Instagram hashtags: are you using them effectively?
Harness the power of hashtags to help grow your Instagram account. We answer your questions and reveal our winning strategies and top resources.
Hey there! We are The Design Twins, Jodie & Julie. We’ve been creating on Instagram since 2014. It has been our passion ever since to not only post and engage but also to study Instagram. It’s always changing so we need to be informed so we can evolve with these changes. Since we are teachers at heart, we love sharing all that we learn with you. We firmly believe there’s room for us all to succeed. This post, updated in July 2019, will give you all the info you need to use hashtags to grow on Instagram.
Are you wondering if using hashtags is worth your valuable time and effort? Curious how to choose which ones to use? Wondering which ones are banned and which are safe to use? Are you sitting there asking yourself, “What is a hashtag?” Okay, we’re going to clear up all the confusion, break through the nonsense, and answer all your hashtag questions right here.
What is a Hashtag?
#: This fun little symbol called a hashtag is the ingenious way Instagram developers created to search their platform. You’ll notice when you go to search you have the choice of “Top,” “Accounts,” “Tags,” or “Places.” Obviously, hashtags are not the only way to search on IG, but they are still a very viable (and valuable) option.
Are Hashtags Worth Using?
It’s 2019 and there are rumors circulating that the end of hashtags is in sight. Instagram has announced nothing of the sort. People are hypothesizing about the future. We’ve heard recent arguments that hashtags are done, no longer relevant. Hashtags have been used and abused to the point of no return. Is it true? Are they a waste of time?
Here is what we know. As long as Instagram has them on the platform, they are a viable search tool and a viable way to gain traffic and visibility. It’s absolutely true that they don’t hold the power they used to. But we believe they are still worth your time and effort. A post with at least one Instagram hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag.
How Many Should I Use?
IG Limits: 30 per in-feed post, ten per story.
IG allows a maximum of 30 per post. We suggest using 15 or more relevant hashtags every time you post and one to five per story.
There are varying opinions about the number of hashtags to use per post. Differing opinions seem to be based on different niches. There are many communities within Instagram and practices are unique within each. What is looked upon negatively in one is accepted behavior in another. Pay attention to this because your followers’ feelings and judgments are as real and powerful as the algorithm itself.
As far as Instagram is concerned, they created hashtags as a search tool. As long as you are following Instagram guidelines, which we will go over in detail, you should use as many relevant hashtags within their limits. If you don’t it’s like leaving money on the table. But be sure to count. Just this morning I forgot to count and over-estimated. IG posted my picture and deleted my entire text.
Where Should I Put Them?
We used to add them to a comment immediately following this post. With the crackdown on spam-like activity, we have read reports that Instagram sees this as potential spam activity. The correlation may have started because users began using a hack strategy. Many accounts were adding more than the 30 hashtag limit. They tried to fool the algorithm and “get away” with using 60, 90 or more by adding them in comments. It’s not entirely clear where the algorithm stands now, but this is why we prefer to stay safe and keep our hashtags in our posts.
Create Some Space
If you want to add hashtags without distracting from your text create some space between your text and the hashtags. Use some type of symbol to reserve the space (otherwise IG will delete the empty space) and enter all your hashtags there. They are still be within the post itself but will not distract as much from your text. I use a simple period.
How Do I Choose Hashtags?
Do your hashtag homework. Maybe once a week I go through my feed and IG home decor community and write down trending hashtags. It’s important to check to see which are banned hashtags. Find new ones to keep relevant and fresh. Basically, I do my homework.
Here are some key pointers:
- Make hashtags relevant. If they are not you only succeed in annoying people.
- People follow hashtags to see relevant content, so your picture better fit the hashtag.
- Anyone can click on “don’t show for this hashtag” and your account is reported for showing irrelevant content for a hashtag. Obviously, this is not good for your account.
- Use a few bigger, more general (but always relevant) tags.
- Bigger tags have more chance of being abused. When hashtags are abused Instagram will put a ban on them, either temporarily or permanently. Check to make sure they aren’t banned in this banned hashtag tool.
