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SEO | Apr 19
Elise Dopson on February 6, 2020 (last modified on February 25, 2021) • 23 minute read
It’s the New Year and you’ve got a list of marketing goals to achieve this year.
But, just a few weeks (or days) later, you’re falling behind to the daily minutiae of tasks, emails, drop-ins, and last-minute projects.
Now, you’re not sure how to keep your goals on track or even how to achieve them with everything else going on in your busy day-to-day.
The problem? You’re not creating SMART goals.
SMART goals help you (and everyone else) cut through the noise to focus on what’s really important, and perhaps most importantly, provide an easy way to measure progress.
Sounds great, but where do you start?
In this guide, we’ll share exactly what a SMART goal is, along with tips from 40+ experts that can help you set–and more importantly, meet–your goals.
Before we dive in with the details, let’s be clear on what a SMART goal actually means.
The SMART acronym stands for:
Tino Jaimes shares an example of a SMART goal they use at Compramos Casas Texas: “Our end goal for marketing with direct mail is to invest in 3 properties and this is how we use the SMART concept.”
“Specific: Generate 3 closed contracts in a 12 week period through direct mail Marketing
Measurable: 6 signed contracts in 12 weeks. Roughly 1/2 of our contracts close due to unforeseen issues like liens and no clear title or seller not interested in moving forward.
Achievable: 60 appointments needed to sign 6 contracts. With our direct mail marketing, the response rate is roughly 0.005%. To get 1 signed contract on average requires 10 appointments. Therefore, we need to send out 12,000 units of direct mail to reach our goal.
Relevant or Realistic: Direct mail marketing is one of our top marketing vehicles and has been consistent in providing leads and sales for continued business.
Time-based: We set our marketing budget and timeline on a 12 week, quarterly period.”
Brian Cairns also explains how they created SMART goals for one of ProStrategix Consulting‘s client “whose goal was to drive more appointments at her 2nd location.”
“First, how to make it more specific. More is great, but it’s not enough. To notice more, it has to cut through the noise. A 10-15% bump is usually enough.”
“We took this goal and back-calculated what the traffic and spending would need to be in order to be sure it was actionable and reasonable. Since we knew her website converted at around 10%, we knew we needed to boost traffic by 100 to 150%. She wasn’t really spending much, so in this case, we knew we could hit it by spending a reasonable amount.”
Cairns adds: “Finally, we needed to make it time-bound. We knew that there was a lag between visits and appointments. Therefore, we added that lag to come up with a final SMART goal: to raise appointments by at least 10% by month 3. The translated into increase visitor by a minimum of 100% by month 1.”
A SMART goal has all five things included. But is any part of a SMART goal more important than the other four?
Our experts think so:
“One of the best tips for using the SMART framework for setting goals that your team can actually use is to nail down the Specific aspect as much as possible,” writes Money Crashers‘ Carly Fauth.
“That’s because when you think about it, all of the other elements are based on how specific the goal is. If it’s not specific, it probably won’t be measurable, it might not be attainable if it isn’t clear, and may not be realistic, and it might also fail to meet the Timely aspect.”
“In short, when creating your goal under the Specific framework, make sure that once your goal has been written, that it addresses and includes all of the ensuing elements.”
Alayna Okerlund of BestCompany.com agrees: “The more specific you and your team members can be with goal creation, the more motivation you all will have to achieve those goals and the more likely you are to hit them.”
“Specific team goals can also help you and your team members stay on the same page. Overall, specificity is key when it comes to goal-setting and, therefore, your team should make sure to spend more time on this step of the SMART process.”
In fact, our experts ranked specificity as the most important element of any SMART marketing goal:
Brian Cairns of ProStrategix Consulting explains how the A is arguably the most important: “Marketers and entrepreneurs are optimists by nature. They can do anything. They might, but that’s luck, not planning. Making sure that your goals challenge you is great, but it fine between challenging and demoralizing.”
However, Peter Watson-Wailes says for Tough & Competent, “the key for us is to make sure that the goals are both challenging, and achievable.”
“If they’re not challenging, there’s little to show at the end of the year. If they’re not achievable, you’ll only show that you either 1) can’t deliver, or 2) can’t set goals appropriately.”
