How to Use Hashtags on Instagram (and How Not To) in 2021

by Josh Barney

Instagram posts with at least one hashtag receive 12.6% more engagement than those without, FACT.

Hashtags might sound like a millennial’s fad, but they’re crucial for your business and online presence.

Using hashtags on your Instagram posts is proven to increase reach, draw new audiences to your profile, create greater engagement and boost your brand awareness. This gain in exposure can be turned into more customers and revenue further down the line.Click To Tweet

In other words, you need to know how to use hashtags on Instagram!

In this guide we’re going to go over the must-do’s, the must-have’s, multiple (FREE) hashtag-helping tools, a system for analysing your success and the Instagram hashtag tactics you need to avoid.


#Letsgetstarted (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)

What Are Instagram Hashtags?  

what are instagram hashtags

If we’re going to get knee-deep, we need to make sure everyone’s on the same page, from the newb’s to the ten-post-a-day-ers…

…so, here’s a really brief description of exactly what Instagram Hashtags are (and what they do):

An Instagram hashtag is a label that categorises photos and videos. The hashtag adds photos/videos to a collection of other content (with the same hashtag) for users to find, explore and since a 2018 update, hashtags can now be followed too…

…making content labelled with the correct hashtags much more discoverable and crucial to marketing success on Instagram.

BTW: If you’d like to learn more Instagram strategies that will help you become discoverable and widen your reach, check out How to Increase Instagram Post Reach in 2019 (after you’ve read this, obv).

How Many Hashtags Should I Use On Instagram?

Instagram allow users to place a maximum of 30 hashtags on each post. You can also position them elsewhere as well (more on this in a few minutes).

When it comes to the number of hashtags you should use, there are hundreds of different opinions. Some people tell you to use the maximum 30 on every post, others say that you should only use 7, I’ve seen articles suggesting the use of 21, 2, 5…

instagram hashtags

…just about every number under 30 has been suggested as the optimum number…

…and every single one of them is correct.

Why? Each individual post, profile, brand and industry require a different number of hashtags.

Whatever you choose to test (always be testing) make sure the hashtags you use are super-relevant. Don’t fill up with 30 just for the sake of it, and don’t chuck in 1 or 2 because you’re too lazy to think-up more (I’ll show you how to find the top trending hashtags on Instagram in a few minutes).

In order to be successful on Instagram, you must post regular content. This means plenty of opportunities to find your optimum number and experiment with different hashtags.

How To Use Hashtags on Instagram

Finding the Best Instagram Hashtags

Using the same hashtags over and over again is a lazy strategy and shows that you’d rather just get your Instagram posts published, than actually take time and care for your followers.Click To Tweet

Purely using the top 30 hashtags in your niche can be a risky strategy (and is also pretty lazy). Whilst these hashtags have the widest reach, they also have the most competition, reducing your chances of reaching new audiences.

To first discover where to find the most suitable hashtags on Instagram, you need to understand how their algorithm works.

Instagram rank hashtag(ged) posts on their Explore page using two metrics:

#1: The level of engagement: How many times the post has been liked and commented on.

#2: The speed at which the engagement was attained: How quickly your post received its likes and comments.

The Top Hashtags on Instagram

The top hashtags in your niche usually have the broadest meanings, and are therefore, applicable to much more Instagram content, e.g. #marketing, #Instagram, #blog.

The top hashtags are worth using (because if you don’t buy a ticket, you’ll never win the raffle) but they’re much harder to earn victories with.

If you’re just starting out, have a small-ish audience (under 5k) or are posting something that doesn’t have viral-quality, don’t purely target the most popular hashtags on Instagram. Make these part of your hashtag strategy, but do not rely on them- you’ll see barely any results.

The Top Trending Hashtags on Instagram

I’d suggest using the top hashtags, whilst trying to gain traction with lesser-used hashtags. These ‘smaller’ hashtags have lower competition and can have much more engaged communities…

…but, where can you find them?

Start by looking for relevant ‘trending’ hashtags. Trending hashtags are topics that are seeing a sharp spike in popularity. They can be short-lived but they also draw lots of interest, reach new audiences and drive engagement.

If you’re able to gain comments and likes in a short space of time from these ‘trending’ hashtags, you’ll rise higher in the rankings of the most popular Instagram hashtags.

Ultra-Specific Hashtags

Another strategy is to go after small, ultra-specific hashtag audiences.

