The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags: How to Use Them to Gain Maximum Exposure

Everyone uses hashtags. What’s new?

There’s a perfect step-by-step hashtag strategy that you can use to grow your Instagram account as fast as you want and that is exactly what I’m gonna show you today.

So, if you are someone who has tried hashtags and thinks hashtags don’t work…

Hashtags don't work!
If you’re like her, today I’m gonna change this opinion of yours!

…well, after reading this, you’re gonna see huge results.

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But before that…

Do you feel like you don’t have enough time for Instagram?

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If you feel like you are someone who needs these, then I created 140+ Instagram image templates that are easy to use, customize & download.

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Presumptions: Before I talk about hashtags, I presume you already know that your account should be focused on a particular niche so that people know what will they find if they follow you.

I’ve added bonus strategies at the end that will work as a bonus for your account if you use them.

Now let’s jump right in.


Complete Instagram Hashtag Guide

Save it for later!


Instagram Hashtags: How They Work

Each hashtag has its number of posts which tells you how popular that hashtag is.

For example, the hashtag #cute has 426 million posts, as of now. And that means, hundreds of posts are being added to this hashtag every day.

If you want to check this, just search #cute in your Instagram app right now and see how many posts are there. There would be a major difference between the numbers in the image below and the number you see at the time you check it…

#Cute Instagram hashtag

If you scroll down in the recent tab, you’ll see new posts every second you reload it. This means every second new posts are being added to this hashtag.

Recent tab of an Instagram hashtag

So can you use this hashtag?

If you use this hashtag, your post will get buried in the feed in seconds, as soon as the new posts keep taking that place, unless you have millions of followers.

You might even need to scroll down to find your post that you just posted a while ago. Which means, it’s a wrong hashtag!

Sad girl because her Instagram posts ain't gettin' more reach
WRONG hashtags can decrease your exposure on Instagram!

My goal is to help you being seen in the “Top” posts of the hashtag instead of getting buried in the “Recent” ones.


Instagram Hashtag: New Instagram Feature

Instagram has recently rolled out a new feature: You can now follow a hashtag too. Which means if you follow a hashtag, your home feed will show you the top posts of that hashtag.

What does this mean for you?

People who follow the hashtag will see your post in their home feed, aka, more exposure (without you having to do any promotion!)

You can now follow our favorite hashtags
Even the bunny knows he can follow hashtags now!

My Observation on Instagram Hashtags: Secret to even more exposure

My study has shown that if one of your posts has been in the top posts of a hashtag till the time period you upload a new post with the same hashtag, then your new post will instantly be in the top posts of that hashtag.

And that is why sometimes you might see posts with just 1 or 2 likes in the top Posts.

That is not partiality on behalf of the Instagram algorithm, but that is how the Instagram algorithm has been developed.


👉 If an account’s (user’s) post has the capability to stay in the top post of a hashtag for a longer period of time, then that account is tagged as a good content producer for that particular hashtag.

What does this mean for you?

More exposure, without doing anything!

This also means that you should consistently use some quality hashtags in your posts. But how many? Coming back to that in a second…

But beware…

Instagram DOES NOT like people using the same hashtag list in all their posts. This makes you look spammy in the eyes of Instagram.

So, you NEED to keep 2-3 hashtag lists. Coming back to how to do that in a second…


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Instagram Hashtags: How to Use Them?

Now that you know how Instagram hashtags work, you might be curious about how to use hashtags, how many to use & how to get more visibility through these. Let’s see…

1. Be careful with your Hashtags

Little mermaid asks how many hashtags should I post to be popular?
You’re already popular, little mermaid!

Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags. If you are not using your hashtags wisely, you’re just wasting your chances of being visible to maximum users. 

You should use ALL 30 hashtags. Your goal should be to get discovered by maximum users from each of your hashtags.

But how?

Keep reading…

2. How to choose relevant hashtags?

You need to find the hashtags where you can get placed in its top posts. 

Now you might be thinking if you have like 200 followers, can you be in the top posts of a 10k post hashtags or 1k post hashtags?

(Note: For those of you who are wondering what is a 10k post hashtag: Any hashtag that has 10k posts in total)

…that’s not the way it works.

You need to do a little home work here…

Here’s how to find hashtags…

  • Once you know what’s your niche of the image, write down a few relevant hashtags.

What does relevant hashtag mean?

Relevant hashtag means your post is relevant to that hashtag. It should talk about that content that the hashtag is expected to have.

For example, #cute is not relevant to your post unless there is something cute in your post. (Anyway, #cute is too big hashtag for you, so you’re not going to use it)

  • Visit each of these hashtags.