“Spend time understanding the organization first, and what they’re looking to get out of the engagement, stick good success and failure criteria around those goals, and then turn them into something actionable and achievable in the given time frame,” Watson-Wailes adds.
Matt Seltzer of S2 Research thinks that the R is “probably the most important part. It needs to be something that truly can be achieved, Realistically. Make it challenging, sure, you want that to motivate your team. But the moment it is deemed impossible, you’ll have lost everyone.”
…As does Niger Hall of The Marketing Muslimah: “The purpose of the SMART framework is to allow business managers to create goals that are based on reality.”
“Consider where your business is, and where the industry is that it belongs to today. Are there any changes (seasonal, legislative, trending positive/negative opinions about your business or industry, new competitors gaining traction, old competitor going out of business, etc.) that can affect your ability to meet your goals?”
“Then, ask yourself what can you realistically expect to achieve, based on your business and it’s industry’s position, within a specified time period,” Hall adds.
Mailbird‘s Angela Ash agrees: “I think that the organizational aspect of using the SMART framework can save hours in ensuring that goals are actually realistic.”
“There are few things more demoralizing for a team than consistently not reaching goals. By using the SMART framework, this can become an issue of the past, where goals are not only set in a simple way, but they are achievable.”
However, Futurety‘s Dinah Adams thinks “timeliness is the most important consideration when creating SMART goals. Giving your team a deadline for data collection helps you understand that impact that your efforts can have within a designated period of time.”
“Whether you set your goals monthly, quarterly, or annually, giving yourself a due date can keep you on track and organized. Understanding what you can reasonably accomplish in a designated window of time will help you prioritize your efforts.”
“Generally, when vague goals are set, you are far more clueless as to how to approach meeting those goals due to their being no specific guidelines for what those goals entail,” says Hausera‘s Jane Prizer.
“By setting specific goals, you will have a much more definitive sense as to whether or not you met them.”
Prizer continues: “I find doing them quarterly is the most helpful because that gives a proper window of time for goals to be met, as sometimes these goals can take some time.”
Almost 40% of our experts follow Prizer’s methodology, creating SMART goals for their marketing department quarterly:
Now we’re on the same page about what a SMART goal entails, let’s move onto the juicy part: How can you create SMART goals that keep your marketing department on-track?
Our experts shared 17 tips to help, including:
“Once you’ve created a goal, keep it visible at all times where the entire team has access to it,” advises Brandalaxy‘s Raven Beria.
“I personally like to use something called a scorecard. It simplifies the goal more, giving an easy-to-use process for reviewing whether you’re on track or not. And by having it visible at all times, it makes it clear what your focus should be, creating accountability for everyone involved.”
It’s a tactic also used by the team at Netbooknews, according to Kenny Trinh: “We write our goals into a piece of paper, more particularly to a SMART goal worksheet that you can easily find online.”
“We then make sure we see those goals all the time, such as having a copy of it near our desks and in our meeting rooms and referring to it in our meetings. This helps improve our focus on the goal.”
SJC Marketing‘s Rachel McCoy agrees: “Go old-school, using a large whiteboard or laminated framework. The more often SMART goals are viewed and stored in the forefront of team members’ minds, the more often the process can be utilized.”
Josiah Lorsung of Odin Marketing House thinks that when you’re creating SMART marketing goals, “it’s best to get all your ideas out on a board with the whole team. Get everyone in a room get ideas from everyone, I often like to have the whole team come or department come in for this task.”
“Next, prioritize each task I usually will only have management or myself for this task. You can create a key system that lets me know which item will take longer to achieve or the priority system, numbers or stars work great.”
“Your goals and priorities often come out clear and clear with this task as well as include the whole team creating a sense of ownership and collaboration on goals,” Lorsung adds.
Shay Berman shares how they do this at Digital Resource: “Every month, I meet with all parties involved in our company’s marketing. We discuss the past month to see where we need to improve and then talk about next steps.”
That includes questions like: “What can we do that day to start reaching our goals? What can we do in the next week? And what can we do in the coming month?”
“By breaking our goals down into smaller pieces and going after them with the SMART approach, we’re don’t overwhelm our system, are able to take better action, and make quality decisions,” Berman continues.
