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It’s about Time: On Editorial Calendars (and Why You Might Need One)

When it comes to building a healthy following, nothing is more important than publishing quality content regularly. Keeping a steady pace…

When it comes to building a healthy following, nothing is more important than publishing quality content regularly. Keeping a steady pace isn’t always easy, though.

Most of us have work, school, family, and friends (or any combination of the above) to juggle. Some of us even like spending a few hours (minutes?) a day away from a screen. All of which often means that blogging goes down the priority ladder. Can an editorial calendar help you navigate a hectic schedule? Here are some points to consider.

do you need an editorial calendar?

For many of us, blogging is a way to express ourselves and interact with others during our free time. The idea of setting deadlines and making plans can easily put off those of us who do it for the sheer fun of it, on our own loose schedule (whenever the kids/boss/dogs/cats/baseball playoffs allow it). And that’s absolutely fine.

The great thing about editorial calendars is that they can be as detailed or vague, as rigorous or elastic, as you see fit.

Other bloggers make significant strides in gaining traction by having a plan in place; for group blogs, some form of scheduling is all but necessary.

Whatever your needs, the great thing about editorial calendars is that they can be as detailed or vague, as rigorous or elastic, as you see fit.

For some, publishing twice a week (or once a month, or every day, or… you get the point) is already a calendar of sorts. Many bloggers build a foundation for a calendar when they introduce a regularly scheduled feature mixed in with off-the-cuff material. Making any pact with yourself about the regular rhythm of your posts is a huge step beyond the “whatever, whenever” of having no plan whatsoever.

scheduling: a procrastinator’s best friend

An editorial calendar allows you to plan in advance and allocate your limited time wisely. Let’s say you plan your blog monthly: you might already know that on the second weekend of the month you’ll be offline for a wedding, and that an important deadline is coming up at the end of the month.

A calendar allows you, first, to start writing in advance. Since you can pre-schedule the publication of your posts, you’re done once you’re pleased with your draft. Your blog will take care of the rest while you’re dancing (or working) the night away.

Second, a calendar lets you make smart decisions about the mix and the timing of the posts you want to publish. A busy week? Why not schedule posts that are shorter or easier to write. More free time? You can finally dive into that long essay on the history of Korean BBQ you’ve been meaning to start.

In other words, you can (and should!) play around with the types of posts you publish, giving your audience time to digest your meatier content by punctuating long, serious posts with shorter and lighter fare.

the stats-driven calendar

Once you’ve been blogging for a while and have a bit of a track record, designing a calendar becomes even more important (and can yield even bigger dividends). You should consider examining and analyzing your stats, then take your content planning to the next level. When you know what your most popular posts are, on the one hand, and what your strongest traffic days are, on the other, you can start maximizing on the patterns you detect.

The idea is to identify your blog’s core audience and serve it the content it came looking for, but not to stop to testing out new features that might expand and deepen your blog’s appeal.

For example, try combining a popular topic with a high-traffic day to expose as many readers as possible to your strongest content.

On softer days, you could experiment with a new type of post you’ve been thinking about, or go with an interactive feature (like a post with a poll, or a blogging event) to focus on higher engagement among your visitors.

The idea is to identify your blog’s core audience and serve it the content it came looking for, but also to keep testing out new features that might expand and deepen your blog’s appeal.

“Calendar.” I like the sound of it. Now what?

Regardless of the kind of blog you keep, here are some editorial calendar-building pointers you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Go visual: if it’s only in your head, it’s not really a calendar. Use your smartphone’s calendar app, or a note-making tool like Simplenote. Get any of the many templates available online. Or go old school with pen and paper. Having an actual document will help you to keep track of your progress (and to make changes when you need to).
  • Be realistic: it’s better to schedule two posts a week that you know you’ll publish on time, than a daily post you’ll miss three days out of seven.
  • Budget in time for interaction: Consider the time you’ll want to spend responding to your audience. Don’t schedule a post that’s likely to generate a lot of discussion if you know you won’t be able to moderate and respond to comments.
  • A calendar’s not just a plan, but also a record: Once you’ve crossed off the week’s/month’s/year’s scheduled posts (great job!), don’t toss away your plan. Go over it and try to detect long-term trends: what posts did you most enjoy publishing? What kind of content elicited the strongest reactions from your visitors? Planning will be easier once you rely on actual data rather than gut feeling alone.
  • A calendar is not only for publication dates: create a space in your calendar for thoughts that haven’t yet matured into fully-formed post ideas. Keeping an inventory of these can pay off whenever you’re having a moment of writer’s block, or need to change plans quickly. It’ll also make it easier to create future calendars, as you’ll never be starting from scratch.

