What you need to know about Instagram hashtags
How to use hashtags on Instagram
So you’ve got your content strategy and a fab looking feed, and now we need to help people find you.
Hashtags is one of the main ways people will find you on Instagram.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how hashtags work on Instagram and it’s hard to know who to listen to.
So I’ve put together some of the common questions around hashtags that I’m asked and also put the question out to my followers.
To get things started, here’s an easy analogy to think of when we’re looking at Instagram strategies:
If Instagram was a mall / a block of shops / strip of cafes, bars or restaurants, your Instagram handle - @theurbanwildnz - is the space you rent… so your shop or office or restaurant.
Hashtags are your window display or signage that you hope will bring people inside.
The image you use is the packaging, product or for services, how you dress and present yourself.
Your feed is how you display your products inside.
Captions are like your product descriptions, that you label things with or the menu/brochures that people can read.
Getting people to click into your bio, maybe heading to the link in your bio is the same as having someone pick up a product, brochure or menu - they want to know more.
A DM or comment is like having them walk up to the counter / reception / you.
And then they book or buy.
With good hashtags, you attract new people to your content, and a fab grid with great captions, keeps them there.
It makes more sense putting it like that right?
So what do you need to know about Hashtags?
We need a benchmark
Take screenshots of your Instagram feed as it is right now.
Then screenshot your analytics and insights.
You need to know how things are right now so you can monitor progress. If you’re feeling really fancy, you can enter your stats into a spreadsheet. But that’s getting pretty fancy. Writing it down and saving the screenshots is a good start.
What hashtags should you use?
Personally I find it’s best to have a mix of hashtags using some that describe you, your business or your content, location and the points your content is conveying.
Most importantly though, they need to be relevant to your audience.
Things you should know when choosing hashtags
Hashtags display a number that indicates how many times it has been used. The more popular the hashtag is - so the higher the number - the more difficult it will be for you to gain visibility with it. 1 million + posts is a popular hashtag but it depends on your niche as well.
The content under a hashtag refreshes in real time so as more people use that hashtag, your content shifts down the page. Sometimes a hashtag is soooooo popular that by the time you’ve posted and click into the hashtag, your post is already lost to the masses!
Having a mix of niche and popular hashtags is best.
Some hashtags are banned >> READ MORE HERE
That’s right, you can’t use them.
And if you do, you might have your post flagged as spam. So then nobody sees it.
If you frequently use banned hashtags, then you could even have your account blocked or removed and we don’t want that!
How do you know which ones are banned?
To see which hashtags are banned on Instagram, look it up in the search bar.
Once you click on a hashtag, scroll through the feed and if you reach a message saying something like this: “Recent posts from # alone are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram's community guidelines.” then you’ve got a banned hashtag. If you’re going to get the message it will come up within a few scrolls.
Why do hashtags get banned?
Some banned hashtags come as a surprise because they seem pretty harmless and then you can also find that a hashtag may become available again if enough time goes by and the content shares in relation to it seems to have changed. It’s best we research hashtags before we use them.
Here’s some surprising examples of banned hashtags
Let’s look at a few examples that you might be surprised about:
Now these are just a handful that I know of - there’s way more than this list - but I wanted to show you why it’s important to research. None of them seem particularly offensive and I’ve seen or can imagine either people I work with or even myself, writing a post that all of the hashtags above could be relevant to use at some point in time. Yet they are currently banned on Instagram (April 2019).
Hashtags that don’t work as well as you think
So let’s look at a few hashtags that you might want to use, aren’t currently banned but you probably still shouldn’t use them. They aren’t going to get you the greatest results.
#flatlay - 6,392,912 posts
This is a very popular hashtag that shows lots of beautifully styled and photographed images of a very high calibre.
Why I wouldn’t use it: Unless the picture you are posting is going to be of the same quality as all the other posts you’ll see, you’re not going to get a lot of attention. When you click into this hashtag you’ll also notice how busy it is. There’s a lot going on in here so the chances of your picture standing out amongst the masses is a bit slim shady. There’s probably going to be a better choice for you! Here’s some more to look at (or not!)
#photography - 395,341,314 posts
#shoes - 90,088,283 posts
#newzealand - 15,331,032 posts
#mumlife - 6,672,927 posts
#kidsofig - 860,613 posts
#interiors - 16,141,132 posts
#design - 172,942,303 posts
#smallbusiness - 19,811,150 posts
Why I wouldn’t use these: See above.
They are all popular posts but ones I see people using often.
Remember that the more popular a hashtag is, the less screen time your post will have. Open them and see. The posts move down the screen so fast they’re gone in an instant.
Finding hashtags that are relevant to your audience.
When you’re choosing a hashtag, make sure it’s relevant to your audience and that your content will sit well amongst the other content.
Let’s pick on these examples.
