How To Use Instagram Hashtags: The Ultimate Guide

Hashtags can play a huge part in growing your Instagram account, especially when you consider that one of my accounts is gaining 500-1,000 new followers a day, purely from just posting and utilising relevant hashtags! In this guide you’ll find out which tags to use, how to find them, where to place them & also how to avoid getting the dreaded shadow ban! Let’s crack on.

First of all… What is a Hashtag?

It’s important that I get this out of the for any beginners here. Hashtags are a word or combination of words, preceded by a hash sign (#). An example of a hashtag would be #love, #happy or #gameofthrones. Hashtags can be used in your post caption, stories, bio & more.

The purpose of a hashtag is to organise posts into relevant categories. The idea is that if you post a picture of your dog, you can add #dog in the caption and it will organise your post amongst all of the other Instagram posts that are also using #dog.

Instagram Hashtags #Dog
Here’s all the posts using #dog.

Why are Hashtags important on Instagram?

Before I delve into how to find your hashtags, I want to explain why you should be using them in the first place. Just because Beyoncé doesn’t use them, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either. Why? Because she’s got over 100 million followers on Instagram – that’s why. She doesn’t need to be using them.

For us common folk however, we have to make use of every source of traffic that we can, and Hashtags are a great way of speeding up your follower growth. Adding a Hashtag to your caption will automatically add your post to a long list of related posts using the same Hashtag. Instagram sorts everyone’s posts using their mysterious algorithm.

In short, the algorithm promotes good content and tries to hide the rest. ‘Better’ posts will be placed towards the top of your feeds, alternatively less-popular posts will be sat at the bottom. It goes without saying that you want your posts to be at the top. In theory the higher up the list you are, the more visibility your posts will get. However…

Your post reach & likelihood of ranking towards the top of explore pages, heavily depends on the hashtags you use! Did you know that there’s an average of 95 million photos & videos posted on Instagram every single day? So you can imagine there’s going to be quite a bit of competition for the top spots. With that in mind, let’s start talking about which hashtags to use & how to find them!

Check out this post on how to always beat the Instagram algorithm, and your competitors, regardless of any updates that they make on the platform.

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ONE: Where to find Hashtags on Instagram

There are certain websites & software that ‘do the work for you’, in terms of finding hashtags to use. I’m yet to find one though that I like, so I prefer to use organic methods instead. The reason I do this is because you can’t always trust these automated systems. Here’s a few ways that you can find good Hashtags to use on Instagram:

Using Instagram’s search feature to find Hashtags

This much is obvious. The easiest way to find new hashtags is to search for keywords and see what the dropdown list suggests. Experiment by writing down as many keywords as you can and then browse through them one-by-one. Write down as many as you can and then filter out the ‘weaker’ ones later. The search bar will suggest hashtags once you type in 3 characters or more.

If you’re using the Instagram website then make sure to include ‘#’ at the start of the search. Likewise if you’re using the Instagram App then select ‘Tags’ whilst searching, this will remove Accounts & Locations from being suggested in the search results. Make note of how many posts a certain hashtag has, I will cover this later on this article.

Which Hashtags are your Instagram Competitors using?

Another trick which many don’t consider is to take a look at what Hashtags your main competitors are using! If your competitors are following particular hashtags too then you may be able to find some inspiration for new content.

NOTE: I will show you how to find out which hashtags people are following – shortly.

Click through the tags they are using & take a look at the top performing (and potentially viral) posts within those tags. If you’re running a fan page then you can use the imagery from these top posts to create new content. This works well for any page sharing content based around a specific niche, such as;

  • Tattoos
  • Fashion
  • Cars
  • Animals
  • etc.

Alternatively you can use these viral posts as inspiration to create new, yet similar, content.

Which Hashtags are your Instagram Followers using?

Much like researching your competitors, also have a look at what your fans are following too. When I say ‘fans’ i’m talking about your more hardcore followers. The followers that:

  • Like every post
  • Leave comments
  • Respond to your Stories
  • Watch your Live videos

NOTE: Your fans are not to be confused with stalkers.

