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The Ultimate Instagram Hashtag Strategy (More Engagement & Followers)

An article by Aaron Ward, Online Marketing Strategist

Instagram Hashtag Strategy
Aaron Ward

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Step 1. Understanding How Hashtags Work on Instagram

On Instagram hashtags are used to categorize the content you post.

Whether it is an image or video your post on your feed you can use hashtags to tell Instagram's algorithm what your content is about.

You can also use hashtags in your stories...more on this later.

Once you add Hashtags to your post, users can then discover your content through searching for that hashtag.

For example, #interiorinspiration shows users searching and looking at that hashtag interior design related posts:

Users can discover your content through searching for hashtags.

Users can also discover your posts by following that hashtag.

Now let's dive deeper:

In the hashtag results, you will see the top posts and also the most recent posts.

Things to consider here are...

Instagram Hashtags - Top Posts

The top posts are exactly where you want your posts to live.

This is because it gets the most views (impressions) and will ultimately drive more followers and engagement on your posts.

How do Top Posts Work?

The Top Posts for a specific hashtags are the posts which have the highest engagement on them:

  3. Shares (Direct Messages)
  4. Saves (Bookmarks)

In addition to this:

Top Posts are evaluated by the Instagram algorithm during a roughly 2 hour upload window. So you want your post to receive lot's of engagement when you first upload to rank your content here.

Instagram Hashtags - Most Recent

Most recent posts do what is says on the tin.

They're simply the most recent posts users have uploaded with a specific hashtag you're searching for.

For example, if you search for #fluffydog and look at the most recent posts, it shows:

Fluffydogs most recent posts show pictures and videos of users posting with that hashtag

This section is great to appear in...

...if the hashtag is not over-saturated as your post will sit here where people can discover you. Typically good hashtags are 5+ minutes apart from each post.

You can find out how quick users are uploading by clicking on a few images and looking at their uploaded time:

Look at the time the last post was uploaded to see how long your post would last

This will give you an estimate of how long it would take for your post to not show on the first line (first 3 posts).

If there are lots of posts being uploaded every second within a hashtag results, the problem is that your post will be pushed down very quickly if there are 50+ other posts every minute being uploaded.

Step 2. Finding The Best Performing Instagram Hashtags

The best way to find hashtags is via the Instagram platform.

Before we dive in:

There are a few things to consider when looking for a hashtag after understanding how they work.

Instagram Hashtags Criteria

Stay Relevant

Firstly you want your hashtags to be RELATED and RELEVANT to your Instagram profile and the content you're uploading.

You will want to find hashtags in 2 categories so you can use them on your posts:

  • Content Hashtags — These are hashtags that are related to your profile and the content you frequently upload. They will generally be used over and over again. For example, if your profile is all about river fishing a hashtag you would probably use on most posts would be #riverfishing.
  • Specific hashtags — These hashtags are super specific to a single post, such as the location you were in or activity you were performing. For example, #downtowntoronto or #playingbasketball.

Keep these in mind when you research hashtags to use.

Don't use BIG Hashtags

When you're first getting started, don't use big hashtags such as #dog or #photographer as it's going to be VERY HARD for you to rank in the top posts with larger accounts that get lot's of engagement.

Instead use smaller hashtags with less competition. For example instead of using #dog use #blackpugpuppy (as long as it's relevant to your post...).

Use 30 Hashtags When First Starting

When you are first trying to grow your Instagram account, use the limit of 30 hashtags. It's 30 for a reason: because Instagram allows it.

Using 30 hashtags will give you 30 different ways to expose your profile to users. Imagine if you had 30 lottery tickets, would you use them all or just 5? Of course you would all 30 as there is a greater chance at winning.

How To Find Your Hashtags

Head on to your Instagram app.

Type in the search bar a keyword that is related to your profile.

For example, let's search for "entrepreneur" and select "Tags" so we can see the hashtag results:

Instagram search example for #entrepreneur

You would then want to look for hashtags that once again are:

  1. Relevant to your profile and the content you are uploading
  2. Not BIG and over-saturated, instead are specific and niche (yes it will take time to find them but the pay off is huge)

The main goal is to appear in the top posts spot, so look at what content is already in the top posts.

