Another great question from the mailbox from a reader who is a bit confused about how to use Instagram hashtags effectively. There are a lot of things to keep in mind when using hashtags on Instagram, so I thought I would answer her question by sharing some of my favorite “how to” tips.
I love Instagram and have been using it for quite some time to grow my business account, but I’m still a bit confused about how to use Instagram hashtags effectively, when I should use them, how many I should use, etc…
Any guidance you might have would be really appreciated. I want to make sure I’m properly using hashtags on Instagram and not doing anything that could cause a shadowban or for my content to be blocked.
Like Marcy, if you aren’t sure about properly using Instagram hashtags (or what a hashtag is for that matter) read on, as I have put together my favorite tips for using hashtags to increase awareness of your Instagram posts and increase your followers.
NOTE: Much of the content below also applies to Twitter. While this post is specific to using hashtags to increase your Instagram engagement, much of the same guidance can help you use hashtags to increase your Twitter engagement, as well.
What Are Instagram Hashtags?
A hashtag is basically a word or a phrase made up of letters or numbers that are all smashed together (no spaces allowed) that begin with the number, pound, or cat sign (#)…also referred to as a hashtag.
Essentially, they are used to organize content on the various social media platforms. If you include a hashtag with your Instagram photo description, the Instagram software will turn the hashtag into a clickable link. Anyone who clicks on that link from within your description will see other photos that also used that hashtag in their description.
In the image below, you’ll see that for my FlatlandersIn travel blog I used several hashtags focused on Iceland, travel, and photography to attract the interest of other Instagram users who were interested in these topics.
Because I used the #Iceland hashtag, if someone searches for the term “Iceland” using Instagram search, it’s possible that they will see my photo, like it, and maybe even follow the FlatlandersIn Instagram account. Likewise, if you use the same hashtag and one of your followers clicks the hashtag link in the photo description, they might see my photo as well.
So, while it isn’t required to place a single hashtag in your Instagram photo descriptions, doing so can help make your content more accessible and visible to your target audience. If others are able to find your content by searching for a hashtag or clicking on a link from another users photo description, then it’s possible that they will see your photo, like it, and maybe even follow you.
The end result is that proper use of Instagram hashtags can increase your engagement levels AND grow your following. Oh yeah, did I also mention that using hashtags on Instagram is free? It’s just part of the core Instagram technology. So, more Instagram likes, more Instagram followers, and more Instagram engagement….for free!
So, learning how to use hashtags properly on Instagram is one of the best things you can do to help grow your Instagram following.
How Should I Use Hashtags In My Instagram Posts?
The secret to using hashtags on IG effectively is to be strategic with every post and very selective with the hashtags that you use. In other words, before just stuffing your posts with hashtags, it’s a good idea to take some time and create an Instagram hashtag strategy
It doesn’t matter whether you opt for 20 well-researched ones or two thoughtfully chosen ones. The key is to find the hashtags that align your content with the interests of your audience.The key to effectively using hashtags on any social network is to use them as a bridge that aligns your content with the interests of your audience. Click To Tweet
For example, if you own a travel blog and are trying to gain exposure, you might immediately start thinking of using the #travel hashtag, and there are pros and cons to doing that. On one hand, using a hashtag like #travel might get you a few engagements because there are soooo many people searching for travel ideas on Instagram.
On the other hand, though, a widely-used hashtag might also means that your post gets lost in a sea of Instagram posts. With more than 492 million other similar posts that use the #travel hashtag, the likelihood that your post will be noticed is small.
Because #travel is a popular Instagram hashtag, you may also be doing battle with big brands with big budgets who are posting frequently and flooding the hashtag feed.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try a few big hashtags, but you should definitely balance them with more moderate, less-used hashtags.
To add a hashtag to your Instagram photo, just type the hashtag in the description box. You can either incorporate the hashtag into the description sentence, or you can add them to the end of your photo description. Either works.
If, instead, you go for something else like #travelphoto, you will find your tag is similar to the 14 million other posts. This essentially means that you are using a tag that is still popular, but has less competition and, as such, enhances your chances of being seen by users.
