Instagram hashtags have been a pillar of exposure and growth on Instagram for years. But recently, there has been a lot of conflicting information on the topic.
Today, we’re hoping to clear this up by answering a couple of different questions:
- What are hashtags?
- Do they work/matter?
- What is a hashtag strategy?
- How many hashtags should I use?
- Where do I put my hashtags in my posts?
What are hashtags?
Hashtags are a series of numbers, letters, and emojis that follow the # sign. They are searchable, indexable, and clickable.
Basically, they are a great way to categorize your content and to tell Instagram what your content is so it can show it to people who will care.
Do they work, and do they matter?
Hashtag reach has become unpredictable at best over the last couple of years. They used to be a really helpful tool available to us, but now, they are hit or miss.
This is largely because of two things: 1) hashtags are very competitive and have been used frequently (and often in a spam-like manner) and 2) Instagram has refocused itself to have a better search function which is making keyword placement in captions more important and helpful in many instances than hashtags.
This being said, it is still important to utilize hashtags on your posts – especially if you are just starting out – because any extra reach can be helpful. We just need to be strategic with them both in how much time we invest into the add on and which keywords we choose to focus on.
What is a hashtag strategy?
There are a lot of different hashtag strategies floating around, but the reality is there is no one size fits all approach. A hashtag strategy is a way of implementing your hashtags to reach a desired result.
For example, say you are a small account with an average amount of engagement for your account size. There is very little chance you can rank on a hashtag that usually has thousands of likes and has already indexed over a million posts.
Because you know this, you don’t need to use these big hashtags on your small account. Instead, you are better off focusing on longer-tail keywords as hashtags. Instead of using #bookstagram which has 72 million posts, you might be better off using #fantasybookstagram which only holds 42,000 – if you are talking about fantasy books.
The important thing here is to make sure your hashtags are relevant and specific. I use an app called Flickto keep my hashtags sorted and to help me find better hashtags to use for my industry and niche, but you can also do it longhand as well.
Flick splits different hashtags into categories: low competition, medium competition, and high competition. I rarely use hashtags that are high competition because there is no point for me right now, except on reels which are different from other content formats.
If you are not using Flick, I try to use hashtags that have between 10,000 and 500,000 posts on them. However, I will go higher or lower depending on the specificity of the hashtag to your post. For example, location based hashtags are often small in comparison to their non location-based counterparts. #BusinessOwner has about 17 million posts, but #AtlantaBusinessOwner has 44,000. Since I am based in Atlanta, I will use the latter. Typically I will go as low as 3,000 posts on my hashtags if they are geotagged.
At the end of the day, this comes down to testing, which is why I like Flick because it does tracking for me. Any strategy works like a hypothesis. We build it based on research. We test it. We tweak it. We test it again. We tweak it again. And so on and so on.
How many hashtags should I use?
You’re never going to guess what my answer to this question is… You have to test and see what works for you. Instagram has stated we should use 3-5 and 8-15 in the last year. But they allow you to use up to 30. There is no overlap (insert mildly annoyed eye roll here).
So, our method is pretty simple. We only use hashtags on posts that are truly relevant to those posts. We only use hashtags that are specific to us, our location, our industry, our niche, and the specific piece of content we are placing.
And we use at least 20 because the more chances we have to rank and have our content displayed over time, the better our chances are to be discovered!
Where do I put my hashtags?
Hashtags belong in your captions. I know people have said they can look spammy and all of that, but with Instagram’s new search functionality, when you put your hashtags in your captions, you are double dipping as far as keywords are concerned and less work is better in this instance.
Prioritize Your Content
Hashtags are still relevant enough to warrant your thought and consideration, but they should not be your priority. Hashtags cannot save content that sucks. So if you have to pick, focus on turning out badass content. Your hashtags will be more effective then to act as a megaphone.