While medium and large companies often have a complete marketing team to backup their content research, startups often have to start their content strategy on their own.
One of the hardest feats to achieve when creating an editorial calendar without prior experience is to maintain consistency while also catering to your readers’ needs and using content to reach your various goals.
So I’ve used my own expertise and reached out to other content professionals to help you create a winning content editorial calendar from the moment you set up your blog.
I’m taking a systematic approach so you won’t just guess what topics you need to cover and how to create an editorial calendar.
Expectations for creating your first editorial calendar
These are the goals you have or, in other words, what you want to get out of putting effort into content creation. Marketing and business targets in general are closely related. But different startups have different goals so going with the approach your competitors have taken isn’t always the best path to take.
“When crafting a content strategy, I always recommend starting with the end goal in mind. In some way, you need to connect the content you’re planning to create to a business goal. Whether that business goal be directly increasing revenue, attracting top of funnel leads, or helping close existing deals – it needs to be step number one. At the end of the day, you can’t cover payroll with page views.” – Josh Gallant, Senior Digital & SEO Strategist @Foundation Marketing
Some worthwhile content goals to keep in mind when creating your first editorial calendar include:
- Increasing website traffic
- Gaining new leads
- Strengthening your thought leadership and position on the market
- Creating brand awareness
- Loyalizing and engaging customers
- Recruiting talent [if employee branding is a side-goal of yours]
Depending on what your secondary goals are, the content you create can help you grow a community, get feedback, learn how prospects think and what their needs are, gain new partners, strengthen your website’s authority from an SEO perspective, and so much more.
Someone to do it all
As a business owner and founder you clearly won’t have time to take care of a complex strategy. That’s when you start looking for a dependable content master to build your strategy from the bottom up. It’s also probably the reason why you’re reading this.
Now I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that you need a solid content strategy from day one or else your business is dead. On the contrary, if you or someone on your team loves sharing their thoughts and educating people, let them take over the blog for the time being.
Hunter is a perfect example of a company that’s managed to grow their business and website authority by doing minimal marketing. Even after hiring a marketing manager they still have only 6 articles and the first blog posts are written by the founders.
This is a perfectly acceptable way of launching your blog. However, make sure your very first articles are insightful and never publish anything just for the sake of populating your blog. Nobody’s going to read that if you can’t bring in at least your own perspective on a topic.
So who will manage your blog’s content strategy?
The best way to guarantee that none of your content writing efforts are in vain is to craft a startup editorial calendar. For this, you’ll need either an in-house content marketing manager [your marketing manager can take care of this too if they have experience with content] or freelance content strategist.
All you have to do is decide if you’re willing to take the commitment of employing someone from the beginning or you’d rather go with a freelance collaborator who’s an expert in your industry’s topics. With both choices you can always opt to work with other freelancers if you want more diverse content or just turn to your team for topics they’re a pro at.
Getting a full understanding of what you want your content strategy to look like
After you’ve finally entrusted the strategy in a content professional’s hands, it’s time to get to talking. Particularly, you need to make the following things clear so that your business needs are understood:
- What your business goal are
- What your expectations from future content are
- How often would you like to publish content
- Who your target prospects are
- Is there any competitor or brand whose content strategy you like
- If there’s anything you’d like to keep from your current strategy [in case you’ve already had a couple of attempts at writing content]
At this stage, it’s important to have a content strategist with enough experience to help you understand if an idea or approach is wrong. For instance, if your budget is limited, publishing an article every single day won’t be realistic.
Similarly, tackling topics that are too specific won’t help you get on Google’s first page for a high-volume keyword that you “must by all means rank for”. There are thousands of small issues like that and you can only solve them by discussing content expectations on both of your sides in order to achieve realistic goals. And ranking #1 with a post from your first week is not one.
Building the editorial calendar
The most complex process falls in the hands of your content strategist. They’re responsible for:
- Reviewing everything discussed above
- Analyzing trends, keywords, ranking opportunities, buyer personas, and competitors
- Writing down the content marketing editorial calendar with all of its details
I’ll be honest here, besides being time-consuming, creating an editorial calendar isn’t difficult for an experienced content strategist who frankly knows where to look and what to pay attention to.
But there are a couple of common mistakes that marketers and founders who want to build their first content editorial calendar can make:
Targeting the same keyword
An editorial calendar is in many ways an SEO strategy. If your goal is to rank for a keyword, you can’t expect those results if you’ve planned to write two or more articles targeting the same keyword. Instead, a more sensible approach would be to dedicate the time you’d spend for both articles to put together a larger piece. A single one.
