The 2021 Guide to Using Instagram Hashtags
Getting noticed on Instagram feels nice if you’re posting just for fun. But if you’re using Instagram to promote your business, double-taps take on a new meaning.
With 1.16 billion Instagram accounts fighting for attention, it’s becoming more challenging to get into the spotlight. So what can you do to get noticed?
There are plenty of ways to boost your Instagram presence, and using Instagram hashtags is one of them. If used properly, hashtags will get more attention and engagement for the content you post.
To help you create a winning hashtag strategy, I’ve created this guide with quick tips, tricks, and templates. I’ll also share my personal experience on how I grew my following. At the end of this guide, I’ve also included a list of 500+ popular Instagram hashtags you can copy-paste to your posts and get discovered by a new audience on Instagram!
How do hashtags work?
Hashtags organize content by topic and help Instagram recognize what your post is about. A quick look at how hashtags came into being—in 2007, Twitter users complained they were seeing too much content. In an attempt to solve this, American blogger and product consultant Chris Messina suggested:
Although Twitter allegedly responded with “these things are for nerds“, a series of events saw the first widespread use of hashtags to allow users to easily track updates. By the end of the 00s, hashtags were put to use in most social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube.
But why do brands use hashtags so avidly? Hashtags serve as a filter for the enormous amount of content posted on the platform every day, and this filter helps users to find relevant and interesting posts. Let’s take a look at how the content gets sorted.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
As we’ve already established, hashtags group together content on a specific topic. To better understand why use hashtags on Instagram, let’s zoom in on the mechanics for a bit, starting with the algorithm.
The Instagram algorithm is a set of rules that decides what content users see on the app. Whenever you open your Instagram feed, the content that’s displayed is a combination of all of your Instagram behaviors. More specifically, there are 6 factors that influence the Instagram algorithm:
- Interest—If a user actively interacts with an account, Instagram will bump up the posts from this account
- Relationship—the Instagram algorithm will prioritize the posts by people or brands the user engages with the most
- Posting time—Instagram wants to serve its users fresh content so it takes note of how long ago a post was published
- Frequency—Instagram checks how often the user opens the app. For frequent scrollers, the feed will be more chronological, while for casual visitors the feed will be curated according to what the system thinks they’ll like the most
- Following—If the user is following many accounts, Instagram has a lot of content to choose from and won’t show all the posts in the feed
- Usage—The more time a user spends on the app, the better Instagram gets at finding content based on the user’s preferences
All these factors are at play in your visibility on a hashtags page. The higher your post appears, the better, as it will be more discoverable by people who don’t follow you yet.To follow a hashtag on Instagram, go to the Explore page (the little magnifying glass icon), section Tags, enter the hashtag you’re interested in, and hit Follow. You’ll start seeing top posts with this hashtag on your feed.
Instagram profile comparison
|Can be set to Private|
|Publish Instagram posts through push notifications|
|Access Instagram Insights for analytics|
|Search for and collect media by hashtags|
|Collect media from Instagram posts you’re tagged or mentioned in|
|Manage Instagram comments with Conversations|
|See your Best Times to Post|
|Tag people and add locations|
|Add a First Comment when scheduling Auto Publish posts|
|Auto Publish Instagram Stories or Multi-Photo posts|
|Get a Contact button|
|Promote posts as ads|
|Filtered Inbox for Direct Messages|
|Add links to Instagram Stories (if your account is verified or has 10,000+ followers)|
If you’re an online store owner, here’s one more reason to create a Business Account—the in-app Shopping feature. Connect your account to a Facebook catalog, and start tagging products in your photos and stories. If a user clicks on the product on the picture, they’ll be automatically directed to your Facebook shop for more details.
It’s all about experiments and analyzing your account performance, and the Business Account helps you do that. Be active, interact with other Instagram accounts, drive as much action as you can with Instagram pods or DM groups, and monitor overall account performance.
How to use hashtags on Instagram and get higher engagement
There are four ways you can use hashtags on Instagram—in Instagram posts, Instagram Stories, on IGTV, and in Reels. I’ve prepared hashtag usage suggestions for each of these formats.
- Add up to 30 hashtags
- Tag up to 20 accounts to increase your chances of being featured on other pages
- Add Instagram alt text to your images to rank on Google results
- Mark up to 5 products per post (for Instagram Business Account owners with Shopping enabled)
Tip: To outsmart Instagram’s algorithm and get a better reach, try to get as many likes and comments as you can within the first hour of posting. One of the ways to do that is by joining a niche pod—an Instagram group with like-minded users interested in each other’s content and mutual support. The group members like and comment posts on Instagram right after they’re published, which helps boost engagement, increase visibility, and attract new followers.
