11 best practices on Instagram hashtags for followers and reach

Brandon LazovicMay 7, 2018

Every social media platform has specific rules in place that should be followed to maximize your engagement and following, whether its with varying post-lengths, size-dimensions for photos or traffic-times. Hashtags are no exception and have become an integral part in content curation on these platforms, especially Instagram.

Below is a quick guide with 11 best practices to maximize Instagram hashtags for followers and reach.

1. Positive correlation with hashtags

11 best practices on Instagram hashtags for followers and reach hashtag positive correlation chart

Unlike various platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, there’s no negative-correlation with user engagement compared to how many hashtags are found in a post, so stuff away! While using close to the 30-hashtag limit is ideal for maximize visibility through reach, it’s important to consider the kinds of hashtags that you’re stuffing into your posts.

2. Long-tail vs. short-tail

When I refer to long-tail and short-tail, this hearkens back to search engine optimization (SEO) terms. Short-tail keywords are 1-2 words used in search queries in Google, whereas long-tail keywords are 3-4 word strings. Think of it as a Chinese dragon, where the “head” consists of short-tail keywords that compose the body. It’s long tail, while thinner than the main body, continually stretches on to account for 70 percent of searches.

Most audience queries per phrase fall within short-tail keywords, while long-tail phrases often receive less queries per phrase even though they account for that 70 percent of searches.

You might be thinking “why would I ever use keywords that are incredibly specific and garner less searches when compared to specific short-tail keywords?”

The beauty in long-tail is because they’re lower competition, they’re more specific and they can more readily answer a searcher’s query because we have a better idea of what piece of information they’re looking for.

11 best practices on Instagram hashtags for followers and reach long-tail and short-tail keyword illustration

We can use this analogy to analyze the kinds of hashtags that we’re using. Although hashtags aren’t really meant to be long phrases, this technique can be applied to using hashtags that have less searches compared to more popular hashtags.

By using “long-tail” hashtags, our posts have a better chance of being seen by other users in that category, but you need to consider the number of searches a hashtag has before throwing it into your post. If the number is above 100,000, the chances of your hashtag being seen is severely diminished as dozens of other users will most likely be posting at the same time as you within that hour. On the flip side, if your hashtag has less than 1,000 searches, then it’s probably too specific and won’t garner any reasonable engagement because very few people are looking for it.

My golden rule is to use hashtags with 5,000-100,000 searches, but I will sprinkle in a few popular hashtags with hundreds of thousands or even millions of searches to try to boost my engagement as quickly as possible for my posts.

Instagram’s algorithm is like Facebook’s in that it will analyze the number of favorites that your post gets within the first hour and only show it to 10 percent of your total following. If your post doesn’t receive enough engagement, Instagram will be less likely to promote it to the rest of your audience and it’ll be buried in the newsfeed, making it essential to get as many favorites as possible within that one-hour time window.

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3. Adding hashtags in comments or directly in post?

There’s a lot of arguments floating about in social media groups as to whether adding hashtags directly in your post body is a best practice. After trying out both methods I haven’t seen any difference in the amount of engagement I’ve received, so in my opinion it’s a matter of aesthetic preference. Adding hashtags in your comments section looks better, but it won’t cause any drastic change in your post engagement.

4. Using hashtags in your profile

If your Instagram profile is used to post about specific niche topics, adding hashtags in your bio is a great way to increase visibility in that specific niche. A best practice is to include 1-3 specific hashtags that you want to be found for.

5. Using unique hashtags for more Instagram followers

Going off tip #5, if you’re aiming to build your brand presence using unique hashtags is a great way to curate content. It most likely won’t lead to that hashtag being used by a bunch of people in their posts about your brand, but it does serve the purpose of organizing your content in its own specific hashtag so users can search for it and see the latest posts via their search bar instead of your profile.

6. Location-based hashtags

Studies have proven that adding your location to posts will drive more engagement and visibility. You can apply this to adding specific location-based hashtags to your posts, so if you’re visiting a cool location or posting a photo in well-populated urban area, this can be a great way to get engagement and followers interested in your niche. Again, it’s important to follow rule #3 and do this if the hashtag is receiving a hefty amount of traffic compared to something that only garners a few hundred searches.

7. Hashtag generators

It can be a challenge typing out hashtags that you think will be successful in Instagram’s search bar and going line by line to add individual hashtags to the memo app in your phone or an open word document.

One of the biggest time savers for me when I don’t have an opportunity to perform a lot of research is to rely on a hashtag generator to curate a list of the most popular hashtags in a target category and pop those into my posts. Here are three of the hashtag generators that I use to curate hashtags:


11 best practices on Instagram hashtags for followers and reach hashtag generator hashtagify

The first hashtag generator on this list is awesome in that it will show you the popularity and trends of a specific hashtag that you add to the generator. This app can be used for either Twitter or Instagram, but will display related hashtags based on correlation, top influencer profiles who use that hashtag, spelling variants used and even the top six languages that use that hashtag. It’s very visual and useful in determining the popularity for your Instagram hashtags.


