As you probably already know, engagement is the key to pleasing the Instagram algorithm. The more engagement your posts get, the more people will see your posts. If you want to boost engagement than your hashtag strategy is a great place to start. In fact, posts that use an effective hashtag strategy have been shown to get more than double the engagement of posts that do not.
Hashtags are keywords that allow you to categorize your posts. A hashtag begins with the # hashtag symbol + a word or phrase (all ran together with no spaces). People can search for certain hashtags to view posts that have been categorized under that hashtag. You’ll see some example hashtags in the text below — so keep reading!
First off, what’s a hashtag strategy?
Using a hashtag will allow your post to show up in that hashtag’s feed, which increases your post’s reach (visibility). As more people see your post, you gain more opportunities for engagement. Don’t just go adding hashtags all willy-nilly though — you need a hashtag strategy if you want to get the most bang for your buck (i.e. the most reach for your hashtags). Read on to find out which hashtags to use and how many.
How do I know what hashtags to use?
First, you’ll need to do some hashtag research. You can research hashtags by typing a keyword into the Instagram search bar to find out what related hashtags come up. You may take note of how many posts each hashtag includes, in order to gauge a hashtag’s popularity.
Hashtag Research Tips:
- Choose hashtags that relate to your business and your target market.
- Research what hashtags industry leaders and your competitors are using.
- Research what hashtags your audience is using.
- Look for trending hashtags that draw in masses of engagement and interest. Just make sure that the trending hashtags you use somehow tie into your brand identity.
You might think that your post would gain the highest reach if you used the most popular hashtags on Instagram, but that isn’t usually the case. While popular hashtags might have a higher number of views, there are a lot more posts — meaning there’s a lot more competition. Your post may appear so far down in the feed that it hardly gets seen. As a rule, 2-3 word hashtags are usually better than one-word hashtags because they are more descriptive. Generally, the more specific the hashtag, the more interested and engaged its followers are. These ultra specific hashtags may have less posts and less followers overall, but there are more chances to be seen by YOUR target audience. Hashtags with a smaller number of posts mean less competition, more chances to be featured in the Top 9, and more chances people will find your account when they scroll through the hashtag page.
See the #Rainbow vs #DressTheRainbow example, above. At the time I wrote this blog post, #Rainbow had 23,648,304 posts while #DresstheRainbow only had 1,561 posts. When using general hashtags, your post may be pushed down lower on the page and you probably won’t get the engagement you need. Go ahead and throw in a couple general hashtags for visibility, but the majority of your hashtags should be pretty specific.
According to Elise Darma:
A general rule of thumb?
- If your account is brand new, aim for 1,000 to 10,000 posts per hashtag.
- If your account has over 5,000 followers, find hashtags used in up to 100,000 posts.
- And if you’re over 20,000 followers, use hashtags with about 250K posts.
By following this rule of thumb (since these numbers can vary depending on the niche that you’re in), not only will your posts get the extra visibility they deserve, but you’ll have a higher chance of landing a spot in the top posts section.
Eduardo Morales shares his own system for finding the most effective hashtags, which consists of narrowing down hashtags to only the most relevant to your post.
FYI: Instagram users can follow their favorite hashtag feeds.
To follow hashtags that are relevant to your account, visit a hashtag feed and then tap on the follow button.
Tools for Finding Hashtags: Hashtag Generators + Hashtag Analyzers
Hashtag generator and analysis websites and apps can be helpful in researching and analyzing your hashtag strategy. Some of the Instagram scheduling apps include a hashtag suggestion tool as well. I found that each of the free tools I tried was lacking in one way or another but I had success using a combination of tools to help me come up with hashtags I hadn’t come up with on my own. I took note of hashtags that were relevant to my brand, then checked out the number of posts, etc. for each and noted them in a spreadsheet (see my section on organizing hashtags, below).
Some free hashtag generator/analysis tools:
There are tons of free downloadable hashtag generator apps that work on your phone. I’ve only tried one so far and it was just okay. The app helped me to come up with a few hashtags that I hadn’t thought of but it also gave me a ton of super general tags that wouldn’t really be beneficial to my brand.
Remember, there is a real person behind your brand and there is no automated solution out there that will know your business like you do!
My thoughts on hashtag generators is that there is no one-size-fits-all option. I suggest using generators in helping with your hashtag research, but never rely on just one generator for all your hashtags. Remember, there is a real person behind your brand and there is no automated solution out there that will know your business like you do! Automated solutions are nice but it takes a real person to choose relevant, genuine, niche hashtags that will be beneficial to your business.
Types of Hashtags
Using branded hashtags is good for visibility. If the brand likes your post, they might feature it in one of their posts or stories. Even if the brand doesn’t feature you, your post will still show up in the branded hashtag search results. Just make sure the brand is relevant to your own profile.
Boost brand awareness by creating your own branded hashtags. Branded hashtags encourage your audience to share your brand with their followers, which equals more exposure.
Psssst…if you use any of my instagram tips, be sure to tag your post with my branded hashtag: #craftyourbrand!
Campaign hashtags are usually shorter-term, coinciding with a brand campaign, sale, event, etc.
