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Leveraging the Best Hashtags: How to Do Hashtag Research

Why Hashtags Matter on Instagram

While the Instagram algorithm changes with relative frequency and hashtags aren’t as important as they were in the early days on the platform, they can still be a great help getting more eyes (and customers!) on your posts.

Instagram growth can be driven by researching and implementing the right hashtags. That said, the importance of hashtags can’t be understated if your goal is to grow your audience and increase your engagement.

There are several key performance indicators that revolve around hashtags on Instagram. Here are a few of the most important factors:

Audience Discovery

Ultimately, hashtags are an easy and effective way to get your content in front of a new audience. When Instagram users search for specific hashtags, the goal is to have your content populate within those search queries.

Audience discovery on Instagram has always been prompted by hashtags. They can also help you generate business for your brand. For example, let’s say that you make beautiful quilts and also use those materials to make one-off fashion items. By using hashtags like #quilts, #quiltsforsale, #designerquilts, and others that speak to your work or your location, anyone on Instagram searching for quilts will be able to find your business and possibly become a new customer.

Getting your content on its corresponding hashtag page provides an opportunity for discovery. You are giving yourself of your business the chance to be seen. The effort of adding hashtags to your posts is very small, but the potential audience discovery that could come from it is huge.

Increased Engagement

Similar to audience discovery, Instagram hashtags also live to help increase your engagement. By their very nature, hashtags work to heighten content visibility. So, by using hashtags on your grid post, Stories, and even in your Lives, it’s easier for the Instagram audience at large to find you.

As mentioned above, Instagram posts with hashtags receive significantly more engagement. That means the potential for more saves, shares, comments, and likes.

Engagement on Instagram looks different these days. Likes aren’t the most impressive engagement metric anymore – saves are! So, using a variety of different yet thoughtful hashtags will help you reach a wider audience that could engage with your posts. Research proves it’s best to use 11 hashtags in your post. Think of it as the magic number.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is important in any aspect of marketing. The same goes for Instagram hashtags.

There is no more valuable way to leverage hashtags on social media than testing different ways to implement them. For starters, extremely popular hashtags are largely irrelevant. Hashtags with millions of searches won’t help you at all. Your content will just get lost in a sea of others, leaving you no opportunity for audience discovery.

What we suggest is using more niche hashtags with lesser search volume so it’s easier for users to find you. For example, #love is an extremely popular hashtag that won’t generate much engagement. However, if you use, say, #loved or #lovehim or #loveher, there’s a much better chance that your content has discoverability.

Make sure you switch your hashtags up as much as possible. Using the same hashtags over and over again can sometimes make your content look spammy and Instagram doesn’t like that. Some have even pointed to this as a reason for a shadowban.

A best practice is to use a tool like PLANOLY’s hashtag manager to pinpoint which hashtags are generating the least engagement. For example, create two groups of hashtags with hashtag manager then a/b them on posts to see which posts perform best. You’ll also want to steer clear of including hashtags in your caption if at all possible. Add your hashtags using a tool like our auto-post first comment feature to both strategize your approach and save a little time.

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The Types of Hashtags You’ll See on Instagram

So you already know that hashtags help brands, marketers, and social media managers reach a wider audience, increase their engagement, and ultimately generate more followers on Instagram.

But for those hashtags to help you reach your goals, you have to put in the necessary effort and research to ensure that they make an impact. Let’s start by defining the different types of hashtags you might see on Instagram:

Community Hashtags

Community hashtags are probably the most straightforward hashtags on Instagram. They are meant to connect users with similar interests to a particular subject or movement. Instagram breaks down community hashtags like this:

Hashtags indicating your product or service, like #sweater or #coffeeshop.

Hashtags indicate your niche in your industry, like #wedding photographer or #travelphotographer.

Hashtags for Instagram community in your industry, like #bakersofinstagram or #foodiesofinstagram.

Hashtags for special events of seasons, like #whiteday or #nationaldonutday.

Hashtags usng location, like #pastrynyc, #madeinToronto, or #sydneysweets.

Daily hashtags, like #mondaymotivation, #tuesdaytip, or #wellnesswednesday.

Hashtags with phrases relevant to what you do, like #becreative or #bakerylove.

Hashtags with acronyms, like #qotd (quote of the day) or #ootd (outfit of the day).

Hashtags with emojis, like #shoes👟 or #🌞

Use a variety of hashtags on your posts and stories, so your posts can reach different communities. For instance, if you have a bakery in NYC, you can use #nycbakeries to reach those looking specifically for bakeries in NYC, but also use #bakerslife for those who are interested in your day-to-day life as a baker.

