6 Ways to Optimize Your Hashtags on Instagram

By Jillian Warren

Published November 7, 2019

11 minute read

Ready to get your hashtag game in check?


Stay on top of the biggest social media marketing trends!

Hashtags on Instagram really can be an effective way to grow your following and engagement, but the best practices are constantly changing.

A great Instagram hashtag strategy doesn’t just reach more people — it reaches the right people for your business.

Learn how you can optimize hashtags on Instagram to reach your target market and grow engagement:

Tip #1: Optimize Hashtags on Instagram by Staying Relevant

Using Instagram hashtags is one of the easiest ways to get your posts in front of more people, but how many hashtags should you be adding to each post?

This is a controversial question, with no wrong answer.

The maximum number of hashtags allowed by Instagram is 30 — and while that may seem like a lot, some experts say that you should always use all 30 hashtags because it gives you more opportunities to be discovered.

While other experts say that adding all 30 hashtags can look spammy and take away from the content of your post and caption. Instead, these experts say that you should only choose a handful of hyper-relevant hashtags to post (between 3-5).

Whatever side of the question you agree with, it’s important to make sure that every hashtag you use is relevant to your content, audience, or business.

Adding random hashtags (even high-traffic ones) can seriously backfire on your business. Not only will people feel duped by your content, damaging their trust in your brand — but they may also select the “Don’t Show for This Hashtag” option, which could in turn lead to Instagram hiding your content under that hashtag:

So to give your business the best chance of success, it’s worth sticking with only relevant hashtags.

And if you’re struggling to find inspiration (let’s face it, 30 can feel like an effort) here are some quick ways to find relevant hashtags for your brand:

How to Find Relevant Hashtags for Your Brand #1: Check Out Related Hashtags

Related hashtags show which hashtags are used most often alongside any given hashtag — so they’re a great place to start for some fresh inspiration!

To discover related hashtags, tap on a hashtag that you’ve already decided to use on a post.

This will open a hashtag search result page in the Instagram Explore tab, with related hashtags displayed right above the feed of tagged posts:

The great thing about related hashtags is that they’ve already been tried and tested by the Instagram community at large — so there should be some strong contenders in the mix!

How to Find Relevant Hashtags for Your Brand #2: Look at What Similar Brands Are Using

One of the best ways to gain valuable hashtag inspiration is by looking at what successful brands in your network are doing.

Look at brands with similar content, products, or target audience — and carefully assess their content strategy.

Hone in on their top performing posts in particular, and highlight the hashtags that could be applicable to your brand for future posts.

How to Find Relevant Hashtags for Your Brand #3: Use a Third-Party Tool like Later

Another great way to discover new hashtags for your brand is by using Later’s Hashtag Suggestions feature.

Hashtag Suggestions works by automatically finding relevant hashtags for your posts based on other hashtags that you use.

All you have to do is know one relevant hashtag, put it into Hashtag Suggestions, hit “Suggest,” and the feature will immediately generate 30 other hashtags, sorted by relevance.

You can then pick and choose which of these hashtags to add you to your post. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds!

How to Find Relevant Hashtags for Your Brand #4: Get Inspiration from the Instagram Explore Page

Another great way to find new hashtags is through the Instagram Explore Page!

The Instagram Explore Page typically only displays posts that are performing well, so it can be an excellent place to find strategic hashtags.

To discover relevant hashtags, filter by a category that best reflects your brand. For this example, we’ll filter by “Decor”:

Next, tap the posts that are similar to your content subject matter and style, and take note of any hashtags being used that could work with your content strategy.

It’s that simple!

How to Find Relevant Hashtags for Your Brand #5 : Analyze Hashtag Performance for Previous Posts

If an analytical approach is more your thing, looking at the performance of the hashtags you’ve used in the past can be a super strategic way to decide what hashtags to use again in the future.

With Later’s Hashtag Analytics, you can track key insights about the hashtags you use — including a breakdown of which hashtags are driving the most likes, comments, impressions, saves, and reach on your Instagram posts.

Plus, as you continue to add new hashtags, you’ll be able to accurately track how they perform for your content.

Ready to get started? Watch our video where we’re sharing everything you need to know about Instagram hashtags in 2020.

Instagram Hashtag Analytics are available on all Later business plans, starting at $19/month.

Tip #2: Check the Volume of Posts Per Hashtags on Instagram

Once you’ve found a selection of relevant hashtags, it’s important to consider the volume of posts for each one.

If a hashtag has too many posts and is too popular,  your Instagram post will be buried amongst the masses in seconds; if a hashtag is too small then you likely won’t gain any engagement at all.

For a safe middle-ground, aim for hashtags with between 10k-200k posts. This should indicate that there’s some activity around the hashtag, but not so much that it will instantly drown out your content.

And once you’ve discovered your base hashtags, it’s also worth experimenting with a few high volume and low volume hashtags in the mix.

Niche hashtags can often have a super loyal following, while trending hashtags can give your content an instant boost.  You can add a few popular ones, a few niche ones, and then keep the majority of your hashtags around the sweet spot of 10-200k.

