When I was 14, my dream was to play college baseball. But I had one small problem: I only weighed 100 pounds. And even though I still had four years to bulk up and improve my skills, I knew I had a long way to go. Fortunately, my coach always knew how to give me opportunities to shoot for that kept my drive alive.
I think of SMART goals like my former baseball coach.
After a grueling practice or workout, he would harp on how the long term is just a series of short terms. And to hammer that mentality into our heads, he would make us write down our off-season training goals every year. But he didn't just accept the first draft of your goal sheet. He never did. He would make you edit it until you knew exactly what your goals were and how you were going to achieve them.
Setting a goal like "improve upper body strength" and planning to lift weights three times a week wasn't enough. You had to write down how much you would improve your bench press by and how many times you would work out your upper body per week.
Every year, I set concrete off-season training goals, and since I had a plan and clear direction, I always achieved them. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had gained 70 pounds of muscle and earned a baseball scholarship.
In this post, you'll learn exactly what a SMART goal is, why it reminds me of my baseball coach, and how you can set one today, Want to skip to the information you need most? Click on one of these headlines to jump to the relevant section.
When I first learned about SMART goals, I had an epiphany. I realized the reason why I could keep improving my athleticism in high school was because my coach made me set SMART goals. But, to give you a more professional example, here's a template that shows how HubSpot encourages users to create their own SMART goals:
In the working world, the influence of SMART goals continues to grow. The reason why successful marketing teams always hit their numbers is because they also set SMART goals.
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART goals are concrete targets that you strive to achieve over a certain period of time. These goals should be carefully drafted by a manager and his/her direct report to set them up for success. "SMART" is an acronym that describes the most important characteristics of each goal.
The "SMART" acronym stands for "specific," "measurable," "attainable," "relevant," and "time-bound." Each SMART goal you create should have these five characteristics to ensure the goal can be reached and benefits the employee. Find out what each characteristic means below, and how to write a SMART goal that exemplifies them.
The thing I love about sports is the life lessons you learn playing them directly apply to your career. Setting SMART goals not only helps you get better at baseball, but it also makes you a better marketer.
Why Are SMART Goals Important?
When you make goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, you're increasing your odds for success by verifying that the goal is achievable, identifying the metrics that define success, and creating a roadmap to get to those metrics.
If your goals are abstract, if you don't know what it will take to achieve success, or if you don't give yourself a deadline to complete steps to achieve the goal, you may lose focus and fall short of what you want to accomplish.
How to Make a Smart Goal
Use specific wording.
Include measurable goals.
Aim for realistically attainable goals.
Pick relevant goals that relate to your business.
Make goals time-bound by including timeframe and deadline information.
1. Use specific wording.
When writing SMART goals, keep in mind that they are "specific" in that there's a hard and fast destination the employee is trying to reach. "Get better at my job," isn't a SMART goal because it isn't specific. Instead, ask yourself: What are you getting better at? How much better do you want to get?
If you're a marketing professional, for example, your job probably revolves around key performance indicators, or KPIs. Therefore, you might choose a particular KPI or metric you want to improve on -- like visitors, leads, or customers. You should also identify the team members working toward this goal, the resources they have, and their plan of action.
In practice, a specific SMART goal might say, "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's traffic from email ..." You know exactly who's involved and what you're trying to improve on.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: Vagueness
While you may need to keep some goals more open-ended, you should avoid vagueness that could confuse your team later on. For example. instead of saying, "Clifford will boost email marketing experiences," say "Clifford will boost email marketing click rates by 10%."
Free SMART Goal Template
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2. Include measurable goals.
SMART goals should be "measurable" in that you can track and quantify the goal's progress. "Increase the blog's traffic from email," by itself, isn't a SMART goal because you can't measure the increase. Instead, ask yourself: How much email marketing traffic should you strive for?
If you want to gauge your team's progress, you need to quantify your goals, like achieving an X-percentage increase in visitors, leads, or customers.
