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Issue #3 • March 2017

How to Create a Year-long Content Strategy

Build Your Audience

Blogger burnout. Have you ever heard of it? More importantly, have you ever felt it? It’s what happens to a blogger when they’re constantly giving all their creative energy and mental capacity solely to their blog posts. And when it happens, it’s hard to recover from.

As a blogger yourself, you know that running a blog is about so much more than just your posts. Yes, your blog is important for creating value for your readers, helping out your SEO ranking, and serving as a communication point, but there is so much more to be done.

There’s social media, email marketing, high-level vision casting, managing your team (if you have one), product development, creation, distribution, sales, and so much more. You have to find a way to spread your creative capacity and problem-solving abilities to all aspects of online business.

One way to avoid blogger burnout is simply to put a content plan into place. After all, your content’s success is only as good as the plan you give it. It needs a foundation to stem from and your commitment to set it in motion.

I could give you an easy task and talk about how to create a month’s worth of content, but I want to challenge you to take it a step further. I’m going teach you how to create a content strategy for the next 12 months.

Why you need a content strategy

You might think that creating a year-long content strategy is a waste of time. What about spur of the moment creativity? What about breaking news? What about keeping up with current trends?

I hear all that and absolutely agree with you. When inspiration strikes, write it. When breaking news breaks, report it. When a fashionable trend pop ups, give it a spotlight.

This process is not about setting up a strict and inflexible calendar. It’s about helping you see the bigger picture for your blog’s content. It’s about giving you guidelines and the space to create the best content you can. Not convinced it’s worth all the effort yet? Here’s some more reasons:

Do more research

Being aware of what content you have coming up allows you to always be on the lookout for facts and figures to back you up. The more research you can put into your blog, the more your readers will trust your content and the more authority you’ll build in your topic.

Edit your work with more intention

According to our survey, 52% of bloggers write either the day before or on the same day as they plan to publish. Writing, editing, and posting content in 24 or even 48 hours span is never a good idea. Getting ahead of the game with your content means you have more time to edit and finesse your writing. You can leave it for a week and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes or even send it to a friend for feedback.

Create space for guest posts

Blogging alone is hard work. When you put a content calendar in place, it’s a living document you can share with other team members, potential collaborators, or guest bloggers. They can see the overall vision for the blog and offer to help you fill in the blank spaces. Sometimes you might even have a friend who could write a better version of a given post than you could on your own. Planning ahead gives you the time to reach out.

Create a system of accountability for yourself 

No more procrastinating, going a week without publishing, or putting up subpar content. Putting together a content strategy helps you create rhythms for your blogging. You’ll have systems and processes in place for SEO, content upgrades, internal links, promotions and all those things that take your blog to the next level.

You want all those things for your blog, right? Of course. Your blog will be an asset for your online business if you plan your content wisely. It will take a lot of effort to plan out and keep up with, but it will be well-worth it.

Four things to know before creating a content strategy

Before you can sit down to create your content calendar, there are a few things you need to decide on. These things will help you know everything from how many post ideas you need to come up with to how to organize those ideas.

How to find a content calendar tool 

Choosing (and using) an editorial calendar tool will change the way you approach your blog. With the right one, you’ll start to see the big picture and use your blog to it’s greatest potential. Check out our post about choosing a content calendar tool to find one that’s right for you.

How often do you want to publish on your blog? 

This one question will determine how much content you need to plan for. To figure this out, think about:

How much do your readers actually read? What other types of content are they consuming when you find them? Are they are on sites filled with Buzzfeed type lists, in-depth essays, or short-form blogs filled with images, etc? This can be done in the “Choose your audience” phase of creating your blog.

If you’re just starting out, you need a lot of content to start hitting your SEO goals. You might need to be creating content to publish three, four, or even five times a week at the beginning to increase your possibility of ranking well in the search engines. If you’re more of an established blogger, you can focus on publishing solely for your audience’s needs.

