People don’t search hashtags on Instagram looking for products to buy. They search hashtags looking for inspiration and ideas.

A few months ago, I spontaneously decided I was going to dip dye my hair blue (side note: best decision ever). When I was looking for ideas on Instagram, I wasn’t typing in #besthairdye or #hairdye – I was typing in #bluehair, or #dipdye. I was looking for a visual representation of the thing I was after.

This is where most people go wrong with their hashtags. Your ideal client or customer generally isn’t wandering around Instagram looking for products to buy (they might be, but for the most part they’ll go to Google or Amazon or some other online marketplace for that). They’re searching stuff that they’re interested in, or are curious about. They’re there to be entertained, to be inspired, to learn, to connect.

When you understand that – you can choose much better hashtags.

The point of hashtags is to help the RIGHT people to find you. If you use tags that sound like Google searches, or are too generic… your tags will just bring all the bots and competitors to the yard.

Here’s how I find hashtags to use for my clients, and then implement them.

Step One: I’ll type in a keyword related to the niche, OR one I know gets actively searched (because I’ve done it or someone else I know has done it), OR I will look through a few accounts with a similar customer/ client/ follower base and see what they’re using. The biggest accounts will generally not be using hashtags (they’re past needing them for growth) – so I’ll look for people with maybe 20 – 30K.

I’ll tap on a tag I think might work (something people would actually search for, with more than a few thousand posts but less than two million – this makes sure your post has a chance of being seen), and I will check that our posts would fit well within that feed. I’ll check both top posts, and recent posts.

My absolute favourite example of why this is so important is #lustforlife. It sounds like something someone would use for motivational content. But if you actually go and look at it? It’s almost entirely posts about Lana del Rey. So, unless your motivational content is explaining how Born to Die: The Paradise Edition is amazing to listen to while you’re working (side note: totally is, obsessed) – you’re not reaching people who are going to like your content, and like you. And the only reason I know that it’s a dud tag outside of that fandom? I checked.

If the tag seems like a good fit, I’ll then go check comments on recent posts. If the most recent ones don’t have many likes, or all the likes/ comments are from bots? It’s not one you want to use (you can see here that when I looked at a recent post on #lustforlife, the people liking it all seemed like genuine accounts based on their history/ handles/ etc…so if I was Lana del Rey posting, it would pass the test).

If I get lucky – all I’ll need to do here is keep wandering accounts in my niche, look through their tags, cherry-pick the ones that pass the test, and put them together into a set of 10 to 30 (30 is Instagram’s limit, 10 is probably the lowest you can go and still see some good growth). I then have a good, solid set of tags that I can keep in that Google Doc and just copy/paste when creating a new post. I will never use less relevant or more generic tags to try and hit that 30 line – it’s about quality, not quantity.

If I’m just not finding good ones, I’ll tap on one of the tags and see what Instagram suggests as being relevant/related (these are in a line across the top of the search results). Tap on one, repeat the process. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where no new suggested tags will come up (you’ll see the same ones again and again).

If I don’t have at least 10 tags, I’ll put one of the tags into a tool called Display Purposes – https://displaypurposes.com/ – which seeks out hashtags with low spam and good engagement. Display Purposes’ algorithm is not perfect, so I will always test the tags it gives me – and it usually pulls up some that aren’t quite right for the product or service.

Instagram’s algorithm is not a big fan of repetition – if you copy and paste the same caption too often, it’ll limit your presence in search (that’s both copy and hashtags). So I’ll try and create at least three sets (one for each topic the account posts on), so I can cycle between them.

This probably sounds pretty time consuming – and to be fair? It can be. But if you can get it right, you’ll only need to do it once (…unless you suddenly decide to start a new product line, or totally pivot your business).

When I use the tags, I will always put them in the first comment. The reason for that? Facebook’s algorithm and audiences do not like hashtags. They’ll cause your engagement to go down like a lead balloon (more on that later in the challenge). Putting them in the first comment prevents them carrying across if you’re auto-sharing. I also think it looks tidier…but that’s just me. Before anyone asks – I run weekly tests to make sure first comment hashtags are just as effective in search as putting them in the actual caption and to date, they are.

So, to get started? Come up with two to three sets of hashtags. If you can’t get 30 good ones per set, or only have time to test ten per set? That’s totally cool and a great start.


Community Manager Team Traffic 

Jo Murphy specialises in Facebook and Instagram, works primarily with environmentally friendly eCommerce businesses.  She is passionate about providing solid information and education to businesses of every size and believes that meaningful connections and collaborations are one of the biggest keys to success.


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