Anyway… Which hashtags are they following? To find that out, click on the user’s profile and then click ‘Following’. Obviously you will be greeted with a list of the accounts that they are following, BUT, if they’re following any Hashtags too, this will be shown at the very top of the list.

Hashtags in Following Tab on Instagram
One of my followers is following #myhousethismonth & #mrshinch, although these aren’t tags that I would necessarily associate with my niche it’s worth checking out your follower’s following list as there may something useful in there!

TWO: Which Hashtags to Use on Instagram

I see it all the time whereby people just spam the first 30 hashtags that pop into their head.

  • #me ✔️
  • #love ✔️
  • #food ✔️

Although those hashtags perfectly describe my affection towards edible confection… (Say that 10 times quickly without stopping)…They’re overused and won’t do anything for your account growth. Here’s some ideas for Tags that you can start using today to consistently gain more followers:

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Relevant Hashtags

What is your post about? What is your Instagram profile about? Are you a travel blogger? Personal trainer? Stay-at-home Mom? Whatever it is, make sure that your tags are relevant. Understanding the niche that you’re in is so important when figuring out which hashtags to use on Instagram, Otherwise you’ll find it much harder to rank on the explore page – which is the end goal here.

Even on the freak chance that you did rank for those hashtags; the people that see your content are highly unlikely to follow you or purchase any of your products or services. Why? Because your content is irrelevant [to them]. It’s like turning up to a date & being cat-fished.

You don’t need to trick people into liking you, instead you should target an audience that has a genuine interest in what you have to offer & in doing so, you’ll not only grow your account much quicker – you’re more likely to make sales.

Keyword-Friendly Hashtags

This kind of ties in with the previous point of having relevant tags. Previously on Instagram, you could only follow other accounts however they have since added a feature whereby you can follow hashtags too. So you need to consider which hashtags your target audience would be searching for & following on Instagram.

Let’s give you an example:

You run a Pokémon related fan page and you’re trying to get more followers. An obvious hashtag you could use would be #pokemon, right? Right, but that’s got over 21 million posts right now (and counting).

Unless your page regularly gets a lot of engagement within the Pokémon community; It’s very unlikely that you’re going to be able to compete with other posts under the #pokemon hashtag. So instead you’ve got to get creative.

Examples of Keyword-Friendly Hashtags on Instagram

Which hashtags would Pokémon fans potentially search for & follow? Well, here’s a few ideas…

  • #pokemoncards – 1 million posts
  • #pokemonmemes – 250k posts
  • #pokemonfan – 389k posts

Surprisingly if you use the accented character (é) in #pokémon it has over 1 million posts, usually I would advise against using accents in words but in this case – it works. I could go on & list more suitable hashtags for Instagram but you probably get the point, these are all hashtags that genuine fans of Pokémon would actively search for.

Alternatively you need to consider that there are hashtags that may be of interest to Pokémon fans however these tags are harder to search for, such as;

#pok3mon, #p1kachu or #chariz4rd
Replacing characters with number is so 2006. Ironically coming from the guy who uses a ‘z’ in his last name for his website.

#pokeemon, #peekachu or #sqwertle
Miss-spelling words, whether it be on purpose or not, is much harder to search for and should be avoided.

#pokemon.daily, #pik.achu or #squirtle_pics
Although these can be perfectly fine, hashtags without full stops or underscores will often perform better than their counterparts on Instagram.

Want to really explode your Instagram growth? Check out this post on why you should be using the $1.80 Strategy to gain your first 1,000-10,000 followers on Instagram. Start finding new followers (and clients) today!

Follow Instagram Hashtag Trends & Competitions

Sometimes you’ll see certain trends, challenges & competitions going around whereby there’s a huge influx of posts for a small period of time. The same can be said about popular memes such as Salt Bae, The World’s Most Interesting Man & Evil Kermit.

It can be very beneficial to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ as you know there’s a huge amount of interest in this form of content. Similarly you could apply the same logic to trends surrounding upcoming movies, TV shows, books & other forms of popular media.

