Using the right Instagram hashtags can help you extend your reach, engage your audience, and even boost your brand. In order to get each of these distinct benefits, however, you need to have specific strategies in place.
This is something that’s often mystified brands, as it can be difficult to notice trends and patterns at first glance. Hashtag strategies aren’t one-size-fits-all, which can cause even more confusion for businesses trying to figure it out for themselves.
Today, we're sharing how to create an effective hashtag strategy for your Instagram and IGTV accounts, including hashtag research, how to implement and develop hashtag strategies, and even specific hashtags you should add to your roster based on your business’s goals. If you want to promote your brand or learn how to make money on Instagram, these tactics are for you.
How hashtags work on Instagram
Hashtags on Instagram can be attached to posts and become clickable phrases and topics. Any word or phrase can be turned into a working hashtag, as long as it has the # placed in front of it.
When users click on a hashtag, they’re taken to its discover feed, which shows all the public content attached to it. People will click on or search for hashtags they’re interested in as a way of finding content on Instagram.
Since hashtags are used with an intent to discover content, the right hashtags can put you in front of your target audience, even if they haven’t connected with you before. Recognizing the importance of hashtags on the platform, Instagram has expanded the functionality of hashtags. Brands can now add clickable hashtags to the profile section of Instagram bios.
Instagram Stories have a hashtag sticker, which lets you place working hashtags on your Stories. When users click, they’ll be taken to the hashtag’s feed, just like they would if they’d clicked on a hashtag on your post.
Users can also follow hashtags they’re interested in, ensuring that content from those hashtags appears in their feed regularly.
Most popular Instagram hashtags by category
There can be a lot to consider when working with Instagram hashtags, so let’s regroup around a solid starting point. Below, you’ll find the top hashtags sorted by categories like industry or event that you can use to start the process of fleshing out your hashtag strategy.
Best general Instagram hashtags
Best hashtags for inviting likes and follows
Note: No promises made on the quality of the followers or likes you'll receive, as these and other related hashtags are typically based on new Instagram users trading likes and follows.
Best fashion hashtags
Best food and beverage hashtags
Best travel hashtags
Best pet care hashtags
Best tech and gadgets hashtags
Best wedding hashtags
Best athletic and workout gear hashtags
Best holiday hashtags
Best hashtags for Instagram contests
Using hashtags to connect with your audience
Understanding which hashtags you should use is a crucial part of developing a strong hashtag strategy that maximizes your reach and increases engagement. There are different types of hashtags that each serve a purpose, and any strong strategy incorporates a combination of them.
These should be listed in your profile bio, and are exclusive to your specific store. They can be used to build brand awareness, and you can encourage users to share user-generated content using them. Examples include Harper Wilde’s #LiftUpTheGirls, Shwood Eyewear’s #shwoodshop, and So Worth Loving’s #swlfamily.
This won’t apply to all ecommerce merchants, but if you have products that would appeal to local audiences, use it to your advantage. Do you have novelty mugs that feature different states? Use #FloridaLife or #NewYorkDrinks to connect with the right audience.
These hashtags aren’t meant to grow your audience, they’re meant to expand on the relationship with the audience you already have. These phrases often have little to do with a brand itself, and a lot to do with the situation in the specific post. In the example below, #shopitlikeithot and #getitgirl are both entertainment-focused.
Mass appeal hashtags
Mass appeal hashtags are general hashtags that can apply to almost any post. They’re frequently used, meaning they’re also frequently sought out. They can occasionally give your posts a significant bump in reach, putting them in front of established audiences. Examples of these include #instagood and #lovelife.
Maybe you want to remind your followers it’s OK to have a #caseofthemondays, or appreciate that #summerrain. Timely hashtags can be related to a certain holiday, time of year, or even time of the day. Users love timely content and are likely to seek out holiday and seasonal content in particular. The example below uses the timely hashtag #sunsout to put their product, sunglasses, in front of an interested audience.
Hashtags go in and out of favor just like styles of clothing and slang. Sometimes trending hashtags are just really popular hashtags people are using at the time, which have surged in popularity for some reason. In many cases though, they’ll have more to do with current events.
Maybe Apple has announced a new version of the iPhone, or it’s election day somewhere in the country. These hashtags won’t give you evergreen results, but they can yield meaningful returns in reach and interest when used correctly.