These are the properties you’re looking for:

1. Recency

Visit the recent posts and look at the time at which posts are published. There should be a good number of posts posted recently, within 12 hours.

This confirms that people are using this hashtag and that it is popular. It shouldn’t be a deserted hashtag.

This is a deserted hashtag

Look out for this signal…

2. Relevance & Search-intent

Have a quick look at the top posts and watch closely.

Are these posts relevant to your posts?

Are these posts equivalent to what a user would expect from this hashtag (This is called search intent)?

For example, let’s say a user searches for #ornament.

His/her search intent is to buy or look for ornaments. But what if #ornament top posts does not consist of ornaments?

In reality, this hashtag #ornament is completely filled with art content instead of ornaments. So, this is a hashtag you should avoid using.

#ornament is full of art content. This is not what a user would expect from this hashtag.
This is a bad hashtag. For ornament niche as well as for art niche!

3. Content

In the top posts look for what kind of content gets into the top posts.

Are your posts similar to those posts? If not, can you create such posts? Does it go with your brand style?

If yes, choose this hashtag, otherwise, avoid it.

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4. Are you eligible?

Have a look at the top posts of these hashtags and notice how many likes each post has in a limited amount of time.

Ignore the posts that have less than 10 likes (…these posts are in the top post because of the above theory I explained in “My Observations”).

For example, the top posts of a hashtag has posts with 1000 likes in one hour.

Do you get 1000 likes per post in one hour?

If you do, go for this hashtag. If you get less than 1000 likes, find a smaller hashtag. And by smaller hashtag I mean, the one in which the top posts have less number of likes in one hour.

But remember, don’t forget to check recency. As you start using smaller hashtags, the recency would start getting lower. Never use hashtags below 1k posts.

  • To find another relevant hashtag, you can see the “Related” tags. You can find these just beneath the hashtag name.

    Showing related Instagram hashtags

  • If you want a smaller hashtag, you can make it more specific. So let’s say, #cute is too big for you. Then you might use #cutebaby, if it’s a baby’s photo.

Champion Tip: Ignore one word hashtags. Most of the times such hashtags are already too popular. Instead, consider using 2 or 3 word hashtags.

Repeat the above steps for all the hashtags & make a list of such hashtags.

I know that this is a lot to do, but it’s worth doing if you’re serious about your Instagram – especially if it’s for your business account.

But wait…

There’s a strategy you need to follow while using these hashtags.


3. The Hashtag Strategy

Before you jump on to finding hashtags for your posts, here’s a secret strategy you need to know in order to use the Instagram features to its full extent for your faster growth:

You need to use 30 hashtags like this – 10 Generic + 20 Specific

  • Generic Hashtags

Generic hashtags are those that are not specific to any of your posts but all of your posts are in a way related to these.

In other words, these hashtags describe your account’s niche & not specifically describe a single post.

Find 20 (10 + 10) general hashtags that describe your account’s niche.

For example, if your account is about pets, then you might have general hashtags like #cutepets, #cutepetsclub, #cutepetsig, #cutepetspost etc.

Now, #cutedog is specific & not generic. You get the point.

Generic vs Specific hashtags
Generic vs. Specific hashtags – #cutepet vs. #cutedog

Here’s what you have to do:

i) 10 of these hashtags should be relevant to your posts. That is, you should land in the top posts in these hashtags.

ii) 10 should be bigger, but very popular hashtags where you might not land into the top posts.

The reason for this is that these hashtags, being very popular, will give you instant likes as soon as you post. You might get buried in these hashtags, but that’s not our motive. You will add these hashtags to get instant likes which increases social proof for that post.

(Social proof means a proof that the post is like-able. When you see a post that is posted 30 minutes ago, but there are no likes or comments, you will more likely not like the post as compared to the one that has 100s of likes – that’s social proof).

Note: Big hashtags should at least keep you in the “recent” posts for about half an hour. If you cannot find yourself in the recent posts after a minute or so, no one else will be able to find you either.

How to use these:

Instagram has recently rolled out that copy pasting the exact same list of hashtags will mark you as spammy.

So, you need to use only 10 of these hashtags (5 relevant & 5 bigger) in a post. And then switch to another 10 (again 5 relevant & 5 bigger) hashtags in the next post.

  • Specific Hashtags

These are the hashtags that are specific to your posts. So for each post, you need to find 20 specific hashtags.

Again, find 10 bigger & 10 relevant hashtags and you’re done.

This might have gotten a bit confusing… So let’s summarize:


  • You’re gonna keep a list of 20 generic hashtags (relevant to your account’s niche).

  • For each post, you’ll use 10 from above list of generic hashtags & 20 specific hashtags.

  • So for each post, you just need to find 20 hashtags & add the 10 from the Generic List.

