This guide will show you how to build a hashtag strategy that will increase your reach, engagement and following on Instagram.
Learn the secrets that social media marketers use to master Instagram hashtags. These insider tips will show you how to use hashtags on Instagram to:
- increase your reach;
- attract more followers; and
- boost engagement with your community.
What are Instagram hashtags?
To put it simply, hashtags turn words into clickable links. To start using hashtags, you simply need to place the # symbol to the start of any word. For example #Belfast #GoodTimes.
Where will you find hashtags on Instagram?
Hashtags should be easy to spot on Instagram as they are available everywhere (feed, stories, bio, IGTV, Reels). Most people add hashtags to the end of their post or add them as a comment.
Where should you use hashtags
You should include hashtags in all your Instagram posts, stories, IGTV and Reels in order to maximise your reach.
With your Instagram Post
When you create an Instagram post remember to include hashtags in the caption or add them as a comment.
Tip: Post your hashtags as a comment instead of in the caption. While someone won’t see your hashtags at first glance, they will if they expand your caption. This matters if your post has a call to action. You want people to focus on your content and not on the hashtags.
Add Hashtags to Your Instagram Stories
You can also include hashtags on your Instagram Stories. Use stickers or the text box to add hashtags. Make sure it is underlined otherwise it won’t be searchable.
In your Bio
While adding hashtags to your Instagram bio doesn’t make your profile turn up in search, it does give a flavour of what your Instagram is about. As a business, your profile should describe the products or services you offer. Hashtags are a great way to communicate this to new followers. You should also include your brand hashtag and any relevant tagline.
Bonus Tip: Use Title Case To Write Hashtags
Did you know Instagram has inbuilt accessibility features? Adding alternative text to your images is not only good practice, but helps create a better user experience.
Another accessibility tip is to use Title Case when writing hashtags. Hashtags can be hard to read, but using Title Case will help make them more readable.
See for yourself:
#digitalmarketing OR #DigitalMarketing
#socialmediamanagement OR #SocialMediaManagement
Why do you need to master hashtags?
Creating hashtags is easy. Using hashtags to grow your business is not. This is why you need to master hashtags. You can make any word into a hashtag, but you shouldn’t. You need a hashtag strategy for your business and I’m going to show you how to create one.
What happens when you or someone else adds a hashtag to their Instagram post?
That word is now clickable. But why is that important?
Instagram indexes posts with hashtags and makes them discoverable in search.
People can use Instagram like a search engine. For example, if I was going to visit Belfast, I could look for Instagram posts tagged with #Belfast to learn more about the City.
When I click or tap on the hashtag I’ll see this page.
These are the top posts using the hashtag #Belfast. This will change in real time.
On Instagram, people can also follow hashtags. Can you see where I’m going with this? If people are following hashtags and you can add hashtags to your posts, what do you think can happen?
That’s right, used correctly, hashtags will increase the organic reach of your posts (organic means you haven’t paid to promote your post).
Your Instagram goals should be to increase your reach, improve engagement and gain new followers.
What hashtags should you use?
When you start to think strategically about using hashtags in your Instagram posts, you are actually doing keyword research. This means you are finding keywords that are specific to your niche or industry. You are looking for keywords (hashtags) that are relevant to your business and are specific subjects or topics. When you create an Instagram post your caption will include hashtag keywords. These are also the driving force behind your Instagram marketing campaign.
Types of hashtags
Hashtags generally fall into four broad categories.
- You have your brand hashtags. These are used to increase brand awareness. They are more likely to be the company name, but could also be the companies tagline e.g. #WhereITrello
- Community hashtags. Why do people use social media? It’s to be social of course! And community hashtags connect people to their interests. Do you have creative kids? Maybe you share their creations with the hashtag #CreativeKids.
- Most of us work in a specific industry. I work in digital marketing and am interested in posts about digital marketing. So naturally I follow the hashtag #DigitalMarketing. Industry hashtags share relevant information about topics, events, and ideas related to that industry.
- Campaign or product hashtags. These are used by marketers and businesses for a campaign they are working on or to promote a particular product.
With this in mind you can create your own hashtags with your company or brand name; your slogan or tagline; and campaign terms.
