Hashtags: Why the F They’re So Important + Best Practices

Today we are going to talk about hashtags, specially for instagram, and why the "f" they’re SO important. I’ll also be sharing with you best practices so you can be sure to do them properly yourself.

Annnnd quick disclaimer. In order to do hashtags properly, it does require research and upfront work on your part. However, if you take an hour to do this right, you’re set for a long long time. Then, even after a few months all you have to do is update your lists from time to time. I highly recommend you take the time to do this really well, because it will be worth it. ANNNND from all the years doing this for myself and for other businesses, I have my own hashtag strategy down to a science and it works really well.

If you'd rather skip to the part where I teach you how to

create your own custom lists, step-by-step:

Also, don't forget..

If you join my Hashtag #likeaBoss Workshop, you get a download of 100+ hashtag lists completely done FOR you- FOR FREE!! (created/updated in May 2020)

To kick this off, let’s start out with why hashtags are SO important for your instagram strategy. First of all, hashtags are an effective and free way to grow your audience. They exist so that Instagram and other platforms like Twitter can categorize and organize content. I want you to start thinking of hashtags as individual audiences themselves.

You are allowed to use up to 30 hashtags per post, so that is 30 different audiences you could be showcasing your content to. Meaning, if you aren’t using hashtags on your posts at all, or if you aren’t using them wisely- which we’ll talk about- then you're essentially throwing away several opportunities to further expand your audience and customer base.

I just looked at a few of my recent posts on instagram. I have a business account, so I can see analytics for each post, which tells me how many followers I’ve gained from the hashtags I use on each post. On average I gain about 8 new followers each time I make a post. I post on average 4 times a week. If you do the math that’s at least 128 new followers a month and 1,536 new followers a year just from people who have found me via hashtags. That’s pretty significant.

Now, would I suggest using hashtags as your only growth strategy and means for getting discovered on instagram? No. I definitely recommend using some other growth strategy in addition to proper hashtag usage. Still, 1,500+ new targeted followers is too good to pass up for a few seconds of extra work.

And how do I know they're so targeted? I know because there's been countless women who I’ve gotten into conversations with who tell me they found me from a hashtag. I have a pretty cool story here too. Not too long ago I got a direct message from Jaleh Bisharat who was in the process of launching a major clean skincare and cosmetic brand, NakedPoppy. She messaged me because she liked the content I was creating and was wanting social media advice for her up and coming business launch.

Jaleh and I ended up collaborating on a couple g-chats together, and I came to find out that she found me through her own hashtag research. All because I used a few hashtags strategically, I now have connections with this incredible entrepreneur who is co-founder of a major beauty brand.

Long story short, you need to be using hashtags, BUT you need to be using them properly. Just like any other strategy that has the potential to help your business, if you execute it wrong, it has the potential to hurt your business as well.

So let’s go over hashtag best practices because you may be surprised to find that your way of using them right now may be hurting your efforts rather than helping them.

Best Practice Number 1

You CAN use up to 30 hashtags per post. I know this one has a lot of conflicting information out there on the interwebs. However, it’s my opinion, which is backed by years of testing, that it is ok to use all 30 hashtags. Instagram would not allow up to 30 if they didn’t think it was ok.

HOWEVER, some people swear up and down that 20-25 is the sweet spot. I have tried both ways, and it’s hard to say for sure which is best. There are several factors that play into how well your posts perform, not to mention everyone’s audience is different. So for this one, I encourage you to get curious and test this out yourself.

Best Practice Number 2

You can post your hashtags either within your caption or in a comment after you post it.

Both work just as well in my experience. I just personally prefer posting mine in the first comment so they don’t look spammy in my caption. Plus I write pretty long captions and wouldn’t have the space anyway. But this one is up to you depending on your personal preference.

HOWEVER, listen up. This is really important and something most people do not know..

Best Practice Number 3

If you decide to put your hashtags in the first comment instead of within the caption, you must post your hashtags as quickly as possible after you hit post. Like, within the first minute. The reason why is because once you post, Instagram goes to work doing algorithmy things. You essentially reset yourself in the algorithm when you add in hashtags or when you edit anything on your post.

If you take several minutes to post your hashtags, once your post has already started gaining momentum in the algorithm, it can really mess up your reach and engagement. So again, totally fine to post your hashtags in the comments of your post- but do it as quickly as physically possible.

Best Practice Number 4

Use a new set of hashtags for every post, every time. You heard that right. If you have been copying and pasting the same list of hashtags on all of your posts, you are doing something IG frowns upon. Instagram has come out and said themselves they this consider spammy behavior which can result in being shadow banned and/or hurting you in the algorithm.

The main issue with this is there is NO way all your hashtags are relevant for every single thing you post. If they are, well, that’s a content issue, which is whole other conversation for another time. The reason why you want your hashtags to be relevant is because now people have the ability to flag images that don’t make sense for certain hashtags.

