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Calendars can be lifesavers. You already know this if you've ever been notified of an overlooked appointment or anniversary by the handy reminder machine in your pocket.

The human brain is an amazingly powerful organ—but not always good at organizing. When you need to arrange complex information and track minute details, calendars are awfully helpful. Especially in content marketing.

Trying to mentally formulate the right topical balance, publishing cadence, and keyword mix for a company blog is nigh impossible, especially when multiple people are involved in the process.

For today's busy marketing teams that need to design a strategic road map, and follow it, a content calendar is essential. Content planning is the bridge between strategy and execution, and a content calendar provides the framework for that connection.

But, of course, the calendar is merely a tool. It's valuable only when loaded up with a consistent pipeline of content that's connected to business goals. Which is where that big brain comes in.

The makeup of a stellar content calendar will vary by industry, vertical, objectives, and a host of other factors. There are, however, some guidelines that will help set you up for success. Today we'll cover a few of these and equip your brain with the requisite knowledge for optimizing your content planning.

Five Core Elements of an Effective Content Calendar

Let's start here: The most critical component of a useful content calendar is... a content calendar tool. I mean a real, structured, centrally accessible calendar that accounts for all elements of the creation process. (If you still use spreadsheets or Word docs to organize your content plan, you're in trouble.)

Here are five ways your content calendar can help to ensure all your bases are covered.

1. Develop consistency

Publishing a blog post every day can be great in certain circumstances, but it's not always necessary or even useful. (I'm a big "quality over quantity" guy.) However, what IS necessary is a consistent cadence. If you want to build and sustain an audience while maximizing the SEO impact of your content, you need to be steady and reliable in your output.

"The key to an effective editorial plan is committing to a publishing cadence," suggested Michael Brenner in DivvyHQ's 2017 Content Planning Challenges, Trends & Opportunities report. "Build your content operations so that you can deliver on that cadence (1 post per day or 3 posts per week). This allows you to set an appointment with your audience and focus on the highest quality content but also on a regular schedule."

That says it all. Set a realistic expectation based on your resources and personnel, and then bake it into your content calendar to ensure adherence.

2. Maintain a long-term view

I highly recommend building your content plan out to several months. It'll take a lot of stress out of your life while helping you keep a high-level grasp of what lies on the horizon. Moreover, you'll be able to identify content gaps and establish an ongoing healthy balance in topics and formats.

As you plan ahead, keep note of industry events, holidays, pop-culture fixtures, and other occurrences that might overshadow your content because they interest your audience.

That said, it is always wise to maintain some level of flexibility. You want to be agile and responsive when timely issues arise.

3. Hold regular editorial meetings

Regular meetings will help with maintaining that agility and responsiveness. Understandably, meetings can be a challenge, especially in larger organizations: In our Content Planning report, 53% of respondents from companies with 500+ employees cited "gathering multiple team members together for a planning session" as a top challenge.

But the benefits of routine collaboration are substantial.

Even if it's a 30-minute session twice a week, or digital communication via your platform of choice, bringing together your talented creative minds on a regular basis to review and tweak the content calendar results in better content. Oh, and a good agenda helps.

4. Integrate metrics and measurement

Content marketing managers today recognize the vital importance of continual optimization based on analytics consultation. It's how we listen to our audiences and let them dictate the direction of our strategy:

  • Which types of posts are garnering engagement?
  • What subjects are striking a chord?
  • Which approaches are most conducive to driving downloads or subscriptions or whatever conversion you're targeting?

Let the data be your guide.

A robust content calendar makes it easier to place your most important performance metrics front and center, thus keeping your content planning informed and intelligent.

5. Strike the right content balance

Obtaining a high-level view of your content mix through the calendar will also help you assess and compartmentalize not only based on keywords and content type ("Whoa, we've got three 'how to' posts in a row lined up for August, let's space those out") but also, and more importantly, based on purpose and objective.

For instance, you don't want to inundate your audience with promotional content, but you need to generate leads and drive business results (the Golden Ratio would suggest that about 10% of your output should have a promotional orientation, but your mileage may vary).

In some fields, certain categories have more impact—for instance, thought leadership content in B2B—so you'll want to weigh your layout accordingly.

Without the structure of a content calendar, it's way too easy to veer away from your strategy and quickly run off the rails.

No Time to Waste

For content teams large and small, a content calendar is crucial to ensuring consistency, strategy, collaboration, analysis, and balance. By following the blueprint outlined in this article, you'll be geared up for greater efficiency and effectiveness with every piece of content you create.

I'm not going to say a content calendar will save your life, but it will make your life a whole lot simpler. And for the uber-busy content marketing team, simplicity is the name of the game.

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DivvyHQ is the most intuitive content planning, workflow, and collaboration platform on the market. Winning Content Marketing Institute's Audience Choice Award for the top overall content marketing platform, DivvyHQ helps such companies as Red Bull, Aflac and H&R Block get organized, bring visibility to their content production schedule, and streamline collaboration across their organizations.