Certain products have audiences with niche interests. People who are buying their own virtual reality systems, for example, are likely to be interested in all the latest technology. Customers who are interested in healthy eating may search for phrases like #organic or #eatinggreen. Use niche-specific hashtags to connect with a highly relevant audience.
Bremont does this exceptionally well in the example below. They use hashtags like #luxury and #watchoftheday, knowing that these niche hashtags could connect them with their target audience.
Special event hashtags
Sometimes hashtags can act like beacons that alert users to special events going on with your store. Are you about to host a contest? Hashtags like #contestalert and #instagiveaway can help you find an interested audience. Similarly, hashtags like #flashsale and #BOGO can both help you find bargain hunters and signal to followers you’ve got special deals for them online.
Which types of hashtags should I use?
Not all ecommerce businesses will benefit from every type of hashtag.
A merchant with national or international reach may not have a reason to use location-based hashtags, for example, and B2B merchants with a strictly professional voice may not use a lot of the entertaining hashtags. That’s fine. Adopt the ones that will work best for your brand and your audience.
How many hashtags should I be using?
You can use up to thirty hashtags on a single Instagram post. That answers how many you can use, but not how many you should use, which can be quite different.
There’s lots of research on this topic and various findings. A fairly consistent takeaway is that you should definitely be using a few hashtags (as in more than one) on every post. Instagram posts with hashtags receive 70% more likes, according to a study by Agorapulse.
As for precisely how many hashtags work best, the data is inconsistent. Some marketers swear by using just two hashtags, while others say use all thirty. In reality, the sweet spot for a single post may only be something you can uncover through testing.
Instagram hashtag tools: Streamline your process
Whether you’re shooting for six hashtags or thirty, it can be time-consuming to enter in that many characters, especially since autocorrect can’t save you. Ask any social media manager, and we’ll tell you it’s not our favorite thing in the world.
Fortunately, there are tools that can streamline the process. These are the ones I recommend:
- PreviewApp, which allows you to save groups of hashtags to the app, apply them to content, and then export the posts right to Instagram— hashtags and all. They’ll also test your hashtags and let you know which are getting you the most results.
- Later, whose Saved Captions feature lets you apply captions and their hashtags to new posts. You’ll want to change up the hashtags, but it can save you a lot of time if you’re using a handful of them over again.
- Tag for Likes Pro, which can help you find, copy, and paste Instagram hashtags on a mobile device. You can create custom lists containing multiple hashtags and then copy them right to Instagram.
If you aren’t willing to invest in a tool just for this purpose, the more affordable route may be to use a general social media tool. You can keep a document of different hashtags and use social media scheduling software like Agorapulse, Hootsuite, or Sprout Social. You can create the posts on your desktop, copying and pasting hashtags or groups of hashtags to the caption as needed. Since all of these tools can now post directly to Instagram for you, this can save you a few steps.
How to conduct hashtag research for Instagram
Hashtag research is a key part of the distribution on Instagram. It can help you identify the most high-performing, popular hashtags, give you new ideas for hashtags you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, and help you to identify trending hashtags.
There are several different strategies you can use to conduct hashtag research, whether you want to grow your list or find new trending topics. Let’s take a look at each.
Scope out Twitter
If you want to look for trending hashtags or trending topics that are relevant right now, Twitter can give you an edge. They have a trending topics section, where you can see what people are sharing.
Note that hashtag usage on Instagram and Twitter is different, and Twitter is more heavily focused on news. Keep that in mind, and use it for research purposes instead of copying and pasting hashtags blindly to Instagram.
Check out your competition
It never hurts to see what your competition’s marketing strategy looks like, and that includes their hashtag strategy. Look for trends in which hashtags they’re using, and you might get a few ideas for phrases you want to add to your roster, too.
Influencers—including micro-influencers—are called influencers for a reason: they already have an audience and people actively look to them for advice, inspiration, or expertise. It’s not surprising that these profiles may have mastered their hashtag game and found the best-performing terms out there. Take a look, and don’t be afraid to snag a few that you like.
Use hashtag research tools
All the other methods of hashtag research we’ve looked at have been manual. Hashtag research tools can help you identify trending hashtags and more evergreen hashtags that will benefit your business most.
A solid hashtag research tool is essential because it can provide you with the kind of detailed feedback about specific hashtags no other tool can give you.
These hashtag research tools can help you get started:
- Keyhole: Ever since Keyhole extended their hashtag research to cover Instagram, it’s been one of the most complete hashtag analysis tools on the market. They give you a lot of information about each specific hashtag, including how many users added it to their posts, the reach of the hashtag, and the impressions it receives. You can also see how many unique posts featured the hashtag, to evaluate popularity against the competition.