Let’s say someone is searching or following a makeup hashtag and they come across a picture of a pretty sunset (which has nothing to do with makeup). If they’re in a mood, they can tap on those three little dots at the top right corner of your image, and hit the button that says “don’t show for this hashtag”. If someone flags your images more than once, that’s going to let instagram know that you’re incorrectly labeling your content which will more than likely result in less reach in your future posts. They may even shadow ban you in the hashtags completely. This has happened to me for a few days, and it sucks. Basically, even though I was adding hashtags to my posts, they were disabled and weren’t allowing my content to be discovered. So yea, not fun, and not what you want to do.

If by now you’re wondering, "if I can’t copy and paste the same list on every post, and my hashtags need to be relevant… how many lists of hashtags do I need to have made?" This brings me to...

If you'd rather skip to the part where I teach you how to

create your own custom lists, step-by-step

(my EXACT strategy!):

Best Practice Number 5

You need to be creating multiple categories of hashtag lists. This way when you go to add some to your post, you can quickly and accurately choose which categories are relevant to what you’re posting about and create a new, relevant list.

Here are some categories I suggest you start out with:

The first hashtag category you’ll want to have (and you probably use these already) are your industry tags. This is the general business you’re in. So for example: wellness industry, fitness, fashion blogging, the wedding industry, real estate, etc.

The next category is your niche/target audience you’re wanting to attract. This category is the one I want you to spend the most time on. I know a lot of you struggle with finding hashtags that attract people outside of your own industry. This is how you’ll begin to do that. When forming the niche and target list, do some research and stalk your ideal client. Look at the hashtags she frequently uses and see if you can incorporate some into your lists as well.

Next up, the product and service category is pretty self explanatory. You’ll want to keep these separate. So for instance, if you work for a company that sells skincare and makeup, you’ll want one or a few makeup categories and the same for skincare. That way if you’re posting about a makeup product, you won’t accidentally throw skincare hashtags on the post and risk getting told on by a disgruntled instagram scroller.

If you create specific pieces of content for you audience, you will want to create a category for each of those too. So if you sometimes create blogs, or inspirational videos, or tips for moms, be sure to have a set of tags for each of those as well.

Then finally, the location category is especially important to have if you sell a product or service locally or if you have a brick and mortar. With these you’ll want a good mix of popular hashtags. Also, really specific ones as well. So for example, if you sold a product in the Nashville area, you can use some obvious popular Nashville tags like #nashville, #nashvegas, #nashvilletn. BUT more importantly, you want to include more specific location hashtags as well. So if you’re located in Franklin, which is outside of Nashville. You’d of course use Franklin specific hashtags like #williamsonco too.

Best Practice Number 6

Choose hashtags with appropriate populations for your audience size.

So, this one is another biggie that a lot of people mistakenly look over and why it’s important to do some hashtag research. If you are throwing random hashtags off the top of your head onto your posts, some of them are probably very popular. Which means they have A LOT of posts within that hashtag.

The reason why this is a problem is because the more popular a hashtag is, the harder it’ll be to be found within that hashtag. So many posts are being added to it every minute of every day. Essentially you’re throwing away a hashtag, because unless you have a very large audience you’re probably not going to rank in it.

This is different for everyone, but a good rule of thumb is try to choose the majority of your hashtags with a population of 500k or less. It’s ok to mix in a few with higher populations, but remember, the point of hashtags is to be found by your ideal client. You will greatly increase the odds of them finding you by paying attention to this number when doing your research.

And finally, Best Practice Number 7

Check your hashtags to make sure they aren’t banned. This one is a little tedious, but typically if you do it once, you’re good to go. On occasion, Instagram will have to ban certain hashtags if people post an unusual amount of inappropriate content under it. If you happen to be using one of these banned hashtags, even if it’s just one, it will render your whole hashtag list useless. Again, this is a way to quickly waste up to 30 opportunities to be discovered by someone.

You can go about checking your hashtags in two ways. The first is you’ll have to search each tag individually on Instagram. Go to your search bar, tap on the tags category, type in the hashtag, and when you find yours and click on it. It’ll pull up all the posts under that hashtag and there will be two categories: top and recent. Click on recent and as long as there are images showing up, you’re good to go. It means that hashtag isn’t banned. If it is banned, then there will be no images under recent and there will instead be a disclaimer from instagram that reads: “Recent posts from hashtag _________ are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines”.

The second way you can search is to Google an updated list of banned hashtags. I’ve done this before and I’ve not found them to be entirely accurate. So, if I were you, I would do it the old fashioned way and do your own research.

But one hashtag that has been banned for years now that a lot of people don’t realize is the beauty blogger hashtag so if you’re wanting to see an example of this, search #beautyblogger and you’ll see what I’m talking about.