So if your startup editorial calendar looks like:
- Best Team Communication Tools To Try In 2020
- 12 Team Communication Tools Your Employees Will Love
- The Only Team Communication Tools You Need To Test
- These Team Communication Tools Will Change The Way You Work
Stop right now and re-do it. Turn everything into one large guide and update it every single year.
What about similar keywords?
Such as “team communication tools”, “team communication apps”, and “team communication software”.
Here, things depend on the reader’s intent. For the 3 keywords above, the intent is the same: finding a detailed list of tools to use when communicating with your team.
Top websites [the ones with a high domain authority] can afford to just have a large article and manage to rank for all 3 terms. That rarely happens if your DA hasn’t reached 50. That’s when you’ll want to choose one of the 3 keywords, see how things evolve with your authority, and maybe target another keyword months later.
There’s also keywords you’d assume have the same intent but are actually very different. Like “remote work” and “working remotely”. Your content strategist will do the research on that. 😉
Too much of the same goal
I swear that half of the startups do this. After a couple of months of writing content, you realize that all articles are the same. Most commonly, the first few articles tend to be on product updates or “look how you can use our tool”-type of posts.
Here’s an example of the Close.io blog back when they had just started their blog:
Literally every post is about the product. 🙄
Fast forward a couple of years and we’re seeing a perfect mix of content for all stages of the funnel:
Talk about strategic content improvement. 👏
Rushing the process
It can take years to rank for a keyword. That’s the plain truth. Google’s current algorithm makes use of what’s known as topic clusters. Simply put, the more content you create on similar topics, the easier it is for Google to consider you as a leading expert in the field and push your content forward. And with the latest changes to their algorithm, not taking this approach will keep you outside of any results for good.
I often see companies and blog owners expecting writers to put together as many as 5 articles [sometimes more 🤯] per week. That’s a big no. Good content takes time because it’s not just the writing process that matters. The more important aspect is the research that’s being put into the analysis of the right keywords, trends, and ranking potential for your brand.
The easiest way to convince you of the value of putting in at least a couple of weeks into an article is by having a look at your Medium homepage feed. Here’s mine:
Almost all of the articles that get featured on the first page are curated according to your preference and have a decent number of shares. But there’s another thing they have in common: they’re written by experts. We’re talking about people who’ve researched a topic for months before writing about it or are non-writers who almost always feel the need to spend extra time to polish a piece.
In my own professional career, I’ve spent as many as 3 months on a single guide, but hey, at least I got #1 and it’s still going strong. That’s exactly why you need multiple writers in case you were wondering why other brands have dozens of people writing on the blog. From in-house writers, to freelancers, guest posters, partners, and even your own employees, all of these professionals have a couple of topics they’re an expert at and can develop upon.
Aiming for too many articles
Just because you’re publishing something every single day doesn’t mean your blog will grow. In fact, only large companies and media outlets with hundreds of employees and collaborators can provide such a workload.
In time, you’ll able to understand which days work best in terms of engagement you can get in return and adapt your schedule to that:
“We operate on a schedule which is fluid, based on the needs and/or availability of the client. Weekly or fortnightly is the goal, in most instances this happens around the same time. Tuesdays and Thursdays have proved the best in terms of engagement and return on investment, though this does depend on the industry and platform you use to act upon your editorial calendar.” – Kurt Parziani, Owner @Assure Digital
Not converting goals into actionable content
For every single one of your goals, there’s a certain type of content that needs to be put together. Since a listicle is not the answer to all of your needs, it’s ultimately the content strategist’s duty to decide which type of content works best.
Let’s see some hands-on examples from the SendGrid blog where they have a perfect mix of content for all funnel stages:
- What is an API? [Quick Read] – top of the funnel article to bring in visitors and rank for the “what is an API” keyword
- Twilio Launches Partnership with Valimail DMARC Solutions to Deploy Sophisticated Anti-phishing Technologies at Scale – company update
- Custom Error Report Emails for Python Flask Web Apps with Twilio SendGrid – technical product update
- Consumers Share What Communications Work (and Don’t) During COVID-19 – middle of the funnel post displaying the results of a survey
All of these articles are evenly distributed so there’s something for everyone, allowing them to bring in new visitors while also catering to the needs of their prospects and current clients.
