How to Develop a Strategic Content Calendar

After reading the last post here, you have a bit of a handle on what you need to do to create a strategic approach to business blogging. It is likely that you have some questions about the nature of strategy, and more around the editorial process… and probably even more about how your audits inform the development of a strategic calendar.

This post steps you through some of that. When we develop strategic calendars, our work partly follows the Golden Spiral Strategy, which is a strategy that we theorised and developed. It’s not published, but you can request a copy if you’re interested in seeing it.

Your guide to strategic content calendars

A note about this guide: It assumes that you have already completed an audit of your existing content. If you don’t know how to do that, let us know and we will clue you into the the basics.

1. Analyse your existing content

You will need a spreadsheet for this. Lay out your existing content, the date posted, and map it to your analytics (views, clicks, social reach, etc). Now, when you have all of this lying in front of you, add a column to the left and put in a one-​word topic that the post addresses.

With a bit of luck you will have a finite number of topics. If you haven’t, that’s ok: We will come back to it.

Now, copy all of this data and paste it into a handful of separate sheets, so they’re all the same. Each one will be used for something slightly different.

Each in separate sheets, sort your posts by the most visits, most clicks, most commented, most shared, most liked, and so on. 

Now, create a summary of what gets the most engagement by topic, title, day, time, and channel. If you have a reasonable amount of content to work with (for example, three to six months’ worth), a definite pattern will emerge.

2. Refine your topics and relate it back to your business

From the best posts you’ve published, refine your topics list. Refine them so far that you have three broad topics — as broad as you like to get them down to a finite list.

Check this list against your business strategy and the purpose for what you are publishing. Do they match? If they don’t match, find out why they don’t match. Be really honest about this; it is no good just saying ‘yes they match’ because you don’t like the fact that you didn’t line things up.

Determine a set of topics that will support what you do, and what your purpose is, and what you can talk to.

HINT If you have a message architecture already completed, start with that foundation.
If your message architecture disagrees with your topics list, then you need to start right at the beginning.

3. Define a content ratio

It’s at this point that most strategists and content marketers will tell you to split them on a rough 70%, 20%, 10% ratio split: what you want to post most about, sometimes about, or least. For editorial calendaring, we don’t work like that because it’s imprecise; your strategy needs to be unique, but also precise to how you work and what you want to achieve.

(We follow golden spiral strategy to work out the ratios.)

So, moving on. The content ratio you use needs to take into account two factors in addition to your topics:

  1. The number of posts you intend to post in a week
  2. The period of time in which you want to define your strategy.

From those two factors you will determine your content topic ratio split. It’s no good saying “forever” because you also want to put in an audit point. My suggestion at this very basic level is define an editorial strategy from audit to audit, not forever. Give yourself boundaries, and a time in which to measure and improve.

The usual split of most — sometimes — least is very generic, but it gives you a general idea, and it works well enough. Be aware, though, that it is unspecific and is not determined by your intentions in terms of publishing timeframes.

If we have three topics, a much more precise split is 50%, 38%, 23%.

In a six-​month period, posting once per week, we therefore have 24 posts. Following your topic split you would have:

  • Topic A = 12 posts
  • Topic B = 9 posts
  • Topic C = 5 posts

Hang on, this is 26?

Yes, it is. It’s because of the rounding on the percentage splits. Get in touch with us if you want to find out how we split these mathematical hairs and remainders.

4. Define a calendar of topics according to your broad topics (this meta view is your strategic view)

This is not an editorial calendar, you understand. You are not listing the actual posts, or who is writing them, or the review or publishing process. It is a strategic calendar: it needs to give you a picture at a glance of what types of things are being posted when.

This is where we come back to your topics and days/​times listing. If you’re lucky, you will have a clear image of where things need to go. If you’re unlucky, or perhaps have the luxury of starting from scratch, spread try to create a consistent and even spread of ratios/​topics across your 24 weeks. Once you start doing it, a pattern will appear in front of you.

Step back and marvel at what you’ve created!

You now have a strategic calendar for six months. You know the essential topic from which you will draw, or talk to, or otherwise link back to, in every week moving forwards. It’s a big deal, because if you’ve done this conscientiously, you will have a content strategy that is tied intrinsically to your business strategy. And it’s also come from a known perspective: reliant on an audit that has demonstrated the best approach for your business specifically.

This customisation is what makes your content unique to you. Working on generic assumptions, or what the rest of the market is doing, is not going to give you the unique position that you need.

This post was last updated on 28 January 2015.

3 thoughts on “How to Develop a Strategic Content Calendar

  1. This will take some time to set up, but I will try. It will be a good way to track progress since numbers don’t lie!

    1. Hi Layton! Yes they do take a while to set up. Much of that time is spent staring at walls while your brain wrestles with it. I think it is why a lot of people don’t do it, actually: it’s hard work. But the work pays off in spades afterwards, because the creation process is so much easier week on week.
      And yes, you’re right: numbers don’t lie! It’s very transparent, which is why I’m such a big advocate.
      Let me know how you go! ~ Leticia

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