Instagram hashtags tend to get a pretty bad rap. They’re dismissed as spammy, ineffective, or just plain embarrassing to use. But hashtags are actually a wildly under-appreciated method of drawing a CRAZY amount of attention to your account, if utilised correctly.
By implementing a smart Instagram hashtag strategy and doing proper hashtag research, I went from 1k or 2k viewers per post to 10,000-20,000+. That’s PER POST. And that’s potentially 18,000 extra eyes on my content, every time I upload a new photo. Totally worth looking like a desperate, spammy loser, if you ask me 😛
This strategy is what got me to 5k followers in less than 2 months. And today I’m giving away alllll my secrets so that you can do it too.
Why Do You Need an Instagram Hashtag Strategy?
When you post without tags, your content gets shown to your followers only. If you use hashtags, though, your post shows up in potentially hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of users’ everyday searches.
And now that people can follow specific hashtags, your post could even show up in the feed of users who aren’t even following you.
Think of Instagram sort of like a search engine – a hashtag search engine with a really shitty algorithm based on popularity. This means 2 things:
- You’re competing with other Instagrammers for prime real estate in hashtag rankings (a spot in the Top 9 posts). If someone’s searching for a certain type of content, you want to make sure YOUR post is what they find.
- If you pick the right hashtags, you get access to a huge network of users who are interested in your post and ready to engage with good content. And you get this for FREE!!
If you don’t use hashtags, you’re missing out on a ton of free promotion for your account. This is the single best (non-shady/spammy) growth tactic out there, and most people have NO idea what they’re doing.
How to Find the Right Hashtags
First things first, just make sure you’ve switched to a business account (it’s free!) so that you can track your analytics properly. Then use the following guidelines to pick out 30 hashtags – the max you can use – for your post.
Don’t Use Super Popular Hashtags
A common mistake people make is choosing the biggest and most popular hashtags they can find – tags like #travel or #beautiful. These have hundreds of millions of results, so they must be good to use, right?
WRONG. When you hashtag a post, you’re essentially competing with all the other posts using that tag for ranking. Nobody really knows exactly how Instagram’s ranking algorithm works, BUT it is pretty much a guarantee that your post doesn’t have a chance of showing up above posts with 50k likes.
So instead, find hashtags with about 50k to 500k results. These are still active, popular tags, but they’re small enough that your account has a much better chance of showing up (and staying) at the top.
Use the Instagram Hashtag Search to Find Related Tags
Instagram has two GREAT built-in features for hashtag research. First off, when you type something like “travel” into the search bar, it auto-fills TONS of different hashtag options below. It also lists how many posts are tagged, so just scroll through or tweak your search until you find a good mid-size tag (ex #travelpassport instead of #travel).
If you then click on that tag, a list of related hashtags will show up in bold above the tagged images – you can sweep to scroll through them all. These are tags that the algorithm has decided are relevant based on user activity – meaning you can safely bet that you’re targeting the right audience.
Pick Niche Hashtags to Target a Specific Audience
What is the “right audience”, exactly? You need to define exactly what your account is about and what kind of people you want to follow you, and pick hashtags based around that. The more narrowly you can target your ideal follower, the better. Marketing successfully is all about going niche.
For example, I target a ton of “inspirational solo travel girl” type hashtags because I know that girls browsing through there are looking for ~inspirational~ women and pretty photos. Tags like #globelletravels, #explorerbabes, #citizenfemme, and #gltlove are some of my faves.
Make Sure Your Photos Fit with the Other Tagged Photos
A good way to quickly eyeball the value of a hashtag is to see if your pictures look like the photos that are already tagged. If you post girly travel photos or everyday fashion/lifestyle content and that’s all you see, you’re good to go.
Target hashtags that are specific to the city/country you’re in, so that people searching for inspiration there will find your posts. Some of my best-performing travel photos feature hashtags like #cappadociaturkey, #kualalumpurmalaysia, or #beautifulseasia. When I’m home, #sfblogger or #sydneyblogger work great!
You can also use a couple super-specific tags, like the hotel you stayed at or an attraction you visited. For example, I used #riadbemarrakech (my favorite hotel ever) in Marrakech, and #ruecremieux (the cutest street ever) in Paris.
Use Feature or Brand Tags to Get Noticed and Reposted
Many feature accounts or brands use their own specific hashtags (ex. #lovelulus by Lulus). A lot of these accounts will repost photos tagged with their hashtag. Even if they don’t, these hashtags tend to be really popular and get a lot of engagement.
