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Aug 24, 2021
Guides, Instagram Hashtags

Instagram Hashtags: The Complete Guide

Welcome to the only Instagram Hashtag Guide you’ll ever need – packed full of information, tips, strategy and actionable insights you can actually trust.

Julia Cohen

Welcome to the only Instagram Hashtag Guide you’ll ever need – packed full of information, tips, strategy and actionable insights you can actually trust. We understand that using hashtags can be confusing, which is why we developed this guide on how to use hashtags on Instagram. 

Watch our 2021 Instagram Hashtag Guide 👆

Looking for something specific? You can go straight to any specific area of this guide to Instagram hashtags here:

If you’re only here to find the best  Instagram hashtag generator or tool and want to skip the strategy, you can read this list of top Instagram hashtag tools (Don’t worry, we’ll always welcome you back to our guide with open arms).

Instagram Hashtags Guide 2021 

Do hashtags work on Instagram? 🤔

Hashtags are one of the easiest and oldest ways to grow organically on Instagram. They have been deeply ingrained in the platform from day one, and continue to help accounts grow, as well as assist Instagram in serving its users content they’re going to love. However, hashtags can be confusing. 

Most people know that they should be using hashtags,  but don’t understand exactly why, or how they help with organic growth. More often than not, people can also convince themselves that hashtags don’t work, because they’ve copy-pasted a list from Google to use, that don’t actually end up performing. (If this is you, don’t worry, we’ll help you become an Instagram hashtag pro in no time).

There are so many resources that list out the ‘top hashtags to use’ but the truth is, there is no definite ‘holy grail’ that just works for everyone within a certain niche. Really, the way that hashtags perform depends entirely on your account, and how the specific ones you use match up to your engagement, size and overall performance. Using generic hashtags that are either guessed or found online tend not to work for this reason

Why should you listen to us? 🎓

We are the experts in hashtag research and strategy – in fact, our entire search tool and Analytics Suite is built around helping Instagram users find hashtags that are more likely to help them perform, by tailoring suggestions to account size, average engagement and more. 

So far this year, we’ve tracked 1m+ Instagram posts and helped 50k+ creators, brands, social media managers and entrepreneurs understand which hashtags are performing best, and why.

Foundational knowledge

Now, we’re going to go full teacher mode right now and tell you that if you want to know how to use hashtags to achieve organic Instagram growth, you will need a little bit of basic background knowledge. If you can’t answer why or how hashtags actually help you grow on Instagram, you’ll have more trouble understanding the strategy behind making them work the hardest they can for your account.

How do hashtags work on Instagram? 🙌

Hashtags are Instagram’s way of categorizing content. Much like you might search a keyword on Google when you want to find a specific article or image, you can search by hashtags on Instagram to find a specific piece of content. They act like folders on your desktop and help tell Instagram exactly what is in your photo or video and what niche it might fit into. This, in turn, helps the platform to suggest content to the type of people who may be interested in that topic (through feeds, Reels and explore pages), and also allows users to find and search for content they want to see on the platform. Using hashtags not only makes your content more searchable but also more discoverable. You can go deeper and learn a little more about how hashtags are deeply embedded in Instagram’s algorithm in this article.

Hashtags help users grow on Instagram if they rank on a hashtag. Ranking on a hashtag means that you appear in the top section of the most popular posts in that hashtag, and so your content is seen by people who search it or is suggested by Instagram to users who are interested in topics similar to that hashtag.

instagram hashtags guide
Here, we can see the top ranking hashtags in #beautyhacks.

The short and long term benefits of using Instagram hashtags ❤️

According to Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, an important factor in getting your content in front of the right people, is “Instagram understanding what your content is about via information on the post” to then push that to the right people – whether through the explore page, suggested accounts etc.

So, what is the “information about the post” that helps Instagram understand what your content is about?

