How to Use Instagram Hashtags Strategically

Meltwater recently hosted a webinar discussing Instagram strategies and how the algorithm sorts content. Included in that discussion was the strategic approach to Instagram hashtags to increase search results and conversions for your business. This blog post will outline that strategic approach to help you pick the right hashtags for your brand. Additionally, if you haven’t read our blog post on Understanding How Instagram Hashtags Work, make sure you check that out first. 

Picking the Right Hashtags for Your Business 

Many brands rely on popular or trending hashtags in hopes of being found. Or they slap up a slew of hashtags all about what they do but don’t think about what their customers are actually looking for. It’s important that you choose the right hashtags for your business to improve your chances of appearing in the searches your audience is actually looking at. 

Let’s consider the example of car insurance. If your company sells car insurance and you’re on Instagram posting #carinsurance #insurancebroker and the like, you’re NOT attracting your target audience. The reality is that no one is coming to Instagram to look for car insurance. They’ll use Google for that. So, the only people looking at those car insurance hashtags are other brokers – who are your competitors! Instead, you need to think about your target audience. Who are they? They’re people with cars. And people with cars are looking at things like #dreamcar or #newcar or #myfirstcar. And people buying their first car need car insurance! You can have your content out there, providing information, tips, and advice but use the hashtags they are more likely to be searching.

In contrast, if you’re a wedding photographer, the first place most brides to be will go look is Instagram. In that case, using #weddingphotographer is perfectly acceptable. But even then, that’s a global search result and chances are you only serve a local area as a photographer. It would be wise for you to add the city or state to your #weddingphotographer or #photography hashtags to appear in the searches your actual target customers are looking at. 

Additionally, you want to have your own branded hashtag for your business. It can be your business name, your slogan, or something you’re known for. But it should be something that no one else is actively using on Instagram. And you may decide to have more than one branded hashtag, one being your business name and the other being a slogan or catchphrase. Having two or three is perfectly acceptable. 

Where to Find the Right Hashtags

The best place to find hashtags for Instagram is Instagram. Go into the search tab (the magnifying glass icon in the bottom menu bar) and type in a hashtag or topic or phrase. Go to the “Tags” tab and you’ll see a listing of hashtags with that word or phrase, in addition to how many posts are associated with that hashtag. 

hashtag search on Instagram

This shows you the popularity of a hashtag and also provide recommendations for other similar ones you might want to use. Additionally, if you select any of those hashtags to review, there will be a list of recommended similar hashtags at the top of that screen to give you more suggestions of what to use. 


These results are the most reliable because this is what is actually populating and being searched within Instagram. There are other options and third-party tools you can rely on as well. However, those often provide varied results as they factor in Twitter and other social media searches.

You can, of course, use Meltwater’s monitoring tool to review hashtags and determine which ones are best for you. In addition, you can use tools like Tagboard and Hashtagify for more insights and popular hashtag results. 

The Right Hashtag Recipe for Success 

Picking the right hashtags is only half the process. Now you need to know which ones to use in what format to increase your chances of ranking higher in the Top hashtag tab and getting found by more potential customers. 

This recipe for hashtags will help you to achieve this!

  1. Use at least 3-5 popular hashtags. These are hashtags that have 500,000 to a million posts associated with them. I don’t recommend using hashtags with more than a million results as they usually only attract spam bots and fake engagement.
  2. Use at least 3-5 moderately popular hashtags. These are hashtags with high tens of thousands of posts up to the mid hundreds of thousands.
  3. Use at least 3-5 niche specific hashtags. These are hashtags with usually less than 25,000 posts associated with them and that are specifically targeted to what your business does and the solution or product you offer. 
  4. Use 1-3 branded hashtags.

Why does this work?

Once you post to Instagram, your followers start seeing your content and interacting with it. The algorithm is making note of this. In addition, hashtags allow you to get found by non-followers. The popular hashtags get you an initial burst of activity immediately after posting. But your content will dissolve into the archives quickly. The moderately popular hashtags you used will keep your content active for hours or days. And the algorithm is tracking this too. As both followers and non-followers interact with your content, the algorithm ranks your content higher, and in those niche specific hashtags (and even possibly the more popular ones), your content will rank as a top performing post (regardless of how many likes you have) and your content will appear in top placements on that Top tab for that hashtag result. This allows more people to find you and the exact solution you offer to them. 

This results in more engagement on your content, more followers on your account, more traffic to your website, and more sales for your business!

And that is how you use Instagram hashtags effectively and strategically. You want to hit all of these components of choosing the right hashtags for your business and audience as well as combining the right mix of hashtag popularity to increase your results.