You’ve invested in a nice camera, set up beautiful scenes that relate to your business, and put in some grassroots efforts for building your Instagram follower count. Yet, whenever you share a photo, it’s always the same people liking and commenting. You’ve heard that hashtags are meant to connect your company with interested, new followers, but even with those hashtags, you’re hitting the same plateau over and over. This situation is both common and frustrating, considering that Instagram should be one of the best places for any type of business to reach new customers. But for some reason, it’s a little tricky to figure out the right hashtags for Instagram.
Why is that the case?
It’s partially because generic, one-word hashtags are used far too often. Another reason is that you might be utilizing hashtags without targeted relevance to your industry.
Finding the best hashtag means thinking about more than the wording of the hashtag itself. The process of posting on Instagram, and including hashtags, involves a bit of strategy in order to get the best results from each hashtag.
Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. That may seem like a lot to some or not much to others. Regardless, using all of these 30 hashtags can spread the word about your photo within seconds. However, if your hashtags aren’t useful or relevant, it’s simply a waste of time. AND studies and surveys suggest that you might receive fewer interactions–or worse, get shadow banned from Instagram if you’re caught abusing hashtags.
Take this Track Maven study, for instance, which looked at the number of hashtags vs the average engagement per post. It might surprise you, but the most engagement came from posts with around 9 to 12 hashtags. The 15+ mark still isn’t bad, but it’s clear that you should at least be hitting seven hashtags per post.
What’s also interesting is that this study outlined how important the length of the hashtag is (in characters). A 21 character hashtag outperformed the rest of the field by an astounding average engagement rate. As we’ll learn in the following tips, this has much to do with the fact that general, short hashtags are used too much, so you’re competing with millions of similar pictures or videos at the same time.
After understanding the basics of hashtag counts and lengths, where do you go from there? Well, we have a five-step process for finding the best hashtags for optimal business exposure.
This first step is the simplest of them all. Sit down and brainstorm up to 20 or 30 hashtags that relate to your business. At this point, you can still choose shorter, common hashtags, since they can be helpful for locating more specific ones with higher potential.
Let’s say we’re running a wilderness outfitter company that sells items like tents, outdoor clothing, and sleeping bags.
What are some good words that relate to this business?
That’s a list of ten words to get started for our hypothetical wilderness outfitter, but remember, you still need at least ten more for your own company.
The only problem with this list of keywords is that they all came right off the top of my head. There’s no evidence that other companies are using them.
So, after you’re done with your own brainstorming, consider writing down ten of your closest competitors with Instagram accounts. Visit each account and figure out the words they tend to use to describe their products or utilize in hashtags.
Short, one-word hashtags like these aren’t ideal for your own social strategy. In fact, even companies with huge followings don’t have an advantage with generic hashtags like these (more on this in Step 3).
Therefore, we’re using the short, generic hashtags to locate longer ones that might show more promise.
For this example, let’s try the word “camping.” When I type “#camping” into the search bar in Instagram, sure enough, #camping is the first result. The exact match always shows up at the top.
However, each word you enter creates a list of similar hashtags with that starting word. So, as I scroll down, I start to see hashtags like #camping_hobby, #campinglife, and #campingcar–all of which are more specific and potentially suitable for my own business.
The photo pool density is the number of photos currently on Instagram using a particular hashtag. The photo pool density of any given hashtag is shown in that list we talked about in the previous step.
As you can see, #campingwithdogs is used in over 749,000 Instagram posts. On the other hand, #campingofficial has around 291,233, making it far less popular.
Although popularity may seem like a good thing on Instagram, that’s not at all the case when we’re talking about hashtags for businesses. See why in the following step.
If a hashtag shows a density of a few hundred posts, there’s no way it’s going to help your company gain traction. However, the same can be said about those general hashtags that everyone seems to use.
Think about it. The #camping hashtag we showed before has a density of over 18 million Instagram posts. If you decide to include that hashtag with your own photo, no one is going to see it.
The reason for this is because hashtag pools are made for people to discover interesting, new pictures, brands, and people on Instagram. The average user can type in any hashtag they want and see all of the pictures with that hashtag.
