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Whether you’re just starting out on Instagram or you’ve been at the game for a while, you probably know that hashtags are the key to gaining traffic on Instagram.

What you might not know is how to research and plan your hashtags to get you the most traffic possible for each of your posts. That’s why I’ve created this step-by-step guide to boost your Instagram account using the most effective hashtags for your niche.

Let’s get started!

How to Find the Best Instagram Hashtags for Your Niche


In this guide, I’ll be walking you through my process for researching and tagging each post with relevant hashtags. If you’ve got an Insta post loaded in your drafts, grab that and a pen and paper. I find that these things are easiest when you work through them in real time!


1. Define Your Niche

For every post you make on Instagram, you’re going to want to tag it with a combination of niche-specific and photo-specific hashtags. To create your list of niche hashtags, you first need to define what your niche is.

A very common mistake right off the bat is to define your niche in too broad of terms. It’s not enough to say you’re just a lifestyle blogger. What kind of lifestyle are you ‘gramming? Are you putting the twins through Christian private school while learning the ins and outs of homestead life? Are you a single 20-something sharing your tips and tricks for living fully on a frugal budget? People will be using very different hashtags to find posts related to those two segments of the broader “lifestyle” niche. It’s okay to be very specific here.

For now, write down that specific description of your niche and a handful of hashtags you might have seen or used to attract an audience for that segment. For example, I run a travel Insta, annie.abroad, that’s all about female travel on a budget. Instead of choosing a broad #travelgram tag for this step, I would go for a honed-in #travelgirls or #travelcheap.

It’s okay if you don’t know many specific hashtags for this step! We will find plenty more later on. For now, just write down the first few that come to mind.


2. Define your photo

For this step, think about the specific photo that you’re about to post. What is it a photo of? Where was the photo taken? Are there any products or brands in your photo? What emotion are you trying to convey with this photo?

Most of my travel photos are scenery with no branding or product placement, but I’m trying to make my audience feel a sense of wanderlust and adventure that makes them want to do some exploring of their own. For a photo of the canals of Venice, I’ll use some emotionally loaded hashtags like #exploremore and some tags about Venice and Italy, like #italyphoto or #venicelove.

Again, it’s okay if these hashtags aren’t stellar right away. Just write down some ideas of what to use.


3. Research Time!

Pull out your phone and get logged into your Insta account, it’s time to do some research!

What am I looking for in a hashtag?

Before we start researching, you need to know what you’re looking for. Basically, you’re looking for a hashtag that:

  • Accurately describes your photo or niche
  • Doesn’t have inappropriate or irrelevant content
  • Is regularly used to tag posts
  • Has less than 200k posts

Now, how do you actually research a set of hashtags? Grab your first list of niche hashtags from Step 1 – you’re about to find out.

How to research a hashtag

First, open up Instagram, hit the search button, and type in your first niche hashtag. Switch over to the “Tags” section at the top.

Look at the tag you originally chose. Does it have less than 200k followers? If not, that’s okay! Start scrolling through the suggested hashtags and write down any tag with under 200k posts that catches your eye.

Repeat this with the hashtags you brainstormed for your niche until you have a solid list of 20-30 tags. Now, it’s time to weed some out.

Go to each individual hashtag and look around.

Has this hashtag been used in the last month? If not, scratch it off your list.

Is there inappropriate content on this tag? Unless you’re posting similarly inappropriate content, I’d advise against using tags that are spammed with nudity or violence. They won’t attract the audience you want, and interacting in those tags in a great way to get shadowbanned.

Does this tag accurately describe your niche? You might find that the tag #travelgramitalia is active, totally family friendly, and under that 200k limit. But if you’re not posting travel pics from Italy, your photo will not do well in this tag, and you run the risk of being shadowbanned for spamming.

Once you’ve run each niche hashtag through the gauntlet, you should have about 10-15 strong tags. Write these down and save them for later.

Rinse and repeat

Next, go through the exact same process with your specific photo tags. The biggest mistake you’ll run into here is slapping tags on a post without really looking the hashtag and find yourself using an irrelevant tag. Even though #venicevibes sounds like a great addition to a photo of Venetian waterways, a closer look at that tag reveals that it’s used mostly for pictures of Venice Beach, CA, not Venice, Italy.

You might have fewer photo-specific hashtags than niche hashtags, and that’s okay!

Just make sure you’re not using more than 30 hashtags per post.


4. Keeping it all organized

You now have a curated list of approximately 15-20 niche hashtags and 10-15 photo hashtags. What’s the best way to stay on top of your tags, especially when you’re finding 10-15 new tags for each new photo?

I highly recommend you use an Instagram planning tool like Planoly to keep you organized. Planoly is my go-to tool for Instagram because it allows you to schedule and auto-post Instagram posts, manage new comments and interactions, and it includes my favorite tool – a hashtag planner!

I keep a separate list of hashtags for all of my posts using my Planoly app. For my travel account, I’ve got a list for my niche hashtags, for each location that I frequent in my photos, and for feature Instagram accounts that repost your work with credit when you use their hashtags.

Best of all, Planoly is free to get started with! They do offer a paid version which is totally worth it if you’re serious about investing in your business using Instagram.

Check it out here: Planoly

5. Other hashtag tips and tricks

Now that you know how to research and plan your hashtags, you’ve pretty much got yourself covered! These tips and tricks will help keep you on the path to grow using your new tag lists.

UPDATE AUGUST 2018 – Post your hashtags in your caption – I’d previously written that it was best to put your tags in a comment so you wouldn’t make your audience scroll through 8 million hashtags. There seems to be some evidence with new Instagram updates that posts with tags in the CAPTIONS perform marginally better than posts with tags in the comments. So far it’s just a small difference, but every little boost helps when it comes to social media marketing! 

Regularly update your hashtags – I go through this research process once a month to make sure that all of my hashtags are still performing like I want them to. Refreshing your hashtag list every now and then also keeps you from seeming too spammy and potentially falling victim to the dreaded shadowban.

Interact in your niche and photo hashtags – Your process for creating each post should look something like this: Take the photo > edit the photo > write the caption > use the hashtags > interact in those hashtags! If people are posting or looking for content in your niche, they’re probably interested in what you post, too! Spend at least 15 minutes each time you post leaving thoughtful comments on posts in your chosen hashtags – actual words, comments, and questions. Emojis only does not fly here! By interacting in your tag, you’re making connections, widening your sphere of influence, and attracting more potential visitors to your page. Plus, you’re using social media to actually be social and interacting with others the way you want them to interact with you. The way it should be!



Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

Do you have any questions about Instagram or using hashtags to grow your account? Any tips or tweaks you’d make to this system? Just want to say hey? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you!

Are you just getting started on your social media journey? Are you looking to outsource your social media presence and save yourself valuable time? As a digital marketing virtual assistant, I offer both social media set-up and monthly social media management packages to bloggers and small business owners just like you.

Check out my list of services and let me know if you’d like to explore the possibility of working together!


Best of luck on your Instagram exploration! – Annie