If you’re trying to reach new Instagram followers, hashtags are still one of your top tools in 2021. But where should your hashtags go? For years, there’s been fierce debate over where to put those pound signs: Team Caption versus Team Comment. And for years, most sources claimed there was no functional difference between captions and comments when it comes to hashtag effectiveness. So what’s the truth?
Instagram has finally given us an answer via their @creators account, which features tips and tricks for all kinds of content creators trying to get more followers and engagement. (Interestingly, @creators doesn’t use any visible hashtags in a post about using hashtags…but maybe that’s a perk of already having 6.2 million followers).
Why you should put your hashtags in your caption
Without revealing much about how “the algorithm” actually works (in quotes, since Instagram pushes back against the idea of a singular, almighty algorithm), the official guidance is that “for a post to be found in Search, put keywords and hashtags in the caption, not the comments.”
This advice can also be found on the official Instagram blog, where they go into more detail about how Search results are ranked, whether you’re finding new accounts to follow or trying to get followers to find you.
Given the weight that Instagram’s Search feature seems to hold in building your audience, it looks like putting #hashtags in a comment rather than in a caption might be holding you back.
It’s not clear the extent to which hashtags are more effective in captions over comments, but for now, Instagram has tipped the scale in favour of Team Caption. Still, the quality of the hashtags are likely more important than where you decide to put them.
How to hashtag wisely
Another takeaway from Instagram shedding light on its Search feature is the importance of keywords. In addition to relevant hashtags, you can benefit from incorporating keywords about your content into your handle, profile name, and bio.
When it comes to finding relevant keywords, tap into a niche if you’re looking to grow your audience. If you’ve ever used the Instagram search bar, you know the daunting sight of millions of views for tags like “#fitness,” “#foodie,” and even (or maybe especially) “#feet.” So how can your content stand out with so much competition?
The bad news: It probably can’t — at least, not with hashtags alone. The good news: You can work smarter and find a niche where you have a better chance of showing up at the top of someone’s Search or Explore pages. For instance, your post might get buried in #dogs (doesn’t that sound like a dream?), but you actually have a chance of engaging a more targeted audience with something specific, like #stbernard (a tag where I may or may not have just spent a few hours).
A word of caution, though: Don’t clog up a bunch of unrelated tags in the hopes of getting random views. You might annoy and lose potential followers, or even risk the notorious shadowban. You might also want to read up on tips to make your hashtags more reader-friendly in general.
Use line breaks if you’re worried about aesthetics
Instagram is home to one of the greatest paradoxes of a successful online presence: The need to try really hard while making it look like you’re not trying hard at all. Like we’ve covered in the past, authenticity can go a long way in gaining — and retaining — your loyal followers. Use too many hashtags and you risk coming across as out-dated, spammy, or, in the greatest internet crime of all, cringe.
What a lot of content creators have learned is that posting all your hashtags in a comment helps ensure your caption (and brand) looks crisp and effortless. So what is Team Caption to do? Well, if you ever wondered why some accounts use that line of dots to hide their hashtags, that’s what it looks like when an influencer gets to have their #cake and eat it too (#foodporn #marieantoinette). Those classic caption dots are tricky to format in the app, so the easiest hack is to keep a Notes app with them ready to copy/paste once you’re ready to post.
At the end of the day, hashtags are like underwear: Yes we should all use them, yes they serve a noble purpose, but no, I don’t want to see yours.