Instagram hashtags - they should be easy, right? You just find some “relevant” tags, chuck em on your post, and you’re good to go, yeah? Wrong! 🤔
Once upon a time this was sufficient, back when Instagram was newer, the platform was less crowded, before spam and bots became a huge issue.
Ah, those were the days!
But now it’s an entirely different landscape; there are more rules, a more discerning and complex algorithm, and even the users expect a higher level of content than they did five years ago.
Hashtags are easily one of the most frustrating parts of Instagram for users.
Most get stuck at a few hundred views, never gain any followers, and ultimately don’t see the point in using them. I actually used to be one of those people, back before I became an Instagram marketing specialist.
Now? After managing countless client accounts and putting together over 150 custom hashtag strategies for various users, I’ve managed to figure out some Instagram hashtag secrets that I could never find anywhere else.
Yep, I really walked the walk and have taken accounts from getting less than 100 views to over 10,000 views per post. 🚀
If you can get hashtags right they are one of the easiest, passive ways to grow your account on Instagram.
There’s this pervasive myth that organic reach is dead and that “post shelf life” is about 24 hours. But I’ve smashed through both those ceilings just by using hashtags correctly.
Not to brag, but my posts often stick around in the ‘top’ section of hashtags for MONTHS after they’re posted, meaning one piece of content brings in a continuous stream of new engagement and followers for months, not just hours. This is a game-changer for content marketing on Instagram and should push you to be creating really high value, evergreen content for the purpose of going viral on the platform.
1. Use the maximum 30 hashtags available
You’re allowed to use 30 hashtags so my motto is: use them all. That’s 30 different hashtag pages you’ll end up in, 30 different chances at ending up in the ‘top posts’ feed. Which obviously means more opportunities for exposure.
In 2019 it was claimed that “Instagram insiders” said it is best to only use 3-5 hashtags per post.
Despite this claim, my extensive testing has consistently shown far better results using 25-30 hashtags.
Only using 3-5 makes it very difficult to gain reach - and honestly, it just doesn’t make sense.
💡 It's simple mathematics: the more hashtags you use the more exposure you'll have!
Instagram only allows you to use a maximum of 30 hashtags, so be careful. If you exceed the limit your post won't show up in hashtags at all.
You don't have to use all 30 hashtags on every post, but research has found using 11 or more hashtags per post significantly increases engagement rates.
2. Make sure your hashtags are relevant
Instagram is not a fan of irrelevant hashtag use, which is classified as spam.
Some super obvious examples are: don't tag a picture of a cat as #dog or a picture of junk food as #healthy. Similarly, don't tag a food image as #workoutroutine - which a lot of people do if they usually do post workout routines. But a food pic is not a workout routine. It's about what's in the image, not about what you do as a whole.
Get me? Keep it relevant - I find this easiest to do when using general, broader hashtags (see tip number seven for more details) instead of generic, literal ones. If you need, use a Instagram hashtags tool to make your life easier.
3. The order you put hashtags in matters
Ok, this is the mind blowing one NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT. Your Instagram hashtag game is about to change forever.
💥 The order you put your hashtags in MATTERS!
You need to order hashtags generally from smallest to largest. That means NOT putting the big 10 million post hashtags first, then leaving all the smaller ones to the end (or worse, not using any small ones at all - see tip number six for more info on this).
💡 Instagram seems to work on an "if/then" rule: IF you rank in the smaller hashtag (which is easier) you will be more likely to THEN rank in the bigger ones too. I have no idea why, I don’t fully understand the details, all I know is it consistently works.
For some of my clients we have changed nothing but the order and seen significant jumps in results!
I group them roughly in order, so you don’t have to painstakingly figure out the EXACT order, but keeping all the hashtags under 50K first, then under 250K, then under 500K, under 750K, then 1mil+ does the trick.
4. Repeat hashtags… but not too much
Never use the exact same set of hashtags on two (or more) posts in a row. You want to use different combinations of hashtags, otherwise Instagram thinks your account is spam.
The risk of this is your posts will start to be limited or not show up at all in hashtags, and worst case scenario your entire account could be deleted.
