Instagram hashtags are complex and things on Instagram move pretty fast. So before you dive into your own Instagram adventure, you should understand which hashtags get the most likes for your case and should thus have a look at some best practices to get your account up and running smoothly. Here’s our selection of tips on hacking hashtags.

How Instagram hashtags work today

The first thing one needs to understand when talking about instagram hashtags today is the ugly truth that instagram is dominated by bots.
Not bots in terms of “fake” accounts, but bots as automated software that you can configure to like or follow posts and accounts in your name. Those random likes you get on your pictures weeks after they were posted? Most probably a bot crawling one of the hashtags you’ve used. These followers you get and then disappear after a while? Could be a bot that’s following to be followed back. So you shouldn’t get too excited about every single like and follower you’re getting, but rather question whether they’re actually legit or not. 
The motivation behind using these services is fairly obvious: To get attention. Of course Instagram is aware of this problem and that’s why they  recently announced that they would crack down on said bots in the future. But until they hold on to their promise: don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Once you’ve understood the logic behind this and see how a huge amount of likes is generated, you may ask: What do likes or comments actually mean if many of them are fake? Well, a lot. Because even if much happens via bots, there are still real people around and it’s these people that you want to turn into legit followers.
The number of engagements your posts have are usually the proof of how well you understand how Instagram works. The average amount of likes per post lies between 3 and 6% of the total amount of followers, depending on how big an account is. A viral or really outstanding post might go up to 10-20% or even more. Using the right hashtags is a great way to increase your engagement rate even further over time.
In general, the more followers an account has, the less percent of them actually engage. The more engagement you have, the more convincing your posts are. This is especially true when you’re just starting out and want to use Instagram hashtags to get likes and followers, i.e. conquer your own new audiences.
If you have an Instagram Business Account (which you definitely should have!), you can see how many accounts actually saw your post through hashtags. 
This simple statistic helps you telling which hashtags work for you, without the need of using any additional analytics software.
As Instagram grows, they keep adding new uses for hashtags. In 2018 they added for example these new options:
  • Clickable Hashtags in Bio
  • Hashtags in stories 
  • Possibility to follow hashtags
Only recently leaked images teased us that Instagram is working on a new approach to hashtags. It would split the caption and the hashtags into 2 separate text fields and thus finally make room for less cringy captions and a more sophisticated use.

Talking about sophistication: The deeper you go down the rabbit hashtag hole, the faster you will switch from #love (the most popular hashtag with 1,5 billion posts) to smaller niche or branded hashtags like #pellicolamag or #ig_neoncities (2 of which I’m personally following) where the post quality is usually way better.

No matter which tag you use, you want it to appear in the “Top” section.

Reaching the “Top” of a hashtag is a great way to be discovered, but an even better way is the “Explore” page.
While reaching the top page is relatively easy, the explore page requires a bit more effort (that can usually not be achieved by the simple use of hashtags).
Reaching this last section requires a mix between perfect timing and lots of engagements early at the beginning.
A few general ideas on how to increase your chances with every post:

– Tag brands, users, and the location in your photos (There’s almost never a reason NOT to use the location).
– Create Call-To-Actions and ask your fans to comment on your posts and give feedback.
– Hit the perfect timing for when most of your followers are active (Check e.g. your Business Insights for this).

Now for you to be able to really reach the “Explore” section, it usually takes engagement by 1 or more larger accounts for your post to take off.

In general, your aim for every post should always be to hit the perfect mixture between 3 key ingredients:

Time. Relation. Interest.

Post at the right time, for the right people, with the right interests.

Hashtags are your entry point to gain followers by activating their interest at the right time.

But which hashtags should you actually choose? Which work, and which don’t?

There are multiple categories you need to consider for your posts. While your account and follower size grows, you will be abe to use larger tags more easily while your odds of reaching the “Top” section grow proportionally.

1. Obivous hashtags

These are the hashtags that get the most likes, you know the ones even your mom would use. The popular ones that established themselves right after the Instagram big bang.
Words like #love, #happy, #art, #nature, etc. but also the (for your mom) less obvious ones like #like4like, #picoftheday, #lfl that emerged over the years and are abused mostly by teens. Unless your post is really extraordinary and you have lots of followers, you will never be trending in these and reach the “Top”.

Also in this category fall tags like #relationshipgoals or neologisms like #foodstagram every Instagram beginner has already seen.

2. Branded or Campaign hashtags

Less obvious are the branded hashtags. It’s the ones that your favorite shoe, travel or fitness company invented to link their posts to specific subjects.
The range of these tags goes from small to huge, depending on the influence of the brand that introduced them.
For example, herschelsupply’s #welltraveled smashed it.
Establishing such hashtags is a great way for brands to create virality, however, it usually only works with a lot of initial reach to solve the chicken/egg problem.

