How do Hashtags Work on Instagram? How to Use Them.

Well I caved. I finally decided to experiment with marketing on social media, particularly Instagram because for quite some time I had wanted to do a travel blog.

My initial efforts into this new world of marketing led me to start learning about hashtags and how they work and I’ve got a great deal to share with you on this topic today.

how do hashtags work on instagram

Now I want to make a confession. When I said I caved, I did so because I had always hated the word “hashtag”, mostly because I didn’t understand it and when I heard people say it out loud, it irritated my ears. I once even swore I’d never use them, but here I am, giving you guys a tutorial on it now…

Let me say that my view on this topic has evolved a great deal because I had always seen the potential of using social media for niche marketing and in my case, a travel blog, one which features pictures of nature most specifically, something like Instagram would be perfect for testing out the potential of this stuff and I will admit, my knowledge on it is still pretty new, but given my above intermediate experience in basic online marketing, I have been learning this stuff pretty quickly and figuring out how to maximize on this subject.

So let’s get to it.

Don’t know what Hashtags are? Here’s a quick explanation:

They are basically keywords (if you’re an internet marketer, and know a little something about SEO and PPC), but they have this symbol: #, next to it. This identifies the topic.

Now let’s cover how hashtags work on Instagram:

Even though they are also used on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, ect…, I’ll only cover the Instagram portion of them…

Let me explain how these things work by offering a real life example:

1) Suppose you have an Instagram account and enjoy looking at something like nature scenery and want to find tons of pictures pertaining to that.

2) You’d look up the term nature scenery or anything like it and Instagram would give you tons of hashtags that pertain to that topic and would then give you a whole bunch of pictures to look at that reflect that search.

3) Now in the case of nature scenery, there would be a TON of different hashtags available, as I found out recently. For example:

examples of instagram hashtags

A quick analogy for you SEO people (me included):

Let’s look at this from 2 points of views, first from the SEO perspective…

1) As a marketer, you make a niche site, target different keywords so that when people type them up on Google, they’ll hopefully see your site (here’s a good program to train you to do this).

2) And as a browser, you also go on Google, type up a keyword and get website results that relate to it.

No problem…but now let’s look at hashtags and social media. It’s really not that different…

As a marketer, you would take a picture of whatever you have, then put RELEVANT hashtags on it so that when people type them up in the search of say…Instagram, you would potentially appear for them.

Now the thing about this is that when you type a keyword, in this case…nature for example, you won’t get pictures right away, you will instead get channels or popular hashtags associated with the keyword you wrote. Here is an example: 

You should notice that the top results also show a number called “posts”. That’s basically the number of different pictures posted on that “channel”. 

In this case, the top one has over 200 million pictures (aka posts)! That’s pretty insane…

And the second has over 14 million. 

The top 2 results I got from typing my keyword are popular to say the least…

Now the question is, how can you leverage this information for say…marketing purposes?

Well let’s establish a purpose to all this first…

I don’t know about you, but to me, as someone who is aiming to have a popular travel blog, I would try to utilize Instagram and gain followers, likes and link them to my page to sell them things. That’s really my main business plan summarized. So with that in mind, how would I do this?

Enter the steps:

There are 4…

1) I’d need to actually have an Instagram account for starters.

One thing I started with was setting one up and linking it through my Facebook account. What this gave me was the opportunity to add the same friends I had on FB, but on Instagram, at least the ones who also had it.

Now what this does initially is that whenever you post a picture and they like it, their friends will see it too and if its interesting to them, they may follow you and you can grow a following.

Now this isn’t a mandatory step and it’s unlikely to produce anything huge unless you are a popular celebrity so don’t worry about this. 

In any case, just get an account set up whether or not you have FB set up.

2) Decide on a niche topic you plan to show pictures of.

It is also ideal to have an existing niche site because your Instagram account will link to it in your profile. 

In my case it’s nature.

3) Prepare to post a picture a day. 

In my case, I’ve got a lot of different pictures I’ve made over the years of nature related stuff, so I have a perfect stock to work with. 

4) Find hashtags pertaining to your niche topic and prepare to add them to each picture you upload. 

Now there’s 2 options available here. The first is the most obvious one, yet it has a low probability of success and that is:

Select the hashtags that have the most posts in your niche topic. You are allowed up to 30 per post.

So in my case, when I put up a nature picture, and decide to add my hashtags, I’ll either have to review the top ones for nature OR I can start typing up keywords that relate to the topic and and an auto fill in will appear to show me the most popular hashtags associated with it.

Think of Google instant filling in a keyword you type, this is exactly how this feature works on Instagram and it’s quite awesome. Here is an example:

Note how every single hashtag I use pertains to my niche. This is what you’ll also want to do, but use the ones that are pertaining to your topic instead (unless it also deals with nature).

