Managing a blog is not easy work, especially if you strive to publish quality posts that your readers love while you must also make time to develop other products, run your newsletter and social channels, and possibly even publish a few guest posts.
If you are just getting started with blogging or you have to leave your blog to handle itself for a while, all of that to-do might sound even more daunting.
This post comes to your rescue: whether you are a beginner or a veteran blogger, it will guide you through the basics of blog planning to successfully integrate guest posts and social media marketing into your blog calendar.
Because — let’s be blunt — running a successful blog without careful planning is impossible.
Blog Scheduling Basics
The first step is to get a calendar or a diary (virtual or paper) to lay out your plan.
If you don’t want to spend extra money on this material, there are tons of free apps that you can download to your phone or computer, PHP-based calendars you can install on your self-hosted website or free printable calendars you can print out and fill in by hand.
Once you have the material, you can start planning.
This guide is structured as follows:
- Planning your calendar
- Staying productive
- Staying consistent
- Integrating guest posts into your schedule
- Integrating social media marketing into your schedule
- Troubleshooting (when things don’t go as planned)
After the basics, you’ll read about how to include seasonal posts in your schedule, and scheduling tools that can help you create a plan you feel comfortable with.
Why Is Blog Scheduling So Important?
Ray Addison from RayAddisonLive.com is a new blogger who has been wondering how to get organized and productive with his blog. After looking for blog management advice, he resolved to blog weekly and try to stick to that plan, also using his “daily blogging as inspiration for other writing that I do.”
Addison learned how vital it is to “schedule titles on my blog so I have a deadline to work to and move things around as my inspiration changes. I like the freedom of editing offline and out of sight. I also like the fact that the need to keep posting means I have to move on.”
This is the power of blog scheduling.
1. Planning Your Calendar
Grab your calendar and block out all your appointments, time off and other important tasks you have to give priority in your week or month.
The second step is to block out your blogging times, because you’ll have to stick to those as best as you can.
My advice as a blogger with several health issues is to give yourself one soft and one hard deadline:
- A soft deadline is an ideal deadline, a time and day you really want to have your content ready by. If it doesn't feel comfortable, you can easily move this deadline around.
- A hard deadline is one that you can no longer postpone, because missing it will hinder your entire plan
Working with soft and hard deadlines will give you enough flexibility to catch up on research, writing and editing in case life or other business duties get in the way of your schedule. In other words, it helps you stay on track.
Elizabeth Carter, chief strategist at Clariant Creative Agency, started blogging in the early 2000s. The years of experience taught her that “not having a blog schedule guarantees that you will not blog on a consistent basis.”
Planning can take place weekly, monthly, quarterly, every six months or once a year. Carter usually gets the best results when she plans out her calendar by quarter, but “I have on occasion trimmed back to a monthly calendar” and “I can’t imagine scheduling for anything less than monthly. Life happens, and despite our best intentions, we get busy and writing that blog post ends up falling to the wayside. The simple act of having the blog planned out removes much of the onus of writing the actual post, since the hard part – coming up with the idea – has already been done.”
Setting a quarterly blog calendar allows you to step back and see the big picture of your blog. Most likely, you’re courting more than one type of reader. You, therefore, need to make sure you’re balancing your blog posts to address the concerns of each of your audience segments. That’s tough to do on a short blog schedule, but much easier when you’re looking at three months’ worth of posts.
That will be even easier if you can find 4 or 5 topics in your niche you can turn into a series of posts, so you can research and interview in advance and boost your productivity.
Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting, started his own consulting business in the diversity and career development field in 2010. He uses blogging to demonstrate his knowledge of the subject. “Building a body of work is very critical. Therefore, I have been extremely regular in blogging since late 2010 – with most often 2 or 3 blogs per month and rarely missing a month.”
And it’s not just about the blog — there’s a newsletter he has to take care of, too. “I do send out a monthly newsletter which drives traffic to [the] website,” Kimer says, “so I rarely publish a blog in the same week of the month I send out a newsletter. I rarely publish more than one blog a week unless I have a special circumstance.”
