How to research and use hashtags to gain new followers

Woman using her hands to make an instagram hashtag #instagram #hashtag #marketing #instagramfollowers

It's not enough to just have good content, you need to get it in front of potential followers by using hashtags. Read on to find out how to do some killer research.

Variety of produce in a grocery store setting.

How are you going to make your product standout in a crowded market?

You don't need an app, special tools or subscriptions to do hashtag research, just time, a laptop or desktop, and a Google Doc to store them in. Experienced users might already have a set series of hashtags that they use because they work for them, however, as hashtags become popular, your posts get harder and harder to find, so you'll need to revisit your hashtag strategy from time to time. 

A bottle of chlorine thats been misplaced among bottles of milk in a grocery store display. 

Chances are pretty good that no one is looking for refrigerated bleach in the Milk aisle...

Think of yourself as a salesperson, your account as your business, and your posts as  products. Now think of a hashtag as a spot in a display in a particular aisle at a certain type of grocery store. Maybe that spot is the refrigerated  section in the milk aisle of an Organic Grocer for one hashtag, and the magazine rack right up front at your most popular local store as another.

If you use no hashtags, then your product just kind of sits at your business where the only people that can see your product are the ones that are already shopping there (current followers). If you use the wrong hashtag, then it ends up in a bad spot down an aisle where it doesn’t belong, at the wrong store. If you use one correct hashtag, then you’ll only be able to place that product in one spot in one aisle of one grocery store, limiting the number of people that see your product. If you use one hashtag that everyone else uses, then there are too many products to choose from at the most popular grocery store in town and your product has a tough time standing out. Use a hashtag that isn’t used very much, too few if any buyers might see your product because that store gets no business. Now lets say you use 30 proper hashtags, you now have your product displayed in 30 aisles in 30 grocery stores with the potential to attract more buyers.

Bright yellow Bell Peppers that stand out among a display of dark green leeks in a grocery store.

Pretty nice display don't you think? The product stands out from the rest, and it was where you were probably looking for it.

Obviously you want to use the right hashtag, and as many of them as you can! The better your hashtags, the more of an opportunity that your product will stand out in those 30 stores. This is essentially how hashtags work and how people will find your content. They are a way to tag your content and show it to the community of other users who search for photos or videos that are tagged with hashtags they are interested in.

Rustic home decor white and black 5 pointed star on a white background.

Let’s say you’re into rustic home décor. You want to find other people interested in rustic home décor, then #rustichomedecor should have photos of rustic home décor that users have tagged with that hashtag. This allows people to find and follow anyone interested in making, selling or buying rustic home décor. You can also use hashtags of certain feature accounts for a chance to be featured or (shouted out), which in turn can give you a lot of exposure and new followers, readers, or buyers. But we will get into that in a future blog post.

Packages for Instagram users of any level

Packages for Instagram users of any level

Need more than a cookie cutter package? These small business plans are custom tailored for you and your brand

Need more than a cookie cutter package? These small business plans are custom tailored for you and your brand

Fully Managed accounts for brands that are looking for more exposure

Fully Managed accounts for brands that are looking for more exposure

Some hashtags are more popular than others. Let’s use #instagood as an example, it has been used 529,886,316 times and counting. This means it’s a popular hashtag to use and lots of people will see it right?

While it is popular for people to use in hopes of getting some likes, so many people use it every minute that if you use that hashtag your pic will get buried into that group of photos tagged with #instagood very quickly. This makes the chance of your content getting discovered very low. There are also other very general hashtags that you should avoid, an example being #photooftheday with over 382,739,545 posts. Aside from the sheer number of people that use that hashtag which will gain you no exposure, spammers and bots tend to target people who use hashtags such as this in order to get likes and followers. So a good practice is to avoid using hashtags with over 1 million posts.

Then there are hashtags that you should just avoid at all costs. Other hashtags and tags you should avoid using to gain likes and follows are the below, and these are just an example there are many more.

#follow, @TagsForLikes, #f4f, #followme, #TagsForLikes.COM, #TFLers, #followforfollow, #follow4follow, #teamfollowback, #followher, #followbackteam, #followhim, #followall, #followalways, #followback, #pleasefollow, @TagsForLikes, #follows, #follower, #following

They are useless and you will not benefit from them unless you like spam comments and follows from people who will only follow you to quickly unfollow you in hopes that you’ll keep following them.

So how do you do hashtag research to find the correct ones that will help you gain exposure and new followers?

If you have no idea of what hashtags to use as a starting point, head over to Focal Mark, and type in some of your interests. It will generate some hashtags that you can use to start your research. Or even just type a keyword that you’re into in the Instagram search bar. It will pull up anything that uses that keyword, from a hashtag, profile, to a location.

To check if a hashtag is worth using, use a desktop or laptop and paste the hashtag into the search bar on Instagram. Check and see if the photos that or users that use that hashtag or the ones that you want the followers from, or that your content matches the most. Also check the number of times that the hashtag has been used. It depends on how you are marketing yourself to the world, but typically you want the number of uses in a specific range, which you’ll read more about in a little bit.

