How I Used Hashtags to Grow my Instagram Organic Reach 20x

With over 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram has grown to be one of the biggest social media platforms out there. It’s no wonder that digital marketers are constantly trying to come up with new ways of increasing their organic reach on Instagram. 

Today I’d like to show you my own case study and how I boosted my Instagram organic reach through the roof and beyond.

What are hashtags?

Hashtags on Instagram are like keywords for Google – they offer you the opportunity to get discovered by new audiences. They can help you categorize your content, boost brand awareness, and position your brand with authority. Sounds pretty compelling, but does it actually work?

This time I’m bringing some hard evidence to the table.

Sure, hashtags can be confusing – some people love them, some people hate them. Some users write full sentences with hashtags, others don’t use them at all. If you’re a newbie to Instagram, or you use hashtags and see no substantial results, I will take you through the process of effective “hashtagging” step by step.

Read on to find out how to engage your audience and boost your reach on Instagram.

Do hashtags even work on Instagram?

You may be wondering about the whole point of including hashtags in your posts. Well, just take a look at my own stats:

Instagram organic reach hashtags
My Instagram stats as seen in Insights

As you can see, I received the majority of impressions directly through my precious hashtags. My BMX account where I promote myself as an athlete has little over 5000 followers right now. It’s quite clear that these stats go way beyond this number.

More than a striking 90% of my audience don’t follow me. This may seem a bit baffling at first glance. The answer is rather quite simple. A while back, my posts started ranking in the Top and Recent sections in the hashtag browser on Instagram. First I could see myself there only once in a while. Now I rank there regularly.

And that’s your goal, that’s where you want your quality content to land. But how?

Which hashtags should you choose?

One thing you should avoid doing is aiming for the most popular hashtags, e.g. #love #passion #sport and so on. They are simply too broad and it’s super difficult to rank high among them. Instagram’s algorithm isn’t gonna cut you any slack with that.

When you use the hashtag browser, you can see exactly how many posts on Instagram are tagged with a specific hashtag:

Hashtag research on Instagram
Looking up hashtags on Instagram

It’s best to aim for medium-sized hashtags. To be more precise, try to choose those that have at least 20,000 posts tagged with them. Find your niche and create content that’s unique within it.

Focus on hashtags that specifically describe the content you showcase on your account and are the best fit for your target audience. You can take one big hashtag and combine it with another word to make it more specific. The hashtag browser will also help you find similar hashtags, as it automatically generates hashtag suggestions. For example, instead of using #socialmedia I’d try #socialmediamarketingtips.

You can also use external discovery tools like RiteTag or Hashtagify as a helping hand in finding the most powerful hashtags.

Finally, keep an eye on trending hashtags that go viral. If you can apply these tags to your content in a relevant way, that will also increase your chances of getting ridiculous traffic and boosting Instagram engagement. #EggGang

How many hashtags should you use?

When it comes to deciding how many hashtags to use, the general assumption is the more, the better. However, there is an actual limit of 30 hashtags.

If you add 30 hashtags or more to a post, your account can appear on Instagram’s radar, and that can be troublesome. You can have your post deleted, or worse yet – your entire Instagram account. I recommend applying at least 20 hashtags for good measure. 28 is perfect as your content flies just below that infamous Instagram radar.

Social media analytics

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Keep the caption clean

This tip is mainly for UX purposes. Many Instagram users place hashtags in the caption of their content. It looks a little sloppy and can be distracting. Thankfully, there is an alternative for it – you can put hashtags in the comments section right after you upload your stuff.

This will have no effect on your ranking, and the hashtags will still work just the same. And your visitors will get the chance to focus more on the content and the caption!

Ready, set, go!

Saving time is good, so try to create a universal set of hashtags that you can simply copy and paste. You can also have multiple sets of hashtags ready to go depending on how varied your content is. Also – don’t use the same set of hashtags all the time. Try and change it up a bit, taking trends, seasons, places, and other relevant factors into consideration.

Pro tip: Create a keyword shortcut for each hashtag list on your phone. Then simply type that one magic word and the whole list will be generated for you!

Monitor your hashtag performance

In order to better adjust your strategy, you should analyze your hashtag performance. Currently, the default Instagram Insights tool doesn’t cover much about hashtags. It only provides you with the number of post visitors who visited your post through the hashtag browser.

If you need more statistics to find out which of your hashtags work best, you can use NapoleonCat’s Analytics. This social media management tool has a convenient feature for hashtag analysis.

You can analyze the hashtags used on your account from any custom timeframe. Basically, their overall performance can be seen inside the so-called “hashtag cloud”:

hashtag cloud napoleoncat
NapoleonCat’s hashtag cloud

You can also see the performance in numbers. The hashtags’ performance is conveniently broken down into metrics: posts, comments, likes, and engagement rate:

Hashtag analysis
Hashtag analysis with NapoleonCat

Content is still king

In all honesty, these hashtag strategies will work best under one condition – your content must stand out. Content is always king. The reason I started appearing at the top of the hashtag browser is because I came up with a rare BMX trick. So just try to be creative and original, but also do it in a relatable way. If more people can relate to something, it is more likely they will comment, share, and generate traffic.

Tip: Check out or guide to building an effective social media content strategy.

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