How many likes are the images getting?

Pro Tip: If you have received the update where you can't see likes look at how many comments they're getting as the alternative metric.

We can see that the top posts around roughly getting 1,000-5000 likes for the hashtag #entrepreneurgoals

The engagement results for the hashtag entrepreneurgoals

So to rank here, you would need roughly 1,000 likes on your posts to rank here.

So look at the hashtags you want to use and keep digging to find ones where you would have a possibility to rank.

While this isn't easy, with time and dedication you will finally get that list of 30 hashtags you can use.

Step 3. Checking if Your Hashtags are Banned To Ensure You Don't Get Blocked or Shadowbanned

Before you go ahead and use your hashtags...

...you want to make sure they are not banned or blacklisted by Instagram.

The issue is that a lot of bad stuff happens on Instagram:

  • Drug dealing
  • Pornography
  • Sex trade
  • And so on...

Unfortunately this horrible stuff can appear in hashtags as a strategy to be exposed to users.

And Instagram has to take action on removing this content.

The easy way for them to do it?

Block the hashtag.

And sometimes this hashtag could be something as innocent as #newyears or #bunny.

Anyway, here's how you can check if your hashtag is banned.

Head on over to instavast.com/instagram-banned-hashtags.

This tool is awesome because it shows you what hashtags are banned:

Avoid using banned hashtags on Instagram

You will want to avoid all hashtags shown in the results. The one's highlighted in red are super-blocked.

Check that your hashtags are safe, if not remove them from your list.

Step 4. Placing Your Instagram Hashtags Correctly For Maximum Reach

Finally you will need to use your hashtags.

Using all 30, you will want to add them either to your caption or into your first comment.

It DOESN'T matter where you place them.

In Your Instagram Caption

A great trick when posting your hashtags in your caption is to add some separators.

Things such as using periods:

Example of using periods to seperate your hashtags in your caption

Other separators you can use are:

  • -
  • 🔥🌴 (Emojis)
  • • (Bullet points)

In The First Comment

If you choose the first comment route, make sure to add that comment instantly after uploading your post so Instagram can understand what your post is all about and can start placing it in the results.

Here's an example of what it looks like:

Example of hashtags being placed in Instagram comments

Bonus Tip: Post Your Instagram Content When Your Users Are Most Active

Before you use this hashtag strategy, make sure you are posting at your best times on Instagram.

How do you figure this out?

Use your Instagram Insights (business account/profile required).

Go in to your Insights > Audience and scroll to the bottom where you can see your best times to post each day.

You can see in this image, the best time to post on Monday is 9pm:

Use Instagram Insights to see your best posting times

Post 5 minutes before this time and engage with other users 10 minutes before your post to boost your profile traffic.

This will get more engagement on your post (as those users will receive a notification that you left a comment or like and hopefully return the love) which helps you rank in the hashtags top posts.

Once again:

Lot's of engagement after uploading tells Instagram your content is good = higher rankings in your Hashtags.

Bonus Tip: Start Following Niche Hashtags

Following hashtags opens you up to discover other users on Instagram.

You should follow hashtags that are related to your profile.

For example, if you take lots of portrait photographs, you could follow #moodyports to find other users uploading similar content.

Follow hashtags on Instagram to keep up to date with profiles

From here, you will be able to leave comments and likes on these profiles which will help you grow your own engagement and even gain some new followers!

Bonus Tip: Start Using Hashtags in Your Stories

Using hashtags in your stories is a great way to gain more views on your profile and gain followers.

At the end of the day, exposure is the way to grow.

When you upload a story, add in a text element.

And then type out hashtags that are related to your story:

Add hashtags to your stories to appear in the hashtag results

And then cover your hashtags with a question or sticker so they're hidden.

For example here is me covering those hashtags with a sticker (your story will still appear in those hashtag results)

Cover your hashtags with a sticker or another element

Then when people view a hashtags story, your story will appear in the results.

Pro Tip: Hashtag stories appear in chronological order, meaning you don't need to worry about how many views you get and so on.

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