- Unfortunately, there is no complete list because banned and broken hashtags are changing all the time, from one day to the next. So, you have to do your research.
- Use smaller, more specific tags.
- Spread the types of tags around, think of it as “sprinkling love around IG.” You want a variety of people searching for a variety of reasons to come across your pictures and be pleased they have done so!
- Change things up all the time. Don’t get stuck in a rut or your audience will be stuck too.
Best Hashtag Guidelines
Besides the IG restriction of no more than 30 per post there are no “rules,” just guidelines. IG does not want you to use them to generate artificial growth so there is a risk to random use and overuse. With the algorithm’s fight against spam we need to be cautious with how we use them and which ones we choose.
- Check to make sure the ones you use are not banned.
- Use smaller, more specific ones to stay safer.
- Always choose relevant hashtags.
- Don’t add them in a comment. IG thinks this is “spam-like.”
Use Shortcuts to Save Time
Many of us have discovered the help of saving lists in our notes section of our phones. Create a list, and then copy and paste your most relevant list into the bottom of your post. There are some downsides to this, but it’s good to use when necessary to help save time and help you remember.
Tips if you are going to use this method:
- Prepare. Have multiple lists.
- Don’t use the same for every post.
- Adjust them to fit the specific post. Add specific hashtags that describe what you can actually see in the photo or describe what you actually talked about in the text.
- Check the list for relevance. Delete any hashtags that don’t fit the specifics of this post.
- Update saved lists. About once a week go through saved lists and delete outdated hashtags, add trending hashtags, check for banned & broken hashtags.
Hashtag Groups and Hashtag Challenges
What is a Hashtag Group or Hashtag Challenge?
It is a group of like-minded IG accounts, usually friends, in the same niche who come together to host a hashtag in the hopes of drawing attention to their feeds and gain followers.
First, A Little History
Design challenge games have been a favorite method for accounts in the Home Decor Community on Instagram to get found. It worked very powerfully until there was an overload.
Before the design challenge games people would play a game of tag using the #WIDN (what I’m doing now). And it was just a friendly way to mention each other and open up a little conversation. Things were very casual and informal back then.
I remember when some of the very first hashtag design challenges were created. It was a totally novel concept, and they only happened on specific days. It was a big deal. After those first hashtag challenges, groups slowly developed, but it was a gradual thing. The challenges were carefully crafted and the rules meticulously laid out. People played along with careful planning hosts were equally diligent in responding. Hosts took their responsibilities as seriously as the people playing took their posting. Winning was a coup d’etat, a real feat. Because the rules were so strict about following hosts, accounts leading the groups really benefited.
Fast Forward to 2019
Interesting how things have evolved. For a period of time hashtag challenges took over our entire home decor niche. It became excessive and overwhelming. There were entirely too many to keep up with. Because of the sheer numbers they lost their impact. Also, people were annoyed and exhausted by so many. The result of course was they started to fade out. By now, most of us have moved on.
There are now only a few group hashtags sprinkled around. The ones that still exist try to have “rules” but only a relatively small number of people participate accordingly. Few people have the time or energy to keep track of the finer details. Most people are happy enough to be aware of hashtags and try to use them.
With most hashtag groups if you want to win and be featured you still need to follow the hosts and play by their guidelines. This can still be a great way to gain attention if you are a smaller account. If you have the time to devote there certainly is no harm in following these hosts and trying to make new friends and even win a featured spot.
Best Use of Time
The main thing to remember is the time factor. Whether you are hosting or participating in hashtag group challenges it takes time. Time is our most valuable commodity.
We believe your best use of time is spent creating quality content and engaging authentically. If you still feel you have extra time on your hands, then maybe give it a try. Everyone’s journey is different. Everyone’s audience is unique. Try it out, and gauge for yourself if it seems worth your time. Ask your followers their opinion. Talk to them in your posts and stories and ask them directly. Remember, you need to please the followers you have. You won’t grow if you aren’t focused on your followers.
