Since 1970, measurement of the soil microbial biomass (SMB) has been widely adopted as a relatively simple means of assessing the impact of environmental and anthropogenic change on soil microorganisms. The SMB is living and dynamic, and its activity is responsible for the regulation of organic matter transformations and associated energy and nutrient cycling in soil. At a gross level, an increase in SMB is considered beneficial, while a decline in SMB may be considered detrimental if this leads to a decline in biological function. However, absolute SMB values are more difficult to interpret. Target or reference values of SMB are needed for soil quality assessments and to allow ameliorative action to be taken at an appropriate time. However, critical values have not yet been successfully identified for SMB. This paper provides a conceptual framework which outlines how SMB values could be interpreted and measured, with examples provided within an Australian context.