Alternatively, some of the biggest trends over the years have been challenges. Such challenges include the Ice Bucket Challenge, Mannequin Challenge & the Cinnamon Challenge. Not to mention Planking & the Harlem Shake too.

Some viral trends were so big, you were considered “weird” if you didn’t join in! When you take part in Instagram trends it’s important to note that timing is a factor. There is a limited time-frame before a particular trend becomes stale and is considered ‘old news’.

It’s also worth advising that there are certain ‘challenges’ you should avoid, such as those that could be dangerous to either yourself or others. Apart from that, go nuts 😊

Eventful Hashtags

Much like the above point, you can ride on the wave of hashtags that are specific to different seasons or events. Events such as Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve & Halloween are obvious suggestions. These events can work well considering people will be actively searching for:

  • Christmas Unboxing Videos & Pranks,
  • New Year’s Firework Displays, and;
  • Halloween Costume Inspiration.

Perhaps you’re interested in Sports? Well if so, take advantage of the hype surrounding sporting events including the Superbowl, Olympics & World Cup. If you’re being pro-active, it’s worth noting all of the big events in your calendar and preparing posts for them ahead of time.

Use Popular Brands

People can be addicted to material things. For instance you could be selling a plain white polo shirt and no one would bat an eyelid… But the moment you slap a Gucci logo on it – people start hoarding towards you like Gollum, with cries of “My Precious”.

We like brands, let’s face it. That’s why it’s a good idea to use hashtags that are relevant to the popular brands that you’re using. It’s likely that people will be searching for & following the hashtags for high-end brands as a form of inspiration. Think of luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Rolex & Lamborghini. Now…

I can appreciate that many of us won’t be able to afford that lifestyle, so please understand that this suggestion is not mandatory. Nor is it limited to brands that are going to empty your wallet. As Kevin Hart would say, “Stay in your Financial Lane People!”

Again though I must note that when using a particular brand, it should be relevant to your niche. If you’re a technology store then it makes sense to use Apple-related hashtags, but it doesn’t make sense tagging #niketrainers.

The suggestion of hashtagging brands works much better for a personal brand than it does for a corporate entity. Either way this should give you some idea of which companies you can make reference to in your content.

Create New Instagram Hashtags!

You can create a catchy hashtag that your followers can use. This is perfect for when you’re running a competition or want to give incentive for your followers to create User-Generated Content. This hashtag can be based on your name (i.e. #mikewalterz), your slogan or even a course that you’re running.

The intention is to get users to create like-minded content on your behalf – which all gets categorised within one hashtag – for all to see. That way, your followers can enjoy your content without being limited to posts from your official account.

An example of creating a hashtag might be Nike using #justdoit, which is obviously based on their slogan. Another example may be #3030challenge, whereby you challenge your followers to go for a run everyday – for 30 days.

Get creative with the hashtag, because you don’t want to use one that’s already being used up. Setting up a hashtag is as easy as adding it in your caption, comments or bio – no need to apply – Get started today!

Location Hashtags

As an alternative, or in addition, to tagging a location you can reference the location in a hashtag. For instance I might use #guernsey, #london or #paris in my captions. This can be particularly effective as I know that I’ve personally searched for Location Hashtags on a few occasions myself. You can reference a location that you’re from, living in, currently at or going to!

There’s no place like home, #guernsey.

Avoid These Hashtags on Instagram

Not all hashtags are good for you. Some tags should be avoided like the plague, such as…

The Desperate Ones

Hashtags such as #follow4follow and #like4like should be avoided at all costs. It just makes you look like an amateur and you’re better than that! If your followers see you using these hashtags then it’s just going to make you seem desperate. You want to impose a sense of quality.

The Blacklisted Ones

Did you know that some hashtags have been blacklisted? For whatever reason Instagram have decided that these tags should be banned. If you’re using them then not only will they not work – your other tags might not work either!

Here’s a great post from The Preview App that highlights the banned Hashtags from 2018.

If you’re serious about your Instagram growth; it’s worth keeping an eye on similar news & updates surrounding the platform.