Start Small, But Strive to Always “Look Alive”
Author and speaker Joyce Kyles found it better to blog weekly. Her advice to new bloggers is to “do what I was taught as a Power 90. Take 90 minutes a day and focus solely on a particular project. So, twice a week, I’m spending 90 minutes simply writing my blogs, and if you’re using WordPress, you can actually select a publishing date.”
Kyles adds a few helpful tips:
- Run a web search for “blog generators that allow you to plug in two or three words and create blog topics for up to a year for free” — and we have plenty here at WHSR, too! Take a look at our blog starters and idea generators in the list of planning tools at the end of this guide.
- Use schedulers like Hootsuite to schedule your posts.
- Schedule posts on Facebook pages (and other social media).
Matthew Gates, owner of Confessions of the Professions, recommends that you start small and aim for 1-2 posts per week if you are just starting out. “Once you start getting more popular,” he says, “and if you want to continue gaining popularity, you should aim for posting in accordance with a 5-day work week schedule (M-F). The best thing to really do [is] write a ton of articles in advance, [then] don’t bother publishing them at all. Write at least 10. Start publishing 1-2 [posts] a week, but keep writing at least 1-2 a week.”
How much time you can devote to blogging also depends on the length and detail of your articles, right? Gates has some advice for long-form bloggers:
“If you tend to write long articles that are 2,000 words or more, then you can probably get away with posting [fewer] days a week. If you write shorter blog posts, between 500-1000 words, then it is probably best to post a few times a week. There really is no right or wrong, but if you are posting just once a week or once a month, your blog will look dead, and visitors will probably not keep coming back.”
Gates’ opinion is that a blog should look “alive” as much as possible, so publishing a few times a week would be a better option (if you have the resources) than only once a week. “But again, in preparing for those emergency situations, it is best to just write about 10 articles in advance, and always have at least 3 for backup, just in case you get a writer's block and cannot write for a few days or a few weeks.”
Use an Editorial Calendar
Let’s look a bit more into the effectiveness of using an editorial calendar.
For Julie Ewald, pro blogger and content strategist at Impressa Solutions, an editorial calendar can turn blog planning into success, and you don't even need fancy software, because “it can be made very simply with a spreadsheet (I use Smartsheet) or in a Google Calendar.”
Ewald suggests that you “look at least two months in the future. This way you can get a good overview of how many posts you need to create in a given time frame, and can plan out (and work ahead on) posts with seasonal content or messages promoting other marketing efforts. Otherwise, you may find yourself scrambling to produce posts on time–or have nothing to put up if you’ve gotten preoccupied with something or have had an emergency.”
You will find a list of editorial calendar apps and other tools at the end of this post.
2. Staying Productive
A cup of tea, a few breaks, a bit of exercise, soft music and, most importantly, a positive mindset can all help you zone in, and if you struggle with anxiety, there are a few hacks you can try to help you reach your blogging goals.
You have to enjoy business blogging as if it were personal journaling to refill your idea well and keep going.
But that’s not all about productivity. You need outside stimuli as well.
“Follow as many other related blogs as you can.”
Follow as many other related blogs as you can. They can be an amazing source of inspiration. Subscribe to the RSS feeds of any blogs related to your niche. Share your own summaries of some of the better articles even loosely related to your niche. Use them as inspiration for some of the things you might write about. Share the majority of the good articles you find on your social networks, but save a couple here and there as ideas for things you can write your own take on.
Taking old topics and viewing them from a new angle, and reslanting your old posts or guest posts are all well-known practices in journalism that work like a charm with blogging, too.
Follow Your “Muse”
Planning is vital, but do leave at least a couple of days a week where you can just “go with the flow” and literally have fun with your blog. Writing when you feel inspired by your “muse” will ensure you avoid burnout and also help you produce more ideas to blog about in the future.
Read how Stan Kimer's productivity strategy benefits from the “muse”:
When I am feeling extremely creative and like writing, I may draft 2 or 3 blogs in one sitting so I normally have a few in the pipeline ready to go. Sometimes I have an idea for a blog that will be too long, so I will do a series of 2 or 3.