Let's build on the SMART goal we started three paragraphs above. Now, our measurable SMART goal might say, "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's traffic from email by 25% more sessions per month ... " You know what you're increasing, and by how much.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: No KPIs
This is in the same light of avoiding vagueness. While you might need qualitative evidence or more open-ended evidence to prove your success, you should still come up with a quantifiable KPI. For example, instead of saying, "Customer service will improve customer happiness," say, "We want the average post-customer service call satisfaction score from customers to be a seven out of ten or higher."
3. Aim for realistically attainable goals.
An "attainable" SMART goal considers the employee's ability to achieve it. Make sure that X-percentage increase is rooted in reality. If your blog traffic increased by 5% last month, for example, try to increase it by 8-10% this month, rather than a lofty 25%.
It's crucial to base your goals off of your own analytics, not industry benchmarks, or else you might bite off more than you can chew. So, let's add some "attainability" to the SMART goal we created earlier in this blog post: "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's traffic from email by 8-10% more sessions per month ... " This way, you're not setting yourself up to fail.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: Unattainable Goals
Yes. You should always aim to improve. But reaching for completely unattainable goals may knock you off track and make it harder to track progress. Rather than saying, "We want to make 10,000% of what we made in 2019," consider something more attainable, like, "We want to increase sales by 150% this year," or "We have a quarterly goal to reach a 20% year-over-year sales increase."
4. Pick relevant goals that relate to your business.
SMART goals that are "relevant" relate to your company's overall business goals and account for current trends in your industry. For instance, will growing your traffic from email lead to more revenue? And is it actually possible for you to significantly boost your blog's email traffic given your current email marketing campaigns?
If you're aware of these factors, you'll be more likely to set goals that benefit your company -- not just you or your department.
So, what does that do to our SMART goal? It might encourage you to adjust the metric you're using to track the goal's progress. For example, maybe your business has historically relies on organic traffic for generating leads and revenue, and research suggests you can generate more qualified leads this way. Our SMART goal might instead say, "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's organic traffic by 8-10% more sessions per month." This way, your traffic increase is aligned with the business's revenue stream.
Common SMART Goal Mistake; Losing Sight of the Company
When your company's doing well, it can be easy to say you want to pivot or grow in another direction. While companies can successfully do this, you don't want your team to lose sight of how the core of your business works.
Rather than saying, "We want to start a new B2B business on top of our B2C business," say something like, "We want to continue increasing B2C sales while researching the impact our products could have on the B2B space in the next year."
5. Make goals time-bound by including timeframe and deadline information.
A "time-bound" SMART goal keeps you on schedule. Improving on a goal is great, but not if it takes too long. Attaching deadlines to your goals puts a healthy dose of pressure on your team to accomplish them. This helps you make consistent and significant progress in the long term.
For example, which would you prefer: increasing organic traffic by 5% every month, leading to a 30-35% increase in half a year? Or trying to increase traffic by 15% with no deadline and achieving that goal in the same time frame? If you picked the former, you're right.
So, what does our SMART goal look like once we bound it to a timeframe? "Over the next three months, Clifford and Braden will work to increase the blog's organic traffic by 8-10%, reaching a total of 50,000 organic sessions by the end of August.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: No Time Frame
Having no timeframe or really broad span of time noted in your goal will cause the effort to get reprioritized or make it hard for you to see if your team is on track. Rather than saying. "This year, we want to launch a major campaign," say, "In quarter one, we will focus on campaign production in order to launch the campaign in quarter two."
If you want a more concrete understanding of SMART goals, check out the examples below. You can always revisit this blog post and reference them when it's time to set your goals.
6 SMART Goal Examples That'll Make You a Better Marketer
1. Blog Traffic Goal
Specific: I want to boost our blog's traffic by increasing our weekly publishing frequency from 5 to 8 times a week. Our two bloggers will increase their workload from writing 2 posts a week to 3 posts a week, and our editor will increase her workload from writing 1 post a week to 2 posts a week.
Measureable: An 8% increase is our goal.
Attainable: Our blog traffic increased by 5% last month when we increased our weekly publishing frequency from 3 to 5 times a week.