The only problem is that hashtag photo pools are organized into two galleries: Top Posts (AKA the most popular photos at the moment) and Most Recent Posts.
Although you might land in the Top Post gallery with lots of luck, you shouldn’t count on it for your business. The Most Recent post area is where you’re going to thrive.
Unfortunately, since millions of photographs are being tagged with #camping, your image will spend no more than a few seconds on the first page. After that, it goes into a black hole with the millions of other #camping posts.
As an example, I searched #camping to see what came up in the Most Recent area. I see a picture of a lizard at the #1 spot.
The final measure involves selecting some of those longer, lower-density hashtags for testing.
For my outfitting brand, I found a few that I liked for testing purposes:
You have several goals when analyzing each photo pool:
For the first objective, we’ve pretty much eliminated any generic, spammy hashtags, such as #followme or #love. These are bound to fill your comments with heart emojis from bots. Even high-density hashtags, like #camping, tend to deliver more spam than useful comments and follows. But it’s still worth checking some of the pictures in your smaller hashtag pools to see if comments are spammy.
As for getting rid of hashtags with unrelated photos, #adventuregram is a great example. It might initially sound like a quality option for an outdoor outfitter, but the results show otherwise.
After I typed this into Instagram, I realized that people have all sorts of adventures, from romantic to business adventures, and city to outdoorsy adventures.
Many of the photos showed urban landscapes, while in the screenshot above you can even see a cruise and some cows–which aren’t exactly relevant to a wilderness outfitter. Sure, there are plenty of photos with camping and hiking, but the pool isn’t as targeted as I would like.
The #hikingtrails and #outdoorgear photo pools were far more relevant to the photos I planned on posting for my business.
As a bonus, you’re then able to locate some of the more successful posts in that pool and find some related hashtags for Instagram that you might never have thought of before:
Although finding and making hashtags for Instagram can be done with the steps we just talked about, there are still a few hacks that will help you along your way.
Earlier in the article, we discussed how having 9 to 12 hashtags in a post is the sweet spot for engagement. Still, that many hashtags can look cluttered and almost unprofessional.
It’s not bad practice to include the hashtags right after your description, but you’ll notice that it’s becoming popular to hit the space bar a few times and include emojis or multiple underscores to push the hashtags further down in the description.
Because of the photo credit, spaces, and underscores, all of the hashtags were hidden beneath that More button, making for a cleaner post overall.
One of the biggest mistakes made by newcomers is placing the same hashtags over and over in every picture posted. There’s nothing wrong with this method for saving time, but a quick check for hashtag relevance serves your cause. For example, I follow quite a few rock climbers on Instagram–partially because of the scenery, but mainly because I like to climb and see much more experienced climbers accomplish the seemingly impossible.
A favorite climber of mine shares beautiful pictures of his travels, along with shots of him and his buddies climbing. The picture above is stunning, but if you look into the hashtag area it has several references to climbing. The only problem is that this picture doesn’t portray rock climbing at all. If someone were to search for a climbing hashtag and see this, they’d be confused, or indifferent, and move on.
Quite often, you’ll find other businesses or Instagram personalities in your niche that like to repost Instagram photos from other accounts. Sometimes these accounts are nothing but random curations without much of a human following. However, many of them are quite legitimate, and with huge followings.
For instance, I recently noticed a photo that REI reposted from a small-time explorer/photographer named Andrew Holland.
He had posted this beautiful picture on his own Instagram account, but with one special detail. He inserted the #optoutside hashtag. REI encourages people to use this hashtag, and the company occasionally shares those posts with its roughly 2 million followers.
Sure enough, REI noticed the post, credited and linked the photographer, and accumulated over 24,000 likes for that picture.
What’s great, however, is that hashtags help out Instagram newcomers quite a bit, since people actually search for hashtags to find cool pictures and accounts they might want to follow.
Overall, I recommend using these steps to find hashtags for Instagram, and don’t forget about locating the photo pools that target your potential customers–even though the short, general hashtags are so tempting!
If you have any questions about developing killer hashtags for Instagram, let us know in the comments section below.