How many hashtags should you use on Instagram?
Social media marketers are divided on the number of hashtags you should use. While you can use up to 30 on your feed (and 10 in a story), the consensus is to use less. Some studies report that using 10 or more hashtags can increase engagement by 442% when compared to using none. There’s no right answer, but you can find out what works best for you by testing the number of hashtags. I would start experimenting with between 10-20 and record your results. You should also make sure to use relevant hashtags. Don’t try to pad out hashtags just for the sake of it.
How to find relevant hashtags for your Instagram posts
To find out which hashtags you should be using you need to do some keyword research. This is actually quite straightforward but can be time consuming. You will have to use Instagram’s search function and possibly a tool such as https://displaypurposes.com/
Remember, you are trying to find keywords (hashtags) that are relevant to you and your followers.
Here is your Instagram hashtag strategy
Before you get stuck into creating your hashtag strategy, remember that your Instagram posts have to be great. Make each post interesting and relevant to your audience.
Free Instagram Hashtag Template
Use my free google spreadsheet or download an excel version.
No signup required.
Step 1: what are the important keywords that describe your post or profile?
You want to be very specific e.g. #Belfast #VisitBelfast #DiscoverNI #Pubs #Restaurants. Remember that your actual post will likely include between 10-20 hashtags.
Step 2: find out how popular those hashtags are.
Visit the hashtag pages and record the number of posts.
Hashtag size: 3.1 million posts
Step 3: Look at the ‘Top 11’ for each hashtag.
The ‘Top 11’ posts for a hashtag are those that received the most engagement (likes, comments, shares, bookmarks) in the shortest time after publication. These are shown in the ‘Top’ tab for any given hashtag.
By studying the ‘Top 11’ you are trying to learn what makes those posts popular.
Record your findings as follows…
The ‘Top 11’ posts (at the time of writing) for #Belfast:
- ExploreBelfast (Reels content) 32.8k followers, 639 likes and 12 comments
- onlykarinka 746 followers, 146 likes and 8 comments
- ExploreBelfast 32.8k followers, 1,035 likes and 21 comments
- nikita_short 3,275 followers, 193 likes and 48 comments
- robyndiamonds 4,223 followers, 306 likes and 20 comments
- marcelarech 3,617 followers, 206 likes and 260 comments
- alifetostyle 19.5k followers, 426 likes and 45 comments
- love_belfast 60.1k followers, 377 likes and 8 comments
- dollypondstyle 12k followers, 398 likes and 86 comments
- style_by_phoebe 341 followers, 134 likes and 29 comments
- anniecoconuts 1,966 followers, 199 likes and 25 comments
As you can see, you don’t need to have a massive following to get featured. But what makes these posts really good? Why do they get high levels of engagement?
How can you create a post that will feature in the ‘Top 11’?
Step 4: Research those Top 11 profiles and take a sample and note:
- How often they post
- How many likes their posts get
- How many comments they get
- What hashtags are they using?
Step 5: competitor analysis
Find your direct ‘competitors’ and take a sample of their posts and note:
- How many followers do they have?
- How many likes their posts get (an average)
- How many comments their posts get (an average)
- What hashtags are they using?
Step 6: hashtag size
The goal is to get featured in the ‘Top 11’ for a hashtag. However, no hashtag has the same follower size. They are all different. This is where you need to be strategic. Narrow your hashtags by size and group them into small, medium and large. In theory it should be easier to win a place in the ‘Top 11’ for a hashtag with a small following.
Step 7: create hashtag sets
Using what you’ve learned in the previous steps, generate hashtag sets for your Instagram posts. These sets will be between 10-20, but can be up to 30. This is where you’ll be testing your hashtags. You’re trying to find hashtags that increase your reach and boost the performance of your posts.
Step 8: How are you going to test?
You could create posts that only include hashtags with a small following.
You could create posts that include small hashtags but also include one or two medium hashtags.
The Instagram algorithm has many variables outside your control which is why testing is never 100% conclusive. It’s easy for me to recommend that you should always be testing your content. However, what I’m really going to recommend is that you enjoy posting on Instagram. It’s a great service and you can get a lot from it. So, concentrate on creating great images that you can be proud of and your hashtags will improve over time.