Keep in mind there are plenty of pod groups that focus on fake engagement without being actually interested in the content, and this kind of inauthentic activity is against Instagram community guidelines. So look for like-minded users and be genuine about the content you promote.
Finding a niche pod is a high impact and high effort activity that involves a lot of research. To get you started, look into Facebook, Telegram, Instagram DM groups, and Reddit subgroups.
- Add up to 10 hashtags
- Mention up to 10 accounts in one story
- Include a location, poll, question, countdown, quiz, donation sticker, or GIF
- Tag 1 product (available for Business Accounts with Shopping enabled)
Brands can use Instagram Stories to:
- Share behind-the-scenes of running a business or event
- Demonstrate products or services
- Run polls
- Organize Q&A sessions
- Share feedback from customers
Show the people behind your business—you’ll soon notice that the more stories you add, the more engagement you get.
- Add up to 30 hashtags
- Add clickable links in a caption
- Add a cover photo and share IGTV videos to the Instagram feed
The IGTV videos have to be at least 1 minute long, up to 15 minutes long if uploaded from a mobile device, and up to 60 minutes long if uploaded from the web.
- Add up to 30 hashtags
- Tag up to 30 products or a product collection
- Share your Instagram Reel video to your Instagram Feed
In August 2020, Instagram rolled out a new feature—Reels. An Instagram reel is a 15- or 30-second video with audio from Instagram’s music library or original audio, and augmented reality (AR) effects. If you have a public account, your reel can get discovered by a global audience.
When you share reels featuring certain songs, hashtags, or effects, your reel may also appear on dedicated pages when someone clicks on that song, hashtag, or effect. You can add hashtags once your reel is ready.
How to find the best Instagram hashtags for your business
Thousands of hashtags are used every day, and using the most popular tags won’t make your posts any more discoverable because your content will disappear among the other posts. So, how to choose Instagram hashtags?
To scout the best hashtags for business, focus on trending hashtags related to your account, business, and target audience. Be careful using pop culture references. It’ll help you reach like-minded Instagrammers, but you may risk losing your brand identity among hashtags that overshadow your presence.
How to research hashtags:
- Browse Instagram accounts similar to yours
- Take note of what industry-specific hashtags they use
- Look for hashtags that are more likely to be searched by Instagram communities of your niche
Here’s an example on how to go about creating hashtags for your account.
Let’s say your name is John, you run a barbershop in Toronto, and you’ve started creating a community around your brand which is all about embracing natural beauty and rocking grey hair. But how to reflect that in your Instagram account?
Here are the 5 basic types of hashtags and templates on how to build them.
- #[your brand name]
Branded hashtags must be unique to your account or business. Come up with a hashtag that’s simple enough for your followers to recognize, memorize, and use—it can be your name, brand name, slogan, or the focal concept of your Instagram account.
Out of all the hashtags used on Instagram, industry hashtags have the highest competition. There are millions of people who use them daily, so only include industry hashtags that are the most relevant to your brand.
Community hashtags connect smaller groups of like-minded users. The use of these hashtags makes you discoverable by topic, niche, location, etc. and there’s a higher possibility to gain followers organically and grow your own community.
Try to think like your customer and find out what they would search for. Content hashtags help you engage with your target audience that’s out there looking for inspiration, new ideas, or instructions. For example, #howto hashtags are frequently used on Instagram and can be a good foundation for your hashtag strategy.
Planning your next marketing campaign, giveaway, event, or special offer? Create a campaign hashtag and ask people to engage with it! Or become a part of a larger movement and add event hashtags that are trending now. This is a great way to connect with your followers and improve your chances to be discovered by local and global audiences.
Instagram hashtag tips and tricks
There are many tools and strategies that make social media posting easy. Here are some things you can try out:
Use Instagram hashtag generator apps
You can search, find, and copy your hashtag combination for each of your posts based on any topic. Here are some of the most popular hashtag generator apps:
These tools will help you create hashtag lists easily, but don’t rely on generator app results alone. Use generated hashtags as an inspiration and combine them with your own strategy!
