The (free) content planning tools I can’t live without

As Luminary’s Marketing Manager, I am responsible for planning out our content. Here's how I go about it, and the sanity-saving tools I use to make it happen.

Tami Iseli

By Tami Iseli, 5 minute read

Over the past four years, we’ve grown our website traffic by 1446%.1 In that time, our blog page views have also risen by 987%. 

How did we do it? First, we got serious about our content strategy. We hired someone to focus on content marketing (me!). And we got serious about planning.

We looked into all sorts of content planning tools. Some were ok, some were actually pretty good – but there wasn’t anything that really ticked all the boxes (and met our budget!). So in the end, we came back to some really basic essentials – a Google calendar, a nifty little spreadsheet that migrates content ideas into a Google calendar, and a Trello board. These tools are my ‘Content Planning Trifecta’ and I couldn’t get by without them.

The magic spreadsheet

I’m a self-confessed list addict. Sometimes I even make lists within lists. So it makes sense to me to start my content planning with a spreadsheet. Not just any old spreadsheet though – this spreadsheet, created by one of Luminary’s very clever developers. It’s a content planning ninja. I’ll get back to the reasons why in a minute.

This spreadsheet is where I dump ALL my ideas about what sort of content we might produce in a given year. At this point, I don’t discriminate based on merit. I include the good, the bad and the ugly of content ideas – with one proviso. Every idea must have a purpose. A piece of content can be fun to create, but serve no real purpose in the overall scheme of a content marketing strategy. (Pro tip: Work out your content marketing objectives before you even think about content planning.)

So at this point, I’m simply recording the Title of the idea, Background Information (if any), Format and Objective. 

Google calendar

Once I have a comprehensive list of ideas, I’ll come back and determine which of them I think are worth pursuing. That’s when I’ll start assigning target dates. And this is where the spreadsheet’s magic comes in. It contains a macro that, with the click of a mouse, will automatically migrate ideas that have been assigned a target date into the Google calendar I have set up for content. This migration includes any background info I have entered into my spreadsheet. That’s literally hours of life my life re-gifted right there!

Now, I am a realist and I know that I’m not going to hit all of my content targets all of the time. But that’s ok because the spreadsheet caters for changes through an Update feature that lets you make edits to the spreadsheet and re-upload them to the calendar. You can also use the spreadsheet’s Update feature to delete items you no longer want to have in your calendar.

The ideas that haven’t been assigned a date remain in the spreadsheet as a sort of ‘backlog’ of ideas that can be referenced again later, when the time comes to flesh out the content calendar a little more. For content such as blog posts, I tend to work in quarterly planning phases so I can make sure the plan stays fresh, relevant and up-to-date. 

Trello (+ or - Zapier)

Between my spreadsheet and my calendar, I have a great repository for future content ideas (in the spreadsheet) and a great way to quickly visualise what’s coming up and what I need to plan for (in the calendar). I could just leave it at that, but I don’t really like to use my content calendar as a ‘to-do’ list. I still need a way to keep on top of my priorities from day to day, and week to week. (Yep, I’ve just gotta have that list.

That’s where my Trello board comes in. 

Trello is a fabulous - and best of all, free - way to dynamically manage a to-do list. I have a column for ‘Urgent’ tasks, one for Non-urgent tasks and another one for ‘Done’. My favourite thing about Trello is that it allows you to simply drag and drop tasks as they shift in priority or status. It also lets you make notes about the task, including links or other resources, and you can invite your colleagues to work collaboratively with you on a particular board.

It is possible to do a bulk ‘copy and paste’ of items in a spreadsheet to create separate task cards in Trello. However I prefer to import the tasks along with their due dates, so I use a tool called Zapier to automate this. The particular ‘zap’ I use is called ‘Create new Trello cards from Google Calendar Events. It’s free to use and fairly easy to set up. If you’re a visual learner, check out this YouTube clip which will show you how it works. Basically, it sets up an automated integration of your calendar data with your Trello board. (Note that the trigger for creation of a task card in Trello is a new entry in your Google calendar, so you’ll want to set up this zap before you migrate your content ideas from the spreadsheet to your Google calendar. If you get this round the wrong way, you can always use the spreadsheet to delete the calendar events and start the migration again.)

Also, if you use your Google calendar for non content-related entries, you’ll want to turn the zap off (using the on/off toggle) once you’ve done your import, or you’ll end up importing things like ‘lunch with Mum’ into your Trello board 😉

Now, go forth and change your life

You don’t need to spend a fortune or learn to code to become a blackbelt in content planning. If you have a limited budget and the need to manage content ideas in bulk, these simple tools will add weeks (maybe even years) back onto your life!2

  1. Sessions between 1 Jan 2015 and 31 Dec 2015 compared with 1 Jan 2019 and 31 Dec 2019
  2. Claim may or may not be supported by scientific evidence 😜

Want to get the magic spreadsheet? You can download it using the form below. In the meantime, you might like to check out our blog post ‘7 reasons why content calendars fail’.

Download our content calendar spreadsheet

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