the name of someone’s blog, I often leave the comment, “Stopping by from @Mommy Sanest. I love the name of your blog!” It’s simple and it’s genuine.

Sometimes I don’t stop there. If I’m really intrigued, I actually go to their blog, and if they have their social buttons posted, I follow them on other platforms (typically Twitter or G+, sometimes Pinterest). If they are looking for followers on Facebook, chances are they are looking for followers on all platforms. If you’ve commented on their Facebook page and you’re using all the same handles, they will likely recognize your name and like or follow you back on these platforms as well.

Finally, every few days, I scroll through my “Mommy Blogs” Interests list, and like and/or comment on content that is interesting and worthwhile to me. By doing this, I know that at the very least, an extra like will boost someone’s posts to a wider audience. It’s Facebook karma, if you will, even if they aren’t completely connecting your name to your blog. You could also do this from your blog’s page (if you’ve liked the other page as both yourself and your blog), so that the other blogger begins to see your page.

Don’t Ignore Those Who Interact with You

When I’m interested in something a blogger posts on Facebook, I will comment on it. Now if I’m commenting on a page that has 7 million likes, I don’t expect a response. But if I’m commenting on a smaller blog,  it’s nice to get a response. Getting a response also means I’ll be more likely to interact again.

So if someone posts on your wall, comments on one of your posts, or sends you a message, respond! I know it takes some thought and time and seems like a very small thing when you have a lot on your to-do list, but this world is all about connections. It’s in your best interest to make an effort even if 99 out of 100 of these interactions end up feeling pointless. Eventually, one of these days, you’re going to make a connection that becomes meaningful for you and your work.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

I’m Not a Mommy Blogger

I don’t speak for Bloggy Moms, obviously, but it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re specifically a “mommy blogger.” I see all kinds of blogs and small businesses participating in the Facebook hop, so you do you. Especially if you’re a health, fitness, DIY, crafting, or food blogger, I imagine you’ll get some traction through the Facebook hop.

The Bottom Line

In the last month (October 10-November 9), more than 20 percent of my traffic has come from Facebook. I do not post every single piece of content I write on Facebook, and I have almost three times the followers on Twitter, where I promote every post approximately 10 times. For me, it’s worth it to continue participating in the Facebook hop and putting in the effort. Look at your Google analytics, see what is driving traffic to your site and decide where your time is best spent.