I’m not an organized person by nature. I grew up in chaos and I’m comfortable in chaos. A quick look at my desk will prove that. However, clients don’t like this, and missing even one deadline is unacceptable to me. That’s why I set out to learn how to plan blog content.
The truth is pretty mundane. You need to be organized. For me, I learned from the best. In getting things from contract open to contract closed, the best are open access publishers.
What is open access publishing?
Open access publishing is a branch of academic publishing where people don’t have to pay to read research. The authors pay a single fee and anyone can see the works online.
I’ve done a lot of work in this industry over the last decade, and one thing is clear.
The most successful open access publishers get articles online faster. Authors submit their articles, then it goes through many steps, and finally it is published online. Companies can directly control some of these steps (e.g., proofreading), while others require input from outside parties (e.g., peer review).
These companies track the time each step takes and aggressively push down the turnaround time wherever possible. The same can be done with web content. So, here is how to plan blog content with the lessons of open access.
What can open access publishing teach us about planning blog content?
Just like in open access, the time it takes to publish articles to your website should be minimized. Again, as in open access, sometimes the steps from article conception and keyword vetting to publishing happen outside of the company. That means you can speed up certain steps more than others.
One example of this is testimonials. Before you post a testimonial to your website, you need to make sure the client is happy with what is written.
The same is true for case studies. If you don’t get confirmation, then you risk posting something upsetting to the client. That could strain the relationship. Then, you end up with not just one fewer success story on your website but potentially one fewer clients too.
By the way, if you aren’t already using it, you should look at my free customer success story template. It works great for all of your case study, testimonial, and success story needs.
That being said, you can still speed up the customer part of this article development. I’ll go through this along with how to speed up every other section below.
Ultimately, what we should learn from open access about how to plan blog content is the following. You need to know how long each step is taking so that you can speed them up after. Good data needs to be collected and then exploited. For that, I use a Google Sheet.
You can go ahead and click that link. Save a copy to your own drive, and modify it as needed. No strings attached—you’ve just got yourself a free blog content planner!
How to use this free blog content planner template
First, you’ll want to look at my primer on content maps, which includes three free content map templates. This document works really well with those content maps.
This Google Sheet is perfect for an individual or a large organization. In fact, I have used this blog content planner template to run all of the content for a website as a freelancer. I also use it for my own website. Conversely, I use it at my day job as the content strategist for a company inching towards unicorn status.
For larger organizations, I recommend adding a row at the top that lists the name of the owner of each step in the publishing journey. If Tom, Dick, and Harry are the content manager, content writer, and copy editor, then put those names at the top of each column.
You’ll note that I specify that you should add the color and date each time something is completed. This is where you get the data to see what part of the process is slowing down progress. If the editing step(s) are the issue, then it might be time to hire a dedicated copy editor.
I also specify “links” for the keyword and final online date. The keyword should link to the Google Doc that contains the final version of the article. The online date column should link to the live article. This makes it much easier to interlink articles in the future.
Next, you’ll want to add tabs for each type of content. Different types of contents have different steps in their publishing journey, so keeping them separated makes it easy to see where they are in this process. I’ve started this particular blog content planner with two main tabs for blog articles and success stories. However, another great tab and SEO play is a website glossary.
Success stories need to be sent to the customer for confirmation. If it takes a long time to get customers to edit their success stories, or you find it requires multiple rounds of back and forth, that can be an indication that your writer is not considering what the customer would like to see in their testimonial.
Remember, they also care about their brand and are hoping this article will benefit them as well. While you should highlight the benefit they see in your product, do not be insulting about what they were doing before. You should also avoid saying anything that they might not want their customers to see.
Articles are generally entirely done in house or with the help of freelancers. I’d recommend including any hired freelancers as editors of the file and encourage them to update the Google Sheet as they make progress. You should also try to get buy-in from all writers, managers, and designers so they all feel comfortable using this blog article planner and keep it up.
I touched on something above and it deserves repeating. If you use this blog content planner carefully and consistently, it will tell you who you need to hire onto your content marketing team next. If writers are waiting for the content manager, then they may need the help of a content strategist to find and vet more keywords. Keywords waiting at the writing or editing stage is a good indication you need more writers or editors, respectively.
I’m not a big fan of article length quotas. Harder keywords need longer articles to win. Pillar articles need to be longer than supports. Keywords with higher intent (i.e., the searchers are more likely to buy your product) deserve more words as the win is more important.
That’s why I use “WC target” (WC = word count) instead of “WC quota”. If you were to look at one of my in-use blog content planners, you’d see I stray wildly for this target. I’m usually well over the number. I want to win the SERP (search engine results page), and I do that by being the best article.
The best article has the most information and is written best. I accomplish that by including everything I can find. You really want to completely explore a topic but not add any filler. Keeping a blog goal in mind can help with this.
So why do I include this at all?
It helps me track my productivity. I want to work hard and be productive, and for jobs with a lot of writing and editing that can be measured by word count. The targets keep me focused. and the actual numbers help me see my productivity in a quantitative way.
Green is simple. This indicates the job is complete. This is what you want to see as the default. Column after column slowly turning green, one row at a time.
However, sometimes jobs go on hold when something else comes up. That’s what yellow is for. If you are working on content for many different buyer personas, then this can happen when you want to switch to a different segment while some work is half-finished.
Rarely, a job can skip a step. Maybe your company has decided they want an article on a specific topic and don’t care about the keyword relevance and difficulty. I use light blue for this. (Ok, that’s probably not light blue, but I failed the color wheel in kindergarten.)
Finally, jobs get canceled. It can mean a lot of lost productivity, but I want to see why that is happening. Perhaps your company pivots, or you realize there might be controversial topics to cover. In that case, I blackout the square where it was canceled and write an explanation to the right. Aim to cancel projects as early as possible.
That’s how to plan blog content
I created this blog content planner with a single goal in mind. I wanted to finish products. As a freelancer, 20 half finished products in a month means no billable projects completed. Even in-house, I want to show my bosses at the end of the month I am getting things done. This helps with that.
Have you tried this out? Do you have a better blog content planner? Let me know what you think on LinkedIn!