I hope this is not confusing & has made you understand the exact strategy I use for my Instagram account to grow faster.

If you liked it, please do me a favor and spread the word by sharing it to your Twitter followers:

Thanks for sharing. Now here’re some bonus strategies for you…


Bonus Strategies for you:

1. Keep a check on your hashtags

Once you’ve made a list of hashtags does not mean that your work is done. Keep checking how effective they are. Try using other new hashtags to see if they work better & if they do, replace them in your list.

2. Keep changing your level

Once you have mastered this hashtag strategy, your number of likes per post will keep increasing. Which means now your level has heightened and you need to change your hashtags.

So say, you were looking for hashtags that had on average 50 likes an hour on its top posts, but after some time you need to change it to 75 likes, then 100 & so on. And you also need to change your generic hashtags’ list.


3. Hashtag Ideas

Use these tips if you're out of hashtag ideas
Can’t think of any more hashtags? These ideas WILL help!

If you are researching hashtags & you cannot think of any other relevant hashtags, here are some of the ideas:

  • Add “ig” or “insta” at the beginning or end of the word. For example, #goodnightig or #instagoodnight

  • Try misspelling the word. Sometimes the misspelled hashtags are also popular. #cuye (instead of #cute) has 11k posts!

  • Try adding some smileys at the end, or just wait for the auto-search to show some. These are popular too.

  • You can also add “shotby” in the beginning or “shot” or “photography” at the end of your device’s name. For instance, #iphonexphotography has 90k posts.

  • Try to make it specific or generic, you’ll find some more hashtags.

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4. Use an app

You might find a lot of apps on android and apple store that will provide you related hashtags.

Use these hashtags to just get ideas. Because the hashtags provided by these apps are very popular & you might not get maximum visibility through these.

One of the best mobile apps for Instagram planning, scheduling & storing your hashtags is Preview App. I use this app for storing my generic hashtags & it also lets you find hashtags in the app itself.

Another great app is Tailwind. It suggests hashtags as you write your caption. So, it becomes more easier for you to find those specific hashtags for each post.

I wrote about my favorite 5 Instagram apps that cuts my promotion time in half to my email subscribers. You can read that email here.

FYI, if you like to receive such emails in your inbox, you can subscribe here and receive a free 5-day advanced Instagram course.

Note: Using these apps might urge you to use the hashtags without doing research, but it won’t get you anywhere farther. Only use these apps to get ideas, then research those hashtags before putting them into your posts.


5. If it’s your Business Account…

Hashtags attracting peers instead of customers
Using too many “peer” hashtags will start attracting your peers, instead of customers

While searching for hashtags, check if the top posts are from customers or from your peers.

For instance, if your business is about jewelry, you might use a few of the hashtags like #jewelleryshop or #jewellery but because these hashtags are mostly used by other jewelry businesses, you might end up attracting your peers instead of your customers.

So I suggest, just use a few of such hashtags, because your customers might have followed such hashtags, but using up all 30 by such hashtags will do no good to your business.

Some ideas for your business might be: #myjewellery or #myloveforjewellery – Such hashtags are most likely used by your customers. You got the point.

6. Do your research

Find out hashtags that describes your account’s theme or niche.

Now research the top posts of these hashtags. Notice which type of images get the most interaction. And try to model those types of posts.

I’ve been trying this a lot & hence my feed looks like I’ve changed many themes, but now I am settled on a theme and the type of posts, you can check that here.


7. Most Important Tip

Hashtags make your posts discoverable. You will get consistent likes through these strategies if you follow them religiously. But in order to get followers, your feed should have something valuable to provide. 

Your Instagram account page should be attractive enough for someone to land and instantly think I should follow this.

To make this happen, you need to create a consistent and beautiful theme which will make your account visitors to instantly follow you.

Remember, followers are the ones that give you the most likes. So your short-term goal might be to get tons of likes on your posts, but your long-term goal should be to convert those likes into your followers.

Now that you will be gaining much exposure and engagement to your posts, you might be thinking of using this opportunity to market your blog/business on Instagram.

I’ve compiled a step-by-step article on how a coach builds a strategy to market a business on Instagram and how you can do it yourself without ever needing a coach!

Yeah. Now, I'm a hashtag pro
Slow down little girl, there’re many more growth strategies to Instagram that you still NEED to master!  Learn them here.

This completes my Complete Instagram Hashtag Guide.

I’ve tried to add each and every detail about how I use hashtags to grow my account and I’ll keep updating this post as the algorithm changes. I hope you learned something & enjoyed reading it.

Vidhi Makwana

Marketing & Sales Mentor
for Leaders, Coaches & Personal Brands
Trailblaze. Lead. Profit


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