For example, I always use the #sheisnotlost hashtag because their target audience (solo travel girls) is the same as mine. I eventually got a huge repost by them that got over 9,000 likes, and got me 100+ new followers!
Use Hashtags That Describe Your Account
If your focus is on getting more followers, pick tags that describe your account, not your photo. This ensures that people who land on your images and your account actually have an interest in your overall content.
Say I post a super cute photo of some puppies and tag it #puppies. It might get a lot of traction, but it probably won’t get me a lot of new followers. Why? Because people looking through that tag want to follow feel-good puppy accounts, not some random chick’s travel blog. It’s wasted promotion for me to get all those eyeballs on a post that isn’t targeted at the right audience.
You might also like to read: The Best Travel Hashtags for 2019
Important Tips for Using Hashtags
Use 30 Hashtags
Some people say that Instagram doesn’t like if you use 30 tags (the max) and you should only use 10 or 15. I’ve never had an issue and I don’t know anyone who has, so I recommend using all 30 to maximise your possible reach ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Mix Up Your Hashtag Sets
If you use the same hashtags over and over, the algorithm will suppress your posts. You’ll seriously get 10,000 impressions one post, and 0 the next – with the EXACT same tags.
My theory is that they don’t want one account dominating a hashtag, but it may just be that Instagram flags this kind of behavior as spam. Regardless, switch it up!! I try to rotate many different sets, and always add in unique, location-specific hashtags for each post.
Put Hashtags in Your Comments, Not Your Caption
To avoid looking spammy, avoid putting more than one or two hashtags in your photo caption. You can add tags to a post (and keep it looking neat) by writing them out in a Notes entry and then copy/pasting them into a comment right after you post.
How to Improve Your Engagement, and Why It Matters
Finding the right Instagram hashtag strategy is just a tiny piece of the pie. Instagram’s algorithm rewards content that it sees as “valuable” and pushes it up further in the rankings. And one of the main signals of how valuable a post is, is how much engagement (likes/comments/shares/saves) it gets shortly after it’s posted.
If your post doesn’t do well with your followers, it’s not going to do well with hashtags, either.
For many of you – who bought followers, used loop giveaways, follow/unfollowed, or just happen to have a lot of inactive followers – this is a major problem. You need to get your engagement rate up, or your account is DOA.
It’s SOCIAL media, not a fan page — so, you know, interact with people. Like more posts, comment on more posts, reach out and engage with new users, follow new people, make friends, support other creators. You get back what you give out, so don’t be stingy.
And don’t be spammy, either. Connect with people who you GENUINELY like, whose accounts you GENUINELY want to support, and whose content you GENUINELY love.
Retarget Active Followers
For one reason or another, Instagram is punishing your account. And your images aren’t being shown to anybody – even followers who are still actively using the platform. You need to find a way to remind these people you exist.
The best way to do this is – again – to engage with other people. If that’s still not working, try checking the “Following” tab in your notifications, and engaging with users who are currently online and liking photos. You can also scroll through your Following list and like everyone’s recent photos.
Manually Remove Inactive Followers
If worst comes to worst, start removing accounts that are blatantly spam or inactive. You can do this by clicking the three dots next to a username in your followers list, and hitting “Remove Follower”.
You don’t want people following you who aren’t going to engage, especially if the algorithm has already killed your account. This will obviously dip your follower count, but it will improve your engagement rate and should ultimately help your account grow again.
Extra Tips for Growing on Instagram
If you want to grow, you can’t just slap some hashtags on your post and expect to get anywhere. Your Instagram hashtag strategy needs to be part of a comprehensive growth strategy. More posts on this to come, but here are the basics 🙂
Post Every Day
If you want to combat the follow/unfollowers and grow your account FAST, you need to post consistently. Even posting every two days will slow you down – post once a week, and you’re unlikely to grow at all.
As an example – when I was posting every day I was gaining about 1000-2000 followers a month. Instagram has taken a backseat for me recently, I’ve only posted a couple times, and I’ve gained about… 50 followers this month (lol).
Improve Your Content
Only good content, that gets good engagement, will do well with hashtags. So make sure your photos are spectacular. Learn to edit, learn to pose, find some cool, unique locations to shoot at, and get creative.
Build a lil community, support each other, expand your network. You’ll find your people and you’ll all help each other succeed by promoting each other, sharing each others’ audiences, and more.
Hope this post helped you come up with a solid strategy for researching Instagram hashtags! Good luck & don’t forget to PIN this post if you found it helpful 🙂