Conservation planning is often informed by quantitative targets: these are minimum amounts of the distribution of a species, vegetation type, or other biodiversity feature intended for protection. Targets are set for the global reserve system, and are also used at national and local levels to plan for both on- and off-reserve conservation. Understandably, the conservation community holds a range of opinions about target-based approaches to conservation planning. One school of thought is that the approach is inadequate, inflexible, and even counterproductive in many socioecological systems. We investigate the perceived limitations of target-based conservation planning, and find that most have resulted from poor communication and misuse of targets, leading to misconceptions and misunderstandings. Here we put target-based conservation planning in context by: (1) summarizing reported limitations of the approach and differentiating between those that are real and those that are misconceived; (2) identifying ways that some of the real limitations have, and can, be overcome, and (3) comparing target-based conservation planning to alternative conservation prioritization approaches. We hope to stimulate further discussion that will guide and improve target-based conservation planning.