The only content calendar template you'll need in 2021
4th December 2020
Content calendars are your key to organizing content successfully. They help you plan your content strategy and use content to grow your business quickly.
Without a content calendar, you can't put your content strategy into action. It's as simple as that.
We'll take you through how content calendars work, how you can use them effectively, and give you a free download of a content calendar we've developed here at ContentCal.
When you've downloaded the content calendar template, you just need to answer four questions to get a complete customized content calendar you can use throughout the year.
Alright, now that you've downloaded your content calendar template, you may want to click here to jump to the part of this blog that explains how it works.
Note: Ready to get started? Sign up for a ContentCal trial for free.
If content is king, then your content calendar is queen. Simply put, it is the framework that allows you to put your content strategy into an actionable plan.
In their simplest form, content calendars have been used by publishers for decades.
They were previously known as editorial calendars, and they set out what was being worked on, ready for publication, in a certain magazine or newspaper issue.
Content publication is now more complicated. Few businesses are limited to only one channel for populating with content. What’s more, pretty much every business should be trying to publish content like they're a media outlet.
If you use content as part of your marketing strategy, then you need a content calendar to keep you focused. This applies whether you post the odd social media status, keep a blog, or publish videos to YouTube.
Like a wall calendar or a desk diary, a content calendar sets out what content will be published when. The calendar enables you to take the aims and objectives of your content strategy, such as which topics you want to become an authority on, or which product you wish to promote, and puts the structure in place for achieving these.
Creating a content calendar can seem like a huge commitment, especially if you don’t use a content calendar template. However, you’ll win back the time you invest now in getting your template right as soon as you get publishing.
Here’s an example of what your standard content calendar looks like:
We've already touched on some of the key business benefits of content calendars, but let's dive into some more detail.
When you stop planning what you’re doing, time is wasted and inefficiencies become commonplace. With a content calendar you’ll know what’s coming up, what’s needed, who is responsible, and the aim of the individual content piece.
This is particularly valuable if you’ve got a complex content strategy that you need to bring to life.
It’s all very well saying that this year you will grow your audience of 25-30 year olds interested in fashion, and come up with a top-line plan.
But if you don't plan how you are going to put that strategy into motion, you’ll never be able to make it happen. A content calendar will enable you to plan out the steps your business needs to take - and when.According to some neuroscience studies, by adding your goals to your content calendar, you stand a far greater chance of achieving them. Once you write them down, you can check on them more regularly and stay on course.
Note: Keep all of your digital marketing activity in one place. Get started with a trial of ContentCal for free, today.
Your audience loves it when your content is consistent in tone, time and subject matter. That’s tough to do when you’re only fuelling your social media channels with the latest inspirational quote you just Googled.
Across multiple channels, you need to be consistent. You need to show up when your audience believes you will, in the way they are hoping you will. If you post in an ad hoc way, your audience doesn’t know what to expect. They could lose interest.
All of this is particularly true when you choose a content calendar with content scheduling capabilities. That way, even though you’re nowhere near your desk at 9pm on a Thursday when you know you get the best engagement, out comes your content.
It also means that if you’ve suddenly got a time pressure, your content is sat there, ready to launch, while you get on with whatever is more urgent.
Bottom line: Consistency takes planning.
Note: Did you know we're integrated with Grammarly? Sign up for a ContentCal trial for free, today.
Content calendars help eliminate errors. Even though you can use a basic Excel spreadsheet for your calendar, a template won’t take as much time to build and maintain.
Plus, you’re less likely to make a mistake.
You’ll be able to see dates with accuracy, see if content has been used before, and have a coherent system of approval workflows, all before the content goes public. Typos are picked up on, proof-reading takes place, the approval process makes it all a calmer affair.
With a content calendar, you’ll know if an event of importance is coming up well in advance. That means important calendar dates like International Women’s Day and Blue Monday won’t pass you by…
Lastly, your content calendar makes it easier to monitor and measure success. You can see what happened when, and use it in conjunction with your analytics to make powerful insight-driven decisions.
Your content calendar can help you run tests to see which type of content works best for your business and when.
A content calendar isn’t just a planning tool, with the addition of analytics it’s also a powerful business tool.
We looked through all the free content calendar templates on offer and found that they were too basic, inflexible, or generally just difficult to use.
That's why we've put together a free content calendar template that blows all the others out of the water. Here's how it works.
If you haven't already downloaded your free ContentCal Content Calendar template, you can download it here.
