How the Hashtag Game on Instagram Has Changed
If you are familiar with Instagram then chances are that you know a thing or two about hashtags. In the past, you could simply add a few hashtags to each post and always see some positive results. New likes, followers, and comments came in and things were pretty simple.
Those days are over.
Today, you see so many Instagram users claim “hashtags don’t work anymore” or “hashtags are dead.” These days it seems that hashtags work half the time or even not at all. It's like our views that come from hashtags are completely random. We know Instagram is changing its algorithm, but it’s too hard to keep up. With all the unexplained behavior it’s easy to write off using hashtags on Instagram but…
I promise hashtags are as valuable as ever.
In fact, because hashtag strategies on Instagram have become more complex and harder to understand. If you know how to wield them, then you are way ahead of the curve. Unlocking their full potential and increasing your reach via hashtags can be what takes your brand to the next level.
There are two fundamental changes that Instagram made to their app recently that affect how we should be using hashtags. Understanding the motivation behind why Instagram implemented these changes is key to how you can use them to your advantage.
Let’s dive in.
Instagram Started to “Shadowban” Accounts for Misusing Hashtags
What is a shadowban?
Have you been using hashtags on your content for a while and seen success? Then all of a sudden your views from hashtags drop to zero…
What the heck!
Instagram can determine that an account is abusing hashtags and that account will be temporarily blocked from showing up on any hashtag feed. The industry calls this being “shadowbanned” because they ban you from showing up in the hashtag feeds without even telling you.
How do Instagram accounts get shadowbanned?
Instagram prevents malicious content from spreading by locking down any hashtag page with a lot of flagged content or by just banning certain hashtags altogether. If you use one of these hashtags then you could be at risk of having your own account shadowbanned.
If you think you aren’t using banned hashtags, think again.
There are a lot of unsuspecting banned hashtags like possible fitness-related hashtags like #pushups or #lean or holidays like #newyearsday and #valentinesday.
It’s another reason to use an Instagram hashtag tool, like Curate, that automatically checks if any of the hashtags you are using are currently banned. You just never know and it’s much too time-consuming to check them all.
That’s not the only thing you can get shadowbanned for.
Using the same hashtags over and over again, repeated use of the same hashtag set within 24 hours, and more over-usage behaviors we aren’t aware of, can all cause you to be shadowbanned.
It makes it difficult to understand since Instagram doesn’t clearly establish these rules for us, but rest assured that it’s easy to not overuse hashtags.
Prevent being yourself from being shadowbanned for overuse by simply avoiding:
- Using the same hashtags more than three times within 24 hours.
- Using the same hashtag sets more than three times in a row.
- Using any hashtag more than six times in your last 10 posts.
Why did Instagram start shadowbanning users?
The reason why Instagram doesn’t want you to use banned hashtags is pretty simple. They want to keep their platform clear of things like explicit content, bullying and body image issues. If they see that you are putting out content that is against what they are trying to prevent, then they will take action to quiet your content.
It’s kind of hard to argue against this.
There are literally over a billion hashtags you could use. If there is one that is banned or was banned at some point, just don’t use it. Find another hashtag. It’s for the betterment of the overall community and direction of Instagram, as well as your own benefit to not use these banned hashtags.
When it comes to shadowbanning someone for overusing the same hashtags, Instagram’s motivation is sort of an anti-spam measure that Instagram uses to make sure that you aren’t flooding a certain group of viewers.
Instagram wants you to vary your hashtag usage so they can classify your content better, and this helps push you in that direction.
Even if Instagram didn’t penalize you for using the same hashtags over and over again, you should be diversifying your hashtag selection with every post for your own good. No list of hashtags will be perfect for every post you make. For each post, mix a combination of hashtags that you know to work with new hashtags that are topical.
What do I do once I’ve been shadowbanned?
If you have stepped into dangerous territory and had your account shadowbanned, then you can be in big trouble for a bit. Don’t think that your account is too big to be affected either. Everyone is susceptible to it.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do either.
You simply have to wait. Typically it takes around two weeks for your content to start showing up on hashtag feeds again. Therefore, it’s much better to avoid using banned hashtags altogether.
