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Instagram Hashtags vs. Keywords: Which Drives More Engagement?

Instagram Hashtags vs. Keywords: Which Drives More Engagement?

Struggling to crack the Instagram code? Don’t worry, hashtags and keywords have everyone scratching their heads!

At 42Works, our social media ninjas are here to help. This guide cuts through the confusion and shows you exactly how to use hashtags and keywords to your advantage. Learn to use them strategically and maximize your reach, putting you ahead of the digital curve.

Table of Contents:

  1. Instagram’s Algorithm
  2. Keywords vs. Hashtags
  3. Hashtags
  4. Keywords

Understanding The Algorithm’s Grip

With over  2 billion monthly active users, Instagram thrives on keeping users engaged. Their secret weapon? A complex algorithm that curates each user’s feed based on a variety of factors, including past behavior, engagement speed, and content type (videos often outperform images). This intricate system is why Instagram can feel so addictive – it constantly tailors content to your interests.

The algorithm analyzes every aspect of your post, from captions and alt text to hashtags and engagement metrics (likes, comments, saves, shares). Based on this data, it prioritizes content that users are most likely to find engaging.

Keywords vs. Hashtags: The Great Debate

Hashtags used to be king, but the tide is turning. One recent Hootsuite study found keyword-rich captions got 30% more reach and twice as many likes as hashtags. 


Instagram Hashtags vs. Keywords: Which Drives More Engagement?

While keywords are gaining importance, hashtags remain a powerful tool for categorization and reach. Let’s dive deeper into how hashtags can supercharge your Instagram strategy and help you connect with your target audience.

The Power of Hashtags

Hashtags are essential on Instagram, acting as keywords or phrases with a “#” symbol. They categorize content and make it discoverable. Hashtags like #Travel, #Fashion, and #Foodie connect your posts with users sharing similar interests, boosting brand authenticity.

Users can search for or follow hashtags, making your content visible even if they don’t follow your account. This approach, common in influencer marketing, increases engagement, followers, and customers. The following chart breaks down their reach across different areas of Instagram – Following, Explore, and Search:

Instagram suggests using 3-5 relevant hashtags in captions to help categorize content. Adam Mosseri, CEO of Instagram notes that while hashtags won’t drastically change your reach, they still aid discoverability.

A study of over 75 million posts found hashtags don’t directly increase views but help Instagram’s algorithm understand and surface content. Relevant hashtags in captions add context but avoid overusing them to prevent a spammy appearance.

Here’s an example of what NOT to do:

Tips for effective hashtag use:

  • Relevance is Key: Use hashtags relevant to your target audience and content. Don’t just chase after trending hashtags that don’t align with your brand.
  • Strike a Balance: Stick to 3-5 hashtags per post. Oversdoing it can look spammy and hurt your reach.
  • Mix it Up: Combine popular hashtags with niche ones to broaden your discoverability while targeting specific interests.
  • Caption Counts: Weave hashtags naturally into your captions, not just as a comment below your post.

Now that we’ve conquered the hashtag game, let’s unlock the power of keywords on Instagram.

Keywords: The Key to Unlocking Discoverability on Instagram

With Instagram’s introduction of keyword-based search functionality, the words you use in your captions can directly impact your content’s visibility.  Writing relevant, descriptive captions with strategically chosen keywords can seriously boost your content’s discoverability. While some keywords come from your account name, username, and bio, the real power lies in the captions you craft.

Here’s where longer captions come in. Although short, concise captions have their merits, longer formats offer more space to sprinkle in those valuable keywords naturally. Don’t worry, you can still keep things engaging! Craft compelling stories, ask questions, and use humor to weave keywords into your narrative seamlessly.

Optimizing Your Profile With Keywords

The keyword magic doesn’t stop at captions! Your profile name and username are prime real estate for relevant keywords too. Just like any effective content marketing strategy, your Instagram approach should prioritize keywords. 