“This helps eliminate guesswork – and minimizes the risk of not reaching the goals we set. Ultimately, making it a conversation is going to align your teams’ expectations and ensure that every aspect of the SMART approach is fair on all sides. You can then hold one another accountable.”
(Yen Wee’s team at Loud Kitchen do this by modifying “the A in SMART to ‘Accountable’, i.e. our members will work in pairs or groups for various goals, and team members work on check on each other’s progress at fixed intervals, depending on the task.”)
Regardless of how you’re doing it, Alex Cascio of Vibrant Media Productions echoes that it’s crucial to involve your team: “Asking yourself and team-specific questions have really helped us lock-in on attainable goals such as why is it important, and what we truly want to accomplish.”
As does Claire Shaner of ZooWho Personal CRM, who explains: “If you choose a goal that would take a miracle to achieve, your team will likely know it’s impossible and won’t be fully committed to reaching the goal. Instead, choose a goal that stretches you and is within reach.”
“One way I like to do this is to graph the metric’s growth over the past period. I then use a linear forecast line to see where we would be in a few months if we kept the same pace. To set a goal I then set the target a bit higher than the forecast.”
“The best thing you can do besides following the SMART formula is to make the goals and focused as possible,” writes Aspirify‘s Andrea Travillian.
“For example, instead of growing sales by 10% by December, set your goals on how that will happen. Instead, it would be: Create 3 new whitepapers on our process by September, [or] attend 3 trade shows and gain 5 leads from each by December.”
Nikolaj Nielsen of avXpertenWebsite agrees: “The whole point of the SMART model is to make realistic goals which you believe can reasonably be achieved within a certain timeframe and with the resources available.”
“It is vital that you know exactly what you and your team is capable of achieving with the resources and time you have available. From my own experience, it is fine to set somewhat difficult goals, but you have to be completely sure that these goals are actually achievable.”
“The stress that comes with failing in a business environment is not fun for anyone involved, so make sure you don’t create a scenario that is made to fail,” Nielsen adds.
Mavens & Moguls‘ Paige Arnof-Fenn explains how you can do this: “The [goals] ones outline several subgoals, or specific actions, that need to take place in order to accomplish the overall goal. SMART criteria can also be applied to each of those smaller goals in the same way for best results.”
It’s a tactic also used by Jacob Landis-Eigsti: “We’ve had the greatest success by creating outcomes we want (a 20% increase in revenue for example), but then creating SMART goals around the actions that we need to take in order to accomplish this goal.”
“It may be as simple as making 20% more sales calls. We can then track the number of sales calls. It’s easy to measure our progress and it’s easy to see if the goal is realistic and achievable.”
Landis-Eigsti continues: “For some actions like increasing website traffic, results can be slow for months and then increase rapidly. That’s why it’s important to track and keep up with the actions necessary to hit the goal. Otherwise, it can get demoralizing if you’ve worked hard for a month but the results haven’t increased.”
When creating SMART marketing goals for SoftwarePundit, Bruce Hogan said: “We discovered [that] having SMART goals that were too prescriptive about how the outcome would be accomplished. This leaves little flexibility for the team to experiment and learn throughout the quarter, as they’ve committed specific tactics.”
Hogan adds what that might look like: “Grow email channel revenue by 50% year-over-year by launching an abandoned cart series.”
“The best way to set SMART marketing goals is using a tool of team management like Monday or TeamWork (I personally use and prefer TeamWork),” says Alberto Carniel.
“The way these tools are built exactly fulfills the purpose of goal-setting. Even if you are a layman and don’t know how the SMART goal framework works, with tools like TeamWork, you can’t make mistakes.”
“They allow you to set a task/objective with all the fundamental elements: you can give them a title and description (Specific), you can time your progress with a stopwatch (Measurable), you can attribute them a value (Attractive) and you can set a starting and ending date (Timed),” Carniel explains.
*Editor’s note: Are you using Asana to make sure your marketing team meets your SMART goals? Monitor progress with our Asana Team Overview dashboard, which shows how many tasks are overdue–and which team members are responsible for the most (or least) task completions:
Chances are, you have a mixture of long-term and short-term marketing goals.
JVT Media‘s Toni JV thinks you should “remember to have multiple smaller, more in the near future goals apart from the big picture vision. There are simply too many changing variables to predict exactly what will happen.”