If I attend a very interesting conference or meeting in my consulting areas, I will write a blog or two about it. For example, [when] I went to the North Carolina SHRM (Society of Human Resource Conference), [then over the] weekend I drafted two blogs about two of the keynote speeches that I will publish later [in the] month.
Also, if I network with an interesting person or business, that will give me an idea for a blog, [and] if I get some ideas for a blog I will make a note of it, so I do not forget.
3. Staying Consistent
Having a plan and a calendar can help you stay consistent in both quality and quantity.
Danny Garcia agrees that “it's important to have a content plan and stick to it. One of the key points of advice everyone gives to bloggers is to stay consistent. It doesn't really matter how often you post as long as your readers know how frequently you do post and you stick to that. I'd say frequency isn't as important as quality work, but having at least a bi-monthly posting schedule is good.”
Garcia remarks how it's quality over quantity when it comes to blogging, no matter how many times a week or month you publish. He points to a few popular examples:
There are bloggers that blog every day (like Neil Patel, or Seth Godin) and others that blog around twice a month (like Mark Manson or Ryan Holiday). All of them have a giant audience, not based on the frequency of their posts, but because of the quality of their posts.
Stan Kimer tries to “stay 2 or 3 blogs ahead in draft mode,” so he can “have something ready if I get into a particularly busy time or a personally difficult time (or even go on vacation!).”
When it comes to what kind of posts to add to the calendar, and how many, Julie Ewald suggests that you “examine your goals, your audience, and how much time (or money) you can spend on your blog. There should be a post each month that talks to each audience personally and aims to satisfy each of your goals or things you're currently selling. Yes, there should be overlap here.”
Ewald suggests you put out 4-to-6 posts per month, or 2 per week, as a minimum, but ultimately you can go with any number until you stay consistent in your posting schedule.
4. Integrating Guest Posts into Your Schedule
Make room for guest posts on your calendar – they're not less important than your posts, and they help promote your blog and expertise.
What you must ensure, however, is that you don't neglect your blog for guest posting, and that you don't burnout in the attempt to do both at the highest capacity.
Danny Garcia, marketing operations manager at Stacklist.com, says that “guest posting exposes you to a new audience and provides your site with valuable back links, so to avoid burning out, if you prioritize guest posting or make deadlines for yourself (if they weren't given to you) that should help.”
Garcia also finds, “Having a consistent writing schedule works really well. I find that I'm the most creative when I just wake up in the morning and write for 2 hours before any of the distractions get in the way. When there's a lot to get written, the writing becomes more head-down work which is usually what causes burning out.”
Another hack that interviewees in this post mentioned – and that I use myself – is to consider your lifestyle and productivity.
How many blog posts can you realistically write in a month?
Take that number and make 2 of those guest posts. It's a good rule of thumb to balance your efforts to avoid either neglect or burnout.
For example, my own blogging frequency and the number of guest posts I can ideally write in a month has to fit my daily writing limit of 1,000 – 1,500 words. Trying to do more would harm my mental health and throw off the entire schedule, so the integration of guest posts must be smart and well pondered.
Mys Palmer reminds, “Guest posting is integral when growing an audience.” She says this is true especially for new bloggers, and recommends that you “post new content to [your blog] once a week. Then guest post once a week.”
5. Integrating Social Media Marketing into Your Schedule
You don't want to waste the time you spend on social media marketing, as you don't want it to eat up writing time.
You must have time for running your social media channels and promoting your content as well as for attending to followers' questions and feedback.
You can accomplish this in 30 minutes per week or less, or you can follow Mys Palmer's strategy:
To ensure social media marketing and blog post marketing isn't all consuming, sign up for Hootsuite. It's free and fabulous. Now as for the schedule, [the ratio is] 70%-20%-10%:
- 70% of your shares should be curated – I'm talking retweets, photo/video re-shares, and awesome quotes that you add a lil' somethin' too.
- 20% of your posts can be [content] you created – Your blog posts and guest features.
- 10% (and only 10%) can be your direct sales pitches – Links to your offer, a contest you need support in, a course or kindle you just launched, webinars, etc.
Audiences only grow when content is marketed. Heavily.
