why my hashtags don't work on instagram

"Why my hashtags don't work on instagram ?"- IG Q&A #1

One of the most common questions I receive from potential clients or people on the Internet is ‘Why my hashtags don’t work on Instagram anymore” ?

A few weeks ago, I wrote this article sharing how to use hashtags to grow organically on Instagram. Today, we’re going to go one step further and go over what can cause hashtags to stop working, and what you can do to fix it.

Problem #1 = You use hashtags that are too big or too small.

If you’re seeing a sustained loss of reach from your hashtags, first question you need to ask yourself is “What is the size of hashtags I use ? How big are they ?”

For example, my own baseline when working with new accounts is the following : 

  • 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)  

At some point (around 1k followers), this mix starts to be less effective and I need to switch things up to get good reach from hashtags again.

Thankfully, the fix to this problem is quite simple : all you need to know is increase the size of the hashtags you use ! I personally increase it by 20%, and then I use this baseline for at least a week to see if it helps me get more reach. If we go back to the example we mentioned earlier, that means that my new mix will be : 

  • 50% of small hashtags (less than 20000 posts)
  • 30% of medium hashtags (between 20000 and 40000 posts)
  • 10% of big hashtags (between 40.000 and 60.000 posts)
  • 10% of very big hashtags (more than 60.000 posts)  

Some people have the opposite problem : they use hashtags that are too big. In that case, the process is exactly the same : instead of increasing the size, you just need to decrease it.

I built a spreadsheet that will help you do this ! Click on the button below if you're interested.

Problem #2 = Your hashtags are not relevant enough to your posts.

Another mistake that can make your hashtags not work anymore is using one hashtag list for our account, when often, it can make sense to use several lists if your content is about several topics.

Let me explain. Let’s say your account is about fitness, and you post mostly about crossfit & yoga. Instead of having one hashtag list with generic fitness hashtags such as #fitnessforever or #fitnessforbeginners, having one list for crossfit and one other list for yoga would be more efficient, because it’ll mean that the hashtags you use will be more relevant to each post.

Problem #3 = You always use the same hashtags.

Not only using several hashtag lists is good to make your hashtags more relevant to your posts, but it’s also a way of increasing the variety of hashtags you use !

This is important when you just copy-paste the same hashtag set on every post, the Instagram algorithm can detect that and categorize your posts as spam.  

To avoid this, make a list of at least 50 hashtags, and pick between 25 to 30 hashtags off the list everytime you post. 

Here’s an example of the spreadsheet I use to generate hashtag ideas (if you want to use it too, you can get it here)

why my hashtags don't work on instagram

Problem #4 = You use banned hashtags.

In its everlasting fight against spam, Instagram has decided to ban some hashtags. 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 😯

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. Another way to check is searching the hashtag on Instagram. If you see the “posts hidden” message, it means that the hashtag is banned.

why my hashtags don't work on instagram
What's wrong with desks, Instagram ?

Problem #5 = You have been shadowbanned.

If you’ve read the article carefully, I think you by now, you have understood that Instagram hates spam, and it hates it so much that if the algorithm thinks you’re a spam account, you can get a shadow ban.  Being shadowbanned might explain why your hashtags don’t work anymore.

What’s a shadowban, you ask ? Well, it means that no one will be able to see your posts outside of your followers, no one will be able to search your profile and no matter what hashtag you use you won’t show up on that hashtag. 

You can get shadowbanned because… 

  • you have used 3rd party apps that are unauthorized by Instagram
  • you use automation tools and the settings you chose were too aggressive
  • someone has reported your posts 
  • you have used banned hashtags

Now, before you start panicking, here’s a simple way to check if you have really been shadowbanned : 

  • Make a post with 2 or 3 small hashtags like #ilovechocolate🍫 (you can use any hashtag under 1000 posts, I just picked this one because I’m hungry) 
  • With another account, search the hashtags and check if you can see your post. If you see it, you’re good. If not, stop doing any of the actions mentioned above and wait for a few days.

Final thoughts

Just like life, the IG algorithm is unfair, and even if you’re not making any of the mistakes I mentioned in this article, you might still see a drop of engagement for reasons you can’t control. For example, at the time of writing (November 2020), Instagram is temporarily hiding the “recent” tab from its hashtag pages because of the US election.

So don’t freak out every time your growth stalls, keep putting out great content, and don’t be afraid to change your strategy when it stops working !