Are Your Goals Attainable, Relevant, and Timely?

In my last post, I shared a theoretical outline of the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. model. We also looked in more detail at the first two pieces—specific and measurable. Today I’m going to talk about the next three: attainable, relevant, and timely.

Without attainable goals, it’s impossible to move forward in any business venture. Most businesses (except maybe charities) have a goal of increasing revenue over time. This is a good goal. It’s relevant for almost everyone. Moreover, if you define it right, it will be attainable.

Making your goals attainable goes hand in hand with making them specific. If you’ve already gone through the specific**** step of this exercise, you should already know what you’re trying to achieve and what and how behaviors will change if the goal is met.

Now, assuming you have an overall goal of increasing profit, you can make it attainable by setting the right parameters. Ask yourself, or the appropriate decision makers, these questions:

Using analytics is an important best practice to setting attainable goals. Look at your past metrics in revenue, profits, losses, allocations, attribution, and KPIs. Looking at these numbers can tell you information like

It’s good to be optimistic and set challenging goals, but they also have to be realistic. Finding the balance is an art and a science. It’s easy to set a profit goal that is too high. If it’s not attainable and you fall far short if it, people can get discouraged and lose motivation or they lose budget for the next round of goals because stakeholders believe they are not performing to standards. On the other hand, when the challenge is manageable and you meet an attainable goal, it gives you actionable information to help you take the next steps.

So now, we’ve looked at making goals attainable. It should probably go without saying that they should be relevant too. I will say it anyway: your goals need to be aligned with your company’s overall strategy. Even if I could reach the amazing goal of churning out 1,000 pizzas a day, it would not be relevant if I run a dry cleaning business. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but let’s take a look at a more relevant goal-setting process that several search marketers face frequently. You have an appliance business, and at the end of the day the appliance business’s goal is to generate more revenue at a steady cost. As a search marketer, we can be hung up on other goals, such as improving clickthrough rates (CTR) or an improved position on the search engine results pages. Does an improved CTR or ranking drive dollars to the bottom line? Possibly. Would a focus on sending more traffic to landing pages and through specific keywords that have had proven cost effective conversions be time better spent than focusing only on CTR or ranking? Yes.

Relevance is one area where it’s easy to make assumptions and end up making mistakes. Here’s an example. Writing for MOZ, Mackenzie Fogelson of Mack Web Solutions points out that marketers often get bogged down in tools—figuring out which new gadgets will make our work easier and how to use them. I’m all for tools—I love tools!—but as Mackenzie says, they can distract us from relevant goals.

Therefore, the relevance step is all about matching your goals to your larger organization or business unit. This means you have to understand these goals well. Take time to talk with the right people and ask many questions.

The fifth and last step—timely—means that your goals should have a beginning and an end. This step is especially important because it supports all the others. A goal with no start and end is not specific or measurable, and there’s a good chance it won’t be attainable. Timing should be relevant, specific, and measurable.

If your business is just starting out, make sure you understand that it takes time to create, test, and make progress toward goals. Each time you reach a goal or define a new one, try to push yourself a bit further. You will reach or exceed your long-term goal if you proceed in short bursts. This is how you create best practices.

By now, it should be clear that the steps in the SMARTER model overlap. The acronym is linear, which helps us remember the steps. But they don’t always happen in order, and that’s all right. Think through each step in whatever order makes sense, and then use the SMARTER acronym as a checklist to make sure you haven’t left anything out. In my next post, we’ll talk about the E and R pieces.