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How to find the best instagram hashtags

Have you ever wondered what the difference between a good hashtag and a bad one? Did you know that was even a thing? For all intents and purposes, most people on social media use hashtags for their interesting quips or to join a specific movement. However, people interested in organic Instagram growth know a hashtag is more than a play on words or proof that you support a cause. Instead, hashtags now account for at least 1/3rd of your content’s potential for discovery.

At Ampfluence we’ve always known hashtags would be an integral part of organizing content on Instagram’s primarily visual platform.  Since Instagram’s release of the “follow hashtag” feature, our beliefs have been further cemented. In this post, we’ll help you delve deep into understanding Instagram hashtags. So get comfortable, grab a drink, and turn off all notifications as we explore this very important facet of content discovery.

How Are Instagram Hashtags Are Used

There are several ways hashtags are used on Instagram. These include:

  • In post and story captions
  • In search
  • In recommendations
  • When an account follows hashtags

Let me explain in further detail exactly how they are used.

How Hashtags Are Used In Post Captions and Stories

When a post is created on Instagram users have the option to include captions within their posts. Captions are accompanying text for each Instagram post. Users are able to include hashtags in captions. An illustration of this practice is included below.

Instagram hashtags in caption

In some cases account holders may include hashtags in the first comment. This is purely aesthetic as many brands prefer to give users the impression that they are not using hashtags. Some accounts may also include bullets or special formatting beneath the caption text to create a separator. This practice also reduces hashtag visibility within the user feed.

Hashtags are also routinely used in stories. For example, @Belsizecakes uses hashtags in her stories to describe the type of cake she is featuring. In some cases, Instagram users include hashtags in their stories however they minimize the hashtag’s appearance by making them really tiny.

Instagram hashtags in stories

However, you choose to use a hashtag in your post or stories the important thing to remember is that hashtags aid in content discovery. This means that while they can often be used as a playful quip it’s more effective to use hashtags that contextually represent your content because they are used to organize and surface content for other users.

How Hashtags are used in Search

Instagram’s search feature is used for many different reasons this includes finding user accounts as well as finding specific types of content. As mentioned an account user can use IG search to find specific types of content. To explain further let’s use an example. Say for instance a user is searching for travel content. The account holder may enter the word travel in search. In which case, specific results will appear including accounts with the word travel in their username as well as the “#travel” hashtag. See the image below.

Instagram search travel hashtags

Once the “#travel” hashtag is selected the user is directed to “#travel” search results which include top posts as well as most recent posts.

Instagram Travel Hashtag Results

If you click on a post in the results the “#travel” hashtag will appear in the post caption.

Travel hashtag in post

This gives you an idea of how hashtags are used within Instagram. Essentially, hashtags are used throughout the platform to organize, identify, recommend, and display content users are searching for. With regard to search, there is a misconception that only accounts with thousands of likes or 100k+ followers will appear in search results. However, that’s not the case. While top posts are something to aspire to hashtagged posts can also be discovered in most recent content as well. See image below.

hashtags less likes still appear in search results

Hashtags recommendations

Specific user recommendations are based on the account holder’s use of the platform. With regard to hashtags, users can now follow hashtags. When a hashtag is followed content will appear in the users feed. This means people no longer have to specifically follow someone to actually view their content. Instead, if content uses a specific hashtag Instagram may surface that content in the user’s feed (if the hashtag is followed). With regard to hashtag recommendations, if a user likes hashtagged content frequently Instagram will recommend the user follow certain hashtags based on content similarity. For example, below I’ve included images of hashtag recommendations for 3 different accounts. You’ll notice that Instagram recommended hashtags based on account activities.

Instagram hashtag recommendations

When a hashtag is followed

As described above Instagram does often provide hashtag follow recommendations. When a user follows a hashtag the content appears in their feed. For example, I’ve provided images of an account that follows dog related hashtags. You’ll see the hashtagged content appear in the feed even if the user is not following the post creator. You can tell content is not sourced by accounts the user follows because the source of the image is a hashtag e.g. #dogstagram or #doglove as opposed to a username.

Instagram hashtag follows in feed

Now that you know how Hashtags work on Instagram even better than the average marketer 🙂 Let’s move on to how to actually find the best hashtags for more reach.

Finding The Best Instagram Hashtags

To find the best Hashtags on Instagram it’s very important to first understand the people you’d like to attract as well as the content that will be posted. This will help create a foundation for your research. For the purpose of this article let’s say you are attempting to promote streetwear content. We always like to begin by sourcing the top accounts in that specific niche. For example, below is a list of the top streetwear accounts we’ve sourced.