  • The caption content
  • The image itself
  • The hashtags you use to categorize your content
  • The location tag
  • Your Engagements

This means using super relevant hashtags is always beneficial, both in the short-term (immediate eyeballs from hashtags and immediate eyeballs from Explore page) and long-term (account classification and highlighting the type of content you post, the longer you do this the more data Instagram has on you and the likelihood the content you’re creating is related to X – this is why accounts which specific niches tend to do better in hashtags, and Explore pages). 

 

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A post shared by Adam Mosseri (@mosseri)

How many hashtags can you use on Instagram? 💁‍♀️

You can use a maximum of 30 hashtags on any given post. There are a few myths floating around communities online that suggest you should use 11 or 15 hashtags on a post for the best growth, but as hashtag experts (yes, we have created that profession) we can safely say that myth is busted. You should use the maximum of 30 hashtags on your posts. Why? Because that’s 30 more chances to perform well (or rank) on a hashtag, and 30 more chances to be discovered by someone searching for content. There’s no reason not to take every opportunity Instagram gives you, so we always suggest you use the maximum number of hashtags on your posts.

Where should you put your hashtags? 🏝

It’s no secret that people can be a little hashtag-shy, and don’t want to create clutter from 30 hashtags in their followers’ faces on every single post. So, there are a few options when it comes to where you actually put your hashtags, once you have them.

The first is putting them in the caption of your post. In the last few years, Instagram released the ability to put line breaks within your captions, so they no longer appear as one cluttered line of text. You can leave line breaks between your caption and the hashtags you use, to make sure the message you are trying to communicate doesn’t get lost, but you still gain every chance you can to grow. Here’s an example:

instagram hashtag ideas

How to hide hashtags on Instagram 🤫

The second option is putting your hashtags in the comments section of your post. This means that they won’t appear in, or clutter your caption, and they are less visible at first glance. You can put your hashtags as a ‘first comment’ on your post, or, you can comment something like an emoji, and reply to that comment with your hashtags:

instagram hashtags 2021

If you go for the comment option, it’s important that you remember to post your hashtags as soon as your content is published. If you add them too late, Instagram will not treat your content as ‘new’ in the hashtags you use, so it will be harder to rank.

There’s no right answer when it comes to which option to use – either way, the impact on your account will be the same, it’s just up to what you prefer and how you like your hashtags to look!

What types of hashtags can you use on Instagram? 👀

Wait, there are different types of hashtags?! Well, yes – in a way. When we refer to different types of hashtags, we mean the varying hashtags categories that help you achieve different goals:

🚨 Topic/niche specific hashtags – these refer to a specific subject or niche such as #fashion or #outfitideas – you can use them to reach people who are interested in and are actively searching for topics in your Instagram niche/area of expertise

👩‍💻 Audience specific hashtags – these pinpoint specific types of people, such as #beautylover or #makeupartist – again, they can be used to reach people within your niche, and those who can relate to your content

💸 Product-specific hashtags – these are best for businesses and refer to products that people might be trying to find, such as #burberrybag or #bikepump – they allow you to reach people who are actively looking for products and therefore have a higher purchase intent

📍 Location-based hashtags – these utilize location or area such as #londonfoodie or #newyorkeats – they can help you hypertarget Instagram users within a certain area, that might be looking for services or content based around where they live

💌 Community hashtags – these are usually created specifically by users to bank all content relating to their brand or online community, an example of one could be #flickfam – you can use these to encourage people to share content about your brand, but also to help curate content relating to your community or account in one place, which you could later repost on your own feed

🚩 Flagged hashtags – these are hashtags that have been flagged to Instagram as being potentially inappropriate and are under review – you’ll want to avoid these

🙅‍♀️ Banned hashtags – these are hashtags that are banned on Instagram and can impact the health of your account. If you use a banned hashtag, your content will not be shown to anyone on that hashtag, as it is not visible on the platform.

Want to learn more about banned & flagged hashtags and how to avoid them? Click here! 