Pick a few blog categories 

Categories are not just there to help your reader find what they want. Setting up categories you want to blog about is key to making sure you’re consistently covering all your bases. If you’re just starting out blogging, three to five categories is great place to start, but you’ll most likely find that your categories section will expand as you get further into your journey.

Think in theme for your blog

This last bit is not necessary, but when we create our content strategy here at ConvertKit we’ve found that giving themes to each month helps narrow our focus. The themes we come up with turn into each issue for Tradecraft, like this one about blogging for your online business. By creating a main theme we’re able to think about all the individual topics you might want to know about when it comes to that theme.

Once you’ve got your basics ready to go and have thought through categories, keywords, and how much content you need to come up with, it’s time to create your long list of content ideas.

How to come up with ideas for your blog posts

There will be times as a blogger that you’ll have unending blog topic ideas. One idea leads to the next and suddenly you’ve got five weeks worth of content you could write. But there will also be other times you’ll feel stuck. You’ll feel like your creativity well has been emptied and there’s no way an original thought will ever come from your brain again. During those times, it’s good to have a reservoir of idea-generating tricks to help you fill up your calendar.

Here are a couple of those tricks:

Use your keywords

The first thing you want to do when starting your list of ideas is to think about your keywords. What are the main SEO-driven keywords your readers are likely to be searching for when your site pops up? Take that list and brainstorm five to 10 different blog titles for each keyword. Tools like Google Adwords Keyword Planner and Moz’s Keyword Explorer can be incredibly helpful for finding keywords that are worth your time and cater to your audience.

Keep track of questions you’re asked

The more you build trust with your readers, the more they will come to you with questions about your topic. While you should answer those as they come up, you should also write them down as potential blog topics. If one reader is asking a question, then it’s most likely other readers have the same question.

A great way to solicit questions from your audience is to send a welcome email to each reader when they join your email list and close the email with, “What are you struggling with right now when it comes to [insert your blog topic]?”

Survey your readers

The best way to give your readers the valuable information they want is to simply ask them what they want to learn. This can be done in a bunch of different ways. You could schedule 30 minute calls with potential blog readers, post a question on social media, or send out a survey asking specific questions you want to find out.

I start all my conversations with ‘Whaddya Want?’ I ask teachers (my clients) what their biggest challenges are in teaching and learning, what mistakes do learners make in writing, and the real killer question – what annoys them the most!

This gives me a list of their problems and titles for my next blog post.

Even better, you could use an email marketing tool like ConvertKit to automatically send your survey to every new email subscriber to find out what your readers want on an ongoing basis.

Pay attention to your surroundings

What’s everyone else talking about? Keep up with the latest industry buzz through your social media channels, news sites, and other blogs you follow. If something is coming up a lot, you should probably write about it. But please don’t just regurgitate what you read. Make sure you have a new angle to the story. Think about how it pertains to your readers and how they interact with your business.

Give a behind the scenes look at your business

Depending on what type of business you run, it’s possible your readers will want to know what’s going on behind the scenes. What are you learning and figuring out that would also help your readers? We call this “teaching what you know” and it’s actually why we launched our second publication Work in Public.

If your readers don’t want to know about your business, perhaps they do want to know about how you’re continuing to learn about your industry. If you have a blog about baking, it can be a great strategy to share your own experiences in the kitchen and teach what you’re learning along the way. So whether your readers want to know about your business or your own experiences, this strategy can work well.

How to create a year-long content calendar

Finally, here we are at the execution phase. You have your content calendar open, strategies to come up with blog ideas (whether they’re thought out headlines or scraps of ideas), and you’re ready to get brainstorming.

The content formula

To find how many blog posts you need to come up and how to organize them let’s talk some math. Take the number of posts you want to publish a week and multiply that by 52 to get the total number of posts you need to write this year.

#of weekly publishing frequency X 52 = total number of posts to write

It’s probably a really big number, but don’t get overwhelmed! Now take that number and divide that by the number of categories you created. This will tell you how many posts you need to write to evenly space out your content between your categories. (This isn’t necessary, but I think this step helps you organize your ideas a little easier.)