The key is to think strategically about the hashtags you include in your post. Of the 30 hashtags you can use, try to balance them between those that have a big audience and those that have a more targeted niche audience.
Also, try to be as specific as possible with your tag. It will help narrow the pool of target users, making it easy to develop a relevant audience. DO NOT stuff irrelevant hashtags into your Instagram posts. Not only will the Instagram algorithm penalize your account, it could result in an Instagram shadowban.
The goal with the use of your Instagram hashtags should be to build your audience. I know…getting lots of likes feels good, but trust me having a large audience in the long run will pay off more than individual photo likes.
One other thing to keep in mind is that you can also use unique daily-focused hashtags. Daily hashtags offer a way to connect with your audience each day, keeping them routinely hooked to your content which can eventually keep them loyal to your brand in the long haul. A possible list of daily tags will look like this:
Monday: #MotivationMonday, #MondayVibes, #MondayMorning, #MusicMonday
Tuesday: #MindfulTuesday, #TuesdayFunday, #TipTuesday, #TuesdayTunes
Any Day: #photooftheday #bestoftheday #picoftheday
TIP: Overuse of any hashtag can be a bad thing. If the Instagram algorithm thinks you are spamming a hashtag, it could stop showing your photos in the feed or even block or ban your Instagram account. It’s a REALLY good idea to be very methodical and put some thought into the hashtags that you use. Don’t just copy and paste the same hashtags over and over into every post.
Where Can I Use Instagram Hashtags And How Many Can I Use?
There are three types of content on Instagram where you can use hashtags:
- Instagram feed posts
- Instagram stories
- Instagram TV (aka IGTV)
With respect to how many hashtags you should use on Instagram, there’s a good rule of thumb to follow. You can use up to 30 hashtags on your Instagram feed posts by including them in the description. Adding more than 30 Instagram hashtags is allowed, but it could harm the possibility that your Instagram post ranking well in the search results.
For Instagram stories, the limit on hashtag use depends on the type of post. For photo stories, you can use up to 3 hashtags in a text box or one hashtag sticker. For videos, you can use up to 30 hashtags.
TIP: As you get started, I recommend you only use 10-15 hashtags in a post. This will get you comfortable with using them and will decrease the risk that you overuse hashtags that might cause issues. Just find 10-15 that are aligned with your content, and aren’t overly broad, and stick with those and see how they perform. Later in this post I’ll help you identify a broader group of Instagram hashtags that you can expand into.
How Can Hashtags Get Me More Instagram Followers And Blog Traffic?
Using targeted and relevant tags on your posts, videos, and stories is one of the best ways to promote and market your content on Instagram. It can easily translate into more followers and more engagement for your business.
If your audience grows to more than 10,000, then Instagram will reward you with the ability to link to external content (e.g. your blog posts or products) from within your Instagram stories. That means Instagram could start driving clicks to your content or products, resulting in more readers and/or more sales.
The key is to focusing on building that high-quality, engaged audience. Similar to Twitter, hashtags on Instagram are primarily used to discover content; this means appropriate hashtags can make you stand out and connect with the right audience. If the people searching for your content enjoy it, they are more likely to follow your account…which gets you closer to that 10,000 follower goal.
The sooner you get to the 10,000 follower goal…the sooner you can start driving clicks to your blog posts. So, in a roundabout way, using Instagram hashtags can help you get more clicks to your blog from Instagram users.
How Do I Find The Right Instagram Hashtags To Use?
As mentioned earlier, hashtags can help you get more engagement, attract followers, and expand your reach if they are appropriately used. You MUST be strategic about which hashtags you use and how frequently you use them. Overly-broad hashtag use can result in poor results or a ban, while over-targeted hashtags might not get you any results at all.
So, again, take some time and think through the question “what hashtags should I use on Instagram”. Be mindful that you aren’t asking which ones you can use (which is essentially any hashtag), but which ones will actually resonate with your audience and which ones could bring you more Instagram engagement.
For example, the #happy hashtag is so overused that there is almost no chance of attracting visitors. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the #fishinginrockawaybeach hashtag is something that very, very few people (if any) would ever search for so including it in your post won’t have any positive impact.
As a result, there are actually no posts with the hashtag #fishinginrockawaybeach on Instagram at this time.
