Instagram’s algorithm is constantly changing, meaning the way hashtags work sometimes adapts, too. As social media marketers, we have to constantly keep up to date with trending topics and updates to work out the right tags to use. Thankfully, a core hashtag strategy seems to be standing the test of time. Whether you use them to gain followers, increase reach, or get more likes, this guide provides eight simple tips to improve your hashtag strategy.
Research, don’t just write
While it can be tempting to copy out any hashtags which seem relevant to your content, this is not effective. You may find you get great results on some posts and not on others, and it can be for a number of reasons which will be detailed later. To begin research, type associated words into the Instagram search bar to discover a range of related tags. My top tip is to keep a list of hashtags which have proven to be successful with your audience so you can apply them to future posts. Be sure to update this when you find new ones, and when old ones are no longer successful.
Use between 7-15 hashtags
There is a huge debate around the number of hashtags to put on an Instagram post. Spoiler alert: the number isn’t the most important factor. Instagram uses hashtags to categorise a post, allowing it to be shown to the most relevant audience on Explore and Feed. Whilst you can use up to 30, this can look unprofessional and can confuse the categorisation process. Alternatively, too few can limit your audience. Between 7 and 15 will make sure your post will be shown to the people most likely to interact with it, without muddying your message.
Use a diverse range of relevant words
Chosen tags need to make sense and relate to the content which they associate to. Trending and popular tags are great for reach, but will reduce interactions if they are not relevant, worsening your engagement rate. That said, make your tags as diverse as possible. Think about obscure links to your content, but make sure the link is clear so that the audience that is reached will be engaged.
Sometimes, when researching hashtags, you will stumble across a community which you can approach. Ensure the group is engaged by browsing the interactions, and observe the language and other hashtags they use. I recently wrote some content about giraffes, and the active community following the tags I used generated a huge upsurge in engagement. Another great example is the up-and-coming mid size fashion movement, who often support one another’s posts through comments and saves. Consider the demographics of the community and adjust your language and posting times accordingly, and watch your insights soar.
Avoid controversial and pushy words
While there are no banned hashtags per se, Instagram is very clear on its recommendations guidelines, and are open about not promoting low-quality, objectionable, or sensitive content. This means that words associated with politics, controversial topics, or selling can often be sent to the lower end of the algorithm. There are exceptions of course: if your community is very active about a controversial topic, for example climate change, there is potential to see results and engagement. If Instagram sees that users have interacted with a topic in the past, it shows them more.
Choose hashtags with 1K-1M uses
As a general guideline, hashtags between one thousand and one million uses have a track record of being most successful. They hit the sweet spot where enough users have engaged with and are following a topic, but have not been used so many times that it would be difficult for your post to be seen. It’s important to note that these values are at the extreme end of the scale, and I would rarely use ones that large or small. My recommendation would be to use hashtags with a variety of sizes, big and small, to maximise the audience.
Change your hashtags with every post
In the same way Instagram doesn’t promote imagery which has been posted before, hashtags which you use too many times also affect your ranking. Whilst it is unlikely that you would reuse the same hashtags in every post that you produce, you might have one hashtag relating to your business or field which you always use. Do your research and find related hashtags which you can swap out, and if you run a campaign try not to use your tag in every post. Don’t be afraid of a bit of overlap, but be aware that mixing things up will reach new audiences, and rank you higher within your existing.
Capitalise each word
Last, but certainly not least, capitalising hashtags is a top tip that a lot of marketers miss out on. This is essential for three main reasons. The first is accessibility: blind people who use screen readers can only hear hashtags correctly when each word is capitalised. The second is legibility: capitalisation makes multiple words much easier to read. Finally, there are lots of examples of hashtag fails where not capitalising has led to misinterpretation. A terrible example is the release of Susan Boyle’s new album, which was tagged #susanalbumparty. I’ll leave you to your imagination, but if capitalised, it would have correctly read #SusanAlbumParty, and the fiasco would have been avoided… unless her PR did this on purpose.
Hashtags can have a greater influence on Instagram than a lot of people first think. Using them strategically will produce a positive influence on your feed ranking, and subsequently enable you to achieve your objectives. For more insights into Instagram’s algorithm, read my last blog, How Instagram’s new transparent approach affects our strategy.