Now I have really only tackled the most popular hashtags I was given, and I did manage to produce a bunch of extra likes and a few new followers.

But there is a problem with this strategy which is why there is a second option…

First the problem:

Theoretically when you submit your image to appear on the most popular posts (#’s), yours will appear, but the problem is that because it’s such a popular subject, there’s tons and tons of people CONSTANTLY submitting their pictures as well and the more they submit there’s, the more your picture/s get pushed down and away from the top, and literally with every passing second have less chances of being seen.

So unless you can keep putting up tons of pictures daily, you’re really not going to get a lot of exposure and potential followers this way.

Having tried this several times, then looked through the posts themselves to find my picture, I couldn’t even do it because there were so many new ones being submitted. It makes for wasted effort in my opinion.

Note: This problem really affects niche topics that are popular/competitive. Nature in this case, which is my topic, is quite competitive.

So what is the other option?

Well you need to (ideally) find a hashtag that is both popular, but doesn’t have a lot of posts and at the same time is still relevant to your niche topic. 

What are the benefits of that? Here’s a couple:

1) You won’t have as many new incoming posts being put up so your picture will be at the top of new posts for a longer period of time.

2) This extra exposure provides more opportunities for likes and followers.

3) This essentially provides better chances to grow a higher following and develop your channel.

4) There also exists a “top posts” for each hashtag and if you can land there with enough likes, you can really start to ride a wave of extra higher exposure. Think of hitting the first page of Google and how much more traffic you get from that, that’s how this also works and you have a MUCH better chance of landing there through this option.

Well how do you do that?

Thanks to a few YouTubers who were kind enough to share their “secrets” publicly (I will mention their videos shortly if you wish to watch them too), I found out that you need to look at what the tags are of the keywords you look up on Instagram, and not the TOP posts. 

The tag option will also open up a list of hashtags, but ones which aren’t as gigantic as the top ones. And if you target those, you will benefit from the 4 things I just mentioned. 

So let’s apply that principal to my case. By following this idea, here is what I was shown:

Now you may find that in YOUR particular niche, this option is not necessary as the top posts will not be popular enough for you to worry about looking at lesser competitive hashtags in which case, by all means, chase the top ones and reap the benefits. 

But in my case and in most niche topics that are huge, you will likely have to depend on this second option to grow your following. 

Now for those YouTubers I promised I’d mention to you guys:

Here is the full name of their videos and channel names so you can find them. I typically do not like linking out of my site, but these are the full names you should look for on YouTube if you want a more in-depth look at the strategies I was talking about:

My final thoughts:

I will tell you guys this much, this world of hashtags is still opening up for me and I am very astounded by the information and opportunity available with this. 

I will keep experimenting on my site and updating you all with posts on this one as to how it’s doing. I can definitely tell you there is amazing opportunity with Instagram, especially if you are making a niche site that is visually focused like mine. 

Now I do want to tell everyone NOT to forget about SEO and go forth with this because in my opinion SEO and Google still hold a higher profit potential, BUT if you can figure out and grow a huge following on Instagram, use it together with SEO strategies to create a very profitable website. 

What do I mean by that? Well let’s go back to my nature site:

I will be putting up blog posts targeting keywords of popular places and writing posts on them so I can rank on Google.

At the same time, I will be putting up pictures of those places on Instagram so I can send people to those posts.

Overall, I will be harnessing the power of 2 very powerful networks:

Google and Instagram to get traffic and this will really help the site grow. Although I will say, my #1 priority will be SEO, not social media, at least not until I learn it better and until you do as well, do not over focus on social media, stick to SEO, trust me, it is VERY reliable to make a great and profitable website through.

Any experienced social media marketer out there? Let me hear from you!

I’d absolutely love to hear your strategies if you do social media marketing, especially Instagram related stuff. This is still a very new area for me personally that I am fascinated by and if you have your own tips for growing a following, I’d love to know about it!

28 thoughts on “How do Hashtags Work on Instagram? How to Use Them.”

  1. Hi – what a great article. I’m an internet marketer as well and quite honestly had never considered using Instagram before…now I’m rethinking that since I want to do all I can to grow my site as well. Time for me to open up an Instagram account :). Thanks for getting my marketing wheels turning and thinking outside the box! I wonder if it’s more difficult taking or finding relevant pictures for niches like business, marketing topics? Thanks!

    Reply
    • I find a lot of people who do internet business related niches and market them on IG do things like post inspirational memes and quotes and use superficial pictures like fancy cars, big houses, and things that visually get people to assume wealth. I’m honestly not a fan of that stuff, so when I use IG, it’s mainly for visual niches like nature, but that’s my personal approach.

