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Instagram Hashtag Methodology

A Brief Analysis and Result of an Experiment with Instagram Hashtags.

By IngredientlyDecember 17, 2023
Taking a photo for Instagram

Hey everyone! Today we're going to share some potentially insightful information for those who run Instagram accounts. This hashtag methodology is something that we empirically tested and tried earnestly to make a fair sample size to get good insightful information. By hashtag methodology I mean the hashtags that you're going to potentially use in each of your Instagram posts descriptions. Incase your're wondering if we know what we're talking about here a little social proof.

A tad social proof on an old Instagram account.

Although this is just one photo we have done additional work that resulted in some impressive statistics even for the minimal time put in. Our first project that ran for three months we we're able to obtain 90,000 followers total, and on our second project which included 8 accounts we managed to gain 60,000 followers! This second projected additionally reached 1,695,000 people between March 2021 and April 2021. So, hopefully you can take our word for how this works. Feel free to reach out after reading this post if you have any additional question. We want to help you grow your account!

How It Works

Being a food blogger you're probably aware that hashtags drive the organic growth of a company on Instagram. Organic growth means that your posts are presented on the explore page to be seen by people interested in content similar to your post. To reach the explore page one must rank for hashtags. Hashtag ranking is based on a algorithm, or algorithms to say the least. Most of the posts you see on the explore page are ones that have ranked in a high position for a particular hashtag. If you have no hashtags that means you will not get on the explore page by organic means. So, you want to rank for hashtags. Especially hashtags that fit your content so you your posts can be shown to people with similar interests. For each post, you have a chance to rank for as many hashtags as you include into your post, with a maximum limit of 30 hashtags each post.

There is no golden way of getting every post onto the explore page but there is some general known ways. There is; the type of media (photo/video/reel), amount of likes, amount of comments, how many alikes and comments it gets in the first couple minutes and or hours, engagement time (how long people look at the post, the longer the better), if your recent posts did well, and how active you're with people. 

But then there is hashtags! Do the hashtags used match the visual content? How recent have you used the previous hashtag? Do you consistently rank for the hashtag? These are some questions that if you answer yes, then that's a good thing! Thats the gist of how one manages to organically grow your account on Instagram. To repeat. Firstly, you need good content and good community engagement. Secondly, you need good hashtags to make it organically grow. 

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag represents a keyword to classify and categorize and Instagram post. Hashtags are a '#' and can include any formation of letters or words after it. There is an infinite amount of hashtags then. That said, hashtags are used not only to categorize and classify but additionally to present posts on the explore page to individuals with similar interests with specific hashtags. For example, if I enjoy pesto pasta and look at a lot of pesto pasta content, then the explore page will present me with posts of the hashtag '#pestopasta'. Each hashtag has a number of posts with that hashtag. For example, if you look up '#pestopasta' in Instagram you will see something similar to this;

Photo depicting instagram hashtag
Instagram hashtag example


This means if you use  '#pestopasta' you have 263,000+ posts you're competing against to rank on explore page. Instagram cycles through new hashtags to present on the explore page, so you're not against every '#pestopasta' post, but just the recent ones. But, the bigger the hashtag the more recent posts for it! If you manage to rank for one of these hashtags , one can say they went viral. Meaning that the organic boost you gain from such a large hashtag will bring a large wave of viewers to your post, and therefore your page as well. If you're a small page it is difficult to rank for large hashtags hashtags. So, we need a methodology to rank.

We tested a vairety of hashtag methods. The best method we found is called the staircase format. This format goes in a from small hashtags to large hashtags. For example, this specific hashtag size set was working exceeding well for us;

  • 5: 1k-10k
  • 5: 10k-50k
  • 5: 50K-100k
  • 5: 100k-200k
  • 5: 200k-500k
  • 5: 500k-1mil

This method means in the post you include 5 hashtags with 1k-10k posts, 5 hashtags with 10k-50k posts, and so on. As you can this is a staircase format, stepping up from small hashtags to larger ones. Lower to higher as we can say. Although arbitrary, can quantify hashtag size such;

  • Group 1: 1k-10k
  • Group 2: 10k-50k
  • Group 3: 50k-100k
  • Group 4: 100k-200k
  • Group 5: 200k-500k
  • Group 6: 500k-1mil
  • Group 7: 1mil-5mil
  • Group 8: 5mil+

How to Implement the Hashtag Methoology

In order to perform and use this specific staircase method for you Instagram page you're going to need a large list of page-specific hashtags, categorized by size. As previously laid out groups you can categorize like;

Group 1: 1k-10k:
#pestopastasald #tastypasta

Group 2: 10k-50k:
#greenpasta ....

Group 3: 50k-100k:....

The more hashtags you categorize the more room you have to play with! Additionally, regardless of the hashtag size, make sure the hashtags are related to your page or posts. You may think you fit the criteria for '#cookmaster' as you post food content, but upon closer examination those '#cookmaster' posts consist of selfies, not food. You must make sure that the hashtags you have included matdch with the visual content or are similar to your page and posts. Instagram additionally analyzes and categorizes posts based on their visual content. Its AI, not a conscious being, so it really doesn't know what a '#cookmaster' is, but rather just goes off the most common type of visual content that people post with that hashtag. So, Instagram will downmark your organic growth if you're using unrelated hashtags to your visual content. Don't worry its not as strict as you may believe though! Just don't use a '#supercar' with a food post or something like that, the hashtag and visual content don't match at all. 

So, once you get a good list of hashtags try out this hashtag format set;

  • 5: 1k-10k
  • 5: 10k-50k
  • 5: 50K-100k
  • 5: 100k-200k
  • 5: 200k-500k
  • 5: 500k-1mil

Some Tips

  1. Feel free to put your hashtags in the comments!
  2. Repeatedly using the same hashtags may increase the odds of being explore ranked for them!
  3. Check out Later and or Facebook Creator Studio for some scheduling apps.
  4. Instagram Reels are very popular at the moment, and are organically boosted by Instagram!
  5. Including a location tag allows people in your area to possibly find you on the explore page!

How We Tested

So, with Facebook Creator Studio you are capable of scheduling two and half months of posts. That's 72 total posts. With that said we decided to schedule 56 total posts per cycle. To attempt to randomize which posts got hashtags as so forth we decided 7 posts per hashtag, thereby allowing us to test 8 sets of hashtag each cycle. We then made these date matrices

Date matrices of our hashtag upload amount

We had a total of 8 date matrices. Each of those numbers 1-56 represents a post. Post #2 is a certain video and hashtag. That means there is a potential that one of those videos is more viral than the rest, thereby making that hashtag look bigger than the rest. That's why we decided to do 7 posts per hashtag set to hopefully minimize the effective of viralization. With that said we tried to randomize the days it posts on to make sure each hashtag post hits each time of the day. Additionally, we tried to setup the Instagram accounts to be similar in essence. At the end of the two month cycle we would go into each of the 8 Instagram accounts and calculate and averaged how well the hashtag sets did with the explore and hashtags. Overall, it seemed that hashtag sets that implemented the ladder format outperformed other styles of hashtag formats.


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