Hashtags for Noobs: How to do Instagram Hashtag Research Without Using Apps

If you’re anything like me on Instagram (a relative noob) and you’ve suddenly realised the power of the mighty hashtag (#), you’re looking for the most effective ways to perform hashtag research. After several weeks snapping and posting to my legion of 30 or 40 followers, I had an epiphany one day after posting some cute pics and vids of my dog, Darcy.

I had no idea just how fast a well-used hashtag could be to encourage engagement. Dog posts are VERY popular on Instagram, and my account was flooded with likes and comments after using some hashtags that came up on autocomplete.

hashtags are important for getting your message across

I soon started to realise that there was a lot more to this hashtag game than I thought. After using a number of free hashtag helper tools, I realised most of the junk in the Apple Store and Google Play didn’t offer anything of value beyond giving you a list of hashtags related to a topic and the option to copy/paste them quickly.

This might appeal to some of you, but I’ve found all I really need right within the Instagram app itself. The available apps likely offer better options in their paid versions, but considering none I’ve used even show the potential engagement a hashtag offers, I’m happy sticking with the tools provided on the platform itself.

Here’s 3 ways to do Instagram hashtag research without leaving the app and using external tools.

1. Winging it (least effective).

You just took a cute picture with your dog and you instantly want to post it to Instagram. Common sense tells you #cuteanimals and #dogs sounds like relevant hashtags to use. And, you’re probably right that people will be searching them, but are you reaching the maximum number of eyes?

Winging it with hashtag research is like jumping behind the wheel of a car with a blindfold on. You might arrive somewhere, you might also run into a building or drive off a cliff!

Now, I’m not trying to discourage every Tom, Dick and Mary from winging it when it comes time to post. However, if you’re looking to increase your reach, this isn’t the best way to get things done.

2. Instagram autocomplete feature (gets the job done).

Instagram handily provides us with a great tool for assessing the relevance and reach of the hashtags we’re considering, and offers related post identifiers that are of more value than those we dream up in our head. Instagram autocomplete is simple to use, if you hit on at least one word that’s highly relevant to the pic or vid you’re posting. The autocomplete tool even tells you how many followers a hashtag has.

tips for finding instagram hashtags in the app

While winging it is lazy and largely ineffective for branding purposes, the autocomplete function is quite effective and gives you all the top trending hashtags related to your intended post. The main trouble with autocomplete is it only works if you have a good data connection. If you’re out in nature or your connection is otherwise spotty, autocomplete may not return results, which can be a huge time waster for snapping and posting on the go.

Autocomplete also only shows the most posted to hashtags which doesn’t necessarily guarantee engagement. Why? I’m glad you asked: Posting to hashtags with millions of posts mean you have just a couple of minutes before your post gets pushed out of the front page of a popular hashtag’s feed.

3. Instagram hashtag search (offers highly relevant suggestions).

I love clicking on the search button and searching related hashtags. When you put a hashtag or even an idea for a hashtag into Instagram’s search feature, you’ll come up with a lengthy list of related hashtags and their post count in an easy to read list:

Instagram hashtag tips

The image above is a screenshot from Chrome’s Instagram browser extension. When using it from your phone, the list is organised in a swipe-able horizontal list. From here, you can click on a hashtag and you’ll immediately see a top-down list of the most-to-least popular posts in that category. I selected #dogstyle for the screen below, which is popular but not in the tens of millions of posts range like #dogsofinstagram or #dogs:

instagram hashtag research

If you’re not seeing the logic to searching for specific posts using a given hashtag, let me explain. Now that you have actual examples of popular posts that relate to yours, you have a wealth of research material to find the perfect hashtags to get the most engagement. The top hashtags are performing for a reason.

You can see what related hashtags are being used, do a little more research to see how those related identifiers are performing, then add them to your own posts for more exposure.


The world of hashtags on social media isn’t as difficult to figure out as most people tend to think. While some, such as acronym-type-hashtags like #tbt, #bae, #fomo, and others can take time to get acquainted with, most will make perfect sense to even the biggest noob out there.

Unlike SEO, the hashtag game doesn’t take long to learn. Put a little effort (time) into getting your hashtags right and you’ll be getting endless likes, shares, and followers in no time.