At the same time, stick to the same general collection of hashtags and just switch up the combinations.
I usually have a bigger pool of 60-70 hashtags that I create 3-4 sets from. Then I use these sets repeatedly across all content.
The more you use a hashtag the better you will start to rank as Instagram realises you can be trusted.
It’s all about building up “trust” with the algorithm, and eventually your posts might even start landing in the ‘top posts’ section of hashtags.
5. Engage, engage, ENGAGE!
This is where most people fall short.
If you’re not engaging - being SOCIAL - on Instagram, your account is always going to struggle.
The algorithm rewards engagement, so the more you engage with others the more your content will be pushed to others, too.
The more engagement you get in the first hours after you post determine how well your post will rank overall. This is why it's so important to post at peak times and to do a lot of engaging with other accounts to boost your engagement. (This is true not just for hashtags, but for your post and story rankings too - this should be a daily habit.)
My method is after a post goes live I will go through the hashtags I used and engage (like and leave some genuine comments) on the posts in them.
It can really make the difference between a viral post and a flop!
6. Avoid the huge hashtags!
It is everyone's first instinct to use all the gigantic hashtags with millions of posts. Then they wonder why they are getting like, 30 views from hashtags. This is because those tags are overcrowded and the people who rank well and get results in those tags had to work HARD to get there.
Patience, grasshopper! 🦗
Start out with 90% of your hashtags under 500K posts. 10% can be those really big ones.
As you start to rank well in those smaller tags (by ranking in the first 6 posts of the "top" feed in each hashtag) you can scale up to using bigger ones.
And my general rule of thumb? If it’s got over 5 million posts there’s really no point using it unless you’re ranking in the ‘top posts’ section for hashtags over 1 million posts already.
7. Go for the not so obvious hashtag choices
My favourite strategy is to use "less obvious" hashtags that focus more on the community your target market is a part of, and less on literal descriptions of what you offer.
For example I'd prefer to use #hersuccess (community-based for female entrepreneurs - my target market) over #instagrammarketing (literal description and too generic, probably will only have my competitors in).
If you’ve used one of those hashtag generator websites, now is the time to get rid of those hashtags and actually do some real research. The issue with those is they work based on keywords only, and keywords are pretty much the worst way to find hashtags.
You’ll end up with generic, spammy overcrowded hashtags that don’t get the results you want.
How I do it? I start out thinking about who the target market is and what their values are, then try to find hashtags that represent those.
💡 I do try some keywords, but then I use the ‘related hashtags’ feature in Instagram to find more.
This is a much better way to do it because the algorithm is literally telling you that the people who use this hashtag also like these others. And people like those people ALSO use them.
They serve up the most relevant hashtags to you on a platter, so use them!
Remember to try for community-based hashtags, not keyword-based.
For example, a swimwear brand might choose #beachdays (full of people who like the beach) versus #bikini (probably overcrowded with spam and, uh, well, people who just want to see some gals in bikinis, ha!)
8. Post really good content
This is last but it’s the most important. If you remember ANYTHING from this post, make it this.
The BIGGEST issue when it comes to lack of hashtag success: your content strategy sucks.
We get so caught up in getting engagement and gaining followers, that it’s easy to forget - content comes first.
Hashtags are just an accelerant you put on already good content, but they won’t save you from having bad content in the first place!
If your content is boring, is unappealing, isn’t relevant, or even just isn’t on par or better than other people’s posts, they just aren’t going to do well. Carefully and strategically consider exactly what it is that will resonate most with your market and make them engage like crazy.
If you aren’t getting the engagement now - the issue isn’t your followers or the algorithm or your hashtags, it’s your content. Change it up.
You can’t expect high reach and engagement if the quality of posts just isn’t there. Why would anyone save, share, or comment on your post (these are all much more important than likes, by the way!) if you haven’t given them anything valuable to save, share, or comment on?
For every post you need to ask yourself: is this truly high value? Or am I just, yet again, trying to sell something, or get engagement just for the sake of it?
Give your followers content to truly engage with and they will!