How to do hashtag research for Instagram – 4 easy steps

22 Jul, 2020 | Podcast, Season 4

Hashtags are essential when you’re trying to get your business in front of new audiences and potential customers on Instagram. So how can you harness hashtags to their greatest effect? 

In episode 38 of the Whin Big podcast Katie shares her own process for harnessing the power of hashtags. And we’ve included a free download of our hashtag spreadsheet to help you get started quickly.

As always – the episode is packed with even more treasure than we share in the show notes, so dig into the episode so you don’t miss any gems.

Free Hashtag Spreadsheet to Download

 If you want to follow along as you listen, the easiest thing to do is download the Hashtag Research Spreadsheet here.

Why hashtags are important on Instagram

Even if you already use them, it’s good to understand some basic hashtag foundations. Hashtags are a way to get you in front of new people.

They help Instagram work out who should see your content.

  • Think of your website – Google will show your site to searchers by finding search engine optimisation on your pages (keywords, search phrases and so on.) Instagram uses hashtags in the same way.
  • It doesn’t matter what you’ve put in your caption or your picture – Instagram doesn’t know what it’s about until you’ve added the relevant hashtags.

They define where people see you.

  • People who follow you already will see your posts in their newsfeed – adding hashtags they care about increases your chances of showing up.
  • Your hashtags will also place your post in a hashtag gallery, so if people are browsing that specific hashtag, you’ll be included and new people will find you.

“When Instagram can see that your content has a hashtag on it and the person is already following you, that increases your chances of appearing in their newsfeed.” – Katie

So now you know what hashtags do, how can you get them working to your benefit? Here’s our 4-step hashtag research process to help you get started.

1 – Gathering hashtag ideas so you can grow your account

The first step is to gather as many ideas for hashtags as you possibly can.

  • Using our hashtag spreadsheet, or a blank document, go through your own recent posts and write down every hashtag you’ve used in the last 10 posts. Even if you’re not sure they were any good.
  • Browse through the people you follow, or those in the same line as business as you. Check out their posts – what hashtags do they use? Write them down too.
  • Look at accounts who are serving or connecting to the same audience you’re interested in. Keep an eye on hashtags that reflects the audience you have in common – write them down.

More ways to find the hashtags you need:

  • Boost the number of hashtag ideas by using related hashtag suggestions. You’ll find this at the top of the hashtag galleries.
  • Use hashtag idea generator sites like Display Purposes and the Focalmark app.
  • Tailwind – a scheduling app for Instagram has a hashtag suggestion feature
  • The Whin’s Hashtag Cheat Sheet. Our dedicated spreadsheet including hundreds of hashtags broken down by audiences, interests, business and industry types. It’s only available to mailing list subscribers, the next one is sent out early August. Sign up to The Whin emailing list for access as soon as it’s available.

2 – Find the perfect hashtags to reach your audience  

Next we focus on how useful your hashtags are for your business. Lots of hashtags are useful – but not all are useful to you and the audience you want to attract.

Key things to look for: 

  • The size. This determines the size of the audience and how likely people are to find your posts (bigger is not always better!)
  • Relevant content. Keep an eye on categories, photo style, challenges and so on. This helps you work out if the people browsing that hashtag will be interested in your content too.

    3 – Organise and store your list so you can post quickly and easily

    By now you might have dozens of hashtags, but you won’t need them all at once. When you post on different topics, you can easily find the hashtags you’ve prepared for that topic.

    • Our hashtag spreadsheet has a column for adding your own categories. Choose 3 – 4 that make sense to your business, then you can filter your list.
    • Use the notes app on your phone to keep track of hashtags if you can’t access your spreadsheet, or notebook while posting on the move.
    • Scheduling tools like Buffer or Later, you can create posts on your computer so you can directly copy from notes or spreadsheets

    “Facebook Creator Studio now allows you to connect with your Instagram account so you can post directly from your computer.” – Katie

    4 – Test and track to see what’s working

    The last step is to start using your hashtags. How will you know they’re working if you don’t test them out? Use them and follow up on Instagram Insights to get a clear idea.

    Look over some recent posts to see the Reach, and the % of accounts not following you, and set a benchmark at around 70-80% – so out of your 10 most recent posts, the best two or three will be at or above the benchmark, and the other seven or eight will be below.

    In your spreadsheet, put a star next to Effectiveness for each hashtag that appears on your recent above-benchmark posts.

    Going forward, when you have another post which crosses the benchmark, add another start to each hashtag.

    As you experiment with different groups of hashtags, over time this builds up a picture of the most effective ones.

    Have a listen in to episode 75 – How to pick good hashtags for Instagram to learn more about hashtag strategy for small businesses

    “If you use the same identical set of hashtags every time you post, that starts to make you look like a bot rather than a real person. You don’t want to do anything that gives Instagram the impression you’re not a real person. That’s not good for your performance in the newsfeed or algorithm”. – Katie

    Don’t forget, you can speed up the process by downloading our hashtag research template to get you started straight away.

    What else would you like learn about Instagram marketing?

    We always love responding to listener questions on the podcast. Do you have one you’d like to send in? Email us!

    Additional resources featured in the podcast

    Download the FREE hashtag research template

    Hashtag generator sites & scheduling tools

    Display Purposes
    Facebook creator studio


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