A good calendar is a flexible one

While having a schedule in place is often useful, having one that’s too rigid can backfire. A predetermined calendar leaving you with no leeway can fast become a fun-killing distraction (and bloggers who don’t enjoy maintaining their blogs, don’t).

Time for an impromptu post? Plan for the unexpected by not over–planning.

Practically, too, having some wiggle room is important. Keeping a day open, here and there, gives you the space to write spontaneously and publish time-sensitive content your readers might be eager to read.

Did your team just win a big game? Did your partner just propose? Did you just accidentally bake the best chocolate chip cookie in recorded human history? Time for an impromptu post! In other words, plan for the unexpected by not over-planning.

Do you have a content plan or an editorial calendar? How do you go about building it? What are the most useful tips you can give other bloggers? Please share your insight with us!

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  1. I intend to post daily at the moment, I am a new blogger so I feel need to in order to establish myself. Anyway I write for the joy it so it’s not a chore…yet!

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    1. Keeping a calendar and having a plan can actually help prevent blogging from becoming a chore — which it should never be.

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  2. I don’t plan, I just need to get it out.
    But I also think that in order to become a more established blog, I’ll need to deliver value to my readers and perhaps plan some good blog posts

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  3. I could definitely do with an editorial calendar. I’ve been struggling to update regularly lately, and every time I think I’m back on track, something else comes along and throws me all off course. Thanks for the tips, I will try to put them into practice… :)

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    1. They are blockquotes with a smidgen of extra html code (do note, though, that blockquotes look different depending on the theme you’re using).

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      1. Blockquotes are available in all themes in the visual editor, you just need to highlight the desired text and click the quotation mark icon.

        The breakout quote effect in this post (the text box you mention) is specific to this blog’s theme.

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  4. I committed to a post a day on Jan 1st 2013 – fortunately I have succeeded even though I have been on vacation in another country and had to deal with my Mother’s death as well as a full time job and other commitments during this time. I draft posts ahead of time, which has helped me a lot. My inspiration is a word of the day desk diary.
    Thanks for sharing your tips.

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  5. So simple, yet brilliant! I’ve been wanting to set up a “schedule” that takes my writing time beyond the Daily Prompt; trying to actually find something that works has been overwhelming. However, you gave me some different perspectives to view it from and I think I’ve got a plan. Thanks! :) (BTW – If not for the Daily Prompt I’d probably still be the “whatever, whenever” type.)

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  6. Kudos to my blogging partner @sojo1913 who realized we needed a calendar when we started our blog in June. It looks like we’ve taken many of the things you discuss into account.

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    1. Great to hear! And yes, with two people’s schedules in play, a calendar becomes more or less a necessity.

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  7. Since joining WordPress, on July 23rd, I have kept to a pretty regular schedule, writing at least one post a day. Having said that, I have taken a couple of days off! This kind of discipline comes easily to me because I have been keeping a journal for the past forty one years, so the writing habit is part of who I am.
    I do try and respond to other people’s posts as quickly, and sensitively, as I can – because sharing yourself through words can induce great feelings of anxiety.
    If I were still teaching, I suspect I would find it FAR harder to write; in fact, I know I would because, for the thirty years of my teaching career, I wrote far less than I have in the past fifteen months. Ironic, eh?!
    I think your ideas are great, particularly for those who do juggle writing with work. Thank you.

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    1. You ask yourself, who are you blogging for, yourself or for others. I do it for myself, to keep my mind occupied. If people like my blogs and read them then thats a bonus. I know some survive and even need people on their blogs to make a living. I just like to read, interact and write. :-)

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  8. I keep my ideas for future posts right inside my blog. How? you ask.

    Simple, it’s a draft post where I can cross off the posts I’ve done and of course it will NEVER be published!

    I’m also a big believer in starting drafts even when it’s not practical to find the photos or scans that I plan to add. I’ll just put for example:

    Here are the blue blocks I’ve made for the baby quilt [PHOTO]
    My buddy Suzy Quilter’s log cabin quilt [LINK] inspired me to try this

    Then later on when I’m feeling more detail oriented it’s a snap to go back in and edit to include that material. Also I usually catch a typo or three!

