Feeling #clueless about hashtags? It’s true – The hashtags you choose to include (or exclude) and how you include them can make or break the success of an individual post and the overall success of your Instagram account. Even an excellent photo with a winning caption won’t get likes if it can’t be seen. The key is to use hashtags strategically to get your post in front of an audience that will be interested in and engaged with your content. Here’s a quick guide to making hashtags do some of the hard work of running a successful Instagram account:

Instagram allows 30 hashtags per post. There’s plenty of discussion about how many is “too many,” but the most important thing is that however many you use, you make sure they all belong on your post. Think of hashtags as a way to categorize the content you’re adding, so people who are interested in the type of content you post are able to find it. Every tag should be relevant to the specific post, you, and/or your brand. Using tags that are irrelevant just because they’re popular can look gimmicky and steer people away from your posts. Definitely avoid using spam hashtags such as #F4F (follow for follow) or #L4L (like for like). These aren’t good tools for gaining legitimate traffic or followers, and look spammy to potential followers. But, if you can come up with 30 hashtags that are relevant, trending, or add something to your post, why wouldn’t you use all of them?

So how do we know what hashtags to use to get the most out of each post? Do your research. Look at your favorite Instagram accounts and your competitor’s accounts. How are they hashtagging content similar to your own? Hashtags can be very broad or very specific – and it’s good to make use of both. When you publish a post with a hashtag, your post is immediately placed into a newsfeed of other posts with the same tag – a separate one for each hashtag you use. That being said, keep in mind that if you only use vague tags (i.e. #dogs), that newsfeed is so saturated, it won’t be long until there are so many other new posts with the same tags that your own post might get lost in the mix. But, if you use hashtags that are too specific or long (i.e. #easttennesseedogparks), other people may not think to search for exactly that phrase, so that tag doesn’t help your post. Do a quick search to see how popular a given tag is before using it, and use some popular and some less popular, it’ll be easier to be close to the top of results in less popular hashtag feeds. Be aware that tags are constantly changing; It’s important to stay updated on trending hashtags so you can stay relevant.

Publishing a carefully formatted post is important, too. You’ve got some freedom as far as formatting goes, but generally when using a number of hashtags, it’s good to hide them, so they don’t distract from the actual post or look cluttered and spammy. Write up your caption and hashtags before you’re ready to publish a post, and include a few lines of simply a period (.) followed by the return key. This way when your post appears on someone’s Instagram feed, they see the photo and your caption, and have to hit the “more” button to see the hashtags. Another way to do this is to avoid hashtags in the original caption altogether, by copy-and-pasting your pre-determined hashtags in a comment on your post. This keeps your hashtags from being seen unless someone goes looking for them. However, if you intend to format your posts in this way, do so quickly. Posts will fall onto their tagged pages in the order of the time they were originally posted, not the time that a given tag was added. Posting a hashtag on your photo hours after the fact won’t bring your post back to the top of those pages. Think before you post about the tags you want your content to be found in and associated with, and make sure you attach those tags to your post as soon as possible when publishing.

Hopefully, you’re feeling a little less #clueless about hashtags and how they help you create a successful Instagram post! Do your hashtag research, keep an eye on any Instagram account that inspires you, and always plan out your posts before publishing. Happy hashtagging!