How NOT to Use Instagram Hashtags

How do you decide on what hashtags to use for your Instagram posts? Do you go for the tags that are the most popular or do you go for ones that are a bit more niche? Do you use whatever first pops into your head (or the search bar)?

Believe it or not, there is actually a wrong way to tag your Instagram posts. Not all tags are created equal, and the wrong ones used in the wrong way could prevent your content from being discovered. It could even get you penalized by the Instagram algorithm.

So, the next time you log on to Instagram to post your #MondayMotivation, watch out for these 5 most common IG hashtag mistakes:

1. Don’t Use the Same Hashtags for Every Post

Instagrammers who use the same hashtags for each image they post are automatically penalized by IG’s algorithm. When you think about it, this is a logical move from Instagram’s perspective. Choosing the exact same hashtags for each piece of content you post is a strong indicator that you are not putting much thought or effort into the content you post. Instagram, of course, wants to push the most valuable content to their users, so they’ll prioritize content from creators who accurately and thoughtfully use hashtags, rather than spamming the same few tags.

There are countless hashtags for every topic imaginable. There’s no excuse for using the same generic tags for every post. 

2. Don’t Worry Too Much About the Number of Hashtags

Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags. If you use more than 30, all your hashtags will be voided, so make sure to keep it under that threshold.

Other than that one rule, there’s no real agreement on how many hashtags provide the best results. Some social media experts suggest using all 30 hashtags to give yourself the best chance of being discovered. Others argue that a long list of hashtags at the end of each post can look desperate and turn off potential followers.

So, when it comes to nailing down an exact number, don’t sweat it too much, and just do what feels right for you.

3. Don’t Choose Only the Most Popular Hashtags

Choosing the right hashtags is a bit more complicated than you might initially realize. Most people’s first instinct is to go with the tags that are the most popular. Popular tags=more viewers=more engagement, right?

Wrong.

To use hashtags effectively, you need to know where your account currently sits with Instagram’s ranking. That’s because, when people search for that hashtag, Instagram will display the most popular posts with that hashtag first. Chances are, you’re not an IG celebrity with a million followers, so your content likely will not be able to complete with posts from more popular Instagrammers.

Not all hashtags are created equal, and the wrong ones used in the wrong way could prevent your content from being discovered. #MichaelsWilder #Instagram Click To Tweet

If your account is smaller, your best bet will be to use hashtags with a smaller following in which you have a better chance of ranking near the top. For example, let’s say that you run a photography business. You wouldn’t want to caption your images with #photography because that particular hashtag has over 290 million posts associated with it.  Instead you might use #austinweddingphotography, which has substantially fewer posts at fewer than 19,000 (and also provides the advantage of drawing in a local audience). Of course, you’ll still need to take a look at how much engagement the top posts in that hashtag receive in order to see if you’ll be able to compete. More niche hashtags will make it more likely that your posts will end up near the top of the search results, but if you go too niche, you run the risk of no one searching for that hashtag at all.

4. Don’t Forget to Use Hashtags in Your Bio and Stories

Hashtags aren’t just for your standard IG posts. You can (and should) also include them in your bio and stories. However, these hashtags do work a bit differently. Let me explain.

Stories hashtags serve the same purpose as post hashtags: they help you get discovered. The process for adding them, though, is a bit different. You can either use the text tool (which will allow you to add up to 10 hashtags) or a hashtag sticker to tag your IG story. Tagging your story will make it searchable on the Search & Explore page.

Now on to the bio. Any hashtags you use here will be for an entirely different purpose. These tags should be specifically branded for your business. This could either be an overarching brand hashtag (e.g. #WilderThinking) or a hashtag that you create to promote a certain campaign.

These hashtags are there to show users visiting your bio where to find content associated with your business. You’ll want to use these branded tags in your posts and encourage your fans to do the same. That way, when someone clicks on the hashtag from your bio, they’ll be able to see all the content from you and your fans in one place!

5. Don’t Go in Without a Strategy

To zero in one the best hashtags to use for your account, I suggest using a spreadsheet.

Create a list of hashtags you want to use along with the number of posts currently using that hashtag. Then take a look at the average number of likes popular posts in each hashtag receive. Compare those numbers with the average number of likes your posts receive. If your posts fall short of the average number of likes for a particular hashtag, it may not be the best strategic decision to use that one.

Find the hashtags that you think you can dominate, and go for it. Keep track of which hashtags you use in your spreadsheet, and take note of your average engagement rates for posts using that hashtag. This will help you to identify the best performing hashtags in your niche.

As your account begins to grow, you can revisit some of those more popular hashtags and start competing with the big dogs!

Mike Speer Administrator
Chief Marketing Officer Michaels WIlder

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.

Chief Marketing Officer at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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Mike Speer Administrator
Chief Marketing Officer Michaels WIlder

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.

Chief Marketing Officer at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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