- Hashtagify: They’ll show you the overall popularity and recent popularity of specific hashtags. This tool is an excellent one for hashtag discovery, as they’ll show you related terms and hashtags that other users are including on their posts. You can even track hashtags over time, monitoring their popularity to decide if you should ever cut any from the rotation.
- Ritetag: If you’re looking for a tool that can help you generate relevant hashtags quickly, Ritetag is the way to go. They’ll automatically suggest hashtags based on your text or images. You can also link Ritetag to a handful of social media management tools and get suggestions while creating posts within them.
Should my Instagram hashtags be visible?
Nobody wants to read through thirty different hashtags, or even six for that matter, just to get to the content. Big blocks of difficult-to-read text also look visually unappealing.
Because of this, many brands opt to hide the bulk of their hashtags by strategically placing them below the “See More” tag. Some will even take this a step further, adding significant extra spaces even outside of the “See More” in order to aesthetically remove large chunks of hashtags from the rest of the description. Other brands will add hashtags in a separate comment on the post, but this may cause the hashtags to lose effectiveness.
For most brands, the best option is simply to make sure that your hashtags are separated by at least one line from the caption, and are hidden under the “See More” tag. This keeps the focus on your caption, increasing the likelihood that it will be read. It also looks cleaner.
The exception is if you’re using one or two hashtags for branding or entertainment purposes. In this case, leave them above the fold if necessary, and make sure that they’re listed first or written in-line in your Instagram caption. That way users are more likely to read them.
Although you may see this happening, there’s no reason to use more than one line of separation for hashtags. If users click on that “See More” tag, you don’t want them to have to scroll forever to get to the comments, because there’s a good chance they won’t continue to leave their intended comment.
Banned hashtags: The dark side of Instagram
Did you know that there are such things as banned hashtags on Instagram? They aren’t even swear words and outright obscenities, either—though those definitely make the list.
Instagram routinely “bans” hashtags that they detect are frequently used alongside some sort of illicit content. Some of these aren’t surprising, like #nasty, but others like #fitnessgirls and #tgif could be used for perfectly innocent reasons. Instagram won’t post new content to a banned hashtag’s feeds, if the feed even stays up at all.
Hashtags can be banned permanently or temporarily, and when you use them, your posts could be shadowbanned. This means that they may not show up in your followers’ feeds, and they may not appear when users search for other hashtags attached to the post, too. All in all, using a single banned hashtag can unravel all the work you did on a single post.
When compiling your lists of hashtags that you want to use, check out the full list of hashtags that have been banned in Instagram.
Measuring your Instagram hashtag strategy
All marketing efforts should be measured whenever possible, and that goes for hashtag strategies, too. Hashtags can be much more difficult to evaluate on your own, especially since you have groups of them on posts. This can make it difficult to know which are working, and which aren’t pulling their weight. Fortunately, there are several ways to measure the impact of your strategy.
First, take a look at the overall growth of your channel. You can do this with Instagram’s analytics, though many third-party social management platforms will offer more detail.
See if impressions, reach, and likes go up for your profile and posts. Significantly, how many accounts have you reached through the Discovery channel? Are there big changes since you’ve adapted the new strategy? You should see month-to-month increases. If not, it’s time to adapt.
You should also be using hashtag research tools to monitor the hashtags you’re using regularly. Make sure their popularity is trending up overtime instead of decreasing. You can also use tools like Keyhole to track your branded hashtag, to see the reach, impressions, and overall use from other profiles. This can help you evaluate how much your branded hashtag is helping you, and if it’s gaining traction organically.
Third-party tools can also provide data about your hashtag usage and their results. Sprout Social has excellent hashtag data, showing you the hashtags that yielded the best engagement and which you used most often.
Find the best Instagram hashtags for your brand
Instagram hashtags are an essential part of Instagram marketing. If you combine your hashtag tactics with a strategy that focuses on how to get more Instagram followers, you'll see an immediate lift in likes, comments, and followers. If you don’t have a strategy in place, your marketing may not be reaching its full potential on the platform. Use the tools and hashtag suggestions detailed in this post to form your own list of high-performing hashtags that will extend your reach and keep your audience engaged, and remember to switch them up based on your analysis and measurement for best results.
Illustration by Eugenia Mello
This article originally appeared in the Shopify blog and has been published here with permission.