How To Create Must-Read Recurring Content Columns

5 Column Types Every Content Marketer And Blogger Needs

Recurring Content ColumnsIs recurring content part of your editorial content mix?

Grounded in journalism, a recurring content column is a consistent serving of content published on a regular schedule. 

It’s cyclical content your readers actively seek.

Think Page Six, the New York Post’s gossip page.

Go high-brow with New York Times op-ed columnists like Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman and David Brooks.

Or take a broader view with a regular feature on a category like sports.

When I worked at The Economist, the weekly Obituary was the most popular column. No surprise. It’s gossip Economist-style.

Incorporate recurring content columns or cyclical columns delivered on regular intervals into your content marketing and blogging offering to build your audience’s content expectations.

Further over time cyclical content becomes a core content type. It helps balance your content offering because it’s structured and faster to create.


Regular recurring content columns

Recurring Content Columns

5 Key Attributes of Recurring Content Columns

Recurring content columns are regular doses of information that follow a set structure and publication schedule.

The 5 key attributes of recurring content columns are:

  1. Focused on a specific topic. Columns use a consistent on-going content hook.
  2. Structured the same way. Each article’s architecture is the same and employs a uniform approach. They’re moderate length articles (about 600 to 1,200 words).
  3. Published on a regular schedule. Columns provide predictability (in a good way!) Readers know who, what, when, where and how content will be published. Over time, this builds up your share of audience attention (the online version of appointment media).
  4. Formatted identically. Columns use the same media format (audio, video, or webinar) each time. Content columns can be distinguished based on media. For example Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose do a weekly podcast, called This Old Marketing Podcast.Other Content Format for Recurring Content ColumnAnother example of Recurring Content is Rand Fiskin’s Whiteboard Friday. Fishkin explains a marketing concept using a white board. Both video and text are added.Whiteboard Friday SEOmoz BlogAlso, Jon Loomer tested weekly webinars to answer reader questions so he could learn how to use the format. Jay Baer did the same thing with his Jay Today videos.Small Business Social Media-YouTube
  5. Created by the same author. A content column may be written by the same author each week or different guest writers or influencers each time. Determine whose content your readers actively seek. Consider columnist’s ability to expand your readership.

I understand the power of recurring content columns both for the media entity (blog or your content marketing) and the columnist. I wrote a regular biweekly column for ClickZ called Actionable Analysis from 2004 through 2012.

The structure of every Actionable Analysis column was built upon 5 predictable elements. (Note: Today, my writing would have shorter paragraphs and more visuals.)

  1. Strong headline
  2. Opening – Introduction to pull readers in including hook, thesis and transition
  3. Marketing How To – Specific steps to improve a type of marketing
  4. Related metrics  – Shows readers how to track results
  5. Conclusion – Relates back to opening


Recurring content columns: Advantages VS Disadvantages

Like traditional media columns, regular columns have advantages and disadvantages.

From an editorial and marketing perspective, think beyond the basic column content when assessing whether to add one or more to your content offering. 

But first assess whether your chosen topics provide sufficient breadth to sustain a column. You don’t want to run out of ideas after the fourth post.

Recurring Content Column Advantages

  • Supports your on-going content needs. They create a richer offering that contributes to your content mission and business goals. 
  • Adds structure and consistency to your editorial calendar. On-going columns provide content on a regular basis, such as every Friday or every other Wednesday.
  • Fills gaps in your content offering. Use columnists to fill aspects of your content where you lack expertise in-house.
  • Expands personalities and voices contributing to your content. Include regular columnists, influencers, guests, employees or customers. Have a set of content guidelines for writing style, voice and branding.
  • Creates reader expectations. This helps you to build an audience. 

Recurring Content Column Disadvantages

Recurring content columns can be limited by the following disadvantages:

  • Requires resources regardless of who creates the content. Columns aren’t FREE content! You still need copy-editing and other support.
  • Entails other content skills. This is particularly true for audio, video and webinars.
  • Must stay focused on a single, well-defined topic. Depending on your subject you may find you’re overusing some themes. This is a sign that you should redefine your niche or approach.
  • Cause reader boredom. If writers stick to structure too closely, columns may feel old to your readers.


5 Recurring Content Column Types

On-going columns provide stability for your editorial content plans. They’re published once a week, once every other week or once a month. They support your content marketing plan while addressing a specific audience segment or needs.

Here are 5 main recurring content columns types you can adapt to meet your content objectives.

1. News recurring content columns

News columns include:

  • Weekly round up of industry highlights. Encapsulate what readers may have missed during the week. Social Media Examiner‘s weekly news column spotlights recent industry changes. It’s transitioned from a text column to a video show with Mike Stelzner. (HINT: Video is HOT!) 

    Social Media Examiner’s Weekly Industry News – Video, text and images

    News Column

    Social Media Examiner enhances news columns with examples, visuals and citations

2. Feature recurring content columns

Featured content targets a specific area of news or information your audience actively seeks.