A study by Social Sprout found that the platform considers four key elements when indexing content:

  • Handle
  • Profile name
  • Bio
  • Captions

Optimizing Your Profile With Keywords

These areas are prime real estate for incorporating keywords that resonate with your target audience. While your handle typically reflects your brand name, you can strategically use your profile name and bio to include relevant keywords.

For instance, searching “interior decorating” on Instagram reveals top accounts featuring these keywords (or related terms) in their handles, profile names, and bios. This strategic placement helps these accounts rank higher in search results and attract their target audience more effectively.

Optimizing Your Profile With Keywords

Pro Tip: Leverage Alt Text for Extra SEO Goodness

Instagram’s alt text feature isn’t just about accessibility – it’s a hidden SEO gem! When creating a post, add descriptive alt text with relevant keywords to enhance your content’s discoverability.

Pro Tip: Leverage Alt Text for Extra SEO Goodness

Here’s how to add alt text to your next post: write your caption, then scroll down and tap “Advanced settings.” Under “Accessibility,” click “Write alt text” and describe your photo or video. Feel free to include relevant keywords if they fit naturally.

Finding the Perfect Keywords: Become a Search Term Sleuth!

So, how do you unearth those golden keywords? Here are a few tricks:

  • Channel Your Inner Sherlock: Think about the search terms people would use to find content like yours. What questions might they be asking? ️‍♀
  • Free SEO Tools to the Rescue: Utilize free tools like Google Analytics and Google Trends to see what keywords are driving traffic and discover related terms.
  • Embrace the Power of Instagram Search: Start typing a keyword into the search bar and see what suggested phrases pop up!

By mastering these keyword strategies, you’ll transform your Instagram presence into a magnet for the perfect audience. Remember, the right words can make all the difference, so get creative and watch your content flourish!


While keeping up with Instagram’s ever-evolving algorithms can feel overwhelming, it’s crucial to stay informed on best practices. From strategic hashtag use to implementing relevant keywords, you can unlock Instagram’s potential to effectively promote your brand and connect with your target audience. 

With these strategies, you’ll not only stay ahead of the curve but also transform Instagram into a powerful marketing tool. Here at 42Works, our social media team is an expert in navigating the ever-changing social media landscape. 

Contact us today, and let us help you craft an impactful Instagram strategy to achieve your brand goals.


1. What’s the difference between Instagram hashtags and keywords? 

Instagram hashtags are phrases with a “#” symbol used for categorization and discovery, connecting your posts with users sharing similar interests. Keywords, on the other hand, are words strategically placed in captions to enhance discoverability through Instagram’s search functionality.

2. Which drives more engagement: Instagram hashtags or keywords? 

Both hashtags and keywords play crucial roles. While hashtags categorize content and increase visibility across different Instagram areas (Following, Explore, Search), keywords in captions directly impact discoverability, often leading to higher reach and engagement.

3. How many hashtags should I use per Instagram post? 

It’s recommended to use 3-5 relevant hashtags per post. This balance helps categorize content without appearing spammy, improving discoverability and engagement.

4. How can I use hashtags effectively? 

Ensure relevance by using hashtags aligned with your target audience and content. Mix popular hashtags with niche ones to broaden discoverability while targeting specific interests. Integrate hashtags naturally into your captions rather than adding them as separate comments.

5. What are some tips for using keywords on Instagram? 

Craft descriptive captions incorporating strategically chosen keywords. Utilize your profile name, handle, bio, and captions to include relevant keywords that resonate with your audience, enhancing your content’s visibility in search results.

6. How can I find the best keywords for my Instagram posts? 

Channel your inner detective to identify search terms your audience uses. Use free SEO tools like Google Analytics and Google Trends to discover trending keywords and related terms. Leverage Instagram’s search bar to explore popular phrases and optimize your content accordingly.

7. Why are hashtags and keywords important for Instagram marketing? 

Hashtags and keywords help your content reach a broader audience by making it more discoverable through search and categorization. They enhance engagement, attract followers, and ultimately, boost your brand’s visibility and credibility on Instagram.

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