The Same Ones

Be aware that if you continue to use the same hashtags over & over again on every single post then there is an increased chance that you’ll end up shadow-banned. But… What is a Shadow Ban?

A shadow ban, although not officially confirmed by Instagram, is a punishment whereby your posts do not get shown under certain hashtags. In more severe cases, you risk not being shown under any hashtags at all!

Obviously this isn’t good news, but how do you avoid getting shadow-banned? The key is to mix up your hashtags from time-to-time, if you can do this on every post then that’s even better.

To clarify, it doesn’t mean you have to think of 30 new hashtags Every. Single. Time. Just change 5-10 every now & then. Although it means you’ll be spending a bit of extra time putting a list of tags together, you’ll be grateful that you did.

If you’re concerned about Instagram’s shadow ban, then you’re right to be. Check out this post on how to confirm whether or not your account has been restricted, as well as how to resolve the issue!

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THREE: How to use your Hashtags effectively on Instagram

Now you’ve probably got an idea of which hashtags to use, or you may have even skipped ahead and started jotting some down. Before you start doing your hashtag research it’s probably a good idea to know…

How many Hashtags to use on Instagram

The maximum amount of hashtags you can use in an Instagram post is 30. Many people have different views over how many you should be using but my answer is simple. Use 30.

Make use of the full amount to further increase your reach & engagement, otherwise you’re alienating potential followers by not including the hashtags that they’re searching for and/or following! Using the Tiered Approach will make it much easier to find 30 hashtags…

Instagram Hashtags: Using the Tiered Approach

The Tiered approach is exactly how it sounds, you effectively split the hashtags you intend to use into 3-4 tiers. I split mine up by the amount of posts that each hashtag has. You can find this information under the respective hashtag when using the search function, as per the image below:

Mikewalterz - How to search for Hashtags on Instagram
Alternatively you click into the specific hashtag and it will display the total number of posts at the top, by the display picture.

My hashtags are split up as follows:

  • 10x 100k to 300k posts,
  • 9x 300k to 1 million posts, and;
  • 8x 1 million to 5 million posts.

(100k-300k = Small, 300k-1m = Medium & 1m-5m = Large). That makes a nice list of 27 hashtags, but like I said earlier you can use up to 30. I use up the extra 3 hashtags for massive tags with over 5 million posts.

How does it work?

The idea of the tiered approach is that it’s going to be far easier to rank on the smaller tags than it is to rank for the larger ones. By ranking in the smaller tags it should boost your post’s reach & engagement. In theory if you get enough engagement in the smaller tags it can springboard your post up towards the top of the medium tags.

If your post starts generating a lot of interest in the medium tags it can springboard your post towards the top of the large tags too. That’s the theory of how the tiered approach works.

NOTE: Posts that receive a large amount of engagement within the first 20 minutes of being posted are far more likely to go viral.

As you can appreciate there are millions of posts being shared every single day, So it’s hard to rank on the low-end hashtags let alone the medium & large ones. That’s why you need to be patient and understand that this is a long-term process.

Over time you will pick up more followers that will engage with you content consistently and in turn increase your chances of ranking on these hashtags with each post. As you pick up engaged followers; your standing amongst low, medium & high-end competitors will improve.

Where to place your Hashtags on Instagram

I know there’s often (boring) debate about where you should place your hashtags. I myself have tried various methods and have come to the conclusion that you should be putting it in the comment section.

Although I’ve got nothing against using tags in the caption, I find it clunky and especially annoying when a beautifully written post is bombarded with 30 hashtags… Even more so when they take up more room than the caption itself!

A while back, I started adding my hashtags in the comment section for my Tattoo related account (@unreal.tattoos). With that account i’m now averaging over 1,000 new followers per day with no help from bots or shoutouts! With that in mind, I think that it’s fair to say that putting your hashtags in your post’s comment section does work.

There is one thing though…

You have to be quick to paste the hashtags in your comments! As soon as you share your post, you should be jumping into the comments and pasting your 30 hashtags right away. By missing this short deadline you will reduce the amount of hashtags that you can rank on, if you rank on any at all! The tip is to have your tags typed up ready to copy & paste.