      Reply
  2. I agree with you that hashtags were mysterious for me for the longest time. I tried your recommendations and sure enough there were less used hashtags that I had been avoiding. Do you recommend looking up whether your keywords are also hashtags, and would there be any advantage to that?

    Reply
    • It depends on what you mean by keywords and in what context. In SEO regards, keywords are written and spoken differently vs the types that are typed as hashtags on Instagram. The real way to find out is to type the keyword and see if there’s any popular hashtags associated with it and if so, how big they are in terms of how often people post there.

      Reply
  3. What a great informative post! I have been looking for this information for quite some time and I really did not understand the whole thing with hashtags and Instagram. Or what Instagram is really even for, LOL. I am now realizing that I need an Instagram account! I think that this would be so beneficial, and you have made it so simple to follow.

    Reply
  4. I have been ignoring Instagram for a while now. I did not know it had so much traffic potential. I have a new blog now so I guess there is no better time to market my posts using hashtags than the present.  

    What about creating an Instagram for your blog instead of a personal Instagram account? The traffic potential from my friends would be eliminated there so maybe that’s not such a great idea huh. 

    Thanks for this posts. Definitely looking at Instagram marketing more seriously now.

    Reply
    • I would honestly focus most of your efforts on the blog. But I’m not really sure what you meant by making an Instagram for your site. Did you mean:

      Creating a link from your blog to Instagram? Or did you mean starting some kind of social media platform like it? 

      Either way, in my experience, it’s just better to blog vs put up stuff on Instagram. Here is why

      Reply
  5. Awesome article! I had no idea about the tags and was always going for the top ones and I would notice my likes would cap off around usually the same amount. I will be using this tactic with the hopes of getting more exposure for my website. Since I have a gaming website there’s a lot of competition so this is a nice step for me to try and up my game! No pun intended XD

    Reply
    • Look for hashtags pertaining to games, consoles, specific video games and if their posts are under 50,000 posts, if you do, save them, you should find your likes from posting on those hashtags goes up Jack. Let me know if this works.

      Reply
  6. I really like this article. I’m definitely going to keep Instagram on my marketing radar. I haven’t done any real social media marketing. It’s good to know how to properly use hashtags and Instagram. Nice job and great site. Your advice goes right in line with the direct marketing principle of always being relevant.

    Reply
    • No problem Michael. I will be doing a followup on my experiences, so far I’ve crossed 100 followers and it has been SLOW, something I was warned about my multiple Instagram veterans, my advice would be to stick to SEO mainly and not worry too much about Instagram or other social media platforms, at least, not until the SEO works well on it’s own to invest time and energy into social media.

      Reply
  7. This is very interesting because I am trying to gain more traffic through social media. At this point I am only focusing on Facebook but your explanation about hashtags on Instagram made me want to join that as well. I have no idea how Instagram works so don’t know if it is similar to Facebook but if I would use hashtags on Facebook. should I use them on every post I publish on my profile or only on posts I publish in groups?
    Hope I could explain my question in a way that you could understand it.
    Cheers
    Maria

    Reply
    • The truth is I don’t know Maria, I know that Hashtags work similarly in terms of their marketing, but if you put up hashtags on a FB post, OR make an Instagram post, put hashtags there and share the post on FB, the hashtags will be live and act as links. 

      However, when you click them (on FB) they will take you to a FB fan page with the same exact posts and pictures that you would see on Instagram, except it’ll be on FB. It’s hard to explain, but if you check out ANY FB post which has hashtags and click on them, you will see what I mean.

      You need to know that Instagram is primarily a visual social network, whereas FB is mixed. It’s like comparing Pinterest and Google search. They have their own ways of marketing through them and I’m personally still figuring this out.

      Reply
  8. I finally understand what hashtags are about. I used them a couple of times in Facebook posts but from what you say here, hashtags have the same keyword power in Instagram (or any of the other social media platforms for that matter) as keywords have in Google. I personally don’t use Instagram, and I don’t know much about it, but I see that I’m missing on a huge potential for leads and conversions. Then again it seems to depend on the niche you are into if I understand correctly. One questions I have is why chose Instagram over the other social media platforms? Is there any particular reason?

    Reply
    • The reason I chose Instagram was because my niche market was very visually based and for that, I felt Instagram was a lot more relevant to work with. Plus it gives me a chance to experiment with a new platform Denis. 

      I have in the past dove into FB marketing, but only very slightly and got frustrated. With Instagram, I feel a lot more passionate about working through that network and on my blog.

      Reply
  9. I have been using hashtags for ages and I can honestly say that I haven’t seen too much potential from it. Maybe my posts suck, lol.

