You probably heard that Instagram is the biggest content marketing platform since Facebook. Maybe you fired up your Instagram account a your ago and have been actively posting to it ever since. So why aren’t you getting more traffic from it?
The sad reality is that only 30% of Instagram posts are ever seen. You can have the best image in the world, but it won’t get noticed unless you take the right steps to promote it. Your post will only be seen if:
- You have a strong following already.
- You are using hashtags strategically.
Getting traction without using hashtags is virtually impossible, because Instagram followings aren’t built on their own. You need popular posts before you can earn followers and your posts are unlikely to become popular if you don’t draw attention to them with strategically selected hashtags.
If you are still skeptical, take a look at data from a study by Simply Measured. Their research showed that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than posts without any. Posts with two or more relevant hashtags can get even more traffic, although the relationship isn’t necessarily linear.
What are hashtags and why are they important?
Hashtags are words that are preceded by the hashtag symbol (#). They are used to categorize content on Instagram, the same way they are used on Twitter.
Instagram users can use hashtags to find content related to niches or industries they are interested in. Vegans on Instagram can follow hashtags such as #Vegan, #WhatVegansEat and #Veganism. Some hashtags are very broad, while others are more specific.
As a blogger, you can’t afford to ignore the value of hashtags in your Instagram marketing strategy. Choosing the right hashtags will help you reach a larger audience. Here are some things that you need to consider when you are increasing your engagement by using hashtags.
Avoid using generic or spammy hashtags just for visibility
Hashtags can be excellent for getting likes for your posts or followers for your account. However, your engagement rates will be very poor if you use excessively broad hashtags to get a lot of views from people that have a little or no interest in your content.
Too many Instagram marketers take the shotgun approach. They use spammy or generic hashtags such as #Instagrammers to get as much attention as possible. There are a couple of reasons this is unwise:
- Literally millions of accounts are using these types of hashtags. Your content is likely to get lost in the noise.
- Even if you have content in a very broad niche, hashtags such as #Instagrammers aren’t going to be relevant to the vast majority of the Instagram network.
- People that do follow your content your visit your site aren’t likely to be very targeted. You can’t depend on them to be long term, loyal followers.
It is better to focus on hashtags that are relevant to your target audience.
Be more conservative than the 30 hashtag rule
Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags in any post. This is a generous allowance, but you don’t want to aim for it. If you use too many hashtags, your post will look spammy and your engagement levels will plummet.
How many hashtags should you use in your posts? Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer. The sweet spot varies according to the type of content you are promoting.
You should look carefully at major Instagram influencers in your vertical. If the most successful Instagrammers in your niche are using 5 to 7 hashtags in their posts, then you will want to shoot for that range as well. You might be able to squeeze in a couple more, but you don’t want to add over a dozen.
Look carefully at the light range of hashtags before using them in your content
When you choose a hashtag, you will be competing for attention with every other Instagram user that places it in their posts. You need to be realistic about your ability to compete for these hashtags when selecting them. If your content won’t be popular enough to stand out with a given hashtag, then you are wasting your effort with it.
How can you tell whether or not your content can compete for a given hashtag? The best place to start is by looking at the range of likes for posts in the top stories category that are using that hashtag. In the screenshot above, you can see some of the most popular hashtags being used today, as provided by Top-Hashtags.com.
At the time this post was written, if you looked at the hashtag #WhatVegansEat, you would see that the least popular post in the top stories category for it has 165 likes. The most popular post has 1,465 likes. You will need content that receives at least this level of engagement to have a chance of showing up in the top stories post.
Use hashtag Analytics Tools to measure performance
Targeting the hashtags with the most visibility isn’t necessarily going to provide the best results. You are going to need to measure the performance of each hashtag to determine which provide the best engagement and exposure. Sprout Social, Command and Simply Measured are some of the best Instagram analytics tools.
You want to look at a number of factors when you are analyzing the performance of your Instagram posts. It is important to look at the different types of images that you used. You should also compare hashtags in your most successful posts. Many Instagram analytics tools will actually help you determine which hashtags consistently generate the most traction.
Know what types of hashtag practices can cause an Instagram shadow ban
Instagram has started taking a heavy hand against spammers and people that violate the site’s TOS. This is about as bad as having your website be deindexed by Google. Your engagement levels will plummet and your hashtags will stop receiving visibility. This is a huge setback if you have an established account that you invested a lot of time and resources in.
A number of factors can lead to an Instagram shadow ban, although Instagram hasn’t revealed them. Despite their lack of transparency, it seems that hashtag abuse is one of the biggest reasons Instagram users’ accounts are shadow banned, so you need to look at them carefully.
So what can you do to avoid an Instagram shadow ban? Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Pay close attention to the types of hashtags that you are using. Some hashtags may seem benign at first glance, but they can be abused by other accounts that are trying to promote adult content or other posts that violate the site’s TOS. If you are caught using hashtags that are associated with illicit content, then you may join the ranks of the abusing Instagrammers that get shadow banned.
- Avoid using automated tools to build followers. You can use third-party tools for analytics and streamlining your posting, but you don’t want to use tools that are made to boost follower rates. These tools include apps that randomly follow unrelated users for the purpose or getting them to follow you back. You should also avoid using hashtags that are used for the sole purpose of getting new Instagram followers or likes, such as #follow4follow or #like4like.
- Don’t use the maximum number of hashtags allowed in every post. While Instagram lets you use 30 hashtags, abusing this allowance in every post could trigger the spam filter.
Keep in mind that these are only rules of thumb. Instagram hasn’t shared their standards for determining when an account will receive a shadow ban, so you need to use your best judgment to determine if a post is likely to trigger a shadow ban.
Use Hashtags Wisely and Traffic Will Follow!
Instagram is a fantastic platform for driving traffic to your website. However, it can be difficult to stand out among the other 800 million users – unless you choose the right hashtag strategy. Take the time to find hashtags that appeal to your target audience and make sure that your account can compete with them. This will make it much easier to drive engagement for your posts.