Instagram hashtags are one of those topics that generate all kinds of emotions among Instagram users. Some people love them, some people hate them. Some have a killer hashtag strategy, some others improvise.
But what is the science behind Instagram hashtags and how can you use them to reach your goals? I am covering everything you need to know in this post, including some do's and don'ts, so make sure to read until the end.
Table of contents
What are Instagram hashtags?
Before diving into the saucy bits, let's disclose what hashtags are because some people still think they are just a copy/paste bunch of words that everyone uses for the sake of it.
Hashtags are keywords or metadata used after the # symbol. They work with the social media algorithms helping them to index and deliver content to Instagram users. Hence, using hashtags on Instagram will help your post to be more discoverable by a wider audience and not just the people that are following you.
Instagram hashtags are the perfect way to increase the engagement of your posts and attract more followers. In fact, using hashtags on Instagram can result in an increase of 12.6% on engagement, or even more.
How do Hashtags work on Instagram?
When you're adding hashtags to your post, you are telling the Instagram algorithm to show your content to everyone that is looking for that hashtag.
The hashtag reach will depend on several factors including:
How popular your post is and how many engagements does it get from your own followers.
How many times has this hashtag been used on that day (Daily Average Post Count)
The total posts made with this hashtag
When you shared the post
Even though the use of hashtags has evolved a lot since they were first introduced back in 2011, they are still a very powerful tool that should be included in your Instagram strategy.
Using relevant, targeted, and very niched hashtags on your posts and Instagram stories is one of the best and easiest ways of getting discovered by new audiences on Instagram helping you reach your overall objectives.
Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post and 10 hashtags per Instagram story. It's important to understand that there are banned hashtags that will kill your overall hashtag reach, but we will discuss these further along.
Some other things you should keep in mind when using hashtags are:
If you have a private profile your posts won't appear publicly on hashtag pages
You can use numbers on hashtags. However, spaces and special characters, like $ or %, won’t work.
You can only add hashtags to your own posts. You can’t tag other people’s photos/videos.
You can add hashtags either at the bottom of your caption or in the comments. More about this further down.
What are the different types of hashtags on Instagram?
Having a clear hashtag strategy on Instagram is key to building an audience and growing. There are several hashtag categories that you should be aware of before creating your hashtag strategy.
1. Community hashtags
Hashtags are being used to connect with like-minded individuals within the same niche. Community hashtags are a perfect way to connect with other creators that have your same passions. Remember building a strong community is one of the most important aspects of an Instagram strategy.
Some examples of community hashtags are:
#GirlsBornToTravel - For female travel bloggers
#SonyAlphasClub - For photographers that use Sony Alpha cameras
#SocialMediaManagerLife - For people that work as social media managers
Or even more specific like #NewYorkVegan for vegans who live in New York
2. Niche or Industry hashtags
These hashtags, as their name say, refer to a specific niche or industry. They tend to have a higher DAPC and a very high number of posts made. You must know what your niche is and research the most relevant hashtags in your industry.
Some examples of niche hashtags are:
3. Branded hashtags
Branded hashtags are usually ones that are unique to a brand (or personal brand in the case of an entrepreneur). It can be your brand's name, tagline, or anything that represents your brand's identity. I really don't recommend using branded hashtags unless you have built a strong and large community.
Some examples of branded hashtags:
4. Campaign hashtags
Hashtags that are used for specific campaigns like social movements, product launches, or special events. They are great for driving engagement in a short period of time.
5. Trending or Seasonal Hashtags
These are hashtags that are trending or hashtags that refer to real holidays, or seasons.
6. Location hashtags
Location hashtags are great for promoting local events or local businesses. People usually like to search for content in the city where they live. However, they can be quite general and might not end up serving your purpose. This is why you should include another keyword in front of the location to make the content more specific and discoverable.
When crafting your hashtag strategy, you should make sure to include a mix of these different groups of Instagram hashtags, as long as they are relevant to your content.
How to find the best hashtags for your Instagram posts?
This is the question all content creators, social media managers, and entrepreneurs keep asking. How to find the best trending hashtags? Well, to begin with, the trending hashtags might not be the best ones for you. In fact, if they're trending, it means they probably have millions of posts and the likelihood of your content getting lost between this sea of content is very very high.
Nowadays, there are tons of social media apps that help you find the best Instagram hashtags for your post, some are free, some are paid tools. We will be covering the best ones, but before I want to show you how you can find hashtags the basic way.
1. Researching your competition
As simple as it sounds! Create a list of ten accounts within your same niche and go through their posts. This will give you a lot of insight into the kind of hashtags they're using. Keep in mind that if their account is big, or bigger than yours, the hashtags they use might not really be suitable for your account. In any case, it is a great starting point.
