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Leveraging the Best Hashtags: How to Do Hashtag Research

If the question "do hashtags even work anymore" is on your mind, our answer is a resounding "Yes," IF you know how to leverage them correctly.. While the chances of a hashtag helping you go viral isn't as guaranteed as it was in what many people like to consider the 'good 'old days' of Instagram, they have still proven to be highly effective in expanding your content's reach beyond your existing audience. Even if the results of hashtags aren't as significant as they were a few years ago, we still think it's worthwhile to put effort into using them.  

Instagram Algorithm Updates & What They Mean for Hashtags

Over the years, Instagram has been putting in serious work on its algorithm to improve its search functionalities.

Due to these search upgrades, the secret sauce to optimizing your content's reach is now a healthy blend of strong captions with relevant keywords, the right combination of hashtags specific to your industry and niche, and visually appealing content that stops the scroll. As a result, hashtags are no longer the platform's say-all, be-all of discoverability- but they certainly remain an important piece of the puzzle.

PRO TIP: Once you find hashtags that are just right for your brand, use PLANOLY's hashtag manager to create groups of hashtags and save them in your hashtag library for future use.

How many hashtags should you be using?

The answer to this question has been widely debated, especially since Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri made a statement on social media in 2022 that hashtags do not help increase visibility for content. He also mentioned that you shouldn't use the maximum 30 hashtags that you can use per post on the platform. However, many social media experts disagree with Mosseri, sharing screenshots of their insights as proof that hashtags are indeed still effective for visibility.  

While Mosseri recommends using as few hashtags as possible, we recommend using as many relevant and specific hashtags for your posts as you can.

How do you find hashtags?

We've nailed down that hashtags are still important and effective. So how do you know which ones will actually turn into your content landing on Instagram's coveted Explore page?

Begin by Analyzing Your Top Competitors - What hashtags are they using in their posts? When you search for a common hashtag relevant to your brand or business, what type of content do you see? For example, if you own a vegan restaurant, which accounts dominate the results when you search #veganmeals? Dive into those posts and view the other hashtags they use frequently. (Related: How to Research Hashtags for Your Audience)

Develop a List of Hashtags for Your Common Types of Instagram Content – For every content bucket or theme, develop a list of 10-20 hashtags you will use for each post. For example, if you frequently post pictures of your product, create a set of hashtags for all product-related posts. For each type of core content bucket or theme, establish 4-5 hashtags for these hashtag types to ensure a balanced mix.

  • Brand-specific (e.g. Bumble uses #makethefirstmove)
  • Niche (e.g. a plant shop uses #snakeplant)
  • Location based (e.g. Austin restaurants use #512eats)
  • Product-specific (e.g. Adidas uses #yeezy)

Repeat this process to identify a list of 10-20 hashtags for each type of content bucket or theme you frequently post in the feed. You can use PLANOLY's hashtag manager feature to create hashtag lists and easily add custom groups of hashtags to posts before they are scheduled. (Related: How to use PLANOLY's Hashtag Manager)

Are there universal hashtags that everyone should be using?

The short answer is no. The long answer is that every industry and audience is different, so it's essential to research and use hashtags that align with the interests of your specific audience. Not only does this help you better target the people you want to reach, but it helps you refrain from using overutilized hashtags that are often shadow banned and can lead to reduced visibility of your content.

Instagram Hashtag Best Practices

  1. 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.
  2. Use 10-20 Hashtags for Each Type of Instagram Post – Use the strategy of developing a balanced list of 10-20 hashtags for each content bucket.
  3. Mix it Up – Use brand-specific, niche, location-based, and product-specific hashtags in each Instagram post.
  4. Put Hashtags in Your Caption – While it isn't the most aesthetically appealing approach, Instagram has stated that hashtags should be in captions to be effective.

Researching and establishing a set of frequently used, popular hashtags is a part of every effective Instagram growth strategy. With the right mix of hashtags with these tips and well-researched hashtags, look forward to generating more engagement, followers, and sales on Instagram!

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Gabriella Layne-Avery

Gabriella Layne-Avery is a Content Strategist, Creative Director, and the founder of the content marketing agency Strut Communications. Known for coining the term ‘sustainable social media,’ she believes it’s 100% possible for small business owners to leverage social media to cultivate engaged, loyal communities for their brands without spending 24/7 doing so.

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