To get started with your content calendar, go to the grey box on the left of your content calendar and answer the four questions asked there.
Your answers to these questions will automatically pull in to the right-hand side of the sheet, and help you get organized when you're filling out your content calendar.
Every good content strategy starts by outlining what its objectives are for the year.
Whether you want to grow traffic, grow engagement, grow leads, or grow sales from organic channels, add in these objectives to keep a record of what your goals are.
Then, when you're adding these into the plan, you'll have these front-of-mind, helping you focus that are going to help you reach your target objectives.
A content channel is any place where you share text, images or video to a wider audience.
These include all the social channels, including Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, but also video streaming services like Youtube, and blogging platforms like Medium or Wordpress.
We wouldn't suggest posting to more than five channels, or you begin to lose focus and it becomes difficult to keep track of results on every platform!
There are so many different types of content out there that you could share. But which are the top 10 content types that are going to shift the needle?
These could include guest posts, social image cards, client case studies, and many others. We've added a few examples within the doc which you could use.
If you're struggling to think of different content types, take a look at your history of posting on social media. What are the broad themes and what do you want to introduce more of?
How many times do you expect to post each content type per month on your social media calendar template?
Now you've written down each type of content you expect to post, it's time to understand how many of each type you need to add per month.
If you're not sure, that's totally fine - just add in your best guess. You can always come back later and change any part of your answers in the Excel sheet and the rest of the spreadsheet will update automatically.
As you filled out the answers to each of the questions, you'll have noticed that some cells on the right-hand side of the screen started to populate automatically.
Once you've answered all the questions, you should be able to see:
- Your content objectives for the year
- Your target channels
- The different types of content you plan to post
- How often you plan to post each content type each month (on a grid)
Now you all you need to do is populate your calendar.
Each of the colored boxes represents a different content type to paste into your calendar. To the right of the colored boxes you'll see a countdown of how many times you still need to add that content type to the calendar.
This will countdown to zero and turn green every time you've added your quota of content types to each calendar month.
So here's what you do:
- Copy (CTRL + C) a color box for the post type and right click, choose 'Paste Special' then 'Paste Values and Formatting Only'.
- Do this again, but with different dates, until the countdown box for the selected month in the right of spreadsheet reaches zero and turns green.
- Once you've done this for each content type, for each month, the whole grid should go green.
- You've planned your content types. Now get drafting & get posting with ContentCal's simple content planning calendar.
This rest is straightforward. Add your colored content type boxes to the calendar until the grid goes green.
Once the grid is green, you're all set up for the year, and you know exactly what to do.
While consistency is important in many regards, in terms of making your audience feel familiar with your brand, variety keeps them interested and engaged. There are many different types of social media post ideas that you can put in your content calendar.
Here are the most common ones.
If you’ve taken the time to craft awesome blog posts, you’ll need to promote them. Whenever you create a new blog post, make sure it’s in the calendar.
Blog posts are great for providing your audience with rich, in-depth content, and it also directly drives traffic to your site. What’s more, by posting your blog posts through your social media channels, you’ll reach a larger audience.
Users like videos. In fact, they love them. 96% of people say they’ve watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service, 83% of marketers say videos give them good ROI, and 79% of people say a brand’s video has convinced them to buy a piece of software.
Videos are shared more than other content on social media too.
Polls, which are easy to create on social media, are great for engaging your audience by encouraging them to have some input. They are also really handy for you to gain insight.
Photos tell a thousand words. Social tools like Instagram depend on photos, don’t turn up without them. However, you should make sure that the photos you use are high quality and original. You can use photos of your products, your employees, or something else of interest to your audience.
People like to hear what your customers have to say about you. Posting your latest glowing TrustPilot or TripAdvisor review will elicit more trust amongst your audience than any marketing message.
UGC is a magic trick for marketers. Don’t underestimate the power of content which has been generated by your users. If they’ve hashtagged about your brand (positively), then snap it up and re-use it.
Case studies are the journals of the business world. They allow the reader to envisage how you will work for them. Case studies also work to build trust because they focus on real people using your product or service.
Being relevant to your followers means showing that you know what’s going on in your industry. If they see that you post relevant industry news, then they won’t be looking elsewhere for it.
Infographics are great for showing your authority in an area. Visually appealing, they make facts and stats all the more compelling.
There are many other forms of content you can use on your content calendar template. You can even use old curated content, perhaps in a different way, or on a different platform. Other winners include event info, memes, gifs, podcasts, research, competitions, freebies, quotes, guides, eBooks, recommendations and more.
