SERS labels are a new class of nanotags for optical detection based on Raman scattering. Central advantages include their spectral multiplexing capacity due to the small line width of vibrational Raman bands, quantification based on spectral intensities, high photostability, minimization of autofluorescence from biological specimens via red to near-infrared (NIR) excitation, and the need for only a single laser excitation line. Current concepts for the rational design and synthesis of SERS labels are summarized in this review. Chemical constituents of SERS labels are the plasmonically active metal colloids for signal enhancement upon resonant laser excitation, organic Raman reporter molecules for adsorption onto the metal surface for identification, and an optional protective shell. Different chemical approaches towards the synthesis of rationally designed SERS labels are highlighted, including also their subsequent bioconjugation.