If you’re trying to reach new audiences and organically grow your Instagram account, using hashtags is an absolute must. But without an effective Instagram hashtag strategy in place, your posts will go nowhere.
It’s SO frustrating to type out 20-30 hashtags on each post and watch your post get zero traction. You might be asking yourself,
“Why am I even trying? What’s the point of hashtags if they don’t do anything?”
Well, put your worries aside because I’m about to disclose the Instagram hashtag strategy that will transform your account. I’ve experimented and tested these tactics on my own account as well as my clients’ accounts and vouch for it 100%.
Instagram Hashtags 101
Before we jump into the ideal Instagram hashtag strategy for growth and engagement, let’s cover some of the basics.
Why Should You Use Instagram Hashtags?
The primary goal for hashtagging posts should be to engage and connect with likeminded individuals. In fact, Instagram posts with at least one hashtag receive an average of 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag. With that in mind, you should use hashtags with the objective of reaching new audiences within your niche.
Whether you’re trying to gain a following or potential new customers, hashtags open the door for new audiences to discover your account.
Instagram users can follow hashtags that interest them, allowing them to see posts from people they aren’t following. Therefore, when you use a hashtag on your post, it allows you to reach and engage potential new followers.
Additionally, people often browse through hashtag pages when they are interested in a particular topic or location. If your post appears at the top of those pages, they may click and engage with your post.
Hashtags develop communities among likeminded individuals, so it also allows you to make deeper meaningful connections on the platform.
Basic Hashtag Rules on Instagram
You can use 30 hashtags or less on Instagram posts and 10 hashtags or less on Instagram Stories. These hashtags can be posted in the caption of your photo or in a comment underneath the photo. It does not affect the performance one way or another.
Personally, I choose to put my hashtags in the first comment rather than in my caption to make it appear less cluttered. But keep in mind that you can only edit the hashtags in your caption; you can’t edit comments. If you need to change or delete a hashtag, you’ll have to delete and re-post the comment.
Additionally, make sure your account is public if you’re trying to increase your reach with hashtags. Posts from private accounts will not show up on hashtag pages.
Types of Instagram Hashtags
According to Instagram, there are nine types of Instagram hashtags that you can use on the platform.
- Hashtags for Instagram communities in your industry. These allow groups of likeminded people to engage with one another and group their posts together. Examples are #DigitalNomadWomen and #FemaleTravelBloggers.
- Product or service hashtags. These are keywords to describe a particular product such as #scarf or #eyeshadow.
- Special events or seasonal hashtags. These refer to holidays, national days, special events, and other timely events such as #BlackHistoryMonth or #TheOscars.
- Location hashtags. These are specific to a particular location. Examples are #Tampa or #McDonalds.
- Daily hashtags. Things like #WineWednesday or #FeelGoodFriday are examples of daily hashtags.
- Hashtags indicating your niche. These indicate your interests or area of business that you’re in, such as #EuropeTraveler or #GraphicDesign.
- Relevant phrase hashtags. This is another way to connect with likeminded individuals in a more subtle way. #LaptopLifestyle and #StayAndWander are examples of this.
- Acronym hashtags. These were the OGs of hashtags in the early stages of Instagram. Things like #TBT (Throwback Thursday) and #YOLO (You only live once).
- Emoji hashtags. These are simply hashtags that include emojis in them.
Instagram Hashtag Strategy For Organic Growth
1. Conduct extensive hashtag research.
Research should be the first thing you do when diving into any new project, including developing an Instagram hashtag strategy. Here are a few points to make sure you look into:
- Hashtag trends related to your niche/ industry. Think of every niche as a little club on Instagram. Each one uses specific hashtags to connect with one another and discover new accounts. If you want to be a part of the club, do your due diligence and research where your ideal audience is at.
- Industry leaders with a similar follower count. This is a great way to find hashtags that other people in your niche are using.
- Browse the related hashtag pages. As you find new hashtags, browse through the related pages that pop up. This is a helpful way to find hashtags of varying popularity which you will want to take note of (this is covered in more depth in strategy #3).
- Make sure you visit every hashtag you plan to use. This is SO important! Some hashtags refer to a group or movement that you do not want to associate with. Check out this major fail by a company that didn’t check the hashtag, and you’ll see what I mean!
- Ensure that the hashtags are active. Some hashtags are outdated and unused, and you want to avoid those. On each hashtag page, look at the top-performing posts. You want to use hashtags where the top posts are recent; if the top posts are from more than six months earlier, I would avoid.
2. Diversify and update your hashtags.
So make sure your Instagram hashtag strategy includes diversifying your hashtag usage! I try to update mine every month or two, and throughout those months, I rotate between two or three different hashtag groups – each group consisting of around 25-30 hashtags (yes, I use the full 30). I keep these hashtag groups in my notes app on my phone for easy access.
Note: if you’re a traveler like me and post from different locations, these hashtag groups should have 25 hashtags max. so you have room to put a few location-specific hashtags. If you tend to stay in one place, you can increase the number of hashtags in each group to 30.
3. Target hashtags of varying popularity.
If you have less than 10,000 followers, the types of hashtags in your posts are going to be way different than someone with 500,000. Or at least, they should be.
Think about it this way. The hashtag #Motivation is used in more than 232 million posts. Not only is “motivation” an extremely generic word that can apply to dozens of industries, but its popularity causes most posts to disappear as soon as you refresh the page.
Don’t waste your time getting buried in these viral hashtags. Instead, focus your Instagram hashtag strategy on finding smaller and more targeted hashtags where your posts are more likely to show up and resonate with the right audience.
Vanessa Lau recommends using a mix of very small (under 50K), small (under 100K), medium (under 500K), and large (over 500K) hashtags. However, she advises banking on the smaller hashtags for getting you the most engagement and reach because of their niche focus.
For example, I use the hashtag #DigitalNomadGirl because this is a very small hashtag with a tight-knit community of likeminded people. It’s much more likely that someone on this hashtag page will see my post, click on my profile, and follow me, rather than someone on a huge generic hashtag page.
Now don’t get me wrong – it’s still okay to use a few viral hashtags in your posts. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and get featured at the top (like this post of mine) and it’s the best feeling ever.
Just make sure you aren’t using more than five of these super viral hashtags. Again, focus on the smaller niche communities. Those will bring you the most engagement and growth.
4. Use location and special event hashtags.
If you’re visiting a new city or posting a photo at a cool restaurant in town, make sure you include those locations into your hashtags. This is a great way to reach new audiences who either live in that area or are interested in going. Always look for opportunities to expand your reach.
The same goes for holidays or special events, especially if they relate to your niche. For example, if you’re a fashion blogger and it’s National Dress Day (yes that’s a real thing I checked), consider posting a picture in a dress with the hashtag #NationalDressDay! These hashtags can be a fleeting success if timed correctly.
5. Match your content with hashtags used.
This might sound obvious, but I see so many people using hashtags that simply have nothing to do with the content they are posting. This will completely ruin your chances of getting featured at the top of the hashtag pages.
For example, if you have a travel Instagram, make sure your hashtags are within that niche, your images are travel-focused, and that your captions talk about travel. If you post a picture of your dog with the hashtag #TravelingFemale, that’s probably not going to be your top-performing post. Just sayin’.
Make sure that your images AND captions reflect the hashtags you are using. Instagram’s algorithm can pick up on what type of content you are posting by analyzing the photo and the keywords in your captions.