The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags

The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags 2019

September 15, 2019

Updated September 2019

This is the easiest and most effective beginner’s guide to Instagram hashtags for marketers and small businesses.

Become a hashtag master in minutes!

Learn how many hashtags to use, what types will get you noticed in the feeds, and where to put them.

Plus you get a bonus.

The Instagram Hashtag Cheat Sheet section gives you 18 tips for dominating the Instagram hashtag feed.

If you want to grow your audience on Instagram – #YouWillLoveThisGuide!

Let’s get started.

Instagram Hashtags 101 – An Introduction for Beginners

This section is for people who’ve never used hashtags before, or who aren’t sure how they should be used.

If you’re experienced with hashtags, you can skip this section and go directly to How to Choose Hashtags

What are Hashtags?

A hashtag is a word or phrase with the # sign before it. It’s used in social media to tag a piece of content to an on-platform category search.

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For example, if you’re selling chocolate brownies you might add the hashtags #ChocolateBrownies and #ChocolateLovers to your Instagram post.

When an Instagrammer wants to browse posts created for chocolate lovers, she types #ChocolateLovers in the search box, which turns up a feed of all Instagram content containing that hashtag.

Here’s an example of an Instagram post by Fedex that includes hashtags within and at the end of the post.

Instagram post by Fedex that includes hashtags in the post and at the end of the post

Instagram allows users to include up to 30 hashtags per post.

When brands include a lot of hashtags in a post, they usually find a way to separate them from the message so the visuals don’t get overwhelming.

To do this, users often put hashtags in the 1st comment of a post instead of in the caption. Or, they find a way to separate the hashtags from the message as HubSpot does in the example below.

On Instagram, users follow hashtag feeds to discover new content on their favorite topics.

Who Invented the Hashtag?

In 2007, product designer Chris Messina was working with a small group of designers and using a “small social network called Twitter” to communicate.

He liked the way the pound symbol was used in chatrooms to display categories, and thought it would be a good idea to use them to organize discussions on Twitter.

first hashtag source cnbc
Source: CNBC

When Messina brought the idea to Twitter, the administration replied with a “no,” explaining they thought it was “nerdy” and that it would never catch on.

Chris convinced his friends to use the symbol anyway. It eventually caught on and became adopted by Twitter users. Two years later, Twitter added a “search hashtag” option to its growing platform.

Interestingly, Messina did not file for a patent on the hashtag because A.) he felt it would hinder the adoption of hashtag usage, and B.) he felt hashtags “belong to the internet” and should be owned by no one.

The value and satisfaction I derive from seeing my funny little hack used as widely as it is today is valuable enough for me to be relieved that I had the foresight not to try to lock down this stupidly simple but effective idea.” – Chris Messina, Inventor of the hashtag

Why are Hashtags Such a  Big Deal on Instagram?

Hashtags help you expand your reach and grow your audience.

Instagram’s 1 billion users love to interact with brands. More than 200 million of them visit at least one business profile daily, and 60% say they’ve discovered new products on Instagram.

Hashtags can be a massively successful way for you to reach target customers and grow your following on Instagram.

According to research by Agora Pulse, Instagram posts with at least 1 hashtag resulted in a 70% increase in likes, and posts with hashtags had a 392% increase in comments over those without hashtags!

There is a catch to all this good news, though. You’re competing with 25 million business profiles and 2 million paid advertisers.

And, as with any social media platform, competition reduces reach.

We can help you with this!

Below, you’ll discover step-by-step instructions for choosing and using the right hashtags. We’ll walk you through all of the hashtag “lingo” and show you what types of hashtags work best.

You’ll learn how to research, choose, and publish hashtags that help your brand get noticed.

How to Generate Hashtag Ideas

When you include a hashtag in your post or story, , it helps people find you brand on Instagram.Good news! Sharelov’s Free Hashtag Ideas Tool helps you find hashtags for your Instagram posts!

The Hashtag Ideas Tool lets you instantly identify trending hashtags based on the keywords you enter.

For example, if you’re a fashion brands and you type “Outfit” into the search bar, you get a list of the most popular hashtags related to the keyword “Outfit”

The interface also lets you know how many hashtags you’ve included in your post:

You’ll never run out of hashtag ideas because the ideas tool makes it super-easy!

How Many Hashtags Should You Include in Each Post?

Instagram allows you to include up to 30 hashtags per post.

Before you go hashtag-crazy, it’s important to understand that more hashtags don’t always mean more traffic.

Spamming your readers with 30 different versions of a keyword can be annoying and probably won’t help improve your visibility, anyway.

The key to success with hashtags is to use them strategically. One well-researched hashtag is more valuable than 30 carelessly-chosen phrases.

