#SEO Principles For Hashtags

Twitter transformed the pound symbol, or number sign, into a “hashtag” and completely revolutionized social media.


The hashtag is a great way for tagging tweets, instagram photos, and facebook posts with topics,  in order to gain more visibility within the network. However, many people make critical mistakes with their hashtags that make me cringe. If I had it my way, not only would I ban the usage of #YOLO, I would make sure everybody knew and applied the basic principles of SEO to social media hashtags.

Being an Internet marketer, I am frequently on social media and all too often see people squandering their opportunities to be heard. These are some typical things I see when scrolling through my feeds:

  • Hashtags that are too long
  • Poor Marketing Hashtags
  • Hashtagging every word
  • Too Many Hashtags
  • “Paid” Hashtags

Hashtags That Are Too Long

It seems like everybody’s attention spans are shorter these days, what with so many different things constantly buzzing and beeping at us. Nobody has the extra time it takes to read your 10-words-long hashtag and figure out where the word breaks are supposed to be. I mean, #doyoureallywanttoreadthislonghashtag?

Long hashtags are hard to read, take too long to decipher, and are distracting to the reader. This is especially true on Twitter, where every character counts. Dealing with a 140 character limit, long hashtags take up valuable space. Not to mention, they’re also useless when it comes to optimization. Hashtags should be used to gain more visibility, not discourage it; after all, they’re an easy way to build a collection of similar ideas or photos. This is the same principle as adding tags to a blog post or youtube video. The popular #ootd (outfit of the day) is an example of a good hashtag for your instagrammed outfits.

Pro Tip: Longer hashtags are useful only if you want to isolate and collect a group of pictures or posts. (They’re easier to read if you capitalize every word!)  It has been popular lately to create unique hashtags for special events like weddings that guests can tag their photos and tweets with. For instance, #PamAndJimWedding is a good hashtag to collect guest photos and thoughts about the wedding without getting lost. Keep your hashtag simple and easy to remember. Is the one you want already being used? Add the date to the end.

Poor Marketing Hashtags

Unique hashtags are great for marketing campaigns. You’ll see them a lot on your tv screen for show premieres, finales, and marathons (hello, #SVUmarathon). While some are well thought out and executed to perfection, others are not. There have been some tragically hilarious hashtags that made internet fame. Make sure your hashtag can’t be used ironically and doesn’t have alternative word breaks! For a successful campaign hashtag, make sure it’s simple, yet unique and doesn’t contain any ambiguous words (ie. hard to spell, contains contractions, has multiple meanings).

Pro Tip: Special characters will break a hashtag, so #SVU’sTheBest would end up only hashtagging #SVU.

#Hashtagging #Every #Word

I often see people hashtag every word in a sentence. For instance, #I #Love #The #Beach. This isn’t useful because other users are unlikely to search for #I or #The. It’s much better to put hashtags on words that users will realistically search for. A more effective use, in this case, would be to only hashtag the word “beach”.

Pro Tip: Integrate hashtags into your sentences to save precious characters. For instance, instead of tweeting “The beach is my favorite #beach”, you can save yourself 6 characters by tweeting “The #beach is my favorite”.

Too Many Hashtags

Blocks of hashtags are popular on instagram. Users hashtag several variations of each hashtag to get the largest amount of viewers as possible. Often times, however, these hashtags aren’t even related to the image.

#beach #tan #happy #beachday #beachlife #beachlove #bikini #sunsurfsand #sandy #beautifulday #smiling #smile #itshotoutside #summer #noschool #vacation

However, these blocks of hashtags, like keyword stuffing, are distracting to the reader, don’t flow nicely, and take away value from any actually useful hashtags. In fact, a recent study from Statista proved that the average number of interactions per post actually seems to decrease as the number of hashtags increase:

Number of Hashtags vs. Interactions

“Paid” Hashtags

There’s no such thing as an actual paid hashtag. I’m talking about hashtags such as #LikesForLikes, #LFL, #Likes4Likes, #LikesReturned, #LikesForFollow etc. Essentially, these hashtags generate likes on instagram photos in return for following another user or liking their photos. These are comparable to spammy linkbuilding tactics. Again, usage of these “paid” hashtags reduces the impact of the quality hashtags. In addition, these hashtags usually attract a spammy audience which can be offputting for quality user engagement.

Pro tip: Instead of using #likes4likes hashtags, find common ground with your target audience. Search for hashtags that interest you, or use the “discover” sections of instagram and twitter. Engage with these users and their tweets or photos. Chances are, if your interests align, other users will genuinely like your content for your content and not just for spammed likes.


Social media would be a better place if everybody avoided using these hashtag faux pas. Know your purpose and choose your hashtags appropriately. Do you want people to find your photos? Pick a well known hashtag! Do you want to collect a select group of photos for an event or campaign? Create a unique hashtag! Like search engine optimization, the main goal of your social media accounts should be to build a large, quality audience and keep them engaged. Changing the way you hashtag can do wonders in this respect. You’ll probably never have as many followers as Justin Bieber, but learn the principles of #SEO and you’ll be well on your way to social media success.


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