It’s another manual task that can be time-consuming during content planning but it pays to never be shadowbanned by Instagram. Hashtag tools help with making sure you don’t use the same hashtag too many times in a row, that you don’t use it too many times in your last ten posts, and they check for things like banned hashtags.
Instagram Updated Their App to Include Separate Feeds for Top and Recent Hashtags
What changed in the app with how we view hashtags?
There was a recent app update that, strangely, few people write about. It’s directly related to how you use hashtags to get a boost in your reach or why your hashtags aren’t working very much anymore.
When viewing a hashtag on Instagram, there is no longer a top nine posts section.
In case you aren’t familiar with what it was before, Instagram selected the best content that was posted for every single hashtag. It showed nine posts that it determined were the best at the time when you viewed a hashtag. It called this section Top Posts. After those selected posts, it showed all of the posts using this hashtag in reverse chronological order.
Now if you navigate to a hashtag page on your phone, they will have an entire feed dedicated to the top content produced for that hashtag instead of just nine posts. They still allow you to view all of the recent posts that use that hashtag as well. But now instead of scrolling past the top content, you can click a tab labeled “Recent” and view them.
Why does this even matter?
On the surface, this may seem pretty simple, but once you dig deeper, then you start to realize that you need to change how to use hashtags to accommodate this update. An entire feed of top content is so different than just nine posts with the recent content below it.
Let’s think through this.
So you’re a new user on Instagram and you go to a hashtag page to check out the content. On the old version of the app, you would see nine posts that Instagram picked to be the best content. Then if you kept scrolling, the most recent content using that hashtag would be listed. With the new update, you won’t just see nine posts that Instagram picked to be the best, but an entire feed of top content.
As a user in the Instagram app, you are rarely motivated to click over and see the recent posts since you can scroll through the best content as much as you like by default.
There are still reasons why a user may want to actually view the recent content for a hashtag though. Looking up restaurants that have a rotating menu is a great example of having the motivation to actually click over to the recent tab. You want to see the absolute latest posts with certain hashtags since that is what would likely showcase what they are serving that week.
Compare this mindset against other hashtags, like one in the home decor niche. If someone is looking for inspiration, then likely only care about seeing the best content. The time it was posted doesn’t really matter. Viewers on these hashtags don’t have any motivation to make an extra click to see what has been recently posted.
A vast majority of viewers will only favor only checking out the top content for a hashtag instead of making another click to see what has been recently posted. Since the recent tab will show each and every post on Instagram which uses that hashtag, it can often be littered with low-quality content.
What can I do with this knowledge?
This change is great for content creators because now there are hundreds of posts that can show up as top content for a hashtag instead of everyone competing for the same nine spots. That’s not all. Along with the extra positions available, when you do reach the top hashtags then your post will be there for viewers to see much longer since it won’t be replaced.
But there’s a catch.
It also means that if you don’t reach the top posts section for a hashtag then it’s likely no one will ever see it.
Like we discussed before, users aren’t highly motivated to make an extra click. Before, just using a hashtag and being in the recent section was enough. Now it’s the top section or bust. This means you need to change your hashtag strategy to focus on that goal.
That also means if you use a hashtag that has a lot of other people using it, then your post will likely gain zero extra views from using it unless you reach the top section.
Take a hashtag that has over 10 million posts. So many people are using it that your content will be in the first 100 posts of the recent section for seconds.
With so few people looking at the recent section on the hashtag pages, combined with so many people using a hashtag, often no one will see it.
If you don’t think you can reach the top section for a hashtag and that hashtag is getting more than 100 posts per hour, then it’s likely going to do nothing for you if you use it.
For now, there is still a top nine section on the web version of Instagram. The mobile apps have so much more adoption that it’s wise to just focus on that audience and wait for the desktop version to catch up. It’s only a matter of time.
Often the people who claim that “hashtags are dead” are the same people that use banned hashtags, use the same hashtags over and over, and use only hashtags with high post counts so their posts are instantly buried in the recent section.
Don’t get frustrated and give up.
Understanding the most effective ways to use hashtags in today’s Instagram will help you select the perfect hashtags to get maximum exposure.
See you in the top hashtags.