Instagram hashtags remain one of the most effective ways to grow brand awareness and get your content seen by the right audiences.
So much so, in fact, that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement!
But that’s not the only reason to use hashtags. When used properly, hashtags can help you grow your audience, improve the engagement rate of your content, and assist in growing a better, more curated community for your business on Instagram.
The secret to achieving all of that is actually quite simple: developing a curated hashtag strategy.
We’re going to teach you how to do just that. So read on to learn how to develop your very own hashtag strategy (and start putting Instagram to work for your biz).
Instagram hashtags are important, and here’s why
It’s no secret that Instagram’s algorithm has changed a lot (and frequently) since it’s initial release in 2010. But one thing that hasn’t changed? The efficacy of hashtags.
That’s because hashtags are one of the simplest ways for your content to get noticed by new audiences.
Instagram hashtags work by organizing or “categorizing” content, and that content is grouped into one page with similar content.
The main purpose of hashtags is to target audiences that have specific interests, and are used by those audiences with the intent to discover brands. Because of this, the way you use hashtags (and the hashtags you choose) can put your brand in front of audiences even if they’ve never connected with you before!
These hashtags are categorized or grouped together so that audiences who like that content can find it by searching those hashtags.
What all of this means for you as a business owner is that, by using hashtags in a strategic way, you can build awareness around your brand and target audiences you want your content in front of - and not just random ones!
The #1 rule for using Instagram hashtags? Keep them relevant
A recent feature Instagram rolled out was followable hashtags, giving users the ability to follow hashtags they find interesting or relevant and getting curated content from those hashtags to their feeds.
This instant access to content that users don’t have to search for, but can instead get updates for, means hashtag relevancy is more important than ever.
Instagram users search for, and follow, hashtags for content that matters to them in some way, shape or form. And typically, content that matters to audiences is content that provides some sort of value.
As a business, you want to be in front of the audiences that will care about your content, not just any audience, because the people who care about your content are also potential customers.
Users have the option of flagging hashtags as “Don’t Show for this Hashtag”, which is a nice way of users choosing to “weed out” content they don’t want to see. In other words, they can “block” content that’s not relevant to them.
By using hashtags relevant to your target audiences, you have a better chance of having the right people see your content and engage with it.
For example, if you’re a dog toy brand and you only sell toys for dogs, you don’t want to target just any or every pet owner - you want to target people with dogs, or people with friends and family who own dogs.
So, using hashtags geared towards pet owners, cat owners, or animal enthusiasts in general isn’t going to get you the right audience exposure. Instead, your hashtags have to be relevant to those people we mentioned above!
The more relevant your hashtags are for your content and audiences, the better.
Don’t just use any hashtags - use the right ones
One of the greatest misconceptions surrounding hashtags on Instagram is that any hashtags that are trendy or popular will get your brand noticed.
Buttttt that’s unfortunately not true! It can actually do the opposite, because not all hashtags are created equal. Aside from using relevant hashtags like we mentioned above, you also need to vary your hashtags based on use volume.
Use volume basically refers to the number of times a hashtag has been used - a general but unspoken “rule” of hashtags is that, the greater the use volume of a hashtag, the less effective it is.
Have you ever noticed, for example, that if you search the hashtag “#love” on Instagram, it’s been used more than 1 billion times?! That gives you little to no opportunity to rank in Instagram’s search or on people’s Explore page because too many people have used the hashtag, and your content will simply get buried.
Instead, you want to focus your time and energy on using hashtags that make sense for your brand. And here are a few tips on how you do that!
#1: Use Instagram’s Explore page to do quick hashtag volume searches
It’s easy to see how many times a hashtag has been used by simply searching the hashtag in Instagram’s Explore section of your account.
If a hashtag has been used far too much, you want to avoid using it so that your content doesn’t get buried.
But if a hashtag has been used too little, you may not get any exposure from it at all. The key is to find the sweet spot between too much and too little!
A safe middle-ground or starting point is to use hashtags that have anywhere between 10k-300k uses. As your following grows, you can start targeting hashtags with slightly higher use volume.
#2: Pick your hashtags based on your audience size
This is beneficial for your Instagram because it helps ensure you’re not just targeting anyone but the audiences you will matter to and for your brand on the platform.
To pick hashtags based on your audience size, you’ll want to consider a balanced mix of small, medium, and medium-large hashtags.