Branded Hashtags

Branded hashtags are specific to your personal brand or that of your business. This hashtag is unique to you as an influencer, creator, brand, or business.

A branded hashtag could be something simple like your company name or it could be a marketing slogan. You can certainly have some fun with this and make it as fun or clever or thoughtful as you’d like. Just remember, it will be connected to you and your Instagram profile. Users will align it with your brand.

For example, at PLANOLY, we use #planolyfam as a way to connect with our community. Famously, Outdoor Voices branded themselves with #DoingThings. Hopefully what happens when you popularize your branded hashtags is that your customers, followers, and admirers will begin to use them!

Campaign Hashtags

Campaign hashtags are short-term hashtags that align with a particular marketing push, product release, or seasonal drop.

So think back to your last Christmas campaign, spring/summer collection, or new menu rollout; these are all cases where you would likely use a campaign hashtag. The campaign hashtag could be something surrounding your brand's Christmas theme, the name of your new collection, or the region where your new menu items find inspiration. Think #12daysofChristmas, #WearCelineThisSpring or #NewMenuWhoThis. Again, have fun with it and make it representative of your brand personality.

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Instagram Hashtag Research Best Practices

Hashtag research on Instagram, as mentioned above, is easiest with the right tool.

Our Hashtag Manager allows you to create hashtag categories and add custom hashtags to your posts. This tool allows you to break down the impact of your hashtags and if they are in fact increasing your engagement.

Let's dive into a few hashtag research best practices:

Understand Your Target Audience - before creating relevant hashtags, make sure you understand what your target audience is searching for and how they search for it. Make sure you understand those key search terms and phrases. It’s also good practice to know the best times to post on Instagram so that your hashtags trend at the optimal time when your customers and followers are most engaged.

Research Industry Leaders & Competitors - find the leaders in your field and dissect how they are effectively using hashtags to engage their audience. Take the time to understand why they’ve been successful. Dissect those learnings and begin to apply them – uniquely, of course – to your own social media marketing strategy. There is always much to be learned from idols or rivals.

Check Other Social Media Platforms - When forecasting effective hashtags, don’t just check Instagram – extend your research to Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. See how specific hashtags are being used and performing across all social media platforms.

Perform a Google Search - A good Google search can provide tons of information on a keyword or search term. You don’t need to search with the # symbol. Simply search your potential terms or phrases in Google and research the results. See what populates, check the bottom of your Google page for similar search results, and use this information to help craft your hashtag strategy.

Invest in Your Research - Along with our Hashtag Manager, try out tools like AHREFS or Hashtagify to research hashtag performance and potentially maximize your success rate when using hashtags on Instagram.

Captions Should Just Be Captions - The best way to add hashtags to your posts is by adding them in the first comment under your post. Placing them in your caption adds a bit of clutter. And, you didn’t hear this from us, but hashtags in captions come off a little thirsty. Just saying.

Get Niche - We can’t express enough how important it is to find and leverage the niche hashtags in your community. Using small hashtags with less search volume may seem like a small thing, but it will be very meaningful to the users and potential customers that notice your effort to reach them. This is how you target your audience and ultimately identify potential customers.

Mix it Up - So, while we’re talking about niche hashtags, let’s get into mixing up niche hashtags. Find hashtags with small to medium search volume and use a mix of both. For example, find hashtags with 100-1,000 posts and join those with hashtags with 1,000-10,000 posts. Blending hashtags from small and medium-sized groups increase your possibility of audience discovery.

Check Your Analytics - Using your analytics is your cheat sheet to understanding the impact of your hashtags. Whether they be in your grid posts or Stories, make sure you’re researching your analytics and learning from the data at your fingertips.

Leverage Your Bio - Make sure any community, branded, or campaign hashtags are in your bio. Make sure anyone that visits your profile can see that hashtag. Clickable hashtags in your bio are active, so users and potential followers can learn about you or your brand by clicking on that hashtag in your bio.

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Although hashtags may feel old given the modern era of social media, they are still an extremely effective tool to grow your following.

Researching Instagram hashtags should be and remain part of your overall social media strategy. There aren’t many simple ways to generate more engagement, more saves, and more followers than a good hashtag strategy.

Make sure to use PLANOLY’s Hashtag Manager and First Comment features to level up your hashtag strategy on Instagram.

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Darren Griffin

Darren Griffin was a contributing Senior Writer at PLANOLY. His expertise includes culture, fashion, and social media marketing.

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Knowing what hashtags to use for which posts are an important part of your content strategy. We'll walk you through how to perform your own hashtag research!

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