Featured columns include:

  • Gossip. Every one wants to hear the latest scuttlebutt. It’s human nature. It’s the reason the National Enquirer and People magazines sell so well. For The Economist, it’s the obituaries.
  • Exclusive themes. These columns focus on a specific subject such as sports or politics. Often an expert on the topic covers these articles.
  • Spotlight. This type of column can be used to highlight a customer, employee or product. Answer: “Why would my audience be interested?”
  • Interviews. Can be done one-on-one with a lot of questions or as a panel interview approach where a number of people are asked a few of the same questions. Include influencers, authors, others of interest to your readers. This brings other voices into your content without guest posting.

    Interview Recurring Content Column - ExamplePanel Interview Column Example

3. Advice recurring content columns

Think Ann Landers and Dear Abby. These two long-running, syndicated newspaper columnists (twins actually!) dished out advice in letter format for decades.

The first known advice columns date back to The Athenian Mercury first published advice columns in 1691!

Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne have continued this tradition on their long running Mason Dixon Knitting blog. They include photos of their work in progress.

Include photos to show readers how to

Include the questions or reader letter into your column. It provides necessary context for your reader.

This column format is answer man content. It’s pure Marcus Sheridan, “They Ask, You Answer.”  For improved search results, make each question and answer a separate column.

Advice columns include:

  • Question and Answers: Include questions from prospects, customers and others as well as your response to provide context. If you use real people’s questions or letters, get permission to use the content. Get your front line staff to supply questions and answers where appropriate.
  • How To’s: Detail the steps to use a recipe or pattern. It’s also good for DIY projects. Ensure you’ve got images that are Pinnable to expand your reach. Share these videos on YouTube to expand your reach. Also make them voice search friendly. Give step-by-step solutions.
  • Other Types Of Advice: Pick topics where you can provide frequent information such as horoscopes or gardening.

4. Opinion recurring content columns

Opinion columns (including op-eds) have been part of media content for centuries. They’re generally written by paid staff or well known experts who want a broader audience.

Additionally you can tap into your readers, influencers and others to broaden the voices in your content. This participatory content often helps extend your reader base since these contributors tend to share their content.

Opinion columns include:

  • Editorials. This is your soapbox. Unlike the news, these are the opinions of your editorial staff or others. It’s important to let readers know that they’re opinion pieces.
  • Letters To The Editor. This is feedback that your readers submit. Have an editorial policy regarding what you will publish and what you won’t. (Note: It should be similar to your commenting policy and documented.)
  • Guest Posts. If you choose to include other voices, create a set of guidelines for guest post selection, rights and post-publication interaction. (Here’s how to land guest posts almost every time!)
  • Multiple Voices. Get your community to respond to a single question. Spin Sucks asks a question and lets its community contribute via a few different channels. It’s a great way to build community and get people involved.
    Recurring Content Column - community input

    Spin Sucks taps its community for column input

    recurring content columns

    Gini Dietrich spotlights community members in her weekly column

  • Review Column. Often considered in terms of books, movies and restaurants. Just pick a focus that’s relevant to your audience’s needs. For example, the Huffington Post has book reviews every Saturday.

5. Curation recurring content columns

Content curation is a key element of many marketers’ content marketing plans. It’s another way to extend your content offering with your own or other people’s content. It requires editorial selection and the addition of your own commentary to create context for your readers.

Your objective: Get readers to trust your editorial selections.

Curation depends on what content you’re selecting, the content format and/or the people doing the selection.

Content curation columns include:

  • Present the best of your own content. Copyblogger has added a weekly column explaining the week’s content theme with commentary from Sonia Simone.

    Copyblogger spotlights their own columns and their weekly theme

  • Curate other people’s content on a specific topic. Scott Monty’s The Full Monty, and Christopher S. Penn’s Almost Timely News contain hand picked articles. By contrast, Contently’s editors all select one piece each for their curated roundups. Be careful not to include your own work too frequently or it looks promotional.

    Recurring Content Column-Content Curation

    Scott Monty’s weekly curation of marketing news

  • Select a different content format. On Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich taps into video without creating her own. Dietrich curates 5 videos united by a theme. She gives a shout out to readers who alert her to the content.

    Spin Sucks Gin & Tonic Logo
    Curated Recurring Content ColumnCurated Recurring Content Column


The recurring content column bottom line:

Recurring content columns play a strategic role in your content marketing and/or blog.  

Like your quick check-ins with family and friends, they provide the on-going doses of content that build audience relationships.

Use columns like newspapers and magazines to expand your content offering with regular on-going features your readers anticipate.

Regular columns provide editorial structure and can distribute content creation effort across your organization.

Develop column guidelines, processes and editorial support to ensure quality and consistency.

If your column isn’t perfect the first time, don’t worry.

My first two ClickZ columns were painful and time-consuming.

But it got easier.

The same will happen for you.

Stop waiting.

Start publishing columns now!

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

Photo Credit:  CC Zero

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