Let’s say, for instance, that your dog accessories brand has just under 1,000 followers on Instagram. You would benefit from splitting your 30 hashtags (which is the maximum number you can use on a post on Instagram!) so that 15-20 are small, and 5-10 are medium.
If, on the other hand, you’ve got over 5,000 followers and your account is growing, 15 small hashtags, 10 medium hashtags, and 5 large hashtags could work well for you and your content.
Let’s break down what we mean by these hashtag sizes!
SMALL - Less than 300k uses
MEDIUM - 300k-500k uses
LARGE - 500k-1 million uses (or more)
**But remember, regardless of the hashtags you use (and the use volume), you always want to ensure your hashtags are relevant to your brand and audiences!
#3: Avoid being a spammy hashtagger
Did you know that Instagram recognizes the consistent use of the same hashtags, as “spam”?
It may not seem like it, but by using the exact same group of hashtags on every single post, Instagram can flag your content as spam, and a lack of hashtag variety can also make your content go stale!
Instead, you want to focus on creating at least 3-4 different hashtag groups that are filled with a healthy balance of different hashtag sizes (use volume) and different but relevant hashtags, and switch up the groups you use on each post.
This will help you avoid appearing “spammy” on Instagram and can also help grow engagement on your content, because you’ll reach different audiences with different hashtags!
#4: Consider going niche
Remember when we mentioned that using overly-saturated hashtags like “#love” will only succeed in burying your content?
This is where niche hashtags come into play.
Niche hashtags are great because they help you effectively target the audiences you actually want your content in front of, without using the same hashtags as every other competitor.
Say, for example, that you come across a beauty brand on Instagram. Have you ever noticed that, instead of just using “#beauty” or “beautyhacks”, they may use more niche hashtags like “#sustainablebeauty” or “#beautyblogger”?
That’s because those hashtags are more targeted and unique than a hashtag like “#beauty” which has been used over 300 million times. Yikes!
#5: Don’t ignore Instagram post Insights
What’s super cool about Instagram is that every single post comes with it’s own individual set of Insights, which you can find on all posts.
But what’s even better is that, by looking at the Impressions stat specifically, you’ll be able to see which hashtags brought the most amount of exposure to each of your posts.
This is something you should definitely start tracking because this data can help you eliminate hashtags that aren’t performing for you, and focus more on finding niche hashtags that do!
How to find hashtags (for free!)
We mentioned at the beginning of this article that, when used properly, hashtags can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to growing your brand on Instagram.
But they only do that hard work when used strategically, and that means finding then curating solid lists or “groups” of hashtags (like we mentioned above!).
That means thinking strategically about which hashtags to use and which content to use them with. For example, if you have a hashtag group that revolves around pets in general, those hashtags may not be as relevant for content that’s specifically about your products.
In that case, you’d search for and group together hashtags relevant to product-related content.
How do you find hashtags, you ask? Well, it’s simpler than you think! And you can find the best hashtags for your brand for free.
Start with competitor research
If you aren’t already sure who your target customer is, you should consider doing research on that first so that you know who you’re looking to target on Instagram.
But let’s assume you already know your customer, because you do!
To find hashtags that will better target those customers on Instagram (people in your target audiences), it’s always best practice to perform some competitor research.
This is simple to do on Instagram, because all you have to look for is the hashtags your competitors use most frequently on all of their posts.
For instance, if a competitor of yours uses “#dogsofcanada”, “#dogslove” and “#dogadvenutres” on most of their Instagram posts, there’s a likelihood that those hashtags are bringing traffic and engagement to their posts.
Recording these hashtags can be helpful in creating your own hashtag lists, but of course, you don’t want to just copy and paste your competitor’s hashtag groups! Instead, dive into what your top 3-5 competitors use for hashtags and consider whether their most popular ones make sense for your target audiences and content.
Research influencers in your niche
Even influencers have to use a hashtag or two!
And the key influencers in your niche who already have authority and buy-in from the audiences you’re looking to target, are the perfect accounts to gain inspo from! These influencers may use highly-targeted hashtags that you can also use and incorporate into your hashtag groups.
Find related hashtags
Related hashtags are quite literally hashtags that are related to your search query.
Let’s say, for example, that you type “#cats” into your Instagram search bar in the app; you’re immediately going to be given search results for that exact hashtag plus several others that are related to it.
These related hashtags are super important, because they give you insight into the other hashtags people search for (and use) that are similar to your main search query.
So, given “#cats” has been used more than 100 million times (eeek!), you may want to consider looking further down the list of search results and see which hashtags have 300k uses or less.