When it comes to the right blend of hashtags, each business has their own unique formula. But with some trial and error, you’ll be able to discover exactly what works for your brand!

Tip #3: Categorize Hashtags by Brand, Industry, Audience, and Location

When it comes to curating your hashtags on Instagram, it’s a smart idea to categorize them into the following buckets: brand, industry, audience, and location.

For brand hashtags, consider the hashtags you would like your audience to use when they talk about your brand online. This could be as simple as your brand name (like #trinnylondon) or with a more personal spin, such as #iamaSweatyBetty:

For industry hashtags, consider what hashtags are most relevant to your specific market and products. For example, if you’re a sustainable clothing brand like Lucy & Yak, this could include: #organiccotton, #ethicalclothing, and #ethicalfashion.

For audience, delve into hashtags that represent or tap into the sentiment of your target audience. For example, if you’re a fitness apparel brand, you may want to use audience-related hashtags such as: #fitfam, #gymlife, and #fitspiration.

And finally, don’t forget location hashtags. Alongside tagging the location in your post, you can also add hashtags to tap into your local community. Californian coffee roasters, Verve Coffee, add location hashtags, such as #sanfrancisco and #sf, to their posts:

By covering all the bases with your hashtags, you’ll hit every potential audience — which can really help grow your following on Instagram!

TIME-SAVING HACK: One of the best ways to save time and stay organized with your hashtags is by using Later’s Saved Captions feature:

With Saved Captions, you can create templates to save your most commonly used hashtags.

When it’s time to schedule, simply select one of your Saved Captions to add it to your post.

And best of all? It’s free to all Later users! Learn more about Later’s Saved Captions feature in this video:

Hashtags on Instagram Tip #4: Keep Your Hashtags Tidy

Hashtags may be the best way to grow your following on Instagram, but if you’re not careful, they can easily make your posts look cluttered and unprofessional.

To keep your captions tidy and easy to read, it’s a good idea to add line breaks between the main part of your caption and the hashtags. This will keep your hashtags neatly tucked away, so you can maintain a beautiful streamlined aesthetic:

Although line breaks may seem like a simple trick, it can be much harder than it sounds. That’s because Instagram automatically strips line breaks from your captions.

Fortunately, you can easily overcome this by using Later to write your captions (with as many line breaks as your heart desires) and schedule your posts.

Should Hashtags go in the Caption or Comments?

According to Instagram, you can add hashtags to either the post caption or the comments.

However, by adding hashtags to captions, you’ll benefit from the extra engagement as soon as you hit publish — rather than having to wait until your comment is written and posted.

Plus, if you use an Instagram scheduler like Later, you can plan your post captions in advance — so all your hashtags are already taken care of!

But at the end of the day – it doesn’t really matter and you can choose what’s right for you.

Tip #5: Don’t Forget about Instagram Stories Hashtags

Did you know you can add hashtags to your Instagram Stories too?

Adding hashtags to your story is a great way to give your content an added chance to be discovered by new audiences.

When people search for a hashtag on Instagram, if it’s popular enough, they’ll be able to see a collection of tagged stories on the search results page — including yours!

And if they like what they see, they might even tap follow on your profile.

You can add as many as 10 hashtags to each Instagram story, including 1 clickable hashtag sticker.

And if you’re worried about how hashtags will impact a carefully crafted aesthetic, there are a few hashtags hacks to make them seamlessly fit in with your post, or be hidden completely!

For example, you can make your text-based hashtags smaller (just ‘pinch’ the text) and hide them under a GIF or sticker.

DESIGN TIP: Don’t make your hashtag text too small — if it becomes illegible, Instagram won’t pick up on it and it’s unlikely your post appear in any hashtag searches.

You can even blend your text-based hashtags into the background of your Instagram Stories! Just select the color picker tool from the text option and choose a color that perfectly matches your Instagram story background.

This works particularly well if the background is a solid color, so if you’re using an Instagram Stories template for example.

With just two taps, your hashtags will blend into the background — but still be 100% searchable!

Tip #6: Steer Clear of (Random) Banned Hashtags on Instagram

Last but not least, our final tip is to avoid using banned hashtags on your Instagram posts.

Banned hashtags have been flagged and “disabled” by Instagram for infringing community guidelines — making them completely useless for your brand exposure.

What’s more, even seemingly innocent hashtags are on the banned list, such as #humpday and #elevator, so it’s definitely worth giving your tags a quick check!

You can view a list of banned Instagram hashtags here.

To check whether a hashtag is banned, carry out a quick search on the Instagram Explore Page. If it is banned, you will see a message at the top of the page explaining that recent posts are currently hidden:

Hashtags are one of the most effective ways to build an organic, strong, and relevant community on Instagram.

To develop your hashtag strategy even further, we’ve put together a Instagram Hashtag Strategy Guide — and best of all, it’s totally free!

Ready to set up a successful Instagram hashtag strategy that grows your engagement? Download our free Instagram Hashtag Strategy Guide now!

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