Total number of posts / # of categories = number of posts per category

Brainstorm

Now comes the fun part. It’s time to brainstorm ideas. Take all those strategies from the section above and write down as many ideas as you can. Think about everything your audience might want to know in terms of your categories and let your creativity flow.

Every 90 days I get away for two days to think, plan, and schedule for the next quarter. I use CoSchedule to schedule one idea per week that will eventually become my featured blog post. I'll also take that same idea and turn it into a podcast for iTunes and a video for Youtube.

– Jonathan Milligan

Organize your ideas

Once you’ve got a long list of ideas you can organize them to help you know what to write first.

You can prioritize them:

  • In order of the biggest impact for a beginner – This lets you start creating content from the ground level up.
  • How much you already know about the subject – Think about how much research or help you’ll need to write a blog post for each idea. You should start by writing the content that requires little to no research that you can freely write about. Doing this gives you the opportunity to write a lot of content quickly at the beginning and will help you get a few weeks or possibly months ahead of your calendar.
  • By your theme for the next month – This gives you a great template to think about your whole year. Themes can incorporate many blog post ideas spanning all your categories and bring them together in a cohesive plan. If you want to see how this can work, just go back and look at issues one and two of Tradecraft.

Fill your content calendar

Now that you have your list of ideas organized, it’s time to start filling out your content calendar. It’s pretty simple at this point. Just take your ideas and plug them into the days you want to publish and you’ve got your content scheduled.

No pressure to get your whole year’s worth of content figured out in one sitting. Now that you have a lot of your content figured out, you can better see all the gaps in your schedule and have more time to think of blog ideas or even time to reach out to other bloggers for guest posts. But no matter what you decide, I bet you at least have a few months of content scheduled and for that you deserve to celebrate.

Are you ready to commit to your content calendar?

Just because it’s on your calendar doesn’t mean it’s going to write itself. Now that you have everything set you have to commit to yourself, your calendar, and your readers to make it happen. You’ve got to show up every day and make magic happen even when you don’t feel like it.

But by having a plan set up from the beginning, you already have a head start. Your content plan is the best way to make sure you’re regularly publishing and creating value for your readers.

And remember– just because it’s on the schedule doesn't mean it’s set in stone. If you get to a blog post and it’s not relevant anymore, scrap it and go for something else. If you get inspired and write a different post, shift things around. Having your calendar set so far in advance gives you the flexibility to keep it fresh and exciting.

Are you ready to commit to your blog’s success and create a year-long content calendar? I know you can do it!

If you have any more questions about creating your own content calendar, let’s talk about it in the comments. I’m here to help in anyway I can.

 

Dani Stewart

As a daughter of an entrepreneur, the wife of an entrepreneur, and an entrepreneur herself, Dani has lived and learned all sides of creating and growing businesses. She is excited to bring all that life experience as well as a decade of crafting content to the ConvertKit community. She is a part-time baker, dinner-party planner, and lover of good bourbon living the simple life in Nashville with her husband, Sean.

Experience this issue your way

Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.

  • Very helpful tips you have here Danny. Planning long time ahead definitely helps and will save us lots of time. I was wondering, how often do you think we should publish new content?

    • Dani Stewart (ConvertKit)

      Hey @EmmereyRose:disqus, that’s very dependent on you and your audience. You need to consider what kind of time you can dedicate to your blog without burning out and how much content/how often your audience likes to read. I will say though that if you’re just getting started with your blog, I would suggest publishing often to help with your search rankings. As you become more established, you can slow that down a bit. Hope that helps!

  • Derek Gillette

    You’ve left out some key pieces of strategy: what are the goals of the business? How does the blog align to those goals and what role does it play? What funnel stages or buyer stages need content assistance, where are the holes/leaks in the funnel? What are the success metrics of the blog/content? If you don’t get these questions answered before you start you’re running a serious risk for getting your blog funding pulled and given to the sales team.

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