Yes, it surprised us too – especially when Instagram allegedly told creators to aim for 8-15 hashtags earlier this year.
As Instagram continues to expand their discoverability and SEO tools, it makes sense that they want users to experiment with fewer, more relevant hashtags – this could help them accurately categorize and recommend your posts in suggested content streams, like the Instagram Reels feed or the updated hashtag search tabs:
It could also be a way for Instagram to streamline spammy hashtag use. At times, users include irrelevant hashtags to try to maximize the full allotted 30.
However, when we looked at how the number of hashtags impacts reach (after analyzing over 18M Instagram feed posts), we found that using more hashtags typically yields the best results.
As you can see, while posts with 20 hashtagsreceive the highest average reach rate, those with 30 hashtags are close behind.
We wondered if this trend had changed over recent years, and saw that the results were still pretty consistent in 2020:
And even more interesting: the average reach rate significantly increases as the number of hashtags increases beyond 5 per post – as reflected in the steeper curve graphs.
When it comes to averageengagement rate, using 30 Instagram hashtags per feed post results in the most likes and comments:
Similar to reach rate, the average engagement rate grows significantly as the number of hashtags increases beyond 5.
The takeaway? Go big or go home when it comes to your hashtag strategy.
While using a few hashtags is good, using 20-30 relevant (and targeted) hashtags is even better for your overall reach and engagement rates.
Still, one size doesn’t fit all, so you’ll want to analyze the performance of your hashtags to gauge what is and isn’t working (more on that later).
And remember: hashtags are a longterm game and not a quick fix for reach or engagement. But mixed with valuable content and a consistent posting cadence, you can reach new, highly-engaged audiences.
#2: Draw Inspiration from the Instagram Explore Page
The Instagram Explore page is constantly evolving, with new topic categories and advanced search functionalities rolling out all the time.
For example, you can now search by keywords to discover relevant content. Let’s say you own a candle company, and want to see what other accounts are doing.
Type “candles” in the search, and tons of posts will appear:
You’ll have the option to discover "Top" posts, scroll through accounts that have "candles" in their Name Field, and see posts with a tag containing that keyword:
Using these filters will help you identify posts that are both similar to your business and performing well in Instagram's search results.
While we don’t recommend copy and pasting their hashtag strategy, you can gain valuable insights that’ll help you when choosing hashtags you’d like to experiment with.
TIP: Keep on top of your hashtag lists by adding them as Saved Captions in Later. You can curate multiple hashtag lists and add them to your captions in two taps!
#3: Discover Tags Using Instagram's Hashtag Search Tool
When it comes to finding the best hashtags, post volume is a really important metric.
If a hashtag has already been used on millions of posts, the chances are your post will be drowned out amongst the masses.
On the other hand, if a hashtag only has a few hundred posts, it's likely that no one is searching for it on the Instagram Explore page.
With Instagram's hashtag search tool, you can type in a hashtag and discover others that start with the same keyword, along with their post volume.
In this example, we’ll choose #SelfCare (55M posts):
As you scroll down, you’ll be able to find hashtag variations that are still popular but have less competition (we recommend using these!), like #SelfCareIsForEveryone (61K posts) or #SelfCareFam (27K posts).
When you tap on a hashtag, you’ll be able to see the type of posts that get the most engagement (in the Top tab), and use them as inspiration for structuring your content.
TIP: Add up to 30 hashtags to a comment rather than your post caption – they still work in hashtag search results! Later’s First Comment tool lets you schedule a comment to go live at exactly the same time as your post – available on all paid plans.
How to Optimize Your Hashtag Strategy on Instagram
A great hashtag strategy doesn’t happen overnight – it requires constant trial and error.
“We’re big on experimenting,” says Lindsay. “We’re constantly testing new niche hashtags, trying broad ones, and seeing what generates the most engagement.”
Analyzing the performance of your hashtags is one of the best ways to judge the success of your experiments.
Without analytics, you won’t know what’s working and what isn’t – potentially losing out on opportunities to adjust your strategy and engage with new audiences.
With Later's Analytics tools, you’ll be able to track key insights about your hashtags – including a breakdown of which are driving the most likes, comments, saves, and reach on your Instagram posts.
Implementing a hashtag strategy is not only great for discoverability, but can help you build a community and drive engagement.
So, how many hashtags should you use on Instagram?
While 20 is the magic number for reach, and 30 is the magic number for engagement, they need to be relevant to your brand, content, and target audience.
And remember: a great hashtag strategy takes time, so experiment and see what works for you!
Ready to startplanning and scheduling your Instagram posts in advance? Join Later – the world's leading Instagram marketing platform, today.
Editor’s Note: Study based on analysis of 18.1M Instagram feed posts published via Later. Excludes Instagram Videos, Reels, and Stories. Data provided by Annie Yao, Nolan O'Reilly, and Barinder Thind.
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About the Author
Monique ThomasContent Marketing Specialist
Monique is Later's Editorial Content Marketing Manager. You can usually find her sipping matcha or adding another book to her TBR list. Say hi on Instagram — @wordsbymonique
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