#teeshirt - 974,385 posts
#girls - 156,593,537 posts
If you sell teeshirts for young girls, based on the content found under these two hashtags, you aren’t going to find your ideal audience there. Lots of dudes and young adults but it doesn’t look like a place that mums might be looking.
Heaps of childrenswear and kids shops use #girls I notice. It seems relevant. They sell stuff for girls. But there are other connotations that go with that tag too and sometimes you open it to find lots of boobs and bums. Yeah, not the right kind of girls to be slotting in pictures of kids with!!
Think about who your audience is and what types of hashtags they’re going to be looking under and using themselves.
The best websites to use for hashtag research
@cleonyboo asked what the best websites/apps to do your hashtag research on are?
A: I actually don’t deviate far from Instagram but I do use the Google Keyword Planner for ideas on topics I’m less familiar with. I never ever use the hashtag generators. Well I did once and the results threw back generic and lots of popular hashtags. Not what I want.
I also don’t use the results of my search exactly as it’s shown to me. Any ideas I find, I always check on Instagram and find a version that is relevant to my ideal customer.
Ie. if my keyword is #foodie I would then search #nzfoodie and the similars that are suggested
Why? Because I know that people all over the world are going to using that and while I’m sure they’re all super lovely people, they aren’t going to work with me here. So I bring it close to home and close to where my ideal customer is by making it more specific. The similars you might find with #nzfoodie could also be things like #nzchef #aucklandfoodie #aucklandeats
Are your photos / pictures good enough for that hashtag?
No offence but seriously… are your photos good enough for that hashtag?
Instagram is a visual platform. And people are visual by nature. This means you’re going to find a whole heap of content on there that looks great, highly styled and technically correct photos. When you get all of these things together and of course the right people looking at them, they’ll attract more eyes than others of a lesser quality. We don’t have a lot of control over what our eyes pick out unfortunately. So when you’re researching a hashtag, take a look at the other photos on there. Do all the images that come up look as though they were taken from a professional? If yes, make sure yours are of a high quality too, OR find another similar hashtag to use. If you don’t, you’re brand could come off as amateurish and can cause people to lose confidence in you before you’ve even had the chance to get started. It isn’t imperative that you have professionally shot images to share, but you need to make sure that the ones you share are amongst the best within each set of hashtags. Is that hashtag full of distractions? Now imagine Times Square on New Years Eve. People are there in masses right. Well this is how it is when you have highly styled flatlay’s and the likes, using masses of props. Things start to get lost. You can’t see one product from the other. Posts start to blend in and while it looks pretty from a distance, its not really that fantastic for making ‘your’ hard work stand out. How many hashtags should you use?
There’s a whole lot of opinions around how many hashtags to use. Some say none (Don’t listen to them!), some say just a few, while others say use 10-11 or all of them. My view is this: Instagram has given us the ability to use up to 30. So that’s 30 opportunities for getting your post seen. Use it. But only if you can use it well and be genuine. So if you can’t come up with 30 genuine and relevant hashtags, then don’t just throw any old hashtag in there for a space filler. Just let it be. But use as many as you can come up with, up to 30.
@agnesandme.nz said that she was advised to use the same 23 on every post and add a few specific to that post. Then she was told to only use 4 on a post and it was hard to know who was right.
Engagement Under the ‘view insights’ tab you can see how much engagement is attributed to the hashtags you use. Use the insights to track your progress and what works well. If you notice a pattern with a particular set then do more of it! Where to put the hashtags
Again this is often something I see people having set opinions on. From the posts that I’ve tracked over time, it doesn’t seem to matter. You can put the hashtags in the post, at the top, throughout, at the bottom or add them in as a comment. The results don’t seem to change. So for me it’s personal preference. If I’m using a hashtag that is unique or to help give context to a post, I’ll include it in the caption. But otherwise, for me its in the comments. ONLY because of aesthetics though. There’s no other reason for me doing this, other than I think it looks a lot tidier.
@jewellsparkle asked if you should always use the same ones or change them regularly.
A: what I tend to do is seperate hashtags into sets based on my content ideas. Each quarter I try to find different ones or variations to use simply because some people may use #hashtags for example while others are using #hashtag
She went onto ask how you know if the hashtags are working for you and this is the point where I would decide whether I need new ones. at the start of this blog I said to start with screenshots of your analytics and insights. I do this on the regular. Monthly actually. Inside your post stats you can see how many found your post from hashtags. And I get a general feel from website traffic reporting on whether something was attributed to Instagram. My website traffic and engagement has become so niche and targeted that it has become obvious which posts generate sales. When I had a ohysica product to sell, I could tell almost straight away if my posts were working and the hashtags working also. For example I could see that I had sales from people in a niche hashtag because they used the hashtag also! The answer really depends. You could also ask your customers if yuh had the opportunity and in any aftercare activity, ask them how they found you. People will often tell you.