Julie R. Neidlinger is an artist and private pilot with her own blog, the Lone Prairie Blog, which she has been writing for 13 years. She is also a blogger at @CoSchedule, a social media editorial calendar for WordPress. You can find her on Twitter @JulieNeidlinger
The idea of planning out all of your content doesn’t sound very sexy. It sounds stifling, like you’re killing off creativity and spontaneity. Bloggers, particularly when under pressure, are a “fly by the seat of the pants” group. When it comes to our content, we default to winging it.
Well, that’s not going to work. Not for long. Not when most blogs last only about three months. Scheduling your blog content is about the smartest thing you could do.
The Benefits Of A Blog Schedule
A schedule isn’t just an unpleasant task-master, giving you one more deadline to answer to. Scheduled content provides several benefits for any blog.
1. Your writing improves.
Last minute posts are great for muddled theoretical philosophy and shallow research, but they don’t result in quality writing. When you know ahead of time what you will be writing in the coming weeks, you can plan for what you are writing.
Setting aside time to do the big think is better than leaving it to the day you write. Why not take a few hours just to come up with ideas to put on the schedule? Mondays are sure a lot better knowing the idea is waiting for you instead of the other way around.
When you know what you’re going to write, you have more time to research, write, and edit it. That makes your final product better.
2. Your research improves.
Research is time-consuming if you do it right. It’s not something you can leave to the last minute. What happens when you know what you’ll be writing about a week or more ahead of time?
You can think about it.
It’s in your mind as you are surfing the web and reading feeds, making it more likely that you’ll find sources, research, and related content that you can reference and use in your post.
Without knowing what you’re going to be writing, you can’t do any purposeful or “accidental” research.
3. Your team is on the same page.
One of the reasons that we created CoSchedule, a social media editorial calendar for WordPress, was because of the need to get our writing team writing according to a cohesive content plan.
If there is more than one writer on your blog, especially, scheduling content is vital to keep your blog on track.
4. You will publish more (regularly).
How much math homework do you think you’d have done as a kid in school? Sometimes we need to be assigned a task to help with the motivation to do it. Sitting down in front of my blog software and staring at a blank screen is particularly deadly when I’m uninspired, have no ideas, and no motivation.
While it isn’t always fun to write an assigned topic, it’s much better to know what you have to research and write when you face a blank screen than have nothing to go on at all.
Scheduled content forces blogging consistency on the days we feel like blogging and the days we don’t.
5. You will have strategic content.
Great blog content involves not just the words in the post, but SEO and social media considerations, too. That is its own kind of research, learning what keywords will work best, which headlines attract your readers emotionally, and how to share your content on social media.
Again, CoSchedule was something we built to scratch our own itch in this regard as well. Social sharing across many networks became onerous, and by the time we planned social messages into an editorial calendar in a spreadsheet, that spreadsheet started to feel like rocket science. We knew we had to plan our social content as if it were as important as our blog content.
When you get all of your content on a calendar and are working ahead of time, you can do great SEO research, you can find that perfect headline. Last minute won’t cut it.
6. Your audience prefers it.
No one likes reading the “hey sorry I haven’t blogged in a while but here is a blog post” entry on any blog.
Not only does scheduled content prevent that from happening, but your readers develop a rhythm in expectations. They expect to read a new post on specific days, about certain kinds of things. If you don’t have a schedule, you won’t stick to it.
And your readers will notice. By leaving.
Get Started Scheduling Your Content
How do you schedule your content? It’s not that difficult! After building an editorial calendar for over a year, and using a paper version before that, we developed a few techniques that really work.
Plan Your Content As A Team
At regular content planning meetings we get the whole team together and gather ideas. From these ideas (some of which are great and others which are not so great–yes, we wrote a post about Sharknado), we build the foundations for our content plan.
- Have regular content meetings. Meet with the entire writing team regularly to plan the upcoming schedule, discuss problems or content hiccups, and make sure everyone is headed the same direction. You will also pool ideas for the future.
- Build an idea bank. Get all the ideas together in a “bank.” Think not in headlines, but in keywords and phrases. Google’s Keyword Planner tool will come in handy.
- Assign to team members. If you have more than one writer, assign the ideas in the bank. Let them choose ones they are particularly interested in.
- Put on the calendar. Put the ideas on the calendar according to how you want to arrange your schedule (more on that in a bit).
- Always collect ideas. Have a system where you and your team can collect ideas in between your regular content planning meetings. An app, a notebook, draft posts, a spreadsheet–whatever you use, make it easy for them to jot down an idea (and any related links) as they come.
- Deadlines must be kept. Make sure that your team is hitting your blog deadlines. No excuses. Develop a process of writing a post for those times when they don’t come easily.
Regular meetings are entirely necessary. Everyone should come to the meeting with ideas they’ve come up with on their own since the previous meeting.
Schedule Your Content On A Calendar
What level of scheduling do you need to do?
At the very least, you should plan out each month. Even if you only plan the next three weeks, you’re still ahead of the game. In an ideal hard-core and serious blogging world, your schedule would take into account three aspects of content scheduling:
- An annual plan. The annual plan views each month as a theme. While not every blog post will be the theme, a majority of them will be. For example, if you have a food blog, January might be the month you talk about making healthy diet changes for the coming year. Themes might be centered around holidays, industry events, company events, or based on the categories on your blog.
- A monthly plan. Each month should be scheduled according to the theme you have assigned it as well as spacing out the posts so that the theme isn’t overbearing. We like to try to have no more than two posts a week on the chosen theme.
- A weekly plan. We plan our week based on two things: the author and the category. We have an author schedule set up so that we each write on the same day each week (makes it easier to develop a good writing habit and system). We also avoid using the same category more than once in a week if possible. Our schedule is adjusted accordingly.
The thing that people don’t like about the idea of scheduling content is that they feel it’s going to kill those sometimes wonderful spontaneous posts that fit the moment.
That is completely not true.
Scheduling still leaves room for those posts (just adjust your schedule). Scheduling still leaves room for breaking news posts (write and publish them freely). All scheduling does is make sure that your blog gets regular content even on the days when there is no inspiration and there is no breaking news.