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Instagram hashtags guide
Marketing tips

The 2021 Guide to Using Instagram Hashtags

By Reading Time: 10 minutes

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 insights view

Instagram profile comparison

FeaturePersonalCreatorBusiness
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. 

Instagram shopping

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.

Instagram posts

  • 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.

Instagram Stories

  • 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:

  • Educate 
  • Inspire 
  • 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.

IGTV

  • 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.

Instagram Reels

  • 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.

Branded hashtags

Examples:

  • #[your brand name]
  • #TheBarberOfToronto

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.

Industry hashtags

Examples:

  • #barbers
  • #barbershop
  • #haircut

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

Examples:

  • #barberfan
  • #torontogrooming
  • #hairaddict

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.

Content hashtags

Examples:

  • #beardgrooming
  • #howtofadehair
  • #trendinghaircut

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.

Campaign hashtags

Examples:

  • #12DaysOfGrooming
  • #silvertoronto
  • #whatbarbersdo

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

Apps like Planoly and Later will help you plan and schedule your posts and stories. With Later, you can categorize Instagram hashtags and analyze the performance of each post. 

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. 

comparing-instagram-post-performance

Here’s the formula I used for my social media strategy:

  1. Branded hashtag (1)
  2. Industry (1) + content hashtag (1)
  3. Location hashtag (1)
  4. 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.

Instagram hashtags page example

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. 

Instagram hashtags page example

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:

#onlinebusiness

#onlinemarketing

#businessowner

#makemoneyonline

#entrepreneurlife

#personaldevelopment

#financialfreedom

#solopreneur

#gogetter

#entrepreneurlifestyle

#startups

#makemoney

#youngentrepreneur

#entrepreneurship

#hustlehard

#selfgrowth

#networker

#hardworker 

#ecommerce

#mindsetiseverything

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.

Read Next: How to Create a Marketing Calendar [with Free Google Templates]

This blog post was originally published in July 2019; it has since been updated.

Arta constantly throws herself into new projects and challenges - from observing today's fast-paced marketing world to jam-packing her camera bag for the next adventure travel.

Comments

  1. naveen

    I believe that a social media consultant must be attuned to the company goals and aspirations if he or she is to represent them on their social media channels. I also think that outsourcing social media marketing is a good idea for a company looking to specialize in their core business. In any case, most businesses outsource marketing and advertising and I don’t see why social media marketing should be any different. You just need to be actively involved to ensure that you are represented in the way that you want

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Thank you for sharing your insights into this—members here can learn a lot from each other when sharing their ideas and experience.

    2. Ben

      Amazing!
      This was a great read and I am going to implement this into my instagram with immediate effect. I have just launched my first tshirt and I cannot wait to get results using your advice

  2. Amy Jackosn

    This was an extremely wonderful post.It was definitely informative post
    you wrote a lot about Instagram hasthagS. you mentioned above some Instagram hashtags generated app I also know some sites those will help you to find relevant hashtags for your post.
    Thanks for sharing

  3. Arslan Ghaffor

    I find this concept really good. This was an extremely wonderful post. It was definitely informative.
    People use the Instagram hashtag for gaining new followers and audience engagement and you shared a very handsome amount of Instagram hashtag list for people.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Daniela Bergmane

      Thank you for the kind feedback! Instagram Hashtags indeed are a great way on how to market your online brand and improve your online presence. We’re glad to hear that you enjoyed the article and found it helpful. 🙂

      1. Brandi

        Ok, I understand the hashtag concept, but, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t understand how to use them. Here’s my question, when I use hashtags on instagram do I use them in my store as tags. Trying to figure hashtags out makes me want to cry. Will you please explain?

        1. Alise Zindiga

          Hey, Brandi! There’s no need to use hashtags in your store. Play around with different hashtags on your Instagram posts, and remember to link to your actual store from there. I also suggest looking for educational videos on Youtube. There’s a ton of free materials out there that will help you to overcome this difficult learning curve. Be kind to yourself. You’ve got this!

  4. Brandi

    I read this and reread it, but I absolutely do not understand how to use hashtags. The whole hashtag thing is confusing to me. I guess I’m too old or just an idiot, I don’t know. I understand what hashtags are for but I can’t comprehend ho we to use them, especially in my storenvy store and then in incorporate all together in Instagram and my store. I don’t think I should be doing this. I am totally lost on this hashtag thing, I mean you make it sound easy, but I’m not understanding it. I guess I need to think about we hat I’m doing. Thank you for the information.

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey, Brandi, don’t be so harsh on yourself. Instagram hashtags really do take time to figure out—it’s much of a trial-error process. You don’t have to use hashtags on your store, but certainly on your Instagram account. At first, try to reference one to the other. I didn’t find a link to your Instagram account on your store. Start with including that. Then play around with hashtags on your Instagram posts and remember to link to your store from there. If you like learning from videos, this will be a great resource for you as well > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qr_Cfwe1pD8

  5. Mine

    I have been a user on instagram for quite some time. Only for likes people’s pictures or comment in there. But now I have pulled myself together and have a goal of using my insta account. I have started last week shared up to 12 photos and hashtags on my photos to attract more for likes or followers. But yesterday I noticed that I can no longer hashtag on my latest photo? Due to, it says: An error occurred while registering your changes. What? What does it mean that I have been blocked for hashtags in the future? earlier today I tried share my last photo without hashtags, where within 4 hours I only got 7 likes where I usually tag on my pictures I get between 50-80 likes, really do not know what to do 🙁

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey, Mine, I suggest searching for “banned hashtags” on Google. Any posts that use some hashtag from the banned list will be hidden (not shown in the algorithm to your followers), which will only hurt your organic reach. This happens because, occasionally, a popular hashtag will become overrun with inappropriate content.

  6. Danny Jahrsdorfer

    I downloaded the 500 hashtag pdf, but I do not see a section for photography. Did I misunderstand that part? I was assuming there was a section for Photography. Thanks!

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey, Danny, our hashtag cheat sheet doesn’t include a section for photography. Once you open the pdf, there’s a content list at the very beginning—you can find all the paragraphs listed over there.

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