Relevant: By increasing blog traffic, we'll boost brand awareness and generate more leads, giving sales more opportunities to close.
Time-Bound: End of this month
SMART Goal: At the end of this month, our blog will see an 8% lift in traffic by increasing our weekly publishing frequency from 5 posts per week to 8 post per week.
2. Facebook Video Views Goal
Specific: I want to boost our average views per native video by cutting our video content mix from 8 topics to our 5 most popular topics.
Measurable: A 25% increase is our goal.
Attainable: When we cut down our video content mix on Facebook from 10 topics to our 8 most popular topics six months ago, our average views per native video increased by 20%.
Relevant: By increasing average views per native video on Facebook, we'll boost our social media following and brand awareness, reaching more potential customers with our video content.
Time-Bound: In 6 months.
SMART Goal: In 6 months, we'll see a 25% increase in average video views per native video on Facebook by cutting our video content mix from 8 topics to our 5 most popular topics.
3. Email Subscription Goal
Specific: I want to boost the number of our email blog subscribers by increasing our Facebook advertising budget on blog posts that historically acquire the most email subscribers.
Measurable: A 50% increase is our goal.
Attainable: Since we started using this tactic three months ago, our email blog subscriptions have increased by 40%.
Relevant: By increasing the number of our email blog subscribers, our blog will drive more traffic, boost brand awareness, and drive more leads to our sales team.
Time-Bound: In 3 months.
SMART Goal: In 3 months, we'll see a 50% increase in the number of our email blog subscribers by increasing our Facebook advertising budget on posts that historically acquire the most blog subscribers.
4. Webinar Sign-up Goal
Specific: I want to increase the number of sign-ups for our Facebook Messenger webinar by promoting it through social, email, our blog, and Facebook Messenger.
Measurable: A 15% increase is our goal.
Attainable: Our last Facebook messenger webinar saw a 10% increase in sign-ups when we only promoted it through social, email, and our blog.
Relevant: When our webinars generate more leads, sales has more opportunities to close.
Time-Bound: By April 10, the day of the webinar.
SMART Goal: By April 10, the day of our webinar, we'll see a 15% increase in sign-ups by promoting it through social, email, our blog, and Facebook messenger.
5. Landing Page Performance Goal
Specific: I want our landing pages to generate more leads by switching from a one column form to a two column form.
Measurable: A 30% increase is our goal.
Attainable: When we A/B tested our traditional one column form vs. a two column form on our highest traffic landing pages, we discovered that two column forms convert 27% better than our traditional one column forms, at a 99% significance level.
Relevant: If we generate more content leads, sales can close more customers.
Time-Bound: One year from now.
SMART Goal: One year from now, our landing pages will generate 30% more leads by switching their forms from one-column to two columns.
6. Link-Building Strategy Goal
Specific: I want to increase our website's organic traffic by developing a link-building strategy that gets other publishers to link to our website. This increases our ranking in search engine results, allowing us to generate more organic traffic.
Measurable: 40 backlinks to our company homepage is our goal.
Attainable: According to our SEO analysis tool, there are currently 500 low-quality links directing to our homepage from elsewhere on the internet. Given the number of partnerships we currently have with other businesses, and that we generate 10 new inbound links per month without any outreach on our part, an additional 40 inbound links from a single link-building campaign is a significant but feasible target.
Relevant: Organic traffic is our top source of new leads, and backlinks is one of the biggest ranking factors on search engines like Google. If we build links from high-quality publications, our organic ranking increases, boosting our traffic and leads as a result.
Time-Bound: 4 months from now.
SMART Goal: Over the next four months, I will build 40 additional backlinks that direct to www.ourcompany.com. To do so, I will collaborate with Ellie and Andrew from our PR department to connect with publishers and develop an effective outreach strategy.
Now that you know what a SMART goal is, why it's important, and the framework to create one, it's time to get inspired to put that information into practice. Whether you're setting goals for a personal achievement or as part of hitting important marketing milestones, it's good to start with what you want to achieve and then reverse-engineer into a concrete SMART goal.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jul 15, 2020 9:00:00 AM, updated July 16 2020