How to Systematically Create an Annual Editorial Calendar

I talk about content, well, all of the  time. I know many of you are sick of reading about it, but I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. In fact, high-quality content that addresses the needs, concerns and questions of your ideal clients is pretty much the price of admission these days.

It’s not enough to create and optimize web pages and call that content either. You must commit to producing content much like a publisher of a magazine and you must do it strategically.

Content is Strategy

Waking up on Monday and deciding what to write about on your blog is not a content strategy. Content is such an essential element in the marketing puzzle you must plan your content like you might your promotional calendar or budget for the year.

Taking a strategic view of content means you must understand the body of work you need to create over time to turn your content efforts into an asset that will serve your business long-term.

In my view, this means applying the same kind of keyword, competitive and linking research that most associate with SEO to your editorial approach. And that’s the point really – in order for your content to pay dividends it must help drive traffic, shares, influence and conversion.

Finding Your Themes

The first step is to start making a list of your most important themes. I generally try to find three core themes and about nine supplemental themes. (Nice tidy 12 monthly themes.) Your core themes are the kinds of things that might be found on your homepage or even in the title attribute of your home page. Or, perhaps the main navigational elements of your site.

Your supplemental themes round out the list and while not as important, certainly make fodder for your ongoing blogging efforts.

Start with brainstorming. Lock yourself away and start thinking about the kinds of things people ask about the most, where you make your most money, or where you see the greatest opportunities in your industry. This is often enough to create a good start to your list. Obviously, if you have a team, get them involved – they may actually know better than you. (Industry jargon that means nothing to the prospect must be left out here.)

Now take that list to the Google Keyword Planner and see if you can find themes that have significant volume. You must balance key terms with being too generic though. A term like “marketing” wouldn’t make sense as a theme, even for a marketing consultant, but a term like “referral marketing tactics” might.

From this work, you should have developed a pretty solid dozen or so candidates for your monthly themes. I also like to take the terms to the Google search page and see what they suggest as related searches and who shows up on page one for these terms now.

BuzzSumo

Researching Topics

Now that I have my terms I want to get more specific ideas for actual topics I might map to each month.

For this task, I lean pretty heavily on a tool called BuzzSumo. There are other tools that can be useful, such as Topsy, but BuzzSumo does so many things I find myself sticking to it.

The basic thing BuzzSumo does is show you the most shared content for any term you put into its search box. (Note this can be a URL as well if, for example, you want to see most shared content on a competitors site.)

I use it to uncover actual highly shared blog posts around each of my themes so I can get some solid ideas for my own content and see what types of things get shared the most by others. You do have to use a little creativity here – for example a plumber that does bathroom plumbing might also search some common problems related to bathroom plumbing to find good ideas.

I might also employ a site like Quora to see the kinds of questions people are asking about my themes. Answering questions is always a good idea for a blog post.

Going Beyond

Now that I have a good start to the actual topics related to my themes, I want to start figuring out who else writes about my themes, who else like to share this kind of content and what sites are seen as influential in the space.

Again, BuzzSumo is a pretty great power tool. With the higher paid plans, you can discover a list of influential bloggers related to the topics you are interested in. I generally follow and list these folks on Twitter and even subscribe to some of their blogs in Feedly so I can start sharing their content. Eventually, I may try to develop the kind of relationship where I could ask one or more of these folks if I could submit guest content or if they would like to do so for my site.

You can also narrow your topic search to include only guest posts. It’s pretty good bet that a person likes to write guest posts or a site likes to take guest posts if they show up on this search.

This is indeed a way to get more content to fill your plan but it’s also the strategic part of building links to your site and gaining exposure for your content outside of your own efforts.

I further use BuzzSumo’s info to show me who is linking to and sharing content related to my topics and often create more lists to look for more strategic relationships beyond what people might call the “usual suspects in thought leadership land.”