For example, if you specialize in winter coats, choosing a general term such as #WinterCoats will do nothing but put you in a hashtag results feed with nearly 38,000 other posts about winter coats.

choosing a general term such as #WinterCoats will do nothing but put you in a hashtag results feed with nearly 38,000 other posts about winter coats.
Source: Instagram

However, if you get specific with your hashtag, for example #WarmWinterCoats, this puts you in a feed with less competition, raising the chances that your content gets discovered. It also narrows the target persona, improving your chances of building an audience that’s highly engaged with your brand

Warm Winter Coats hashtag
Source: Instagram

By narrowing your hashtag description, you’re able to better target a specific type of consumer PLUS you narrow the competition.

While there is data available on how many hashtags get the most engagement, one study after another offers conflicting results. One report says 5, another 10, another insists you must post all 30.

The reason for all of the conflicting data? Instagram added so many new features and updates in 2018 that it’s like publishing to a brand-new platform. We’re all still learning what works in the new Instagram.

The biggest change took place In December 2017 when Instagram expanded hashtag features by allowing users to follow hashtags (and unfollow brands within hashtag feeds).

Source: Instagram

This was a game-changing update and one that made all prior hashtag statistics unreliable. When Instagram changed the way we find and view hashtags, it, of course, affected how people respond to and interact with them.

So, reports stemming from Instagram hashtag research in 2014 – 2017 can be misleading because they’re outdated.

Hashtag usage is now so specific to your brand’s size and personality that you need to test and analyze the results for your own brand to find out what works best.

The question “How many hashtags should I add per post” can only be answered with “Always add at least one!”

From there, test and analyze the results to discover what works best for your audience.

6 Types of Hashtags Every Brand Should Use

When choosing hashtags for a post, first decide what type of hashtags you’d like to add. Below is a list of the types of hashtags commonly used on Instagram.

Source: Nintendo on Instagram

Campaign Hashtags

Campaign hashtags belong to specific marketing campaigns and contests.

Campaign hashtags are used for the length of a specific campaign, then expired once the campaign ends.

Coca Cola’s #ShareACoke is a good example of a popular campaign hashtag. Instead of retiring the hashtag, the company has reinvented and built on it as an annual summer campaign every year since 2014.

Coca Cola’s #ShareACoke
Source: Instagram #ShareACoke

The campaign is so popular that it’s expanded into merchandising that includes customized and gifted coke bottles.

Niche Hashtags

Niche hashtags connect your brand to a specific type of audience – usually one that is more likely to engage with and purchase from you.

For example, if you’re a marketer, you could include the hashtag #marketing in your Instagram posts. However, that would put your content in a feed with 22 million other posts.

Instead, try adding a descriptive term that narrows the field.

For example, a b2b marketer could use the hashtag #B2BMarketing to reach a more specific audience. This niche hashtag cuts the competition down to 123,000 posts.

Niche hashtags
Source: Instagram #B2BMarketing

Or, a local coffee shop might use the hashtag #IndependentCoffee instead of #Coffee to narrow the competition from 98 million #coffee posts down to 10,000 more-targeted posts.

Instagram IndependentCoffee hashtag
Source: Instagram #IndependentCoffee

As you can see, though, choosing a popular niche still lands your content into a feed with massive competition.

Niche more! Don’t settle for getting listed in a feed where your chances of getting discovered are about as slim as winning the lottery.

Instead, add an additional hashtag that narrows the results even more. For example:

#ContentMarketing: 1 million + posts

#ContentMarketingTip: 982 posts

#ContentMarketing2018: 47 posts

If you’re a small-to-medium sized business hoping to get seen, you can greatly improve your chances by narrowing your niche.

Location Hashtags

Location hashtags in posts and Stories are an excellent way to drive local customers to your store or event. They appear in searches when locals are looking for events, food, and attractions in your area.

Location hashtags can bring a lot of visibility to your brand, and should always be used if yours is a brick-and-mortar local business.

Event Hashtags

Event hashtags help promote specific events, and can act as mini super-heroes when it comes to increasing your following and boosting engagement.

In addition to using an event hashtag to promote an event, the hashtag is also used in offline promotions, as a way to drive traffic to your social media channels.

Industry Hashtags

Industry hashtags are generally used for brands and professionals who want to build a reputation within their industry or as a leader in their industry.

#Journalists, #Chef, and #Rugs are 3 examples of popular industry hashtags.

Industry hashtags are widely used and can often put you in a feed with millions of other posts.

So, consider whether your brand will have a chance to get noticed or if it will get lost among the tens of thousands of results in an industry hashtag search.

How to Research Hashtags for Your Brand

Once you’ve generated hashtag ideas, you’re ready to do some hashtag research.

Hashtag research is essential for brands that are serious about their success.

  • Usage research helps you to avoid going viral for all the wrong reasons.
  • Market research helps you make profitable choices.