These are hashtags that label your content into even smaller, more targeted categories. For instance, if #marketing is the top hashtag in our industry, we could use #videocontentmarketing to target super-relevant audiences.

The followers of these hashtags are engaged and hold an interest in your industry. You might have a smaller potential reach by using hashtags like these, but your actual reach will be higher in most cases.

I’d suggest trying a 3 way split of all the above hashtag post strategies (top, trending and ultra-specific) and then test from there. (Don’t sweat it, I’ll show you how to analyse your success a little later).

But wait, there’s more- some of you might be thinking, ‘great advice, but how in the hell am I supposed to find the most popular hashtags in my industry, or even the trending ones?’

Instagram Hashtag Generators

The answer to that is a hashtag generator. These digital tools use a keyword to generate a range of different results, depending on your desired outcome. My personal favourite is (but you can also use tools like seekmetrics or displaypurposes).

This FREE tool allows you to search for a keyword and generate 30 of the ‘TOP’, ‘RANDOM’ or ‘LIVE’ hashtags.

Here’s an example after I’d searched for the TOP ‘#marketing’ hashtags:

instagram hashtags

And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s always a list of back-ups:

instagram hashtags

The site also has a hashtag analyser tool that shows you rank, hits, similar words and popularity of your chosen term.

(BTW: The site is FREE and I’ve got no affiliation with it, I just think it’s awesome)

instagram hashtags

Tools like all-hashtag are a great way of finding new hashtags, but don’t completely rely on generators.

Make sure you keep a close eye on your competitors and industry leaders. Analyse their hashtagged posts, alongside their reach and the types of content they use.

Where to Use Instagram Hashtags

Instagram Stories

Instagram have updated their Story feature to now include hashtags. This means you can write a hashtag over your STORY photo or video and it can be discovered by the hashtag’s following and not just your audience (provided that you have a public profile).

The Instagram story feature is something you should be adopting already, they always appear at the top of the homepage, get lots of views and provide your existing audience with regular updates (the easiest way to grow is to serve your existing following and add to it!).

BTW: If you want Instagram story ideas for your business check out the recommend post at the bottom of this article!

instagram hashtags story

The great thing is that you can use hashtags in your Instagram stories for a dual purpose: to provide your following with quality, entertaining and interesting daily updates, whilst also reaching new users with a hashtag.

I’d suggest only using a few hashtags max. per post. A single hashtag can dominate the story image and if you’re plastering entire pages with them it will ruin your content and alienate your existing following.

Hashtags in the Comments

Instead of loading up your post ‘caption’ (otherwise known as the ‘description’) with hashtags, you can place your hashtags into the post comments and they will still have the same impact on your reach.

This is a commonly used tactic as it can hide the hashtags from being seen in the newsfeed (underneath your post image).

If you don’t like the appearance of 30 hashtags in a long list, post them in the comments.

Instagram Bio 

Instagram hashtags can and should also be used in your bio.

The bio is the short text that appears under your profile name. Instagram allow 150 characters, and it’s important that you use them all!

instagram hashtags bio

Create a snappy bio that sums up exactly who you are and why you exist. In the remaining space you should have enough characters for one or two hashtags.

Alternatively, you could #drop #hashtags #into #your #sentences. These will appear as blue, clickable links, so if any of you have, or are thinking about having branded hashtags, here’s the place to put them…

…which leads us on very nicely to our next question…

What are Branded Hashtags? 

Put simply, a branded hashtag is a tag that refers to your company or profile. It can be as simple as your name, a product, campaign or even a slogan.

Using a branded hashtag won’t increase your reach straight away (because you’ll have to create it yourself from scratch), but it can connect you with customers and anybody who has an opinion of your brand.

If it grows and becomes more widely used, you’ll reap huge benefits from organic sharing.

Social listening should be a huge part of your marketing strategy and branded hashtags are a great way of doing this. Try testing one!

A great example of the power of branded hashtags is #GoPro. The action camera company use their branded hashtag to capture and then share content from their users. This content is used for future promotions and is incredibly relatable for prospective customers, as they can see what’s possible with their product. 

How to Analyse Instagram Hashtags 

Hopefully, most of you already know how to track the reach of your hashtags and have been testing and analysing on a consistent basis for some time now…

…if you haven’t, don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through it step-by-step.

The secret is to create an Instagram business account and access ‘Insights’. Within this handy add-on you can track Discovery stats, which reveals (amongst a ton of other stuff) the number of impressions (views) you’ve gained from Hashtags for each post.

instagram hashtag analytics

This data is absolutely crucial, so if you haven’t done it already, check out this guide to setting up your Instagram Business Manager Profile. It walks you through exactly how to do it!