Editorial Calendar

Now Document

By this point, I have a pretty good amount of content identified to fill in my plan so it’s time to turn to a tool to document a plan and calendar. You can use any spreadsheet really (Smartsheet, Google Sheets, Excel) to document your themes across twelve months and then simply add the elements of your platform – blog, podcast, guest posts, eBooks, etc. Then you set your goals for how much content you want in each element each month. (I wrote a post a while back called 10 Ways to Use One Piece of Content – you should read this post as well if today’s idea appeals to you.)

For a specific view of each month, you might want to add an editorial calendar as a spreadsheet or by using a WordPress plugin. It’s pretty amazing how simply documenting a plan seems to help get more done by keeping the focus on the future rather than scrambling to create the present. (I realize that’s not a very Zen idea, but it’s the reality of business.)

You know you need content, so stop fighting it and start making a plan that allows you to better delegate, build and amplify your content asset.

 

Your Customers are Talking, Are You Listening?

photo credit: DSC_8727 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSC_8727 via photopin (license)

We’ve written at length in the past about how to use social media to broadcast your business’ message, but this is only half the equation of social media marketing. The truth is, you shouldn’t just be using social media as a means to reach your customers, you should try to leverage it as a means to reach you and your business. This all starts with listening.

You have a relationship with your customers, one you want to be as positive as possible. As in any relationship, it is a give and take. Your customers give you their business and their loyalty. You must return that by listening to their concerns. Maybe if you listen, you’ll even be able to gain insights on how to earn even more business.

Think about how your customers use social media. They aren’t broadcasting messages or promoting sales. They are giving snapshots of their everyday lives. They are voicing their passions, interests, viewpoints and most importantly, their frustrations. Paying attention to this can help you avoid frustrated customers and bad reviews. It will also give you valuable insight upon your customers, and help you identify ways to better serve them.

But how do you listen to your customers? Start by creating what John calls “Listening Stations” on social media. Here’s how:

Create Twitter Lists

When Twitter introduced lists in 2009, they had intended for them to be used widely to allow users to create essentially custom timelines. While they haven’t been used as widely as initially intended, they can be incredibly valuable for business owners.

If your customers are on Twitter, add them to a list exclusively for your customers. That way, if say you are a plumber or contractor, you’ll know if they are complaining or complimenting your service even if they don’t tag or mention your business. You can also recognize when all of your customers are talking about the same thing, and perhaps you can enter the conversation. You may even be able to make generalizations about your customers that can add depth to your ideal customer personas.

Search for local posts on Twitter

Search for local posts on Twitter

Search Keywords and Business Name

Use searches on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for your keywords that you have identified as part of your SEO strategy. You can even narrow your search to simply posts near you on Twitter (Example above.)

Simply searching is a great way to keep track of what is being said about a specific topic. Using the keywords you identify can not only give you an insight on the conversation occurring about your particular industry, but may also give you ideas of topics to cover when creating content. If a particular subject or question comes up frequently in social media, it is more likely to be shared, boosting your social influence. You can also keep an eye on the discussion surrounding your competitors this way.

If you don’t want to search frequently, use tools like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to keep track of hashtags or searches in real time.

Alert yourself

Another great way to automatically listen to your customers is to set up alerts on your desired keywords. You can set up email alerts for social media using Social Mention, and receive daily notifications right in your inbox. Track your business name, any keywords you want to monitor and perhaps even your competitors. This won’t be real-time, so it may be faster to keep an eye on your live feeds you created above, but it can give you a nice daily overview if you want. You can even create alerts using more powerful tools like Buzzsumo.

Listen: It’s a great habit

Your customers want to be heard. Their comments on social media and blogs are valuable to you and your business. Get in the habit of listening to what they have to say, and you can earn their loyalty.

Alex-Boyer-Photo-150x150-e1420769709443Alex Boyer is a Community Manager and Content Ninja for Duct Tape Marketing. You can connect with him on Twitter @AlexBoyerKC

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