Best Practices for Using Instagram Hashtags in 2018
February 7, 2018
Ohhh Insta hashtags.
This is a topic I probably get asked about the most from clients, friends, and followers, and for good reason- they are FRUSTRATING, because:
1. Depending on where you look and who you talk to, you're more than likely going to get conflicting information.
2. Hashtag rules have and continue to change every few months it seems.
That being said, with so many changes being made to Instagram lately, I knew it was a great time to do an update for you all and myself. So I did lots of research and compiled a list of what seemed to me to be good information- meaning it came from credible sources, it had research and data to back it up, and it was written or updated in 2018.
Please note, I'm in this game with ya'll and I'm also implementing new strategies and learning as I go. Some of these strategies I'm about to list are new to me, but I do plan on giving them a shot and I will definitely do an update!
Here are the topics covered in this blog: - What are hashtags and why you should be using them
- How many hashtags you should use in your posts
- Where you should place your hashtags
- How to choose your hashtags
- How to choose your hashtags strategically
- The 10 x 10 x 10 hashtag strategy
- Use hashtags in your insta-stories
- How to not get shadow-banned
WHAT ARE HASHTAGS AND WHY SHOULD YOU BE USING THEM
A hashtag is a singular word, or series of words, that is marked with a hash symbol (#) that help Instagram to organize content in order to present it to the right users. Hashtags can be placed within a caption, in a comment, or now you can use up to 10 hashtags in your Instagram stories.
Hashtags are beneficial to use in your posts because they allow for your content to be categorized so new users, who otherwise probably would not have as easily stumbled across your page, can find you, possibly resulting in additional likes/followers/sales.
HOW MANY HASHTAGS SHOULD YOU USE IN YOUR POSTS
Like mentioned above, there's a lot of conflicting information out there and for this sub-topic it's especially true.
Some people argue using more than 10-15 hashtags is spammy and can result in a shadow-ban, but that's simply not true. Instagram allows 30 hashtags for a reason; if they didn't like when we utilized all 30, then they would lower the limit.
The only time it gets spammy or you're risking a shadow-ban is when you choose banned hashtags or hashtags that are not relevant to the content you are posting. I explain how to avoid both, below.
WHERE YOU SHOULD PLACE YOUR HASHTAGS
Remember, you can place your hashtags either in the caption of your post or in the comment underneath, if you like a cleaner look, like myself. Instagram's official help page states that wherever you choose to post your hashtags does not matter, your content will still show up.
However, I've seen lately that if you've transitioned to the business profile you will want to include your hashtags within your caption so you can see hashtag-related insights.
*One of the perks of having a business profile is being able to access insights for your page and also for each of your individual posts. Included in these insights are how many people "discover" your content specifically from the hashtags you used. This is great information to gauge whether or not the hashtags you choose are actually working for you, or if you need to switch them up.
I have had a business profile for two years, have always placed my hashtags in the comments, and I am currently still able to see hashtag-specific insights.
Maybe this new rule is a slow roll-out, or maybe they mean you won't be able to see hashtag insights if you've recently transitioned from a personal to a business page and place hashtags in the comments.
But either way, if you have a business profile I would continue to keep an eye on it, just in case.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR HASHTAGS
This is where you need to invest your time, friends.
The days of throwing #likeforlike #love #pretty #fbf #girl and hoping for the best are longggg gone. If you want hashtags to work for you, which they totally can, you gotta put in some work too.
There are different categories of hashtags and a good rule of thumb is to create lists- yes, multiple lists of 30 hashtags (I explain why below) using hashtags from each category.
Searchable Term Hashtags: These are relevant to the image and/or content you are posting.
Put yourself in the shoes of who would be searching for your image or content and try and think of what they would search.
Location Hashtags: These hashtags are helpful when trying to get discovered in your local area, or wherever you are at the time.
Ex. If you're a photographer and shoot a wedding at a particular venue like the Opryland Hotel, you'll want to use the venue's hashtag that way future brides planning their wedding at that venue will come across your work, and hopefully want to hire you.
This is a broader location hashtag for anyone searching a specific city/state.
If you sell products or have a store in a certain area, you'll want to include the town and city hashtags in your content to raise awareness and attract more business.
These are hashtags specifically related to your industry that would typically be used by your peers. These are beneficial to include because they can help you get noticed and featured in your field, and even potentially create sponsorship/referral opportunities.
* Look to industry leaders and other influencers and brands in your niche to get ideas of community hashtags they’re using so you can add those to your hashtag lists as well!
Ex. If you sell Mary Kay makeup, you could add: #MaryKay #teammk #lovemarykay
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR HASHTAGS STRATEGICALLY
A common mistake people make when choosing hashtags are compiling a list of very popular hashtags, meaning the hashtags have upwards of hundreds of thousands or millions of entries.