The key to finding good hashtags is to do your research. I know, I know…it’s much more fun to just snap a pic and post it to Insta. But just posting content isn’t going to get the results you wnat
To do your research, start by browsing photos that are related to your content. See if your competitors have content that is performing well and look at the hashtags they use. Look for influencers in your particular niche and see what hashtags are helping them perform. Make a list of 25-30 hashtags that seem to consistent do well and are targeted for your type of content.
Next, head over to Google analytics. Look at the content that is performing well on your site. Analyze the keywords that are driving customers to your best content. Use additional tools like Google Webmaster Tools and SEMRush to find keywords and phrases that your visitors are typing into Google search to locate your content. These search terms can be valuable as Instagram, as well, so make another list of 25-30 search terms.
Between your Instagram hashtag research and your Google analytics analysis, you should now have 30-40 different potential hashtags, once you weed out the duplicates and overlaps between the two datasets.
Finally, go through and conduct searches using those hashtags. Look at the top-performing posts and I will bet that you will find an additional 15-20 hashtags that you can add to your list.
With those steps completed, you should have 45-60 different hashtags that you can use in your Instagram posts. Just save them and refer to them each time you post to determine which are the 30 best that would work for the specific content you are posting.
TIP: I have a handy tip that I use to be able to easily store and access my favorite (and most effective) hashtags for my FlatlandersIn travel blog account. Check out this post to see how easy it can be to manage your Instagram hashtags.
Can I Overuse Instagram Hashtags And Cause A Drop In Engagement Or A Ban?
Look, Instagram is a finicky social network. They shadowban without notification and they block or delete accounts for no apparent reason at all. Heck, I had a brand new Instagram account blocked before I even posted a single photo.
Using a lot of hashtags, or even the wrong hashtags, sometimes can be perceived by the Instagram algorithm as spamming your followers. Additionally, any activity that looks spammy can result in your viewers clicking the “report” button. Too many bad behavior reports and your account will definitely be suspended or banned.
So be strategic. Think about your list carefully. Curate the hashtags that seem to work for others and use hashtags only when it makes good business sense. That’s what Instagram wants you to do and following their rules and guidance will result in a more engaged and relevant subscriber base.
Are There Instagram Hashtags I Should Not Use?
Because they are blocked by Instagram, no content is shown when they are searched for. This means that using them has ZERO effect and is probably just painting a bullseye on your target to be reviewed by the Instagram algorithm or team. The perfect example of this is the #Sex hashtag.
so, when it comes to hashtags like this one, just stay way from them.
TIP: I know it’s tempting to just add as many popular hashtags to your posts in order to get the broadest exposure possible. The problem is Instagram knows when this is happening and, if your content isn’t related to the popular hashtag, the Instagram algorithm will start penalizing your content. For example, there are plenty of Instagram sex hashtags that aren’t #sex (I’m not going to start listing them), so you might be tempted to add them to your post. Don’t. It’s a waste of time and could get your content shadowbanned. Just stick with finding Instagram hashtags that are aligned with your content and don’t try to game the algorithm.
Other hashtags have been blocked for reasons that are unknown. More than likely, a user was posting inappropriate content and using the hashtag, so not only was their content removed but the hashtag was blocked. At the time of this post, the #Kansas hashtag was being blocked by Instagram. Who knows why.
Another tips is to avoid hashjacking your competitors. Don’t try to steal their audience by using hashtags that are specific to their business. Wendy’s should not use the #imlovingit hashtag (McDonald’s tagline) in all of their posts with the goal of “stealing” their audience. Using it for parody every once in a while might be okay, but not all the time.
The takeaway is to stick to hashtags that align with your audience and you’ll do just fine.
Using IG tags properly is an excellent way to get your content in front of a larger audience on Instagram. By increasing your exposure, you can connect with a broader audience, build lasting relationships, and find content that resonates with your followers. Do your homework well before you post anything and you’ll have a good start on a strong Instagram hashtag strategy.
Remember, it is all about your audience and the value you are offering. Keep that in mind when adding hashtags and you’ll see your Instagram audience and engagement grow.
Have additional tips on using Instagram hashtags? Definitely share them in a comment!