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