If you are wanting to use hashtags strategically, then using this tactic alone will do nothing for you, unless you're a massive brand with a comparable number of followers.
Here's why: your goal is to appear in the "top posts" of a hashtag, because when people search a specific hashtag, those are the first 9 images they see, and if your content is there that means more opportunity for your page and content to be discovered.
The "top posts" are the most popular posts under that specific hashtag, meaning they got the most engagement. So when you use a hashtag like #makeuptutorial which has been used in almost 7 million posts, you're competing with almost 7 million people to get into the "top posts" section.
If you take a look at the top posts under this hashtag, they all have thousands of likes or video views. Unless you are getting similar engagement on your posts, you will not show up in #makeuptutorial top posts. At best, you will appear within the "most recent" section but your content moves down with every new piece of content posted after yours.
A more strategic idea would be to create a list of hashtags you want to use, that accurately describes your content, then individually search each one.
If the hashtag is too popular, Instagram brilliantly gives you a list of "related" hashtags that you can click through until you find ones that have a lower population.
For accounts with less than 10,000 followers, a good rule of thumb is to choose the majority of your hashtags with less than 75,000 entries.
But again, take the time to see how much engagement the top posts are getting for the particular hashtag you want to use, to better determine whether your post has a shot in being featured.
There's a new strategy that is gaining interest that I'm going to give a shot because the reasoning behind it is compelling...
THE 10 x 10 x 10 HASHTAG STRATEGY
Although the hashtag strategy described above makes sense logically and has worked decently for me for the past six months or so, it is flawed to a degree.
Yes, I am choosing hashtags that I'd be more likely to score a top spot in, but the hashtags themselves are pretty specific, and I currently average about 10 discoveries from hashtags per post- so it's nothing too significant.
Now, I'm seeing more articles on something called the 10 x 10 x 10 strategy, with the goal to get your content featured on the "explore" page on Instagram.
If you get featured on the explore page, that's an opportunity for your content to "go viral" aka get hundreds to thousands of new eyes on your page- even better- from an audience that is interested in your niche.
The strategy is as follows, create a list of 30 hashtags comprised of: 10 Smaller Hashtags (10,000 to 50,000 total posts) 10 Mid-size Hashtags (50,000 to 200,000 total posts) 10 Large Hashtags (200,000 – 2,000,000 total posts)
According to an article written by Jumper Media, "if you use this method with the right content, and get a little lucky, you will be able to 'scale up.' You’ll get a handful of likes from being on the top posts of the smaller hashtags, a few more from the mid-size ones, etc. etc. until you have so much engagement that the algorithm decides to try you out on the Explore Page."
USE HASHTAGS IN YOUR INSTASTORIES
Although this feature is underutilized, it's still another way for your content to be discovered by a new audience. Using the geo-location in your stories is also helpful for the same reason.
You can add up to 10 hashtags to your story by using the hashtag sticker or the type-tool.
A good tip to consider so you don't make your story visually messy would be to minimize each hashtag significantly, or hide them under a sticker!
HOW TO NOT GET SHADOW BANNED
If you're not sure what the "shadow ban" is, it's basically Instagram's way of punishing you for being spammy and/or not following their rules.
Long story short, if you're shadow banned, your content does not show up in any of the hashtags you choose and there were rumors that you would get far less organic reach within your followers, also.
Instagram never came out and said they were doing this, but people figured it out for themselves once they started noticing drops in engagement.
Best practices to avoid getting shadow banned:
1. do not attempt to use more than 30 hashtags.
2. check every single hashtag to make sure it is not currently banned. Instagram bans specific hashtags from time to time when there is an increase in inappropriate content.
How to know if a hashtag is banned:
- search the hashtag you are wanting to use
- if the hashtag is NOT banned, there will be a "top posts" section and directly underneath a "most recent" section.
- if the hashtag IS banned, there will be a top posts section, there will NOT be a "most recent" section, then after you scroll for a bit there will be a disclaimer like the one shown here under the #beautyblogger hashtag.
3. Switch up your list of hashtags. It's tempting to create one good list of 30 hashtags, then copy/paste after every post, but Instagram could possibly see this as you being spammy and penalize you.
Take the time to create a list of over 30 hashtags then mix them up into a few lists of 30 each. It is okay to use some of the same hashtags in multiple lists, you'll just want to be sure to switch up the order.
4. Post relevant content.
We now have the ability to follow hashtags! Which means if a user is following a specific hashtag you use on a post, your post could potentially show up automatically in their feed even if they aren't following you.
But be warned, with this new feature if someone comes across your image and does not think it is relevant for that specific hashtag they're following, they have the ability to mark your content as something they don't want to see by clicking "Don't Show for this Hashtag" on your image.
This is meant to help Instagram better learn what kind of content each user enjoys, but if too many of your posts get flagged it will negatively affect all of your other content, as well.