How to use hashtags on Instagram

Ok, so you’ve got to grip with the basics, and you’re probably thinking – how do I rank on a hashtag already?! I want to start seeing growth! Don’t worry, we won’t make you wait any longer, let’s get right into ranking on hashtags and how it works…

How to rank on a hashtag 🥇

This is important if you want to use hashtags to see organic growth on Instagram.  To rank on a hashtag means that you will appear in the top posts section of that hashtag – AKA your content will be one of the first things someone sees when they search a hashtag and will be flagged to Instagram as a good piece of content to represent that niche, therefore landing you in more discover feeds. Say it with us: ranking on a hashtag is what brings organic growth.

So how does it work? To rank on a hashtag, your content has to match up to other top performing content within that hashtag. It should have a similar engagement rate to the top-performing posts (in terms of likes and comments) should have a similar momentum in terms of engagements when first posted, and your account should usually be of a similar size to the top performers that already exist in that hashtag. All of this will help determine whether or not you rank. So, using the hashtags #love or #makeup, for example, are likely not going to help you perform as a smaller account, because they are too broad and too competitive. Larger accounts with higher engagement rates will likely be using those hashtags, so your content will have a much harder time in terms of ranking. Not ranking on hashtags? Read this!

instagram guide

The competitiveness of a hashtag is the most important thing to consider when it comes to ranking on a hashtag. You should try to use a mix of Low-High Competition hashtags on your posts, because if you rank on a less competitive hashtag, this might push your post’s popularity up, helping you rank on a Medium Competition hashtag, and finally a High Competition hashtag. The higher the competition of a hashtag, the more likely it is that you will gain increased engagement and an uptick in following, as there are more eyes on those hashtags (since they are searched more often). If you use Flick, you are able to pair your account with our hashtag tool, which means we can suggest a range of low, medium and high competition hashtags specifically for your account – taking on the hard work for you. Learn more about understanding the competitiveness of a hashtag, and putting together a strategy that works for your account, here.

There are a number of different elements that determine how competitive a hashtag is, from engagement level, to account the size of top performers, to the number of posts that are in that hashtag. Whether or not the hashtag topic is trending can also have a big impact, such as hashtags that relate to specific sporting events, or holidays that come around once a year. You can also read more specifically about those metrics in this article.

How to find the best hashtags on Instagram 👍

For each of these how-tos, we’ll be showing you both manual instructions, as well as how to do each action using Flick. This is because, even if you aren’t part of the #FlickFam, we still want you to be able to find the right hashtags!

How to find the best hashtags on Instagram manually:

The first thing to do is to think about your niche, and what theme or type of hashtags you would want to use to describe your content. Once you know, or come up with these keywords, you can start plugging them into Instagram. When searching each hashtag on Instagram, you will be able to see the top posts as well as the number of posts in that hashtag. If a hashtag has an extremely large number of posts, this might be an indicator that it is more competitive. Take a look at a few of the top posts within that hashtag, and see if your engagement matches up, or is close to the average engagement of the top posts. If it is, this might be a good hashtag to include in your next post. Again, you’ll want to make sure you have a mix of low, high and medium competition hashtags, and that you’re not using the same hashtags on every post, as you won’t reach new audiences as easily.

How to find the best hashtags on Instagram with Flick:

Flick takes all the hard work out for you. All you have to do is connect your account, and search for keywords that are relevant to your content. We then give a list of suggested hashtags that are similar to the keyword you searched, and separate them into low, medium and high competition categories, based on your profile and the top-performing hashtags in those profiles. You can select the hashtags you like, and either copy them to your clipboard to post, or save them into a Collection for later!

instagram hashtags guide

How to save hashtags for future use 🗂

How to manually save hashtags:

If you want to save hashtags to use in the future the manual way, most people will save a list of hashtags in their Notes app, that they can go to when posting. It’s important to separate the hashtags out when saving them, so you know which ones are high, low and medium competition, and which ones fit into your different categories of content or niches.

