The Internet is nearly full. OK, so that's not fact, but the truth is that it's so congested with aimless and often badly written content that the really good stuff is far from guaranteed a good spot in search engine results pages (SERPs).

So... you know that blog post you're slaving over? Scrap it, because no-one's going to read it. Unless you've been consistently using a content calendar.

In other words, if you want to help overwhelmed, time-poor searchers to find you and your business, then it's time to think hard about what you publish, where, when, how often, and—most important—why.

Writing about something interesting isn't enough

Content has always played a part in the visibility of Web pages, no matter the changes to search engine algorithms over the years (and proclamations that "SEO is dead"). But it's no longer just a matter of quantity; now, it's a matter of quantity + quality + relevance.

It's no longer the case (if it ever was) that you write about something interesting, post it, and receive barrage of visitors, comments, likes, shares, etc., etc. Chances are that the people you're trying to impress won't even know your insightful/witty/informative (delete as appropriate) post is out there.

Building a readership doesn't happen by magic

Thought-leaders—those people whose websites/columns/feeds you go back to time and again—don't get to that point by magic or by knowing a lot of stuff about something. They don't write all night and get lucky; instead, every piece of content is planned, based on everything they know about their target readership—from what to write about and how to write about it to where to publish it and how to get people there.

And, in a lot of cases, the thought-leader isn't the author at all; he or she is the brains behind the ideas, not the creator of the words. (That sort of partnership with an agency or writer is a whole other story, but one very much worth thinking about if you want to set yourself apart using quality and consistency of tone of voice as your weapons.)

Why a content calendar is so important

Most agree that great content marketing has the potential to add great value to a business. After all, content has the ability to generate relevant traffic and potential leads. But figuring out when and where to publish your content is as important as the content itself. So here are three good reasons to get on and build a content calendar:

  1. It'll help you get buy-in for the whole company, including those holding the purse strings. That's because you'll be able to say "we're commissioning/writing this number of pieces of content, over this amount of time, for this cost. In return, we'll measure our performance against these KPIs, with success reaping these rewards." You'll be able to take an abstract method of measurement out of content marketing and replace it with facts and figures.
  2. You won't miss key events and deadlines, and you'll build in time for unscheduled content. It's incredibly frustrating realizing you could've been an influential part of a big, important conversation just as it's about to start, while it's happening, or just after it has happened. By doing your research at the start of the year and reviewing your calendar regularly thereafter, you can keep pace—or stay ahead—rather than play catch-up.
  3. You'll realize how satisfying it is to partner up on content with other contributors. No need to be the martyr who is constantly stressed about how much stuff you have to write when doing so is not even part of your job description. Instead, imagine this: PR agency does research for media > You use their statistics and quotes for your daily tweets > Your daily tweets getting a ton of engagement thanks to the original research > A viral campaign is born. The process of building a content calendar allows for initiating such an exciting chain of events.

It's like building a house

Think of content creation as building a house: You wouldn't jump into that without first doing your homework, and you wouldn't start the project without knowing who was responsible for what. When building your calendar, ask the following questions.

Who's the house for?/Who's your content for?

Ask yourself who you're writing for: Is it existing customers, potential customers, a particular community (e.g., bloggers)? If different content is needed for different people, think about creating a messaging framework so you're absolutely clear whom you're targeting with what content. It might be as simple as this:

Once you know what's for whom (all part of building a content strategy), it's time to begin constructing a robust content calendar.

In essence, a content calendar helps keep you on track of your writing and publishing. It's also as much about seeing whether you're trying to do too much as it is for making sure everything has a purpose and runs on time.

Where's the best place to build it?/Where's the best place to publish it?

A luxury eight-bedroom mansion in East London might be beautiful to behold, but there's no point building one if you've identified your market as first-time buyers. You might strike lucky with the child of a multimillionaire, but the more likely scenario is that you'll have to do a lot of work converting it into flats to get a return on investment. The same is true of content: Write something beautiful that's not aimed at anyone in particular, and you'll be spending a lot of extra time trying to force engagement or repurposing what you've got. It's much smarter to do your research in advance and stick to a clear path.

What's the best configuration?/What should my articles include?

There's no wrong type of content. Just find out whom you're writing for and what they like. Simple.

What will I get in return for building it?/What will I get in return for writing this content?

House builders look for sale/rent money as capital for their next project, and happy tenants/buyers for repeat business. It's difficult to monetize content in the same clear-cut way, but by understanding the power of analysis, you'll be able to understand how the digital sales funnel works—at the top of which, for example, could be a simple piece aimed at raising brand awareness.

Who should build it?/Who should write it?

An architect wouldn't build a house, so why is your finance expert writing your blog posts? Play to people's strengths; if that means enlisting a writer to turn your team's incredible knowledge into something readable, as part of a proper content strategy that's money well spent.

Who will maintain it?/Who will maintain it?

If you're building a house with a view to renting it out, the job's not done once the last workman leaves. There's sign-off from building regulations to get, insurance to take out, advertising to do, tenant references to check, and rent to collect. Not to mention the ongoing time and money needed to maintain the property's safety. Content is the same. You can't just write a piece, publish it, and expect the money to come rolling in. You have to let people know about it, show them around, sell it to them, and see who's buying. Once you know what's working, you can go out and build/write more.

Here's a tick-list of things to do (for content creation, not house-building):

  • Download a content calendar template.
  • Poll your audience on what topics they want to read about.
  • Set no more than three big objectives for your content; be specific and realistic.
  • Understand the power of analytics.
  • Fill in your content calendar and go back to it regularly.
  • Get at least one good writer on the case.
  • Think about tone of voice as your secret content weapon.
  • Come back and tell us how you get on.

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The Why and How of a Bloody Good Content Calendar for Marketing

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image of Caroline Holmes

Caroline Holmes is a senior account manager and copywriter at Stratton Craig, a writing and language consultancy based in the UK.

LinkedIn: Caroline Holmes