Location + Niche + Industry
Location + Niche + Industry is a great hashtag to use, particularly if you are known for working in a particular area. If someone is looking for a wedding photographer in Sacramento, make yourself easily found by using the hashtag #SacramentoWeddingPhotographer.
Other examples: #SacramentoTattooArtist, #SacramentoFoodBlogger
How many hashtags should I use?
Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags. Use all 30 for maximum exposure.
Where should I include my hashtags?
You can include your hashtags in 2 different places — in the caption of the post and/or in the first comment of your post.
Many instragrammers prefer a clean look to their caption and don’t want to appear spammy by including a large number of hashtags. To avoid this, they hide their hashtags in the first comment on this post. In order to hide the hashtags, you can include 5-6 lines with only one dot (.) on each line prior to typing hashtags (since Instagram won’t allow for multiple line breaks). You will need to compose your caption in a text editor first and then copy + paste into Instagram, since Instagram doesn’t include a “return” button or allow for line breaks. If you are scheduling your posts in an Instagram Scheduling App (highly recommended) than your app may allow for line breaks in your captions.
#hashtag1 #hashtag2 #hashtag3
When your comment appears in the thread it will look like […] and your hashtags are not visible to your audience (unless they click the […] to expand the comment).
Once you post your image to Instagram, your image will show up in hashtag feeds according to the time that your image was first posted — so even waiting a few seconds to add hashtags could mean that your post gets buried too far in the hashtag feed to be seen. If you are using descriptive, niche, and community hashtags then adding your captions a few seconds later should not make a difference. My personal preference is to include my hashtags within the caption (if they fit), but also use the method outlined above to “hide” my hashtags lower on the page. My take is that everyone knows that brands use hashtags for marketing and hiding them in the first comment doesn’t make them invisible. I’m just fine with showing off my hashtags if it means a chance at greater visibility for my post.
If you are interested, you can read more about the debate between caption or comment and then decide for yourself.
Make Sure to Vary Your Hashtags
Please don’t just copy and paste the exact same list of Instagram hashtags into every single post. The Instagram algorithm may view this technique as “spammy” and could affect your post’s visibility. Make sure to switch up your hashtags for each post. You will also notice higher engagement if your hashtags are relevant to both your post and your brand.
Tip: Create different groups of hashtags based on the different kinds of posts you do (type these up in a text editor). You might have a group of hashtags that you use for inspirational quotes, a group you use for photos of yourself, etc. You can copy + paste this group of hashtags into different posts to save time and also ensure that you don’t use the same hashtags for every post. Just make sure to change up a few of the hashtags (if necessary) to make sure that your hashtags are relevant to that individual post.
You Can Use Hashtags in Your Instagram Stories Too.
When you add a hashtag to an Instagram story, it becomes searchable from users’ Search & Explore pages. If someone views that hashtag, they might see your story in the Stories queue at the top of the page. You can add up to 10 hashtags into your story two different ways:
One way is by using the hashtag sticker, and the other is by using the text tool and simply typing your hashtags out.
Here’s an idea: Make the hashtags very small or hide them under a sticker.
Save + Organize Your Hashtags for Maximum Efficiency
You can save hashtags that are relevant to your brand in a spreadsheet. I have my hashtags categorized in a spreadsheet with tabs for different categories. Some of the categories I use are: marketing, inspirational, creative, Sacramento, small business, and women in business. For each category tab, I have a spreadsheet with columns for: hashtag, number of posts, comments, and URL. I like having a record of how many posts a hashtags has because it helps me in gauging a hashtag’s popularity. I use the comments column to note anything special I noticed about that hashtag’s feed. For instance, I noted that the hashtag #createyoursuccess features some creative posts, while the hashtag #creativeliving features a lot of crafty posts. I like having the column for the URL of each hashtag so that I have a shortcut to that hashtag feed (I can just click the link in my spreadsheet to visit the hashtag feed). Every time I encounter a new hashtag that is relevant to my account, I copy it into my spreadsheet for safe keeping! I also highlight the hashtags that I find to be the most relevant and beneficial to my account.
I should note that some Instagram scheduling apps allow you to save your frequently used hashtags right there in the app for convenience. While I definitely take advantage of this time-saving feature, I still find my spreadsheet to be the best way to save and organize my hashtags.
Track Your Instagram Hashtag Success with Insights
Open a post and tap the “View Insights” text below it to view data for that post — including reach, impressions, and where people saw your post (Home, Profile, Hashtags, and Other). You can use these Insights to analyze how effective your hashtags are in getting more views. In order to analyze how effective specific hashtags are, you’ll need to look into an Instagram analytic tool or app, however. Check your Instagram Scheduling app – many come with advanced analytic tools. Experiment with different hashtags then analyze the data to see what kinds of hashtags work best for your account. If I lost you there, don’t worry — I’ll dive further into Instagram analytics in a future post.
Trial and Error
Because every niche and every audience is slightly different, there’s a certain amount of trial and error when it comes to finding success on Instagram. If you don’t get the results you were hoping for right away, don’t despair. Give it some time and try switching up your hashtags or the time of day you’re posting to see if that makes a difference. Also, be sure to read my post on Increasing Instagram Engagement with Great Captions and Call-to-Action Phrases. Good luck! You’ve got this!