Think of your content calendar as the cocktail glass for your perfect drink. It takes a variety of content types to create your perfect drink.
If you’ve had an incredible all-singing-all-dancing piece of content, you’ll want to use it again. However, you can’t do it in exactly the same way.
So, how do you mix things up?
First, use the list of different types of content that we outlined in the section above. This will come in handy if you want to use old content in a new way. It means you won’t have to go back to the drawing board completely.
Secondly, be prepared to generate fresh content. Make sure that you have the resources to stay on top of developing well-researched new content.
Adding category tags within your content calendar will help you identify which content is easiest to put together, and which requires more time.
ContentCal's calendar uses category tags to bring simplicity to the way you plan your content and social posts.
It’s sensible to take some time considering the different content calendar templates and tools that are available. As we said earlier - not all content calendars are created equally. You need to be sure that you choose one which does what you need. Check the tool’s features and functionality.
It can help to look at what others are doing, and how their content calendar is working for them.Unbounce’s draws on Google Sheets, like Megan Minns. With more functionality than our previous example, it is still somewhat limited and less visually appealing than other content calendars. However, it is relatively simple and ‘does the job’.
You can also see how content is considerably more organized here than without a calendar at all! Notably, you can see the responsibility column, as well as what stage the individual pieces of content are at in the workflow.
The system works well for Unbounce. Colin Loughran, editor in chief at Unbounce, says: “We’re a small content team, so other platforms would likely overcomplicate things.”Buffer use Trello as the platform for their content calendar:
This is a fascinating template, not least because Buffer themselves are a social media content scheduling platform! It makes sense that they organize their own content carefully.
You can see that the workflow, of the content creation and publication, is smoothly accounted for. You can easily see the different assignments, who the author is, publishing dates, and more. You can also edit and view which stage of development the content is at.
Trello is a popular content management tool.
Another ‘look’ is available from another popular platform, CoSchedule:
This is the overview of the main content. You can then also switch on a view with all the planned social media. Then it would look like this:
The icons and colour-coding make this calendar look very visually appealing. It’s easy to see what’s going on and when. It’s easy to see how consistency is a strength of this platform.
CoSchedule is useful for businesses managing multiple marketing campaigns, as these can be catered for within the calendar, further grouping relevant work together. With a filter function, none of this becomes cluttered or complicated.
Here is an example of Evernote in action:
Evernote is not actually designed as a content calendar, but it can be used as one. It’s possible to plan different social media posts in a structured and colour-coordinated way.
Using Evernote’s log feature, you can keep track of publication dates and even set team priorities.
However, you do need to think laterally to use Evernote as a content calendar, even though there are customizable templates you can use. For example, you can use the app to take a photo and attach it to your calendar. This is a really useful idea for those who heavily use Instagram, but it’s not necessarily the most straight-forward way of doing it.
Another example of a free content calendar template is from Hubspot:
Visually, this calendar is really great due to its simplicity. You can also see how a key can be used to colour-code different campaigns, making it easy for users to follow.
This is a simple calendar, however, and doesn’t provide as much functionality as you may need.Basecamp is a project management platform, which some choose to use as a content calendar. It makes sense for many who already use Basecamp. It’s strength is linking events to your content plan:
The focus in Basecamp is on the right person knowing what they should be doing when, and visibility being possible across the team. As such, it is good for workstreams. It isn’t as visually clear as some other platforms, however.
Looking at the examples above, it’s possible to see that content calendars can vary enormously from a basic note-style or spreadsheet, to complex colour-coordinated wonders that do a lot more!
We designed ContentCal to take all of the best elements and functionality of multiple tools, and develop them further. Much of this is because of its simple-to-use calendar format and functionality. This additional functionality is enhanced because it works in conjunction with the calendar. Users are able to respond to social media messages and measure performance.
Note: Ready to get started? Book a trial with ContentCal for free, today.
Let’s take a closer look at some of ContentCal’s main features.
For many, one of the most important aspects of a content calendar is that it enables teams to work together. Originally a tool built for agencies to sign off social posts, ContentCal has collaboration in its core.
You can share ideas with the team, but also use the Calendar to quickly and easily keep track of approval workflows.
This is because, within the Calendar, you can swiftly create drafts, preview your posts, leave comments, keep track of notes and briefs, clip items from the web and more.