When you’re able to see how many impressions each post is gaining from hashtags, and how many new people you’re reaching, you can analyse and implement the results on future posts.

instagram hashtag analytics

This is why it’s so crucial to test. Don’t constantly do the same thing over and over again. The chances are that you’re missing something!

How NOT To Use Hashtags on Instagram

Use Banned Hashtags

Guess how many Hashtags Instagram have banned?

70,370(at time of writing).

banned instagram hashtags

And what’s worse is, Instagram don’t tell you when you use a hashtag that’s banned. It looks normal and stays on your post, but it actually has no effect!

Some of you will be thinking that you’re fine, that you’ve never used a hashtag that could be construed as rude or offensive, you’re wrong. Instagram have banned some unbelievably  mundane hashtags from their network.

Here are five of my favourite banned hashtags:

  • #Eggplant
  • #Snap
  • #Desk
  • #Gloves
  • #Master

Sure, you can post these in your bio, on your story and beneath your next post, but they won’t actually reach anyone.

instagram hashtags strategy

When you’ve accumulated a long list of usable hashtags to test with, check them on You might be surprised what you find.

Only Use The Top Instagram Hashtags

As I mentioned earlier, using JUST the top Instagram hashtags is a flawed strategy. You’re basically throwing your hat in the ring with a heavyweight, when you’ve barely learnt how to use a pair of boxing gloves.

Mix up your hashtag strategy with constant competitor research, hashtag generators and scouring the network for the latest trending subjects…

…and never forget to keep those hashtags super-relevant!

Don’t Use Them Enough

If there’s one thing I positively hate, it’s people who think they’re too good for certain digital strategies. As a marketer, business owner or entrepreneur, you have an obligation to your company to give it the best shot at success.

Assuming that you’re too good for hashtags on Instagram, or just can’t be bothered to put the hard work in, is dumb. You might think hashtags are stupid, but in reality, you’re the stupid one.

Incorporate as many relevant, trending, community-based and top hashtags as possible, and you’ll see the results. And always keep your target audience in mind.

If it works for 100% of other people, it’ll probably work for you too.


Instagram hashtags are an absolute must for your social media marketing campaigns.

The feature, that grew to prominence on Twitter, has now moved onto an even bigger social network.

Instagram currently boasts over 1 Billion active users per month, and using a strong hashtag strategy is your best hope of reaching more of them.

#areyouready? #anyquestions? #leave a comment!

If you’d like to learn more about Instagram marketing check out:

Alternatively, check out one of most popular articles How to Get 1000’s of Facebook Page Likes For Free!

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

23 Responses

  1. This is some of the best content on the current state of Instagram hashtags around! From how many to use, finding a mix of ones with higher traffic and niche hashtags with a more targeted focus for every post. Touching on the Instagram algorithm was great too, it’s all about getting engagement as quick as possible. Using the your insights as an Instagram Business user is also so critical to understand what’s working and what isn’t.

    I used to do all of this manually (and it’s hard work to do it right) so I created Curate to save time and maximize my exposure with the power of hashtags. It automatically shows me the post count of every hashtag I have ever used, allows me to pick 30 relevant hashtags in seconds for each post, save lists, even comment the hashtags directly on my Instagram posts. It’s approved by Instagram/Facebook so it can use my insights like impressions and reach to show me what’s working and what’s not. It’s new and free to use for everyone. Give it a try!

  2. Hi, i learnt that from the time i started participating in one of the most monthly famous yoga challange, i have lesser likes on my post. Is that bcz everyone is using the same hashtag for a month and my reach decreases with too common hastag for that particular month?

    1. Sejal, thanks for the comment.
      This could be for a number of reasons…if this is a very popular hashtag, reach will be much more competitive. If this is the case, it might be worth you trying with others alongside this hashtag.
      If the challenge is still running, I’d recommend persevering with it whilst looking for new hashtags to use!

  3. Amazing guide for help to boost organic growth in instagram. I would like to add few more things from my experience.
    1) Take 2 Hour Gap in Each Post.
    2) Maximum Post 4 to 5 on each day. (for Fashion Industry)
    3) Use Hashtags in your story

    Have a lovely day to all.

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    These days everyone turn to hashtag generator tools for their Instagram campaign but your article providing a way to boost Instagram campaign to get more engagements in a proper manner or organically.

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