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  9. I have a poetry blog, which relies a lot on spontaneity. However, these are great tips that I know I can implement. Although I don’t plan ahead yet, I do have several drafts that I am working on, and that is key for me.

    When I used to be the features editor of my college newspaper, our editor in chief told us to brainstorm a huge list of story ideas the first week. My team and i came up with with 30 – 40 story ideas which were really helpful to tap into during the school year when we really needed stories to fill our pages.

    I suggest doing the same for your blog, whether you have a long form post (essay) or poetry blog. Anytime you get an idea for a topic that you would like to explore, start a draft. That way if you come across an image or all of the sudden something inspires you to write about it, you have a head start.

    The next logical step then is to finish a couple of posts and then schedule them throughout the week. Definitely leave some space between your posts and tag them accordingly so they can be found!

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  10. Thanks for this post! I recently set up an editorial calendar for my blog two weeks ago and have found that keeping to a schedule has been really helpful. Currently, I have a theme for each day of the week (such as “Travel Tuesday” and “Wedding Wednesday”) and post daily on weekdays. I also get the not being too rigid part; I used to schedule a post every day but found that having to post on weekends was too taxing and also I wanted to leave room for spontaneity :)

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  11. I do put a reminder on my phone to remind me everyday to blog (not that I need reminding). I think it also helps to add what topics you’d like to blog about as that will mentally prepare you for your blog. Sometimes I change topics, but it’s nice to know ahead of time so that I can at least think about it.

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  12. I don’t really have anything to add to the conversation, just wanted to point out that the key in the top picture appears to be a timelock winding key, and as an antique safe and vault geek, I heartily approve.

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  13. I created a calendar on my smart phone immediately after starting my blog! That’s just because I’m the kind of person who needs things to be scheduled or else I feel like I will forget something. Scheduling makes my blogging life so much more enjoyable.

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  14. I’ve got a calendar (with alerted reminders) to write and post my twice-weekly blogs and it works really well. For me, it’s the only way to discipline myself. Otherwise, life just takes over!

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  15. you are absolutely right. I just started and at times i feel that i need to organize my practice to make sure I stay on top of it all. Thanks for the tip!

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  16. That’s a really good point. I just started blogging, and it seems like I could just write for days. But, I can’t let myself do that. I have so many thoughts, but if I write about everything, I’ll run out of things! If anyone has time, take a look at mine and let me know what you think! ian0baker.wordpress.com

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  17. Wow! I was just thinking about this a couple of days ago. I don’t like to abandon my blog for long, so I try to keep a consistent schedule. I currently only have one “feature” if you may call it so, which I post on Mondays and Thursdays. I schedule many posts beforehand, sometimes ten or more. They keep the blog going for a couple of months, and I post other things as they come in the middle. . . or not.
    I know I need to make more effort towards the blog, and I am working on it.

    Check my blog out? venomsblog.wordpress.com

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  18. Great post as ever. Does anyone have any thoughts about the best frequency for posts? I’m pretty disciplined about posting once a week but wonder whether this is enough (or maybe too much!) would love to hear what people think. Cheers Lindsey

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    1. I’d say there really isn’t any absolute rule. ‘The more frequently the better’ is a common answer. While generally true, there’s also value in letting some material stay at the top of your page for more a little while, especially if it’s a particularly strong or meaty post. Ultimately, if once a week is as frequent as you feel comfortable committing to, that’s great — it’s far better to have one solid post a week than to leave visitors hanging for weeks on end.

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  19. I created an editorial calendar for my main blog just a month and a half ago, and I can see good results. The discipline of having my plans down on paper – like “5 posts a week” – has led to a significant increase in readership. I have also established daily and weekly goals for commenting on other blogs, scheduling interviews, and covering events. I tried using other people’s electronic templates, but none were satisfactory to me. Pen & paper do the trick. As I work to turn my “vanity” blog into something more substantial, I’m finding that the editorial calendar is a good tool.

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  20. Thanks for the advice! I just started blogging and I have been wondering if making a schedule would make things a little easier! After reading this I am definitely going to try it!

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    1. That’s a neat idea! At the moment we don’t have such a tool, though you could use the Milestone Widget creatively to a similar end — i.e. alerting your readers to when your next post will be up (and forcing you, in a way, to keep your end of the deal…)

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