Similar to the branded hashtags are the campaign hashtags, though they usually have a much shorter lifespan.
For example, at the end of each year, Starbucks launches the #RedCupContest to promote its Christmas seasonal beverages and – you know… – red cups.
Less popular, but a great idea: #PutACanOnIt by Red Bull.

So basically, these are hashtags marketers you use to promote a specific product for your brand and if you time them right you might be able to surf the like wave smoothly.

3. Niche hashtags

Interesting apart from established brand hashtags are the – what we call – “niche hashtags”. They’re small with usually 0 to 100k posts that are extremely well themed and most often (almost) free from “trashy” and out-of-place pictures. Often they were launched by an established “niche” account in order to create a sense of community around them.
Examples I like would be #classicsmagazine, #nowherediary or #nothinglessmag. Notice something when checking them out? Their posts are quite similar. That’s because they all fill the same “artsy” niche and are often used in cross-reference to one another.

Here are our recommendations:

For regular posts (your daily strategy) you should use a balanced mix of the 3 categories.
A few huge ones with over 1 Million posts, a few smaller ones with 500K to 1M posts, and a bit more of the niche hashtags with less than 250k posts where you can relatively easily go from “Recent” to “Top” posts.
Try to position your account with a specific audience and try to belong there. Don’t mess it up by using only the obvious ones, because besides from bot-likes, they won’t generate much traffic for you. And you will never make it to the top. There are around 900 images uploaded to IG every second, and around every 100th of them uses #love. This means that each time you refresh the “recent” feed of said hashtag, there’s a new set of posts available making it almost impossible to stand out.



Don’t chase records. Chase history. #justdoit

Ein Beitrag geteilt von nike (@nike) am

For some special posts, it can be interesting to use just 1 or 2 hashtags in order to emphasize their meaning to your audience. Nike’s popular slogan #justdoit is a great example. But unless you don’t have a huge audience already, this is usually a “try-hard” idea and doesn’t bring you any noticeable results. What you can do however, is put 1 or 2 in the caption of your post, and the rest in the comment section where they are mostly hidden from your readers. This is a general practice on Instagram.
There’s also a way to “hide your hashtags” in the caption by using special characters like 5 consecutive dots (• • • • •, separated by line breaks), but this practice is  only recommended if you have a very short caption like a single word or small sentence.

How to find the right hashtags?

We’ve asked ourselves this question a lot, played around with Instagram’s native features and tested many different services. In the end, we decided to just make our own tool.

UPDATE JULY 29th 2019 – We’ve now included the Hashtag Analyzer into our neontools:

neon instagram hashtag analyzer

Using the tool is fairly easy. You can start out by entering a hashtag you know/like, and the tool shows you lists of related hashtags divided into 3 categories sorted after size. Then it’s your turn to choose. So in case you were wondering how to find the right hashtags size, this is a solution. 
Not every result fits every picture, so let’s do a quick case study together.
Saying you’re an Italian restaurant, so an obvious hashtag would be

A quick analysis suggests that every 10’000th post uses this tag. With 7 Million posts that’s quite a lot, so we should look for some more interesting tags to add.

Looking through the list, the neon tool suggests for example:
#italya 650k posts
#italianfoodporn 150k posts
#pizzamania 100k posts
#foodpornitaly 24k posts

and more.

Now we’re talking.
We found ourselves some cool tags and want to elaborate further. We like #italianfoodporn so we put it into the search tool:

Now, the new results show some more tags:
#foodgasmic 263k posts
#foodpicsbruh 105k posts
#foodpornitaly 25k posts

You get the idea. That’s how you go from a simple topic to a niche. Mix this with a great picture and you’re sure to catch some wind quite easily.

Another great way to see how you should do it, is simply by observing your competitors. Which hashtags do they use? Which posts get the most likes? Oh, and did you know that posts with faces on them get around 40% more engagement?

A last question remains: How many hashtags should you use?

In our opinion, there’s no clear answer to this one. It really depends on the context and the creative idea behind your caption.
The maximum amount of hashtags per caption is 30. Some people say that 5-10 hashtags max. is best, however, there’s no real data on this. If you’re a big account and have lots of followers, it can be cool to use just 1. If you’re smaller you should use more.
Oh, and if you’re one of the cool kids, be sure to “hide them in the comments”. At least until Instagram finally reveals their updated hashtags in 2019.

So far for our Instagram Hacks. This article was selected by our followers on our own Instagram channel where they voted in our story. If you want to participate in future votes and see other interesting news, be sure to follow us  .

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