Automate your posts and hashtags
It’s a good idea to repurpose content, but avoid using the same hashtags for all your posts. Not only does it make your account look spammy, but it also increases your chances of getting your account or content shadowbanned—in other words, blocked. To avoid Instagram shadowban, ditch any hashtags that increase fake activity, like #likeforlike #followforfollow #follow4followback, etc.
Try my hashtag formula to get to Top Posts
One of the milestones for any determined Instagram user is to get your post on that coveted Top Posts spot. Top Posts are the first 9 posts you see when you tap Explore and type in the hashtag you’re researching. Getting there is challenging, but doable—and I want to share with you one of the ways of doing it.
For a little backstory, Instagram has been my passion for a while now. I created my own personal brand and Instagram travel account @justanotherOKday in 2017, and started to look for ways to grow my engagement and following.
I discovered there’s a whole world of Instagram support groups on Facebook. I joined all the groups that caught my eye—that way I found out what tools others were using, and it gave me an opportunity to test different strategies.
The hashtag formula below proved to be the most effective for my Instagram Business Account.
Over the course of a year, this strategic use of hashtags significantly increased my chances to be featured among Top Posts, and impressions from hashtags alone increased by 200 times.
Here’s the formula I used for my social media strategy:
- Branded hashtag (1)
- Industry (1) + content hashtag (1)
- Location hashtag (1)
- 26 carefully picked hashtags
• high density hashtags (6)
• lower density hashtags (20)
High density hashtags are the most popular hashtags. It’s much harder to rank for these hashtags because they get added to new posts all the time, and tagging your content only with high density hashtags will make it harder to find your post.
Low density hashtags, on the other hand, are community-based hashtags. Since they have lower competition, it’ll be easier to rank for them in Top Posts.
Using super popular high density hashtags without a clear purpose will make your content get lost in the sea of images and clips. But using only low density niche hashtags that nobody’s looking for won’t help your content get recognized either. For best results, mix both high and low density hashtags.
Instagram hashtag limit FAQ
Before you start creating hashtags, you should know that there’s a hashtag limit on Instagram: you can add up to 30 hashtags in the caption or comments of your post. The limit is there to prevent Instagrammers from abusing the use of hashtags.
But how many hashtags should you add on Instagram? Some experts suggest adding the maximum allowed number of hashtags; others recommend adding 5–10. My advice is this—if you can find 30 relevant hashtags to add to each post, go for it! If, however, you’re having trouble coming up with 30, add as many hashtags that make sense for your audience and the post.
If you’re wondering “Why do I get no likes on Instagram when I use 30 hashtags,” here’s the thing—you can add all 30 hashtags to your posts, but there’s no benefit in using irrelevant hashtags just to make up the quota. If you’re not seeing the desired results, reconsider the hashtags you add.
In short, there’s no magic number, only a limit. The true magic lies in being intentional with how you come up with and mix hashtags. Use hashtags your target audience is actually searching for and following. Experiment with types of hashtags to see what works for you!
Where to place your brand hashtag on Instagram
When it comes to where to put hashtags on Instagram, you can add hashtags in the caption of your post or in the first comment. Some users prefer adding hashtags in the first comment because they don’t want to distract the followers with a raft of hashtags in the caption. However, the caption is cut off after 2 lines of text, so the hashtags aren’t visible at first glance anyway. All in all, hashtag placement is a matter of preference.
Another place you can add hashtags is in your bio. When a user taps it, they’ll be taken to that hashtag page. For businesses with popular branded hashtags, it’s a great way to foster engagement or collect user-generated content.
500+ Instagram hashtag cheat sheet
If you’ve just launched an online store, here are 20 popular high density hashtags for ecommerce businesses you can start using straight away:
Mix these with low density hashtags that are oriented towards your business niche.
If you’re looking for more inspiration, be sure to download our free Instagram hashtag list for photography, fashion, travel, and many other tags organized in 20 sub-categories.
Experiment to create your own hashtag strategy
If you’re serious about getting more followers and likes on Instagram, getting that exposure will require some work and perseverance, but the reward will be worth it. Eventually, keeping up with social media trends will become second nature to you—you’ll have a loyal user base, and you’ll be able to pin down what keeps users engaged with your content.
Here’s my final tip for success: become a student of Instagram. Follow Instagram updates, tools and trends—Instagram is quick to inform about any algorithm changes, new features, and pro tips on their blog.
Have fun creating your Instagram strategy! And share your experience with Instagram in the comments below.
This blog post was originally published in July 2019; it has since been updated.