These will be related hashtags that aren’t over-saturated but can still target your key audiences.
Use a free hashtag tool to find your hashtags
Because we live in the “golden age” of technology, of course there’s an app or tool that can help you find hashtags! And many of these tools are free.
This can make your job of hunting hashtags much easier but it’s important never to rely on these tools too much - the best way is to search directly in Instagram and also monitor your Insights!
However, you can use a free tool in addition to your organic search efforts if you’re feeling stuck or need more hashtag inspiration.
Here are a few to try:
Consider researching (and using!) location-based hashtags
For most pet businesses, you want to reach as many of your customers as possible, but what if you only sell to customers in certain geographies?
For example, if you’re a Canadian-based pet business, you may only sell your products within Canada or North America only.
This isn’t bad news - it’s actually a unique opportunity to target customers based on location! And it’s super easy to do.
Based on your location and where you sell, try incorporating city, province, or small-town hashtags. If you’re based in Kelowna, British Columbia for instance, you can use hashtags like #kelownabc, #kelownaliving, #kelownadogs or #kelownabusiness.
When people search for location-based things through Instagram, they typically use location-based hashtags, so take advantage of the exposure you can build with those types of hashtags!
How to organize your hashtags
Throughout our article, we’ve mentioned “hashtag groups” or lists, but what do we mean by that?
Because Instagram doesn’t appreciate the use of the same hashtags over and over, it’s important to create a variety of hashtags that you can choose from to use with your content.
But organizing those hashtags means putting them into groups, lists, or “batches” to help you keep certain hashtag types together and have them at the ready so you can use them on the right posts.
Let’s break that down!
Batch hashtags based on brand, product, industry and audience
You’ll inevitably collect and note down hashtags that are more relevant to your brand, while others will be more relevant to your product, and others will be more relevant to your audiences in general.
The best way to organize all of the hashtags you find or collect is to create groups or “batches” where hashtags based around your brand are kept separate from, say, hashtags that revolve around your product or your audience.
Brand hashtags, for example, are hashtags that have to do with your brand and not just the type of products you sell or the people you sell to. These hashtags might be relevant for some Instagram content, but not all.
Your industry hashtags - that is, any hashtag that refers to the industry you’re in, like pet food - would be relevant for content that’s more industry-focused, such as content you capture when you’re at a tradeshow or local market, or if your content is speaking about the pet industry at large.
By batching your hashtags together, you can easily and quickly grab hashtags and apply them to your posts without having to think about them, because you’ve already curated them!
When should you use hashtags?
The long and short of it? Always.
But this doesn’t mean you need to use as many as you can on every post.
Hear us out!
Instagram has always been notorious for its hashtag limit - users can only add up to 30 hashtags to a post, max. That means that any group of hashtags with more than 30 won’t be posted.
30 hashtags may not seem like a lot, but think of it this way: are all 30 of your hashtags relevant and effective?
If you have a post where only 12 of the 30 hashtags you want to use are truly relevant for the content and your audience, those 12 are more effective than the rest.
Try to keep hashtags visible
When using any number of hashtags, it’s important to ensure they’re visible, which means your best option is adding them to the first comment directly beneath your post, once your post is published.
A lot of brands use this tactic not only to have their hashtags seen, but to also keep post captions tidy - having a bunch of hashtags right beneath a caption can appear messy, and this isn’t always a good thing for audiences who are viewing your content!
But don’t worry, you can still use up to 30 hashtags no matter where you place them!
Don’t forget hashtags in your Instagram Stories
If this isn’t already a part of your Instagram Story strategy, it totally should be.
Instagram Stories are a great tool for expanding awareness of your brand and driving traffic to your Instagram profile, because audiences don’t need to be following you in order to see your Stories!
Your IG Stories can actually show up in search through Instagram’s Explore page, and it’s sort of like free exposure because all you have to do is use a hashtag or two!
The next time you post an Instagram Story, add 2-3 relevant hashtags to the Story and monitor the Insights you get from each Story. You want to track whether engagement or viewership increased based on the hashtags you incorporated!
Don’t want people to see hashtags on your post? You can actually hide them by colour-matching the hashtags to the background colour of your Story!
Whatever your reason for using hashtags, make them count
The reality of Instagram marketing is that hashtags have been and remain one of the most effective ways to bring exposure and awareness to your brand on the platform! And as a small business, that exposure is priceless! So why not take advantage of the engagement you can create through targeted hashtags?!