2. Use the Instagram search tool to find related hashtags
When you search for a hashtag on the Instagram search box you will see that Instagram recommends similar hashtags. This is a great way of finding similar hashtags that might have fewer posts and a smaller DAPC. Be sure to check what kind of content is being shared under these hashtags. You might find that even though the hashtag you've discovered sounds similar to what you use, but the content is entirely different than what you create.
3. Know your audience!
If your goal with Instagram is to sell a product or your services, make sure to know your audience first to determine how would they use Instagram to find answers or solutions to their problems. For example, if you are a social media expert and want to reach an audience interested in finding helpful tips for social media, then you should be thinking of hashtags like #socialmediatips #socialmediahacks or #socialmediagrowth.
4. Use free Instagram hashtag generator tools
There are tons of hashtag tools on the internet, although not all of them are great. Why? Because they give you poor hashtag recommendations that might not be suitable for your account, too general, or even hashtags that are already banned.
Some of the okay ones I have seen out there are:
Hashtagstacck.com - This one I discovered quite recently and it tells you the total posts made per hashtag and the DAPC!
Ingramer.com - Pretty cool hashtag generator that also gives you lots of important data. The paid version goes more into depth with the research, tracking, etc.
5. Use paid Instagram hashtag tracking tools
Paid tools are definitely the best way to create and optimize your hashtag strategy. Why? Because let's be real, Instagram insights suck! They can't even show you how well your hashtags have performed, which leaves you no option other than to recurring to these tools.
There are many hashtag tools currently on the market. I have used some over the past years, so these are my recommendations if you're looking into getting a hashtag analytics tool.
Flick - I've been using Flick for over two years and it has certainly helped me with my hashtag strategy and Instagram growth. The cool thing about Flick is that when you connect your Facebook business page, it gains insights into your Instagram profile and it can then recommend very specific hashtags based on your account size, average engagement, and niche. Furthermore, with the Pro features, you can learn which hashtags have made you rank and you can start optimizing your hashtag strategy.
Hashtastic - I haven't personally used Hashtastic, but I have talked to some fellow content creators who have been using this hashtag tool for a while and they have told me it works really well. Very similar to Flick, it helps you choose the right hashtags for your industry based on your size, the number of likes your posts usually get, etc.
Later App - Many of you might have probably heard about Later. It was one of the first Instagram marketing and scheduling tools out there. They also introduced a hashtag analytic tool for their higher plans that suggests you the best hashtags to go with your post. It bases its suggestions on previous hashtags you have used and the content you have been posting.
How to use Instagram hashtags effectively?
So you know your niche, you know your audience, you've done your hashtag research and you're ready to start hashtagging. This is where most people fail with their Instagram hashtag strategy. You don't just throw a bunch of hashtags into your post and expect the best and believe me, this is what most people do.
1. The Instagram hashtag ladder strategy
This is a great way of knowing how to sort your hashtags in your post and making sure you're using all the hashtags from different group sizes to maximize your reach and possibilities of going viral.
There are various theories on how to divide the groups. I have been dividing them into four and this has worked really well for me.
The four groups that I use are:
Easy To Rank 10k posts to 100k posts -> Use 3 to 5 hashtags from this group
Average To Rank 100k - 500k -> Use 5 to 8 hashtags
Hard To Rank 500k - 1M -> Use 5 to 8 hashtags
Difficult To Rank > 1M -> Use 3 to 5 hashtags (but try not to use hashtags that have more than 5M posts unless you have an account with an audience bigger than 100k followers)
When you rank in the first group (ETR) your content gets more exposure since there are fewer posts to compete with. This also means that your content will have a long lifetime value, earning extra views for a longer time.
If your post keeps getting visibility and engagement in a short period, it goes up to the next tear. If the momentum continues, your post will continue to move up the groups like a ladder until it reaches the top posts of the highest tear. This obviously doesn't happen all the time and of course, there are a lot of factors that affect how well your content performs.
2. Choosing the right Instagram hashtags that serve your purpose and your content
When choosing your Instagram hashtags you have to keep in mind that not only the size is important, but also who you are, what you do, and who you are serving. Hence, you should also divide your hashtags into the following groups.
WHO ARE YOU? - Use hashtags that define exactly who you are or what you do. If you work in social media then some of the hashtags you could be using are #socialmediamanager #socialmediaexpert #socialmediaguru.