Hashtag Usage Research

Usage research can help you avoid #HashtagFails.

What’s a hashtag fail? Picture this:

One minute you’re publishing a post that you’re proud of, and the next thing you know — your message box starts lighting up with thousands of angry users! Before you even make it back from lunch, your Instagram follower count takes a giant nosedive.

All because someone else used the same hashtag or acronym to promote hatred, porn, politics, or rumors you want no part of.

Hashtag usage research can help ensure that your brand doesn’t end up going viral for the wrong reasons. It’s a step you should never skip when using hashtags in your posts and stories.

How has your hashtag term been used in the past? Might it be misinterpreted? Are you using an acronym that has a second meaning? These are things you need to know before you publish hashtags with your posts and Stories.

Here’s how to research potential hashtags:

1. Run a Google search on your hashtag phrase.

Try running the phrase through Google without the hashtag sign. Try it with spaces between the words, and also without spaces.

Do everything you can to find out if your hashtag phrase might have potential 2nd meaning.

Example –  #nowthatcherisdead

When former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away, critics posted the news with the hashtag #nowthatcherisdead – intended to mean “Now Thatcher is Dead.”

This led to a viral rumor about American singer Cher because fans mistook the phrase to mean “Now that Cher is dead.”

2. Triple-check your acronyms and spelling.

Check with Google, social media platforms, and your team members to learn whether any of the acronyms in your hashtags have double-meanings.

Also, be sure to have at least one other person proofread your posts prior to publishing to check for spelling mistakes.

Example –  #WTFF

To promote its new low-fat french fries, Burger King created a #WTFF hashtag. Not only did the mishap make them look foolish, but it also put the restaurant among less-than-appealing company in the hashtag search results.

3. Run a hashtag search across multiple social media platforms.

Check your hashtag on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Google to find out if and how the phrase has been used in the past, or if it already has a meaning attached.

4. Put a team in place to help vet and edit hashtags.

A strong team made up of diverse personalities can be a great help when it comes to spotting potential hashtag problems.

Also, it’s important to have a team plan to remove or change hashtags immediately if things go wrong.

Example – #RoadkillNights

In August 2017, Dodge cars sponsored a “Roadkill Nights” racing event and promoted with the hashtag #RoadkillNights.

Unfortunately, it took place on the same weekend that an anti-racism protester was run down and killed by a white supremacist driving a Dodge Challenger.

In this case, vetting the hashtag wouldn’t have changed anything, but having a team in place to report issues and make changes quickly could have made a difference.

Dodge’s delay in removing the tweets caused neo-nazis to promote and revel in the mistake.

Hashtag Market Research

Researching your competition and your audience means you’ve got a better shot at competing in your industry.

When you conduct market research for hashtags, you’ll discover:

  • What hashtags aren’t working well for your competitors
  • What hashtags are trending and relevant in your industry

Start your market research by looking at the hashtags your competitors are using.

Your competitors have probably already done the hard work of researching and testing effective hashtags for your industry.

Don’t miss out on the chance to learn from their experiences!

For example, if you own a fitness studio you can save a lot of time by learning what hashtags are working for your local and big-name competitors.

By visiting Planet Fitness’s profile and viewing a few of its posts, we discovered that #MondayMotivation is a popular hashtag in the fitness industry.

From there, we head over to Gold’s Gym’s profile to peruse a handful of their posts. We  discover that they’re also using #MondayMotivation, plus another — #WorkoutMotivation.

While #MondayMotivation and #WorkoutMotivation are an excellent match for our small fitness center, they’re also very common hashtags. This means our chances of being seen in a hashtag search are pretty slim.

So, to find hashtags with less competition, we added a location to the search.

By typing “BostonFitness” into the Instagram search bar, we’re able to view a list of autocomplete suggestions that have the number of posts listed next to each title.

Instagram search bar
Source: Gold’s Gym on Instagram

We noticed that “Fitness Instructor” is a less-competitive search term, and selected that hashtag to view more.

The search for Boston fitness instructors turned up some great results. Here, we see phrases such as “pilates fusion” and “boston barre” being used as hashtags.

Now that we have more hashtag ideas, we run a hashtag search and learn that #BostonBarre has a low amount of competition (only 3000 posts), and it’s a great fit for our buyer persona.

#BostonBarre goes on the list of hashtags to be vetted!

We also found more fantastic hashtag ideas by browsing through posts in the #BostonBarre feed. These posts are using hashtags like #BackToBarre and #ReturnToWellness to promote their posts.

This type of manual research works for discovering effective hashtags for any type of product, service, or brand.

Remember to keep searching and narrowing the competition in order to position your brand into hashtag searches that are high volume and low competition.

Besides searching for effective industry hashtags, also research the other types of hashtags such as:

  • Local hashtags
  • Competitor hashtags
  • Event hashtags
  • Holiday hashtags

With all the work that goes into hashtag types, styles, and research, it can be tricky to know where to begin.

