by Hassan del Campo, Social Mediums

Is there a correlation between keywords and hashtag popularity? I’m not sure, but it’s a novel idea. If you think about it, Instagram hashtags can be used in the same way Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool guides you on which mix of keywords to use for your ad copy. Keyword Planner shows you the range of average search inquiries for a specific keyword or phrase. Instagram hashtags, in a way, show how many search inquiries are made for a specific hashtag. The next time you log into Instagram and begin typing a hashtag you’ll see the word automatically populates a number – indicating how many times that word has been used

The next time you log into Instagram and begin typing a hashtag you’ll see the word automatically populates a number – indicating how many times that word has been used at that point in time. This is great because it provides you with some useful information, depending on how you use it.

Let’s say, for example, that I’m looking to identify strong keywords for this blog. In this experiment, I go to Instagram and discover that #microbusiness has 6,579 public posts. Conversely, #business has 19,916,754 – significantly more. But, the eponymous hashtag of #microbusinessmonday has been used a mere 44 times (probably mostly from our own Instagram account).

One of the reasons why we chose micro business monday (besides the fact that it just sounds catchy) is because of the low activity associated with the word. In our case, we are building a brand and micro business monday is the anchor to this brand. To help us assure that our target audience finds our content, we use a mix of established and trending keywords (like #startup with 4,708,144) along with specific keywords that are associated with our brand. To take it a step further, one of our objectives is to acquire the micro business monday keyword (as well as others), in anticipation that the popularity of microbusiness will continue to rise over time.

What are the caveats?

Hashtags are subject to hashtag stuffing, which can compromise the appearance of popularity (rank) for the word. What is hashtag stuffing? Basically, it’s the (sometimes) excessive use of hashtags in posts that aren’t necessarily related to the overarching theme of the account but are used simply because the hashtag is popular. But, popularity isn’t always the best position to take.

Let’s say you have a Los Angeles-based photography business that specializes in dog portraits. You open your Instagram account and begin writing your first post. What hashtags should you use? You might be inclined to go with #dog, which at the time of this post has 133,917,383 public posts on Instagram. But, that hashtag is a connection to a lot of users. When you take into consideration that new accounts are created every day, going with the most popular isn’t always the best strategy. The more posts that use your hashtag, the more likely your post will be buried in the feed. Targeted hashtags give you better visibility and force you to hone in on your real audience.

Revisited, #dogsofla, at 68,286 occurrences would be more efficient. #dogsoflosangeles, at 20,813 might produce even better results. After all, if it’s engagement that you’re seeking you should think in terms of using the right hashtags to connect with your target audience.

There’s a strong case for going hashtag-less. But, We’ll save that for another day.

While both hashtags and keywords are linked to search inquiries, the psychology behind both concepts differ. Keywords generally reflect the search behaviors of consumers seeking information about a certain product, service, thing, or idea. Hashtags are consumer-driven “buzz words” that are used by both consumers and professionals to locate or be associated with a certain word, thing, or idea. Hashtags are like keywords that have been formatted for social media platforms. And because of that, they can be subject to manipulation and abuse.


Keyword stuffing is a thing also, but the abuse doesn’t come without repercussions. In fact, flooding your web copy with keywords can work against you.

One advantage hashtags have over keywords is that hashtags are created instantly and are fairly easy to discover. For this reason, I like to think of hashtags as a social signal to ‘litmus test’ certain keywords and identify growing trends. But, for as quickly they emerge they can also burn out just as fast. This is because hashtags often repurpose popular memes, topics in current events, and fads. #ByeFelicia was/is a popular hashtag, but will lose its relevance over time.

Pro tip: Decide your objective first so you know when, where, and how to use hashtags for your campaigns

It’s best to understand how both work so you can use them strategically. Strong businesses take time to grow. Incorporate the right keywords and use hashtags when appropriate. Simply devising a method for how you employ both tools will already place you in the right direction.


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