Content Strategy

How to Build Your First Editorial Calendar

Matthew Guay
October 24, 2022

Anyone can write one post, or publish something whenever inspiration strikes. But inspiration’s a fickle beast, one not apt to follow schedules. You can’t plan on it showing up when you need it most. The only way around it is an editorial calendar: A plan for what to write, when to publish it, and why.

Consistency, it turns out, is the hardest part of running a blog. Yet it’s the only way to slowly build your audience and gain your readers’ trust.

Here’s how to build an editorial calendar that works, from the schedules that powered Envato and Zapier’s content engines.

Build around constraints

A strong editorial calendar starts with the strategy for your writing. What’s your goal for this blog? Who’s going to read it, and why? Once they read your articles, what do you hope will happen?

For AppStorm, the Envato-backed site I first edited, our goal was to surface great apps from the then-nascent App Store. Our readers wanted to learn about new apps and then download them from the App Store. We wanted people to subscribe and read consistently, so we could build a growing audience that our advertisers would find attractive.

At Zapier, our product was automation software, promoted with content for people who wanted to automate their work. Our articles were long-form, detailed roundups and guides written with an eye towards Google Search results, so if someone searched for a tool they might want to automate, they’d discover Zapier—and sign up.

AppStorm’s strategy meant we needed to move fast, write shorter 500-1,000 word articles, and publish daily. Zapier’s strategy led to publishing in-depth pieces twice a week, articles that could run well over 3,000 words. That helped Zapier build a massive search-driven audience for business software topics.

Choosing short form vs. long form

Pick what’s best for your audience and publishing capacity. Shorter posts might take an hour or three to write, while long-form writing can take days, even weeks, to research and write—and both can perform well on Google, so pick what’s best for your writers and audience. 

Editing, publishing, and sharing your posts takes time; don’t forget to account for that, too, with a buffer for delays. List who will write for your blog and how much time they have available. Then calculate backward, and see what’s feasible for your blog. 

Perhaps you could publish three times a week, but maybe it’s best not to overcommit, so plan for two posts for now. If you end up with extra time, you could write for the future—and increase your publishing cadence when that starts to feel realistic.

Plan out ideas

Then list the things you want to write about. Your plan could be scattershot. Publish a wide variety of stuff, see what gets traction, then double down on your success. That can work; 99% of the stuff you write won’t be that popular, and sometimes the biggest writing successes come from the random pieces you never thought would succeed (as I found once with an article about getting public Wi-Fi to connect).

But you’ll have better success building an audience with a bit of a method to your madness. Throw the random article in there every now and then, but broadly try to keep things consistent. 

Pick the core topic your readers care about. List what they’d want to know about them, and any related ideas that spring from those topics. Dig deep. Check Google’s suggestions for ideas about what people are looking for. List the things you’d like to learn about your industry, too—you can learn and write about it along the way.

Pull ideas together that might work in a series. At Zapier, for example, we’d write a series of posts around a topic—Google Sheets, for instance—with tutorials and guides that built on each other. Then we’d turn those blog posts into an eBook, to reuse the content. That meant the intro to spreadsheets guide needed to be published before the Google Sheets add-ons roundup, so you could reference the former in the latter. You won’t have a full schedule, not at this stage, but at least you’ll know in which order the posts should be written.

While you’re at it, check for any upcoming holidays or world events. An article about student discounts would be best published right before back-to-school season, not on Black Friday, while a post about clearing out your inbox might be great for New Year but ignored during the broader winter holiday season if it’s published too early.

And with that, you’re ready to build your editorial calendar.

Make a list and check it twice

Screenshot of Appstorm’s decade-old editorial calendar
Appstorm’s decade-old editorial calendar

Editorial calendars don’t have to be complicated. My first was a Google Doc, with headings for each month and a bullet-point list of the articles we planned to publish. We’d add an anticipated publication date before the title, and tag the writer after.

It was a minimum viable editorial calendar, one that got us back to writing—our real job—instead of futzing forever getting everything perfect.

But you can do better than that. Ideally, your calendar should be easy to rearrange, let you see at a glance what’s being published and when, and know each article’s current status. It should be shared with your entire editorial team, so your writers and editors can update it with their work as it’s finished.

With those criteria in mind, a spreadsheet could be a better place to start. That’s how we planned AppStorm content a decade ago, with columns for publication date, article type, post title, author, and status. We used colors to denote if an article was assigned, ready for editing, or queued for publication. You could filter by name to see how many articles each writer was assigned or by status to see what needed to be edited. And if anything else was needed, you could add notes and links in the blank columns to the right.

Screenshot of a Trello-powered Kanban board
Trello-powered Kanban board

Or you could improve on it with an editorial calendar focused on the editing process. It’s not enough to list ideas and schedule them. You also need to assign topics (and notify people when they’re tagged), keep all the draft articles in one place, know what needs to be edited or copied into the CMS, and more. Every article you publish needs to go through the same editorial process—that system along with your voice and tone guide will keep your blog consistent.

For that, an editorial calendar similar to the one the Zapier team built in a Trello-powered Kanban board is ideal. Kanban boards—with columns for each stage of a task—fit the editorial process perfectly. Add columns for ideas, assigned, draft, editing, published, and promoting—or add any other stages your team needs, with perhaps a copy editing and fact-checking stage, or an additional production stage for adding images and other media. Then, each new idea starts life on the left column and moves through each column as it takes form into a draft then a published piece.

The beauty here is that you can customize the board to fit your workflow. Depending on your project management app, you can likely assign tasks to people when a card is added to a column—to assign articles to an editor when they hit the Editing stage, for example—or automatically add the same sharing checklist to each task so you never forget to share posts on Facebook, Twitter, and in your email newsletter.

Screenshot of content calendar in Airtable
Content calendar in Airtable

Want to customize even more? An Airtable database brings together the simplicity of managing an editorial calendar in a spreadsheet with the features of a Kanban board and more (something other database tools offer, along with dedicated editorial apps like CoSchedule).

You can use a sheet view to quickly list ideas one after another. Switch to the Kanban view to manage the editorial process, or to the calendar view to reschedule posts. Add additional fields to track anything you want—links to draft posts in Google Docs, header photos, tags, contacts you want to email when the post is live, and more.

You can automate more tasks here—I’ve added three Tweet fields to posts in Airtable, then built an automation in Zapier to add each of those to my Buffer queue when the article’s moved to the Published column.

Time to write

But that’s enough tweaking for now. You started your blog to write—and nothing’s less productive than endlessly tweaking your editorial calendar. 

Build out enough to manage what you need, and perhaps start small with just a list of posts. As your blog grows and your editorial processes start getting more complicated, jump ship to better tools—and spend just enough time to get the editorial features you need to get back to writing.

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