Monique's Experiments

instagram hashtags cheat sheet

An Instagram Hashtags Cheat Sheet for 2020 (how to grow and get noticed)

No, Instagram hashtags are not dead in 2020 ! Some people claim that they’re lame, other that they don’t work, but at the end of the day, using them is the best way to grow, especially if you have less than 1000 followers.

In this article, I’ll share with you the exact Instagram hashtag cheat sheet to grow several client accounts and improve their engagement rate without buying followers, paying for influencers shoutouts or using similar spammy techniques.

The Snowball effect : the strategy you should use to grow with hashtags

First of all, what you have to keep in mind that hashtags will help you gain more followers, more likes & more importantly, more engagement in 2 main ways

  1. People following the hashtags will see your post when they’re scrolling.
  2. You will get featured on the top 9 posts of a hashtag. This is one of the best things that can happen ! Usually, a post on Instagram doesn’t have a great shelf life : people see it for 1, 2 days tops, and then it’s gone. But when a post is featured on a hashtag, it can be featured there for months, which means that people might discover it long after you post it.

So, the goal is to get discovered, get noticed, and then provide content interesting enough for people to engage with.

We’re going to do this using what I like to call “The Instagram Snowball Effect.”

  1. Target small hashtags
  2. Get discovered by a niche audience and gain new followers and more engagement
  3. Target bigger hashtags 
  4. Get discovered by an even bigger audience and gain more new followers and more engagement
  5. Wash, rinse, repeat ! 


You probably thinking, “that’s it ?” Yes, it is ! This strategy is simple, but trust me, it’s not easy. Also,I have to be honest : from what I’ve seen, it works better with small accounts (less than 5K followers). Once you get bigger, you will have to use other methods (giveaways, shoutouts…).

instagram hashtags cheat sheet

1.a) Make a winning list

First, your goal is to find a maximum of hashtags related to your content. The bigger your list is, the better it is ! However, don’t compromise quality for quantity. 

If you have a niche account that only mentions one topic, it’s not a big deal, but make sure that you have at least 50 hashtags in your list. 

Here’s a good method to make your list and find the hashtags you should use : 

  • To begin with, type your main keyword in the Instagram search bar. For example, let’s say your account is about cats, just type #cat in the search bar, and Instagram will recommend related hashtags. Copy & paste all the hashtags and their number of posts in a spreadsheet. 

To find more hashtags, use modifiers such as “of”, using plural instead of singular, adding emojis…

For example, to find hashtags related to cats, you can try : 

    • adding an “s” to the hashtag #cat :
    • adding the cat emoji : #cats🐱🐈
    • add “of” to cats : for example, when you type #catsof,  you’ll find a whole other list of niche hashtags such as #catsoftoday, #catsofyou, #catsofquarantine… 


instagram hashtags cheat sheet
  • Now, let’s pick 2 or 3 of the hashtags suggested by Instagram, and go to the website MetaHashtags. This website is completely free, and will not only help you find even more hashtags, but also give you additional information such as the hashtag’s average number of likes, comments, and posts per hour. Select the hashtags you want and export them in a csv file.
  • We’re not done yet ! To complete our list, we’re going to look at what your competitors are doing by scrolling through the top posts of one of the hashtags we found, and copy them. If they are in the hashtag’s top 9 posts, it means that they are doing something right !

For example, for our cat account, we’ll draw inspiration from @oscar_the_british_shorthair. At this point, you should have at least 100 hashtags in your list. Now, we need to filter them.

instagram hashtags cheat sheet
isn't he cute ?

⚠️ Beware of banned hashtags !

One last thing : make your sure that you’re not using banned hashtags ! To fight against scam accounts, Instagram bans some hashtags. If you use one of them, your post will not be discovered, and you might experience significant temporary loss of visibility on your next posts.

To know which hashtags are banned, you can check this list of banned hashtags here. You can also search the hashtag on Instagram. If you see the “posts hidden” message, it means that the hashtag is banned.

Now obviously, hashtags related to pornography or violence are banned, but some hashtags that might sound innocent also are, so make sure to check ! For example, hashtags such as #desk or #elevator are banned 😯 

instagram hashtags cheat sheet

1.b) Filter and sort your hashtags

Now that we have our hashtag list, we need to sort it and make sure that it’s divided in the following categories : 

  • small hashtags
  • medium hashtags
  • big hashtags
  • very big hashtags

How do you define this ? Well, this depends on your niche and the size of your account. If you have 5000 followers and you get 200 likes on your posts, then #catsofquarantine, an hashtag that has 24.4k posts then it’s a relatively small hashtag for you. On the other hand, if you have 50 followers and your posts barely get more than 10 likes, you’ll have more luck using #catsofquarantine2020, which has only 891 posts.

As a rule of thumb, my advice is to start small. When I work with accounts that have less than 100 followers, I use : 

  • 60% of small hashtags (less than 15000 posts)
  • 20% of medium hashtags (between 15000 and 30000 posts)
  • 10% of big hashtags (between 30.000 and 50.000 posts)
  • 10% of very big hashtags (more than 50.000 posts)

You can start with those guidelines, and then tweak them and make changes to find what works best for your account. 

You don't want to lose time filtering and sorting your list yourself ?

I got you ! I built a spreadsheet that will do it automatically for you.

Step 2 : Use your hashtags effectively

Now that everything is sorted, we can finally use our hashtags 🎉 !

If you’re wondering how, here are my answers to the most common questions I get on this topic :

  • How often should you change hashtags ? You should change the hashtag set you use every time you post. Indeed, the Instagram algorithm tend to flag accounts that use the same hashtags on every post as spam accounts. 

Remember the spreadsheet I mentioned earlier ? Well, it will also generate a random hashtag set for you 😎

  • How many hashtags should you use ? There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but from my experience working on other clients’ IG accounts, I think that as long as you don’t use the same number of hashtags on every post, you’re good. Personally, I use 25 to 30 hashtags on each post.
  • Should you use your hashtags in comments or directly in the post ? It doesn’t really matter, just do what works for you ! Since some people don’t like to follow accounts who use hashtags, I just use dots to “hide” them, like this ➡️


instagram hashtags cheat sheet

If you use hashtags in your comments, just make sure you add the comment right after publishing the post.

That’s it from me ! If you have any questions, just drop them below and I’ll do my best to answer them .