What are the Benefits to Creating and Hosting a Group Hashtag?
- By hosting a hashtag group or challenge you are saying to the community, I’m here, I’m committed and part of this community.
- Listing it in your bio does add a bit of credibility and it can help define your focus.
- There are always some people paying close enough attention and you can gain followers.
- You can connect with the other hosts in your behind-the-scenes direct message conversations.
- It’s great to occasionally feature inspiration from someone else. It is a win-win.
- By joining with more accounts, you can potentially gain more attention from each other’s audiences.
Important Guidelines for Featuring
- Best etiquette; ask them in advance to make sure reposting is okay with them.
- Never alter someone’s photo. Don’t make it smaller, don’t change the editing, and don’t put words of any kind on it. (Without express permission from the owner of the photo.)
- Next, give clear credit, preferably at the beginning. Mention their name and their IG handle.
- Finally, tag them in the photo, so they are notified of the posting.
Can You Host Too Many Hashtag Groups?
Absolutely. Mainly because it doesn’t leave a lot of room for sharing and creating original content. This is the true hallmark of a great feed. I personally don’t want to see a feed full of hashtag games and features.
In addition, “advertisement” posts for hashtags that have words splashed over them is very distracting and not aesthetic. Don’t forget, Instagram is a visual platform. Nothing is more powerful than beautiful photos. If a feed is sacrificing beautiful photos on a regular basis it is not a winning strategy.
Finally, when a group of people all post the same picture as a feature (winning) post it dilutes the power of the post. Neither Instagram nor the audience wants to see repetitive content. A strong, exciting feed is one with plenty of original, fresh content. You can avoid this caveat by each choosing your own winner. Features should still be a smaller portion of your feed unless you want to be an account that just curates others’ work.
Creating Your Own Brand Hashtag
Create your own hashtag. Whether you are an influencer, a brand, or you just started your Instagram account, don’t let another day go by without creating your own hashtag.
Why? Because you are creating a brand. Think big. Think into the future. You want your name, your brand, your style, and everything you do to be recognizable, identifiable, powerful and searchable. If your followers also follow your hashtag it also gives people who love you two ways to follow and twice the chance to see your posts.
What should it be? We recommend choosing your IG handle or something with your handle in the name. First, double check this as an existing hashtag and see what comes up. If it is already a big hashtag, it won’t be recognized as you, so you’ll have to get a little more creative. In addition, if some weird stuff comes up you don’t want to use it otherwise you will become associated with that weird stuff.
Add it to your bio. It becomes clickable in your bio and helps spread your brand awareness and influence. It will help people view you as a real brand, see that you are “one to follow” and also provide two ways for you to show up in their feeds.
Add it to every post & story series. Get in the habit of including your brand hashtag on every single post you create. Put it on everything you do including your stories.
Call to action. Remind your followers to follow your hashtag for more opportunities to see what you share. Give them incentives, i.e. regularly featuring those who use your hashtag etc. Jodie and I do this by sharing in our stories on a regular basis. But you can get creative!
Create Seasonal Hashtags
Remember, Instagram is of the moment. You need to be part of what’s happening. You need to be on-trend and trending. How do you participate in trending hashtags? Create your own seasonal hashtags. We recommend incorporating your brand name in it, or at least part of it. This is so you are always tied to your hashtags. Think of it as free advertising for your brand.
It should make sense for your niche, your audience, and your brand. Get creative. Get your followers involved. Build your engaged community using hashtags. Reward them for sharing.
You can choose to list your seasonal hashtag on your bio. Since space is limited, Jodie and I usually only list our trending hashtag in our bios.
Hashtags for the Win
Those are the strategies, opinions, and resources that guide our hashtag use. Yes, it takes time (and commitment), but if you want to win in this Instagram game you need to play the game. Hashtags have the power to give your posts that added boost to get them found. They have the power to attract new, interested audiences to your feed if you use them correctly.
Creating your own brand hashtag and seasonal brand hashtags is a great way to build authority and use the power of Instagram to build your community. Is it worth the time and effort? Most definitely.
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