“But when you have goals for every 3 months or 1 month, for example, it’s not only more realistic but also more exciting, because it feels more concrete,” JV adds.
When creating SMART goals, Melanie Hartmann of Creo Home Solutions thinks you should “define where you want to be.”
“Develop SMART short-term goals (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) that will put you on the path to reaching your main goal. Revisit goals once smaller ones have been achieved and make sure your team stays on track.”
“The best tip I can give is to make sure your goals give you feedback,” says James Pollard of The Advisor Coach. “This is closely tied to measurement because by measuring your progress, you can figure out if your actions are helping or hurting.”
“I tell my private clients that their goals should be so clear that a six-year-old could easily tell if they’re on track or not.”
“My best tip for using the SMART framework for setting goals that can actually be achieved is to be disciplined in reviewing the results and asking the tough questions so you can get better,” writes Marketcircle‘s Kristie Holden.
“Was the goal specific enough? Was the goal attainable or unrealistic? Was the timeframe realistic? Were there things that came up that got in the way or deviated my focus/prioritization? By reviewing the goals you set each week, it helps you get better at setting goals in the future.”
Allison Hott of Awesome Motive agrees: “At our company, each team member has 1 or 2 quarterly SMART goals they need to achieve. To help them achieve their goals and stay on track, we have our team members report on their progress in weekly meetings.”
“This helps each team member keep their goals top of mind and it allows team leaders to stay up-to-date as well.”
When creating SMART goals, Adam Smartschan of Altitude Marketing advises: “Don’t just measure or track progress for the sake of measuring or tracking progress. In other words, apply SMART not just to the goal, but to how you measure success.”
“Are your Google Analytics goals specific (e.g., a thank you page visit), or too broad (e.g., a 30-second site visit)? Can you get specific about which traffic is converting, or is everything in one big bucket? Are you able to create time-based comparisons, or can you not measure how things are improving or getting worse?”
“Smart (and SMART) analytics is the difference between having data you can use, and just having data,” Smartschan adds.
“Setting SMART goals can help your team prioritize objectives that are both beneficial and attainable,” says Lauren Walter of Search Optimism. “In order to make sure the goals you set are SMART, consider reviewing past goals and performance.”
“Which goals were simple, achievable, and realistic, yet still beneficial? Are there similar goals you might set moving forward?”
“Review past goals that seemed simple and achievable, but turned out to be more complicated than anticipated. What made them unexpectedly complex or unachievable, and how can you avoid those issues in your next set of goals?”
Walter continues: “Take a look at how you measured the progress and success of past goals. Try to learn from what worked best, what was most helpful, and what did not work. To keep your team aware and accountable, include these metrics in your marketing reports.”
When we asked Refactoring Growth for their best tip when creating SMART marketing goals, Corey Haines’ answer was similar: “Don’t pick numbers out of a hat.”
“There’s a tendency to use wishful thinking with goals. Just because you want it to become true doesn’t mean that it will. Use forecasts. Use historical trends. Factor in seasonality. Set reasonable deadlines.”
“Set a goal that’s both realistic, yet attainable, that’s backed up with a data-driven plan,” Haines adds.
“In order to achieve all the items listed in the SMART framework, it is important to set up this strategy at the begging of any campaign once you have assessed your client’s strengths and weaknesses,” electrIQ marketing‘s Amy Hernandez advises.
“This is necessary as, otherwise you could go into SMART with an unnecessary goal. Many times this can be the case as the true issue hindering a brand is not always surface level, but at first glance, it may seem that way.”
Hernandez adds: “Due to this I encourage companies to do in-depth audits of their clients and thorough competitor analysis.”
Editor’s note: Find hidden opportunities where you can bypass your competitors in search engines with our Accuranker and Moz dashboards. Both show how your competitor’s SEO strategy changes over time–allowing you to tweak yours to overtake them:
“Before you set a key goal, make sure you actually *want* to complete the goal,” Karl Sakas of Sakas & Company advises.
“In my experience as an agency coach, people require three things to take action: the desire, competence, *and* capacity to complete the goal or task.”
So, how can you keep your team motivated to meet SMART goals?