Top Streetwear accounts

Now that we’ve compiled a good list of accounts to work with we can use these references as a starting point for composing hashtag sets. We can use these accounts to gather the most commonly used hashtags. In some cases, you can even swipe hashtag sets and simply call it a day. For example, @Hypebae an account with 1 million followers uses the following hashtag set in a high performing post

#hypebae #puma #ootd #wiwt #streetstyle #sneakers #sneaker #solecollector #walklikeher #sneakerfiend #sneakerholics #womensstreetstyle #sneakergirl #shecozy #femyeah #chicksinkicks #laceherup #girlsonfeet #kicksonfire #walklikeher #sneakerfiend #sneakerholics #womensstreetstyle #sneakergirl #shecozy #femyeah #chicksinkicks #laceherup #girlsonfeet #kicksonfire

High performing hashtags

If you’re not really into long intensive research you can simply extract hashtag sets from all your top accounts like the above. However, if you decide to do this be sure to remove the branded hashtag. For instance, #hypebae is not a hashtag you should use in your post. Instead, replace with your branded hashtag.

Note: We recommend creating at least 10 sets of hashtags sets. Each hashtag set can contain up to 30 hashtags each. Be sure when including hashtags in your post that each hashtag set relates to the content. For example, it’s not a good idea to include #nike in an FILA sneaker post as the hashtag is not relevant.

Additionally, reusing hashtag sets consecutively is not a great practice. It will appear as if you are abusing hashtags or stuffing hashtags. Instead, alternate hashtag sets and add or subtract relevant hashtags based on the post content.

Now that you’ve researched the hashtags your competitors or community uses let’s move on to finding the best hashtags for you.

Hashtag Compilation Rule of Thumb

We like to think of hashtags as a really good opportunity to optimize content on IG. In this respect we make the best opportunity of the 30 hashtag limit by breaking our requirement down to 2 categories. These include:

  • niche or local hashtags
  • generic hashtags

While the 2 categories are not finite it provides discovery opportunities for all levels of content surfacing. For example, you may not always be discovered using the hashtag #streetwear however it’s likely content will be discovered if you are using #laceherup

less competitive hashtags

Let’s explore this rule of thumb in further detail starting with niche hashtags.

Niche or Local Hashtags

Niche and local hashtags fall in the same category because they are subsets of a larger picture. For example, #sundayvibes is a smaller hashtag than #sunday or #adidas is a subset of #sneakers. Local hashtags are similar as well because they describe smaller regions in geographical areas. For example, #floridabarber or #miami is a subset of #florida. In general, the smaller you can drill a concept down the better as it hones in on a very specific type of content. A good indicator that a hashtag is “small enough” is that it falls below 500k posts. Keep in mind it’s not a great idea to use hashtags with very small post counts e.g. 100 – 20,000 posts as they are not often explored by account users. You can view the number of posts associated with a hashtag beneath the hashtag in search (as seen below).

niche hashtags

Generic Hashtags

Generic hashtags are hashtags that are commonly known and used that describe the bigger picture. For example, a generic hashtag for streetwear is #fashion. Generic hashtags oftentimes have posts counts that are higher than a million plus pieces of content. However, they are frequented often because they are commonly known. Additionally, from a programmatic perspective, it’s much easier to recommend macro hashtags or commonly used hashtags as there is wider availability of data.

generic instagram hashtags

Now that you understand the fundamental process of researching hashtags here are a few tips that will help make this process effective.

Hashtag Research Tips

As you can see from the process above using Instagram’s native app and some sort of document is as simple as hashtag research gets. However, if you want to streamline the process continue reading below.

Hashtag Sets

One of my favorite new tools is . It takes away the manual work of searching in the native Instagram app and it’s very simple to use. The tool is currently in beta but it’s totally free and a great way to both research and store hashtag sets for later use. The tool works by asking you to enter a generic hashtag. It will then display up to 100 similar hashtags along with post counts, from there you can select hashtags you’d like to include in a list. Later has a similar tool but it does not display as many results and recommendations are limited to paid accounts.


Save Sets in Your Favorite Note Taking App

If you decide not to use store hashtagsets in your favorite notetaking app. Some go to apps include Bear, Evernote, and Zoho Notebook. If you manage more than one account having an app that you can sync to your mobile device is essential. This way you always have your hashtag sets on hand instead of scrambling to find a good hashtag on the spot.

Zoho notebook

Final Thoughts on Hashtags

You now have the hashtag blueprint. It’s simple and it was totally free!  If I can leave you with one thought it’s this. Don’t give up 33% percent of your discovery opportunity. Hashtags help people find your content. As observed above even large brands with millions of followers use hashtags. It’s a fundamental task every Instagram user searching for growth, traffic, and influence should master.

Do me a favor, if you think this post is valuable please share it with others and of course leave a comment below! Your words of encouragement are everything 🙂 #Stayblessed #DoItForTheGram 🙂

Picture of Andrea Naomi

Andrea Naomi

Andrea is a digital marketer with a passion for content and social. She loves deciphering puzzles, new tech, working with startups, #beachlife, and of course Ampfluence.

Andrea Naomi

Andrea is a digital marketer with a passion for content and social. She loves deciphering puzzles, new tech, working with startups, #beachlife, and of course Ampfluence.
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    2. Great insights into leveraging hashtags effectively on Instagram. The distinction in their usage within post captions stories and search results is crucial for content discovery. Excited to implement these strategies for a stronger online presence.
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