To optimize your social marketing efforts, read our essential social media marketing guide to know what really works on the major social platforms and focus on that.
6. Troubleshooting (When Things Don't Go as Planned)
What can you do when you have an emergency on a planned day? And how do you keep the idea ‘well' always filled when your creative juices seem to have dried up?
Having a soft and hard deadline already helps if you get sick or have an emergency, but communication with your readers is key – if you can't maintain a promise, you have to let them know or you will disappoint them and your traffic will drop.
It's what Danny Garcia calls damage control.
It could be as simple as just letting your readers know about it on your social media channels, [so that] they're still informed. To keep the idea well always filled, you have to read more than you write. The things we write are influenced by the things we read. You also need a variety of different sources for any of your articles.
You can spend a week reading a book just to get a few sentences out of it in your writing, that's why it's important to read a lot. You need a lot of different sources for information/inspiration. On paper, it doesn't sound worth it, but reading is a source of knowledge and inspires creativity.
Sometimes you may notice your calendar is too packed for your current personal life. In that case, consider creating a smaller schedule that addresses that, or a ‘backup' schedule that you can use when going through a difficult period in life.
Raelyn Tan suggests you plan monthly, use a weekly schedule template and break the schedule down into weekly to-dos:
Every month, I sit down and map out what I want to achieve for the month. For instance, I may set a goal to write X number of blog posts and X number of guest posts or launch a new course. Following that, I will break them down into what should be done for each week.
When an emergency pops up, I am able to accommodate it into my blogging schedule without becoming stressed out. I know exactly what I need to do for the week, so if I fall back for a few days, I know that I have to catch up later.
Similarly, if I am particularly unproductive during a certain week, I can make use of the other weeks and stay on track because I know exactly what needs to be achieved during the month.
If I plan exactly what to do for each day, I get too stressed out trying to “always” be productive. I have found that it is very difficult to complete a planned daily schedule consistently, because there will always be unpredictable emergencies that will happen, so I set weekly and monthly to-dos instead.
Mys Palmer, CEO of MysPalmer.com, knows that life happens and you can't avoid it when it does, so “planning your content a week in advance takes care of it. Doesn't need to be fancy. Log into Hootsuite and use the publisher to view the upcoming week. Click a time, choose the network and schedule.”
Anyway, you don't have to stress over it. “If you do end up missing a post for one reason or another, don't sweat it,” says Julie Ewald. “Push it through as soon as you can. If you've been doing any sort of SEO effort, you will see a dip in traffic and rankings if you skip posting altogether.”
If You Hired A Blogger
Nick Brennan, founder and CEO of Watch Social Media, says: “There are three keys to staying organized and on-track when it comes to blogging” and you have someone else do the work for you:
1. A high-level content calendar where you pin down what type of content you want going live each week – long form/ short form, content geared towards one audience vs. another, etc.
2. An idea repository that you can tap into to fill in that calendar.
3. A clear approval process.
“As long as you have a strong writer and these items in place,” Brennan adds, “your team should have no problem putting out quality content with regularity.”
We have a guide here WHSR about hiring writers that you may want to read: “From Blogger to Managing Editor: Hiring Writers for Your Blog.”
How to Tackle Seasonal Posts
It's a good idea to plan these posts in advance – even several months ahead – because they might lead to a boom in traffic and therefore you may want to handle them with extra care.
Ideally, you will plan seasonal posts at the beginning of the year and block out calendar days to write them, as well as your deadlines. Give yourself enough time to do things, as you will not know what might happen many months from now: a loose calendar is still better than no calendar at all.
Also, you have more time to think about your posts and carefully connect them to your brand, as well as extra time to devote to research and finding sources to interview long in advance, something that will benefit both you and your sources, as you can reschedule the interview if an emergency comes up.
Danny Garcia explains:
It would be good to have the post ready-to-go the day of [publishing] or the day before. Timeliness is important, but it's still more important how you twist the holiday post to reflect your brand.
This strategy works with any posts you plan to publish, so make sure you plan the majority of your calendar at the beginning of the year, or every 6 months, or at least, as Mys Palmer suggests, “Try looking into the next month by the middle of the previous. Plan November's seasonal posts by the 15th of October.”
