Knowing how to plan your blog posts can make almost every aspect of your content strategy easier and more effective. That’s true whether you’re writing a weekly newsletter for a social club, hosting a popular blog in a successful niche, or publishing high-end articles in support of a concerted content marketing strategy.
Planning your posts is also the step that many new group organizers and business owners tend to skip over. But the right planning can save you time, money, and energy all while improving your results. Here’s how you can start planning today.
Note: Need some help with writing posts? Check out 10-Point Checklist for Writing Amazing Blog Posts.
1. You Need Some Lead Time
If you’re going to plan your posts, content, or updates, you really need to get ahead of the curve. You can’t plan, create, and publish your posts all on the same day. That’s not planning, that’s improvising. The trick is to get ahead of your workflow, to build yourself a buffer, so that you actually have time to plan.
For most content producers, that means working on a publication schedule of something like 3-4 weeks. When you have that much lead time, you can start to move more intentionally, creating content that fulfills a strategic need.
But that starts with having lead time. It’s hard to make a plan — and to follow through with that plan — when you’re creating content on a day-to-day basis. That doesn’t mean you can’t create an occasional topical blog post from time to time; it just means that’s the exception, not the rule.
2. Create a Content Calendar
Once you’ve decided how much lead time you’re going to give yourself, or what kind of content cycle you’re going to use, you can start creating your content calendar. A content calendar is a scheduling tool that lets you see when your content will be published.
If you’re working in 3-4 week increments, then your content calendar should be planned out at least that far. A good content calendar will usually include:
- When posts will be published (if you have multiple posts a day, you should note this).
- Where posts will be published.
- Responsible parties for posts (writers and editors, for example).
- Assets needed for completion of the post (videos, images, and so on).
My go to content calendar for WordPress is the free Editorial Calendar plugin. It lets you drag and drop draft posts to the days of the week that you want them published, and quickly see the next 2-5 weeks of your publishing schedule at a glance.
3. Brainstorm a LOT of Ideas
Once you’ve got some lead time, you can start to take a more thoughtful and intentional approach to your content topics. That all starts with a brainstorming process.
Now, just because you brainstorm an idea, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The brainstorming process is about creating a list that you can then curate for your content goals.
In other words, brainstorm a lot of ideas, then choose the ones that are best for your particular business or niche. When you’re brainstorming, consider the following:
- Always note any holidays or special events coming up in the next content cycle. Holidays are always good for generating post topics that feel relevant.
- Look to your past. Check your blog post archive to see what was popular a year ago and whether you can generate or select similar ideas when you plan your posts.
- Seek out current events that relate to your business or niche and see if you can make a relevant connection. Not every current event or news item will merit its own blog or social media post, but they can always be used to generate new and interesting ideas.
- Use tools such as Google Trends to see what people are searching for that might be related to your niche.
- Sometimes, the best post ideas aren’t the most obvious ones. For inspiration, check out Interesting and Non-Obvious Uses of Email.
- Lastly, for even more ideas, don’t miss our post How to Come Up With Content Ideas.
The bigger your running topic list is, the more easily you’ll be able to plan what content should be posted when. It’s easy to place holiday posts on your content calendar. Topical posts should probably go towards the beginning of your 3-4 week post cycle. But the point is that once you have a list of topics, you can decide where and when to place them more thoughtfully.
4. Create Content With Consistency
If you’ve created a calendar, brainstormed ideas, and established a content cycle, the next step when you want to plan your posts is to get started with the creation process. If you’ve got blog posts or social media content, you can start writing those. If you’ve got podcasts or videos, you can begin on production.
The key to content creation is to produce with consistency. This means you need to avoid last minute heroics and procrastination. If you’re publishing a post in the first week of the May, have it ready by mid April. Here are some tips on how to create content with consistency:
- It helps to know roughly how long it will take you to create each piece of content (how long for a blog, how long for a social media post and so on) and work backwards from there.
- Stick to your schedule as much as you can. When you start falling behind, work can start backing up and you could end up with a mad scramble to keep up with your content calendar. That, obviously, is not a great way to produce your best work.
- If possible, create a buffer of evergreen content that you can easily publish in case of an emergency. This can help fill any holes that might develop because of unforeseen circumstances.
- Don’t be afraid to recycle old content when you plan your posts. Refreshing an old blog post is a great way to keep your content fresh and your website relevant. It’s often helpful to save these refreshes for when you know your content creation schedule is going to be hectic.
If storytelling is your thing, learn more in Storytelling: A Guide for Bloggers. Also, don’t forget about images: It’s a Visual World: A Guide to Finding Images for Your Blog Posts and Newsletters.
5. Use Data to Tell You When to Post
When you’re planning your posts for the month, the overall goal is to avoid an arbitrary decision over when to post. In some cases, that’ll mean using data to tell you when to post on each day. Your overall goal when you plan your posts, after all, is to increase the number of people looking at each and every one of your posts.
Sometimes the best way to do that is simply to post where and when those eyeballs are already looking. There are a couple of ways you can access data about when that might be:
- Look at your own analytics data. Even free tools, such as Google Analytics, will typically tell you when users are visiting your website. You can plan your most important posts to be published during those times.
- When it comes to social media, popular times will vary by the service, and it’s not hard to come by specific data for each platform. However, the general rule of thumb is that the morning just before the work rush and the evening just after the work rush tend to be relatively popular times to post.
- You can also search for data by topic. Some topics will appeal mostly to those working from home; other topics may appeal to those who are mostly online on weekends. Popular times will vary based on your niche and your business.
6. Pre-Schedule Your Posts
Once you’ve determined when the most densely populated times are for your traffic, you can more easily plan when to distribute your content. And once you know when your posts should be published, you can move on to ensuring that those posts actually get published when they should.
WordPress makes it incredibly easy to “set-and-forget” all of your posts by pre-scheduling them. Be sure to put thought into the day and the time that you schedule your posts. Unless your niche specifically calls for it, you’ll likely want to avoid posting on the weekends when you plan your posts.
Scheduling your social media posts may take a different set of tools than scheduling your blog posts, especially if you’re using a platform such as Instagram. It’s definitely worth taking some time to select the right tool and platform.
When you schedule your posts (and you’re often best off doing this in batches), you don’t have to publish each blog individually, which makes much more efficient and effective use of your time.
7. Always Think About Your Audience
The key to know how to plan your posts is, quite simply, your audience. Questions about what to write about, when to post it, and how to track it will all be easier to answer when you know who your readers are.
One way to do that is create personas. Used in a marketing context, a persona is essentially a single, fictional person who represents your audience. A persona is usually given a name (Suzy, for example, if that matches your general audience) and then given various specific background information.
That’s because it’s often easier to think about a single person — and tailor your content to that single person — than it is to think about the hundreds or thousands of people that might read your posts. Whether you use a persona or not, the better you know your audience, the smoother your planning will go.
Keep Your Plan Open to Change
Whatever plan you develop, it’s likely to run into challenges. That’s why it’s important to keep your content plan fluid and dynamic and plan your posts. That might seem counterintuitive until you stop to think about what your plan is supposed to accomplish.
A plan for your blog posts is designed to make you publish more thoughtfully and intentionally, and ultimately be more organized. Knowing how to plan your posts will help make your content more effective and efficient — and that will be a great thing for your organization.
Do you plan your blog posts? What tools or tips do you employ to making posting to your blog easier? Share your thoughts in the comments below!