10 Hashtags to Get You Started

According to a recent report by Oberlo, the following 10 hashtags are excellent for getting “likes.” You might consider using them if they’re relevant to your business.

  1. #love
  2. #instagood
  3. #photooftheday
  4. #fashion
  5. #beautiful
  6. #happy
  7. #cute
  8. #tbt
  9. #like4like
  10. #followme

Instagram Hashtag Best Practices

Before you hit “publish,” be sure you’re following these hashtag best practices.

The 3 Golden Rules of Hashtags

Whether you’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or anywhere else – the 3 golden rules of hashtags apply:

  1. Don’t use spaces, symbols, or punctuation.
    Using any type of space, symbol, or punctuation within the hashtag phrase will prevent it from working properly.
  2. Do be sure your post is public.
    In order for your hashtag to show up on the platform’s search engine, it must be a public post.
  3. Always cap the first letter of every word. #AlwaysCapTheFirstLetter
    Caps make your phrases easier to read and help to clarify their meaning.

Where to Put Hashtags

1. Use hashtags in instagram posts.

Add at least 1 hashtag to every post and Story that your brand publishes on Instagram.

  • For posts, hashtags can be added within the message caption or at the end of it.
  • For multiple hashtags (more than 2-3), consider adding them into the first comment box after the post so they don’t show up in the caption. Or, add 5 extra lines by typing a period followed by the return key again and again – as in the example below. Or, add 5 extra lines by typing a period followed by the return key again and again – as in the example below.

Normally if you add 5 extra lines beneath your comment, the rest of the comment will collapse so that your hashtags are hidden from view when readers are browsing.

Separating a block of hashtags from your message or hiding them helps you avoid appearing “spammy” and annoying your readers.

2. Use hashtags in Instagram Stories.

Hashtags in Stories can be placed as text, a sticker, or within a location tag. Try adding one per story to begin with, then track your results along the way.

3. Use hashtags in your Instagram business bio.

Placing a hashtag in your Instagram business bio automatically creates a link to that hashtag feed. However, it doesn’t place your bio in the search results. Because of that, a branded or campaign hashtag might work well, but an industry or general hashtag in your bio will only drive people away from your content.

Instagram Hashtag Cheat Sheet

18 Tips for Instagram Hashtag Dominance

Now that you have the hashtag basics down, let’s take a look at some of the most helpful hashtag tips to get you off to a strong start.

  1. Make sure all your hashtags are well-researched and relevant.
  2. Avoid generic hashtags that put you in a generalized feed – they won’t help you.
  3. Count your hashtags carefully! If you accidentally post more than 30, your content won’t show up at all.
  4. Keep an eye on your competition for new and trending industry hashtags.
  5. Avoid #HashtagsThatAreTooLong because it’s unlikely people will search for or remember them.
  6. Don’t let your hashtag become a bashtag! Run the phrases by your team and conduct user research before publishing.
  7. Follow your branded hashtag. This will help you discover what other people are saying about you. It’s also a good idea to follow your other main hashtags to keep an eye on what’s trending in your industry.
  8. Have a team plan for removing or editing hashtags quickly if something goes wrong.
  9. Be sure your post is public and contains no spaces, symbols or punctuation.
  10. Capitalize the first letter of every word #ToMakeReadingEasy
  11. Keep your hashtags organized! Use a spreadsheet to store and track hashtag results.
  12. Use your keywords. Hashtags are a great way to take advantage of your best keywords.
  13. Track, test, analyze – rinse and repeat! Take advantage of Instagram Insights to learn which hashtags are driving new followers in increasing engagement. Continually test, experiment, and improve on your hashtag usage.
  14. Always add hashtags at the time of publication. If you add a hashtag after your content has posted, it doesn’t update in the hashtag feed.
  15. Create a hashtag strategy. Document a plan to incorporate the different types of hashtags across different content such as images, videos, and stories. Include special events and holiday promotions in your hashtag strategy.
  16. Market your hashtags. Post hashtags at events, in-store, and in emails to encourage participation – especially for contests and special events.
  17. Go niche-crazy on your hashtags. You don’t have to skip listing a couple popular ones, but be sure to take advantage of niche areas where people are searching but competition is low.
  18. Always engage! Responding to comments is important, otherwise all your hashtag work is lost!

Instagram hashtags hold endless possibilities for businesses wanting to grow an audience and boost engagement on the rapidly-growing social platform.

Unlike other platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, Instagram users embrace the use of hashtags and frequently use them to discover new brands.

Remember to bring your team in on the process of creating and publishing hashtags, to help spark new ideas that can reach more people.

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What do you think? How have hashtags helped your brand on Instagram? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments section below!