The best way to do research, (again, a desktop or laptop is best here) is to go to an account similar to yours but that has more followers, or the leader in your niche. Click on their photos and see what hashtags they use. Right click on the hashtags and open them in another window. Do this for all the hashtags. You will have quite a few windows open now. Head over to them and scan the images. There is a “Top posts” and “Recent posts” section. Take your time and look at both. Look at the top photos, they will usually have hundreds if not thousands of likes. See what niche they are in, and if it fits your account, check out the other hashtags those photos use. Keep doing this until you have at least 30 hashtags to start.

Don’t forget to check the “Recent posts” sections. You need to see if people are using the hashtag or not, and who else is posting using that hashtag. If you see lots of people posting photos that don’t match the hashtag, it’s probably not a good choice.

Spend time to carefully choose hashtags related to your photo or content. You don’t want your hashtags to be too specific (unless that's your target market), have too many posts (over a million it loses it's value), or ones that have too few posts or haven’t been used in days or weeks. A good rule is to use hashtags that have been used between 50,000 to 300,000 times (dependent on your niche). Here are a few examples of the super targeted, the good, the bad, and the ugly hashtags using the weight loss industry as an example:

The Ugly: #followforfollow – used 131,251,096 times and counting – Using this hashtag will not get you targeted followers. It has no relation to weightloss, you will be pushed down in the Instagram feed very quickly, and you will only get low quality followers.

The Bad: #WeightLoss – used over 28,422,291 times – Still too broad for you to make an impact, but at least it’s targeting a weight loss niche.

Good: #slimmingworldmember – used 159,729 times – This hashtag will get your content in the eyes of people who are interested in weight loss programs.

The Super Targeted: #wslf – (whole starch low fat) used 26,623 times – A super targeted weight loss/diet niche, however one that has quite a bit of use if that’s what you are targeting.

How many hashtags should I use?

A ridiculous number of bad hashtags stuffed into one Instagram post #hashtags #instagram #marketing

#thisjustin #nobody #likes #to #look #at #sentencesthataremadeofhashtags, or a solid wall of them. However, all too often we get requests from users asking to like their photos and they have almost no hashtags, the wrong hashtags, and or horrible content. Still, some accounts use no hashtags, but generate thousands of likes per photo because they have found the perfect niche and or following. Selena Gomez doesn’t need to use hashtags for example.

The truth of the matter is that unless you have a highly engaged niche you need to use hashtags or your content will not be found. The question still remains, how many hashtags should I use?

Our answer? All of them, especially of you are starting out. All 30-60 hashtags. 60 hashtags? Isn’t there a limit to the number of hashtags I can use? Won’t using that many look spammy?

Yes and no to both. If you are just starting out on Instagram (lets say you have between 200 – 400 followers), you should really be reaching out to as many potential followers as you can. There are a few tricks we will teach you that will allow you to use up to 60 hashtags, and not look spammy.

Notes on hashtags:

1.      You can only use a maximum of 30 hashtags per photo, unless you use a simple trick.

2.     Double check if a hashtag is still active. Certain hashtags (#elevator) have been abused and violated the terms of use which means you cannot use them and they are banned.

3.     If you don’t like hashtags in your caption you can also put them in a comment.

4.     Keep your hashtags in a notepad on your phone (we use google docs) instead of having to type them in every time you can simply copy and paste. Have at least 2 or 3 google docs with relevant hashtags.

Trick to “hiding” hashtags

1.      When creating the caption, leave a space below the caption with 5 dots (periods) on separate lines, one below the other. You can also use 5 emojis or characters on lines but the dots tend to be less intrusive or noticeable. The reason this works is that it’s too many lines for a caption so Instagram automatically hides it. The hashtags won't be seen unless people actually go to the comment section.

2.      Add the hashtags in your comment. Have the hashtags copied and ready, pick your photo, type out your caption, then after it posts, add them as the first comment. That way the only time anyone will see them is if they click on the comments, and the hashtags will get buried by other comments very quickly.

Trick to adding more than 30 hashtags.

1.      There is method that will allow you to have up to 60 hashtags per photo. To do this, first post the photo with the caption, but no hashtags. Then in the first comment, comment with up to 30 hashtags. Go back and edit your caption on the post with an additional 30. Use the 5 periods below the caption method to keep it uncluttered.

 Advanced Hashtagging.

      1.      In order for your content to be found the first time, you need the hashtags in the caption or in the first comment right after posting. After a few days, you can delete your comment that has the hashtags and add another one that is very niche (try to find one thats new and active with less than 10,000 uses) and post a comment with those in it. That way your photo shows up on the discovery page for that hashtag, but with lots of likes. There's a reason this is advanced. It takes a lot of initial research to find them, as well as manage your post, but it can certainly pay off.

So now that you have your hashtags and are no longer using useless hashtags, what’s next? Start by finding other accounts to feature you. These are called feature accounts, and they use User Generated Content (your photos).

You can find them in almost every type of niche. It doesn’t matter if you’re into nature, landscape, wildlife, portraiture, cityscape, travel, or nighttime photography. Just find a feature page that suits your style. Using these pages can increase your visibility since your image can be seen by all of their followers.

Stay tuned for more on hashtag research, branding, registering a hashtag and how to use them for your blog and SEO.