    But with that being said, would you say that including hashtags that have nothing to do with my post would be a wise move? 

    How can I really tell what tags to use outside of the top ones you find on the search pages?

    Reply
    • It depends man, using none relevant hashags will likely not get your image clicked on, unless you have something like a beautiful woman there, those tend to attract clicks. 

      But you need to be authentic, don’t fool people by trying to bait them with false images and lead them into your channel which doesn’t have a niche in mind. I always stick to the same types of hashtags for my posts and that’s because they are relevant, and I am slowly building a following through doing this. 

      Eventually, my following will rise enough where I can utilize my follower’s likes to compete with more competitive hashtags and grow further, but your following needs to be there and ready to like your posts and for that, they need to be happy with your images and looking forward to the next ones you’re putting out.

      And as for the “top hashtags”, don’t use them, use the less competitive ones like I advised.

      Reply
  10. So I see people put hashtags at the end of their Facebook posts all the time. What they amount to to me are sentences with no spaces in the words. So they really don’t do much other than tick me off. Ha.

    So if I’m understanding your article, hashtags are to social media, what keywords are to Google? If so I guess that makes sense, I just guess I still don’t see the need for the pound symbol.

    Reply
    • That is exactly the right analogy Dustin and it took a little bit of digging for me to figure it out. And I know what you mean about people stuffing hashtags all over. I’m still figuring out how to plug them in without messing up my reader’s viewpoint. i too get annoyed when I see people posting them a lot.

      Reply
  11. I’ve been slowly getting into hashtags myself, I’m assuming if hashtags drive more traffic then my conversations should get higher. I’m looking at doubling my income this year so I’m on a mission. I’m five months into this year and my income has tripled compared to last year, so although this makes me happy, having not done much other than paid Facebook advertising, I am searching for other ways to improve it, so I think hashtags might be the way. I’ve done a little on twitter, but I think I need to commit to it every day to see more fruit.

    Reply
    • Hang on, if you’re already having a successful campaign running FB ads, why not continue doing that? You’ve already gone so far doing this, it’s just a matter of scaling (doing the same thing, but in bigger proportions).

      And hashtags aren’t really traffic drivers, at least on Instagram, there they basically have your image/video pop up on a channel which is labeled with that hashtag and all that happens is that your media gets put at the top of that channel as new incoming content.

      Now the more popular a hashtag, the more quickly other people will also post their stuff on that channel which will drive down yours, hence the reason why it’s better to target less popular and more relevant hashtags.

      They’ll basically give you more time to expose your media to the relevant niche crowd and when I say more time, I mean there won’t be as many new posts coming in which will keep yours hanging around the top longer, which will increase the odds of more eyes seeing it.

      Reply
  12. Personally, I sometimes use hashtags but I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I have been using them on Facebook and twitter but didn’t know they carry such a huge weight. I’m glad I found your tutorial on this matter and I must admit that I have learned a lot.

    What is your advice on niches that may contain several hashtags? Is it advisable to include more than two hashtags on one post or it would bring about confusion when people are searching for it?

    Thank you for your time in providing this informative post.

    Best wishes

    Paul.

    Reply
    • Hi Paul, from my understanding so far on this, you can use up to 30 hashtags per post. What I do is make a little caption on my images/videos, then underneath that place the hashtags so it doesn’t annoy my viewers.

      But the more relevant hashtags you put that are in low competition posts, the more that image/video will pop up on those posts (and on each), so you should maximize this by finding as many hashtags as you can that are relevant and putting them up so you get maximum exposure.

      Reply
  13. The hashtag is one form of SEO for social media….lol. Funny but in a way true. It allows people related to your tweet, or picture to see it.

    It is a very good way to grow your followers and it also increases your list. Sometimes it attracts fake accounts but the benefits are worth the time.

    Reply
    • Yeah I have heard stories about fake accounts, but you just can’t help but attract that in this business, just like spam comments for websites doing SEO. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a great opportunity Jimmy, great points.

      Reply
  14. Hey Vitaliy, I have to say that was an excellent blog post! I never quite understood what hashtags meant and didn’t know much about the SEO process, regarding hashtags. I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this article it was very thorough and provided me a lot of great insight.

    Now I don’t use Instagram that much but since I do use Twitter I will now understand what I need to do regarding hashtags after reading this article, thank you very much I have also bookmarked your site, I’m a new fan.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I’m not a fan of twitter, I still have an account, I just never use it, but yeah the Hashtag rule also applies there, although that is more content based (in a written way) in my understanding vs visually based content such as on Instagram.

      Also SEO and this type of stuff isn’t the same thing, it’s just an analogy I used to help SEO people understand this stuff 🙂

      Reply

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