WHAT IS YOUR NICHE? - Use hashtags that clearly define your niche and the audience you are talking to. Following the previous example, you could use #socialmediamarketing #onlinebusiness #instagrammarketing
WHAT IS YOUR AUDIENCE LOOKING FOR? - This is extremely important because it is the way people will find you! Believe it or not, people do look for content, ideas, guides, etc on Instagram. Based on our example, hashtags that you should be using are #socialmedia101 #socialmediatips #instagramtips
What are banned hashtags and how to find them?
As I mentioned previously, banned hashtags are actually a thing. These are hashtags that Instagram has "disabled" for infringing community guidelines. These hashtags have become useless and will actually kill the overall reach of your post.
Many of these hashtags are simple hashtags that you would never think have any negative connotation like #valentinesday or #elevator, so it is worth doing research to find if the hashtags you are going to use on your post are banned.
There are free tools like bannedhashtags.com where you can enter a list of hashtags and the tool will tell you if they have been banned by Instagram or not. Other paid tools like Flick analyze your hashtag set before exporting them to add them to your post.
How to use hashtags on Instagram stories
Adding hashtags to your Instagram stories is something many creators forget to do, but that can give so much visibility to your stories! Instagram allows up to 10 hashtags per story.
Adding 10 hashtags to your stories might look a bit spammy, but luckily there are ways in which you can hide them so that they don't affect the visuals but still do their job.
How to hide hashtags on Instagram stories?
Making the font the same color as any color you have used in your story will automatically camouflage them.
You can hide your hashtags behind a sticker or GIF.
You can actually make the text as small as possible that it will be invisible.
Drag the hashtags as low as possible that they will be out of the visible screen.
How to use hashtags on Instagram reels?
Instagram reels are the newest feature on Instagram and it is what everyone is talking about. Should you be using hashtags here too? Absolutely! Reels have been helping lots of small to medium accounts with massive growth so by using the right hashtags you will definitely be reaching your ideal audience.
Reels format takes a lot of space in hashtags pages, so it will help to catch people's attention much easier than a normal post. When your reel ranks on a specific hashtag it will remain at the top of the hashtag page for much longer than posts, even up to two weeks, which will continue to bring views, engagement, and followers!
Should you be using the same hashtag strategy as with normal posts? Unfortunately, up to now, Instagram hasn't released insights for Reels so it is hard to track and measure how well they perform and if other strategies should be used. My recommendation is to use small to medium-sized hashtags that will help your reel win a position in the top posts of a specific hashtag.
FAQ about Hashtags
Should I put my Instagram hashtags in the caption or in the first comment?
In my experience, both methods have worked quite well for me. I've also done half in the caption and half in the comment and my reach was really good. However, according to a Socialinsider research
Profiles up to 100k followers have a better Reach Rate when using hashtags in the caption. Data shows that using hashtags in the caption brings small and medium-size Instagram pages more reach per post.
Profiles with more than 100k followers have a better Reach Rate when posting their hashtags in comments (15.9%). Judging by the reach metrics, extensive Instagram profiles – with over 100k followers – perform the exact opposite from the smaller and medium-sized profile.
My only advice is that if you do post hashtags in the first comment make sure to do it as quickly as possible as every second you take is a chance missed on being seen by new people.
What about on Instagram reels? It makes no difference either, I've tried both ways and have seen no different results. If you think hashtags in captions look a bit spammy and disorganized remember that with reels they will only see the first few words of the caption, so there's no need to worry about the aesthetics in this case.
Will posts with less than 30 hashtags perform better?
Absolutely not! If Instagram is giving you the chance to use 30 hashtags you should be using them all! By using all 30 hashtags the higher the chance of ranking, of being discovered by new audiences, and by growing your following!
Repeating the same hashtags over and over again will end up in a decrease in reach through hashtags?
Repeating the exact same group of hashtags over and over again will raise a flag by Instagram. How to avoid this? Make sure you're not posting about the exact same topic over and over again. If you have a content strategy, you will make sure to be touching different pillars of content, which means you will have to use different hashtags for every post.
Create a list of different hashtag sets for your different pillars of content and switch them up.
Once I have researched my hashtags am I all set?
Absolutely not! The DAPC and the total number of posts keep changing every day and so does your account. This means that you should be constantly tracking and looking for new hashtags. If your account grows, small-sized hashtags that you used to use before might not work for you anymore.
Understanding the importance of hashtags on Instagram and how to use them is essential for reaching the right audience and being discovered. Hashtags will certainly help with growth, but they are only a part of an Instagram strategy.
Do you need help in creating the perfect hashtag strategy for your brand or business? Download my free Guide To Create a Hashtag Strategy to start using hashtags like a pro.
Make sure to get in touch if you want to take to brand's presence on Instagram or social media to the next level!