The target adopted by world leaders of significantly reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 was not met but this stimulated a new suite of biodiversity targets for 2020 adopted by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in October 2010. Indicators will be essential for monitoring progress towards these targets and the CBD will be defining a suite of relevant indicators, building on those developed for the 2010 target. Here we argue that explicitly linked sets of indicators offer a more useful framework than do individual indicators because the former are easier to understand, communicate and interpret to guide policy. A Response-Pressure-State-Benefit framework for structuring and linking indicators facilitates an understanding of the relationships between policy actions, anthropogenic threats, the status of biodiversity and the benefits that people derive from it. Such an approach is appropriate at global, regional, national and local scales but for many systems it is easier to demonstrate causal linkages and use them to aid decision making at national and local scales. We outline examples of linked indicator sets for humid tropical forests and marine fisheries as illustrations of the concept and conclude that much work remains to be done in developing both the indicators and the causal links between them.