According to Zakiyah Toor of Awesome Motive Inc, “you’ll see better engagement and improvement for pretty much anything if there’s an incentive behind it.”
“Whether it’s a free lunch or company-wide recognition, using incentives helps your team stay focused and prioritize the task at hand. It’s a form of motivation that works because people like being rewarded for their hard work.”
When creating SMART marketing goals, Darren Foong advises to “balance the S with the A — that is, tie the Specificity of the goals with how easy/difficult it will be to Achieve.”
“At ReferralCandy, team members determine their own success metric. The important thing is that they can make a case to connect it with the company’s overall objectives (like sales or revenue). Our manager then establishes a goal for the metric that is ambitious and slightly out of reach, but still achievable.”
Foong continues: “Goals like revenue or traffic are easy to set but ultimately affected by so many things: Christmas holidays, an election year, Cloudflare going down, new Billie Eilish bop.”
“Instead, team members often set personal metrics like new referring domains or new partnerships per quarter. These are leading metrics that will only impact revenue three months down the line, but setting Ambitious if Achievable goals ensure that we are performing the actions that will conceivably lead to success.”
“Instead of rolling the dice to get lucky, we are rolling as many dice as we can; getting lucky is easier when you make 100 rolls rather than just one,” Foong summarizes.
According to Catalyst‘s Douglas Fairbrother, “you need to spend time on your SMART goals and ensure they’re realistic and achievable. A good method we use is to keep questioning the initial goal and break it down until you arrive at a more detailed target.”
“A stepping stone to the higher goal essentially. For example; You want to generate more deals for your business. Ok, how will you do that?”
“By generating more quality leads. Ok, so how will you do that? Producing more content that resonates with the target audience. Good. You now have the first step towards your higher goal.”
Fairbrother continues: “So you could say something like, “I need to produce two pieces of gated content to go live by X date”. It’s realistic, achievable and specific.”
“Another goal off the back of that would be, “Generate X leads from the gated-content by X date”. You will then need to ensure you’re promoting the new content across your channels and from there you will generate the right leads.”
“Contextualize your goals with data: Traffic, leads, conversions and so on,” advises Brent Barnhart.
“To understand where you can realistically go, you need to figure out where you’ve been. This rings true whether we’re talking about driving traffic or leads from a particular marketing channel. And even if your benchmark data isn’t much or you’re starting from zero so you set the bar low. That’s totally fine.”
“The beauty of the SMART framework is that you’re much less likely to set yourself (or your clients or team) up for disappointment.”
That’s because a whopping 98.5% of marketers say they’re more likely to stick to a goal if it uses the SMART framework:
Barnhart continues: “Let’s say you overachieve and knock a campaign out of the park in terms of new followers or leads. Nice! Now you have a better idea of what’s realistic and can use that data to influence future SMART goals. It’s sort of a win-win.”
Rebecca Coote of Pointer Brand Protection agrees: “SMART goals are predominantly useful as part of setting realistic stretch targets. Marketing managers should be able to analyze internal data and then set achievable projections based on these.”
“It’s hard to really go wrong as long as you stick to [the SMART] formula, but always check yourself, make sure you’re realistic and have considered all other factors,” writes Radial Path‘s Tamsin Lockwood.
“Is a core person in your team going on holiday? Adjust the time frame to accommodate this. That sort of thing. Launching a new campaign over Christmas or Easter? Probably not.”
Lockwood adds: “You’re not going to get the same results as you would at a ‘normal’ time, or maybe they’ll be better, it depends what you’re selling!”
“As time passes the excitement of setting goals may start to fade,” says Andy Aranda of Relaxation Company.
“By setting regular check-ins you’ll be able to ensure that your goals aren’t falling off track. Setting regular meetings will also keep you motivated from the time you’ve set your SMART goals to when you achieve them.”
Are you ready to create SMART goals for your marketing team?
Kat Boogaard summarizes: “I think all of the best advice for using the SMART goal framework is right there in the acronym. So, with that in mind, I guess that’d be my best tip: Don’t skip pieces of the acronym!”
“Simply setting a goal that’s specific (and not also measurable, achievable, etc.) won’t help you nearly as much as making sure that you’re checking off each and every letter of the acronym.”
“Follow the framework as it’s intended!”
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