11 best practices on Instagram hashtags for followers and reach hashtag generator All-Hashtag

This second hashtag generator is my go-to when I’m in a time crunch. All-Hashtag curates the most popular hashtags based on the central hashtag that you search for in the generator. You can either choose to display the top 30 hashtags based on that category, or you can select the random hashtag option that will parse through and add random hashtags. I personally use the “top” hashtag generator option, which allows me to add in my own long-tail hashtags alongside the most popular ones for the best chance at an engagement spike within the first hour of posting. It isn’t as visual as Hashtagify, but it’s easier to use without performing a lot of research.


11 best practices on Instagram hashtags for followers and reach hashtag generator Rite-tag

Compared to the other two hashtag generators, Ritetag is unique in that it serves as an add-on to your browser that recommends hashtags based on photos or post text. It’s free to sign-up for the browser extension and I’ve found it to be helpful in deciding what hashtags to use if I’m posting an image and don’t have a clear idea as to what hashtags to include in my post. I’ve also used it to parse hashtags based on the first 100 words of the pieces on my blog, although doing it this way is hit or miss.

8. What is your competition using?

If you’re stumped on trying to figure out what hashtags to use, a great way to curate them is by looking at what your competition is using. I’ve done this with other profiles in the social media or digital marketing niches and found it helpful when I first started using Instagram. It allowed me to pick 10-12 hashtags from their posts and springboard into other ideas and get the creative juices flowing.

9. Adding hashtags to your Instagram stories

Another great use of hashtags is by incorporating them into your Instagram stories. Sprinkling 1-2 relevant hashtags in your caption will increase story exposure for users that are following specific hashtags on Instagram.

10. Diversify your hashtags with every post

This ties in with tip #2, but it’s important to diversify your hashtags so you aren’t reusing the exact same ones with each of your posts. By using the same hashtags, you’re limiting your audience reach by posting to the exact same audience who has already viewed your content. If you’re posting multiples times a day in more long-tail hashtags, these users are probably oversaturated with your content and most of them who are interested are already following you by this point.

Having said this, it’s difficult to create 30 brand new hashtags that are relevant with every one of your posts. What I typically do is reuse the same short-tail hashtags and sprinkle in new long-tail hashtags so I’m at least hitting a different audience who hasn’t viewed my content yet. I’ve also diversified my content each week so I’m not specifically sharing about strictly digital marketing.

My posts each week delve into public relations, social media tips, photography, content marketing and graphic design pieces, so if I need to recycle the same hashtags then I’m not oversaturating the audiences that I’m sharing with.

It’s also important to keep track of your hashtags and make sure that you aren’t sharing ones that have been shadow banned by Instagram. If you do unintentionally share a hashtag that has been shadow banned, your post will be flagged and either penalized by the algorithm or not even display at all.

11. Other Instagram tips

While hashtags are one of the best ways to boost engagement and gain followers, you will also need to look at other aspects of your Instagram strategy to maximize growth.

Here are a few things to consider when posting on Instagram:

Engage with followers

No one likes being sold to, especially on social media, necessitating that you engage with your followers. A good starting point is to leave meaningful comments on 5-10 follower posts a day, as well as comment on 5-10 posts in specific hashtag categories. Doing this will draw more engagement to your posts and accrue more followers interested in your profile.

Post frequently

Various social media platforms have different rules for posting frequency, but the standard practice for Instagram is to post 1-3 times a day without oversaturating your followers with your content. You can now schedule content through third-party schedulers such as Buffer and Planoly that allow you auto-post to your Instagram account.

Visual content is key

Instagram’s algorithm looks at the quality of visual content to determine whether your post is worth sharing or not. Your photos should be crisp, colorful or professional-quality to get maximum reach and engagement. Users will also engage more with posts that show human faces (unlike Pinterest) so take that into consideration when curating content. Check out my post about VSCO if you're looking to perform some mobile-editing to create stunning, Instagram-ready photos by clicking here.

Post at peak traffic times

If you have an Instagram business profile, the platform’s API will show you peak traffic times of your users based on the day of the week. Make sure that your most important posts are being shared at peak traffic times and that you aren’t posting when no one is looking because of that one-hour time window to get engagement on your posts.

Use a post scheduler for efficiency

In the past Instagram didn’t allow schedulers like Hootsuite or Buffer to automatically post content on your behalf. Things have changed since then and utilizing a content scheduler is a great way to save time instead of copying and pasting premade captions and hashtags into your post three times a day. You can also use apps like If This Then That (IFTTT) to automate posts and save time by cross-posting onto other social media platforms such as Pinterest or Twitter.

Instagram story highlights

When users visit your profile, you now have the option of adding Instagram stories highlights right below your bio. This is useful to give users an idea of what your profile is all about before delving into your posts. Although stories disappear after 24 hours, adding them as highlights ensures that they are permanently fixed to your profile.

Wrap-up of 11 best practices to maximize Instagram hashtags for followers

It might seem complicated to use hashtags to maximize your profile for followers and reach, but it’s easy when you get into a routine and develop established processes for curating hashtags. My key takeaways would be to diversify your hashtags, add as many as possible that are relevant to your target market and utilize hashtag generators to cut down on the curation process.

What did you think of this guide for optimizing your hashtags? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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