Tools (Free and Paid) for Blog and Social Media Planning
Planning is essential, but you don’t have to do it all manually! There are free and paid tools you can use effectively to speed up your blog productivity and keep everything under control, without stress.
CoSchedule is a web-based editorial calendar created specifically for content marketing.
Chris Brantner, owner of CutCableToday.com, shares his experience with the tool:
A while back, I switched to CoSchedule to manage my blog, and it's the best thing I could ever have done. Not only does it help me easily manage assignments with multiple writers and editors, but it allows me to take an idea from inception to posting to social media sharing – all from one dashboard that's integrated with WordPress.
Danny Garcia also recommends this tool for content planning, and Lori Soard lists it as one of the 10 time management tools for bloggers.
Scheduling Plugins for Wordpress
Vishnu wrote a detailed post on how to improve editorial workflow with scheduling plugins. The article is for multi-author blogs, but the guide can be easily applied to single author blogs as well.
The best rated editorial plugins for Wordpress include:
Airtable is a web-based software solution for editorial calendar planning that uses a spreadsheet format.
Elizabeth Carter recommends this software. “It's a simple, cloud-based spreadsheet tool that makes it very easy to cross-reference data fields across a series of spreadsheets. For example, I can have my master calendar in one spreadsheet, and link it to separate spreadsheets that track keywords, authors, buyer personas and so on. It's very visual, easy to share with my team, and just plain fun to use.”
In Garcia's words, Hootsuite is a “social media management tool that lets you schedule out posts on Facebook & Twitter so social media marketing doesn't end up eating a lot of time”.
Lori Soard listed Hootsuite among the 20 must-have tools every blogger and online business should keep handy.
Idea Starters and Generators
Idea starters are lists of blogging prompts to get you started writing and avoid writer's block when you can't come up with a topic or an angle to write about.
Images and Photos
Images are highly shareable when it comes to social media. Social media viewers tend to spend more time looking at images. When your content is shared on social media, images you used can serve as the first critical step in getting your content converted to clicks or shares.
Jerry has complied a list of sites offering free images and photos for bloggers and site owners. You can make use of them to improve your blog.
Among Danny Garcia's recommendations for blogging tools, Trello earns its place as an organizer for tasks and ideas. He underlines how “it's important to write those down or else you'll forget them, and it'll keep you organized.”
Also, Trello is free to use.
This is the content planning tool Julie Ewald uses. Smartsheet is a spreadsheet-like collaborative work management platform that is user-friendly and easy to use.
The tool can be tried for free and prices start at $14/user/month.
This well-known website “is a great way to see what's trending,” says Danny Garcia, “[and] it's also a great tool to find people who would be interested in your blog.”
Great tool to keep handy when you're short on content ideas.
Asana is a collaborative web-based calendar and project management suite for individuals and teams.
It's free to use up to 15 team members, then prices start at $8.33/user/month.
If you prefer a self-hosted, PHP-based solution for your calendar, PHP-Calendar is a nice open source calendar you can download and install on your server with minimal requirements.
Printable Blog Calendars and Checklists
There are plenty available online for free, created by bloggers like you who wanted to make their own (and their visitors') lives better.
Here are a few resources:
- Suzi from StarAMomBlog.com shares her SMART blogging goals printable checklists.
- Designer Blogs Studios created an ultimate blog planner kit to download and use.
- CoSchedule has a free content calendar template up for grabs.
- HubSpot also gives editorial calendar templates to visitors.
And, Pinterest has thousands of blog planners to choose from!
Essentially, you can create a blog schedule that works if you are mindful of:
- Your blogging goals
- Your lifestyle and health conditions
- How many posts you can realistically write in a month
- How much you can automate
The tips on smart scheduling you read in this guide all came from the bloggers and marketers I interviewed, and some from personal experience. Some may suit your situation, others may not, but since blog scheduling is one of those practices that you learn by trial and error, I still invite you to try out as many as you can to help understand what works for you and come up with your own scheduling hacks.
To your success, fellow blogger!