Using Hashtags in your Instagram Stories

Strangely enough, not everyone knows that hashtags work exactly the same in Instagram stories as they do in post captions. All you have to do is add Text or a Sticker containing the hashtag, for example #love, and then post it to your story. It’s as simple as that.

Hashtags on Instagram #love
Each hashtag will have stories from around the world, each containing that specific tag. You will be able to view these stories by clicking on the display picture for the tag. Hashtags that have watchable stories will have the Instagram-coloured circle around it.

There is a trick whereby you can ‘camouflage’ your hashtag text into the background. You achieve this by changing the text colour, size & rotation. I have found on occasion though that it can prevent your hashtag from working, so test it out for yourself and see what works!

It’s also worth noting that your story will only be shown under the tag if the story is receiving a lot of engagement. Despite what I said earlier about using the maximum amount of hashtags for Instagram posts, less is more for Stories.

Unfortunately in stories there’s no comment section that you can hide your tags in. Too many tags can ruin the aesthetic & quality of the story itself. Again. Less is more.

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FOUR: Monitoring Your Instagram & Hashtag Performance

I bet you thought you were done, right? Wrong. Although you can use the Insights feature within the Instagram app itself – it’s very limited in terms of information. It doesn’t give you enough information to make a meaningful judgement on whether your visual content, captions, timing or hashtags are actually working or not.

An important step that many ignore is to monitor the performance of specific hashtags that they use. I mean wouldn’t you like to know if specific hashtags are bringing you more traffic? or whether one of your other tags is consistently falling flat, and as such should be replaced? You can do that using sites like Iconosquare!

Iconosquare lets you know how well your posts, stories & hashtags are performing. With that data you can adjust your content in order to achieve optimal reach & greater engagement. I could continue to list off all of Iconosquare’s features but that’s not the point of this post. Instead i’ll let you check it out yourself. Start your 14 day Free Trial with Iconosquare today!


Hashtags can be very important when trying to grow an Instagram account, but only when you’re producing quality content. Using hashtags can increase your potential reach and showcase your content in front of new audiences. Take time to plan out your hashtags, mix them up regularly & monitor their performance. If you’re consistently posting quality content, regularly throughout the week then you’ll achieve some sweet gains in no time!

How many times did I mention tags, hashtag or hashtags? 🤣 Let me know in the comments below!

Learn how to find & use the best Hashtags on Instagram to grow your account quickly. You'll also find out how to get more engagement on your posts - #instagram #ig #hashtags #likes #comments #followers #share
Did you enjoy this post on how to use Instagram Hashtags? If so then I would be very grateful if you could pin this image to Pinterest 🙂

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Edward Wee

    Good hope u can give more real life example

    1. Mike Walters

      Hi Edward, thank you for your comment. Are you referring to real examples of how relevant hashtag usage has grown an Instagram account?

    1. Mike Walters

      Thank you Caroline, if you have any further questions then feel free to ask me anytime!

  2. Kate

    This was a really helpful post! Thanks for sharing… I’m just starting a blog and am looking for ways to grow my following and this information is so helpful.

    1. Mike Walters

      Thank you Kate, glad you found it helpful. What is your new blog about? 🙂

  3. Amy Jackson

    This was an extremely wonderful post. It was definitely an informative post these days people use a lot of hashtags for their posts and get noticed and through these hashtags, they have the access to those pages where other content lies under those types of hashtags.
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Mike Walters

      Thank you Amy! Really glad that you found this post to be helpful.

  4. Arslan Ghaffor

    I find this concept really good. This was an extremely wonderful post. It was definitely informative. People use the Instagram hashtag for gaining new followers and audience engagement and you’re shared a very handsome amount of Instagram information.
    thanks for sharing.

    1. Mike Walters

      Thank you Arslan, I’m happy you found it as useful as I intended it to be! 🙂

  5. Jas

    Thanks for thorough writeup.
    Look forward to connecting and picking your brain 😃

    1. Mike Walters

      Thank you Jas!

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