How to save hashtags with Flick: 

At Flick, we have a handy filing system when it comes to saving your hashtags. All you have to do is select the hashtags you want to save, and save them into a Collection, which is stored on your profile. You can create Collections based on content type e.g. London hashtags and New York Hashtags or by competitiveness and hashtag size e.g. Low Competition or Large Hashtags. What you name your Collections is up to you!

We also have Smart Collections, which you can use to see your overall top-performing hashtags across your account, all of the hashtags you have used, and your recently ranked hashtags.

How to understand what hashtags are working ✅

How to understand which hashtags are working manually:

Understanding which hashtags are working can be a little tricky and time-consuming when done manually, but it still can be done. To check if you have ranked on a hashtag, you need to search and select that hashtag on Instagram. You can then scroll through the top posts and see if your content is featured. You might want to check a few times after posting, as a piece of content won’t rank immediately – it may take a few hours to build up engagement. If you are tracking your performance this way, you can compare the hashtags you rank on, on a singular post, with the Impressions you got via hashtags on that post. That will let you know whether or not that hashtag helped increase your visibility. Remember, if you are doing this manually, you’ll need to stay on top of the hashtags every time you post – hashtag rankings change, and just because you rank, it doesn’t mean that your content will be there for days, so timing is everything!

How to understand which hashtags are working with Flick:

Flick has an in-built Analytics Suite, which will notify you of the hashtags you are ranking on, alongside their competition, the number of times you have ranked on that hashtag, what position you ranked in, the average position you rank on that hashtag, alongside your other metrics like Engagement & Impressions. This allows you to directly compare your hashtag performance with your growth, so you can see which hashtags are working for you, and which ones aren’t! Read more about how to read our Analytics, here. 

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How to do Hashtag Research 🕵️‍♀️

 

How to do hashtag research manually:

To find the right hashtags manually, you’ll need to think about your niche, account size, average Engagement and the type of content you post. The hashtags you use should contain top-ranking posts that match up to your average Engagement, and the hashtags you use should also be relevant to the content you are posting. If someone is searching a hashtag and the content doesn’t match up, it’s unlikely that post will do well, or rank on that hashtag. Doing this manually takes a lot of research, as hashtags can fluctuate in terms of popularity or trends, and you’ll want to use different hashtags as your account grows.

How to do hashtag research with Flick: 

Researching hashtags with Flick is easy – it’s what we do. All you need to do is link your account to Flick (it’s safe and we have been recognized by Facebook). Once your account is linked, you can start searching for hashtags based on keywords that are relevant to your content. When you search a keyword, we will provide you with a list of hashtags that are relevant to this keyword, and will work well for your account based on your engagement and profile size. You can then save these hashtags to Collections, or copy and paste them directly to your posts! 

What works for you will depend on your size and niche, but we have a lot of free resources which show you how to create a hashtag strategy:

Join our hashtag academy, and take our free course, which gets you off the ground running with hashtags. This features modules and assignments to make sure you get absolutely everything you need to know.

If reading guides are more your thing, we also have this hashtag strategy guide, which takes you from A-Z, and is one of our most popular resources with our users.

If you already have some basic knowledge and want a quick strategy to reach, have a look at this article on how to build a ladder hashtag strategy.

How to use Instagram hashtags (Quick wins) 🙌

  • Use 30 hashtags on every post to maximize your chances of ranking.
  • Use a mix of Low, Medium and High Competition hashtags.
  • Use hashtags that describe the content of your Instagram post.
  • Don’t use the same hashtags on every single post.
  • Save your hashtags in organized collections to track your performance.
  • Avoid using Banned or Flagged Instagram Hashtags.
  • Make analytics your friend, to track the hashtags you rank on, and the ones that don’t perform as well for your account.

How to add hashtags to Instagram Stories 📖

We’ve created a great resource that takes you through everything you need to know about how to add hashtags to Instagram Stories. Find it here.

After reading this guide, you should be equipped with all the basics you need to be able to ace your hashtag strategy and start seeing organic growth on your posts. If you want to learn more about what we do at Flick, just click the banner below! 

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