How-to: Be SMART in Content Development

The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives. While Doran's method isn't new and was intended for corporate management, it can be applied to content development on the web.

Why does it matter? If you're marketing and/or selling content via the web, the only way to deliver is to be committed, consistent, reliable and professional.

Doran's method aimed to formulate an organisations goals and objectives to be:
  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or devise an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – which is another word for achievable given available resources and time scales.
  • Time-related – specify when the results can be achieved.
It's actually a good method for running any kind of project, and content development for the web is no exception. The SMART method is a good way to set up a programme to stay focused and on track, especially when you have buckets of content to deliver and pressures on time and resources to do it.

Applying Doran's five elements to web content means:

Be Specific

Where your overall content plan dictates your site navigation and the content categories within it, assign your content items accordingly; stay on-topic, stay focussed on the intended audience. This will keep you from posting random content that doesn't contribute to your overall themes.

Be Measurable

Whichever set of analytics tools you use, you should track the response to the content you post, in terms of readership, link backs, and shares. And track these over time. Your best content has a long tail as it is searched, shared and revisited. The stats will tell you if your idea of a big hit posting is a winner with readers; if not, there's no point posting more of the same. Look out for the surprise winners and 'sleeper' posts that gain momentum over time. 

Be assignable

Get the right person to write the right content - with expertise, with authority, in time, on time. There's a whole other post in this alone.

Be realistic and achievable

That 24-part article series in two weeks may not be the most realistic or achievable goal. Look at the amount of work involved, including the drafts, the edits, the re-writes plus the graphics, not to mention additional research; does it fit the time available...

Be Time-based
Your work breakdown structure (another technique for a future post) should see your way to a realistic content schedule you can meet; if not, revise the work or revise the schedule. Nothing drives an audience away like over-promising and under-delivering.

If you've announced a content programme or set expectations, your content schedule or editorial calendar should contain publication dates that you stick to. If you can keep a few scheduled posts 'in the can', all well and good, but don't expect your audience to be there in six months when you return from your spontaneous round the world trip.


SMART is a useful technique to apply to content development at both ends of the spectrum; for those who have a vague idea of what they want to publish but no real experience of how to deliver; and for those whose ambition outstrips their capacity to deliver in a productive and effective way.

And yes, I am well aware how often I break or ignore all five of Doran's tenets. RC

Image credit: Dress pinstripe By Tore Nergaard ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"