Meanwhile, the Grammarly integration ensures that teams communicate accurately and effectively.
You can easily see the progress of content by looking at it's current state and see which team member or client is needed to approve the content. This ‘tidy’ approach to content prevents confusion, and keeps everyone on track as it heads towards the publication date.
Even if a team member isn’t logging in, if they are mentioned in a comment, or it’s time for them to take action, then they will receive an email notification to nudge them into action.
Additionally, everyone has the same Calendar View, regardless of their access and User Permissions. Again, this ensures that individuals have a clear idea of what’s coming up for the whole organization.
ContentCal makes hands-free publishing easy through Preset Publish Times and content scheduling. This closely with analytics that tell you when it’s the best time to post. That’s really handy and because it allows you to strike a balance between experimenting with when you post and optimizing based on what you already know.
From within the content Calendar, you can create posts and schedule them for a multitude of different apps. You can also see, at a glance, the status of a post. You can see whether it’s been scheduled, published, or what stage of production it is at.
When it comes to social media posting, tagging can become a minefield. Tagging is also another way that you can re-use content, ensuring successful content keeps on giving.
Within the content Calendar, you can tag content by whatever you like, making it easy to keep your content on target. You can even make short work of bulk hashtags by using the Snippets feature.
Tagging, as well as the Filter and Search functions, also help to make the content Calendar View relevant to each user.
It’s not just the content Calendar itself which is impressive with ContentCal.
ContentCl Analytics work alongside the Calendar so that you can see how effective your efforts really are, with graphs that track follower growth and post engagement over time.
Meanwhile, ContentCal Respond allows you to respond to social media conversations that come through Twitter and Facebook, helping your team pick up on all messages and respond from one central inbox.
ContentCal has 1000s of integrations with Zapier, which means that you can use ContentCal with other tools your business is already using, such as Slack.
Additionally, the Content Hub makes it easy for people to create new content and store it ready for use, as well as curate it. You can drag and drop content into the Calendar, for whenever you’re ready to use it.
In all, ContentCal was designed to be the user-friendly way to plan and post content with your team.
Note: Ready to get started? Sign up for a trial of ContentCal for free, today.
Of course, having a great template is one thing...
You spend a lot of time posting content, but how much time do you dedicate to looking back over which posts are performing best, and why?
There could be a hundred reasons why some of your posts aren’t performing well, from the quality of the story the content tells through to the specific time you’ve chosen to post. Going back over posts to check what time works best can be a big job - so we’ve automated that data collection for you.
Within our Analytics area, you’ll see charts and graphs that show your engagement levels and tell you what your best times to post are.
This data is based on your engagement levels for posts you’ve published in the past so you’ll need to use ContentCal for a little while and experiment with different post times before you start seeing accurate results.
- Head into your ContentCal Calendar, and select the ‘Analytics’ tab in the top left.
- To see your best times to publish across all channels, select ‘All’ at the top left.
- To see your best times to publish per channel, select the relevant social channel from the top left.
Once you’ve discovered which times are the best to post content, you’ll want to add these into ContentCal as Preset Publish Times.
Within your Content Calendar, you can also decide on different publish times to pick from before you or someone on your team posts. These allow you to quickly select from a list of optimum times when scheduling new posts.
This helps maximize reach and reduces any ‘what time to post’ anxiety. Your team just needs to stick to the predetermined times.
- Head into ‘Setup’ from within your Calendar and scroll down to the ‘Preset Times’ area.
- Select ‘Create Preset Time’ and enter a time of your choice.
- When scheduling a post, select the dropdown beside the timepicker to generate and select from a list of your Preset Times.
💡 Pro tip: Regularly make use of the ‘Random’ option when scheduling your content to assign a random publishing time to your post. This will allow you to continue testing other publish times that might receive high engagement.
Preset Publish Times became a highly requested feature of ours thanks to the feedback of our ever-helpful customers.
As this request moved up our list of priorities, we set out to create Preset Times with the goal of saving customers time, and giving more structure to when people post.
Thanks to the launch of Preset Publish Times (as a part of our 2.0 release) we’ve removed the hesitation that comes with deciding what time to post, as well as giving our customers more control and awareness over when they post.
“We’ve had such a great response from our user base on the ability to preset publish times. It’s a great way to put the results of your analytics into practise when creating and scheduling content. With so much noise online, it’s so important to publish at the best possible time..” - Ben Newton, Developer
Note: It's over to you. Sign up for a trial of ContentCal for free, today.
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