Creating the calendar for the wrong stage of the business
The first 3 months worth of content on your blog will look entirely different from the content you’ll have 3 years later. There’s just topics you need to cover before others, different priorities you have, and less resources to work with.
That’s why a good editorial calendar focuses on roughly 3-6 months. That’s just enough time for you to test formats and topics while also being able to monitor any changes in the industry as well as your own goal switches.
Time for another brief case study, this time on the Unbounce blog.
Their strategy was quite good from the beginning, so here are their first articles from 2009 in this exact order:
- Welcome to Unbounce
- 101 Landing Page Optimization Tips
- 5 Ways Twitter Can Improve Your Landing Page Conversion Rate
- The 5 Second Rule: Critiquing the Best Websites of 2009 – Part 1
- 15 Ways to Increase Trust in Your Landing Pages
- Measuring Form Threshold on Lead Gen Landing Pages
As you can notice, all of these articles were created for the top of the funnel, to bring in traffic and create brand awareness by dropping in mentions of the tool across these articles. Keep in mind they hadn’t even launched their tool at this time. So they kept posting similar educational content for months and even well beyond their beta was released.
Back in the present, a larger variety of formats, topics, and targets are obvious as their goals have expanded to retaining customers and become a thought leader:
- See How This Baby Food Brand Brought in 14,000+ Email Subscribers
- How We’re Working for You During COVID-19
- The State of SaaS Landing Pages in 2020
- 27 Ecommerce Landing Page Examples to Maximize Sales in 2020
- “What’s a good conversion rate for my landing page?” [New AI-Backed Research]
- Marketers Need an Easier Way to Optimize Landing Pages [Introducing Smart Traffic]
Perfect strategy from the start. 💯
Assuming an editorial calendar is just a bunch of headlines
Before I started my content strategy journey, I was always wondering why people who’d charge thousands of dollars for an editorial calendar which simply seemed like a list of headlines.
But an editorial calendar is not just a content backlog where you drop any idea you have. Every topic that goes through your mind needs to be researched, attributed to a goal, and placed within your SEO strategy in order for it to make the calendar.
So what goes into an editorial calendar?
Besides hours of work which are not visible, there’s roughly 2 must-have elements:
- The headline – This is always just a suggestion and not the final version. What you need to keep in mind here is that the headline should be suggestive. It can tell the writer whether an article should be a list, guide, or another format. It suggests directions of taking the topic to the next level while also giving hints on key ideas that need to be covered.
- Extra notes – The person writing the editorial calendar doesn’t have to write down the reader intent [this changes often anyway]. They can, however, put down some notes on common trends they’ve noticed like tackling the same topics or formats. Even mention things that weren’t covered and suggest possible expansions for the topic and research.
Yup, that’s all an editorial calendar truly needs.
Some content strategists like to include a few extra details. For instance, if you already have the writing collaborators and just need your ideas written down, the content strategist will also mention the ideal publishing dates when the articles should be up.
Remember that these content priorities can change over the course of a couple of months as a result of any new trends or world events:
“I previously focused on consistency – daily posts at a specific time. But what I found is that consistency doesn’t work for consistency’s sake. The way I’m posting now allows me to speak on current trends, adapt my approach during global events, share information that I’m passionate about because it’s relevant to my work and challenges at any given time.” – Nikki Hamilton @Seedling Digital
I personally prefer to include the SEO keywords suggestions. As I do the research, I inevitably come across genius keywords that might otherwise go unnoticed. So it’s not difficult for me to analyze these and place them in the editorial calendar as guidance to help the brand rank better in the future.
As you delegate work, you’ll be able to add the author, exact publishing date, status, category, CTA, required assets, or even a clear goal for the writer.
What to do next to create your first editorial calendar
If you’ve carefully noted everything above, you might just be able to start the first 3 months of your blog’s content on your own. But do expect the process to take a lot of time and editing. Even if you’ve already launched your product or service, don’t rush the strategic process. You and your team will be dedicating hours of work for the content you create so everything you write should be worthwhile.
One final thing to keep in mind and the reason you might want to collaborate with a content professional is that your editorial calendar is just one small part of the content strategy. To put it simply, you can create as many ebooks as you’d like from the beginning, but they’ll get lost in time if you don’t have a place to promote them.
Similarly, I’m sure all those topics you want to cover are a good choice to share your knowledge on, but there’s so much research and search engine optimization that needs to be done prior to publishing. Not to mention all the promotion required. That’s exactly why you can come across brilliant insights from small companies but they have no shares or engagement.