What are hashtags and how to use them

Hashtags are used on sites like Twitter and Instagram to help people search for and find tweets (on Twitter) or images (on Instagram. A hashtag is a word with the # sign at the front, such as #blog. A hashtag can only be one word so many hashtags are two or more words added together. For instance since I write a lot of small business articles I frequently use the hashtag #smallbusiness (one word). For the purpose of this article I’ll be covering hashtags for Twitter all though a lot of what I cover applies to Instagram as well.

Since hashtags are so important in Twitter searches they are also very important for marketing your tweets. Twitter is very active. You can tweet something that is very relevant to your target audience and never have anyone see it because when someone searches for that topic it is buried under all the other results. If you correctly use hashtags this can greatly increase your chances of having you tweet read.

For example I’m a web developer who uses cascading style sheets (css) a lot in my job. I sometimes search Twitter for any tweets related to css, such as tweets with links to articles on css and little helpful css tweets. If I search for css then Twitter will return results with the word css in it. Some of these will be relevant but many won’t be. But if a person posts a tweet with the hashtag #css then they are basically telling Twitter that this topic (css) is very important in this tweet and then it will get a much higher position on the search result making me much more likely to see it.

An example would be

No hashtag

Here is a great website for css tips

If I added the hashtag like this

Here is a great website for #css tips

A person going to Twitter and searching for css tips would see the tweet with the hashtag higher on the search result then the tweet without the hashtag even though the tweets are identical with the exception of the #.

You can’t just throw a # in front of every word in your tweet. For one thing it is recommended that you use 2 or less hashtags per tweet. If you use more it just makes your tweet look like spam. Another thing is that with Twitter you are limited to 140 characters per tweet. Adding an extra character to every word could seriously reduce the number of words you can use in your tweet. So when you are using hashtags it’s important to decide what your target audience is for the tweet and decide what hashtag you want to use. Basically ask yourself out off all the words that are in this tweet which is the most important one that people find when they search for this?

For instance to promote this blog post I might tweet something like this

Great article for small business owners on adding hashtags to your tweets to increase popularity

What exactly am I trying to promote here? Great? No It is a great article but that is such a large term that most people searching for that work won’t be interested in my article. Same thing for the word article. To many people will search for the term article but will want an article about something else other then what mine is about so I’ll skip turning that into a hashtag. Small business owners is a much more relevant keyword for this tweet since I’m writing it for small business owners that are interested in using Twitter to market their business. Hashtags is a good keyword since that is the main topic in this article. Tweets is also a good one because this article is about tweeting. Increase and popularity are both rather relevant since it’s about increasing popularity for tweets. If someone would search for the term “how to increase popularity of tweets” I’d like to get my tweet to come up in the search results. But I feel that small business owners and hashtags are both a little better keywords and I have to limit the number of hashtags I use. So I turn small business into a hashtag #smallbusiness (remember hashtags are only one word). And I’ll make the word hashtag into tag #hashtag. My tweet now looks like

Great article for #smallbusiness owners on adding #hashtags to your tweets to increase popularity

If anyone searches for a term like hashtags for small business owners then the tweet with the hashtags will get a much better search position then the one without.

Choosing hashtags is a balancing act. If you choose a term that is focused too narrowly on your topic then no one will ever search for it and it will be worthless. Let’s say I tweet “Great article about social media marketing by #JohnEWierenga” what are the chances that someone searches twitter for tweets about me? Not likely, maybe someday but not right now and no one will ever search for that term and find my tweet. But if I tweet “Great article #about social media marketing by John E Wierenga” then this hashtag (#about) is way too broad. For one thing there are probably a ton of tweets that include #about and mine will get buried in the results and never be seen. (See my article on results). Even if someone did see it they likely wouldn’t be interested since likely as not this isn’t the topic they are searching for. It’s not so important how many people see your item in their search result as it is how many people in your target audience see your item in their search result. In this case the item is tweets and the search is on Twitter. In this case good hashtag candidates may be combining social media into #socialmedia and also turning marketing into a hashtag #marketing. The tweets looks like “Great article about #socialmedia #marketing by John E Wierenga” More people will search for that term then for #JohnEWierenga (go ahead and search for that tweet. And if you tweet it I might give your company some publicity in a future article) less people will search for this term then for #about but the people that do search for it will likely be looking for the exact info that is featured in this article. That is my target audience here.

It can be difficult to take a generally topic and break it down into a one word hashtag that people will actually search for. But it is important for promoting your tweets. I offer a services that breaks your topic down into 3 to 5 possible hashtags and I’ll help you decide which one is most likely to get searched for thus greatly increasing your chances of having your tweet seen.

Regardless if you use my service or not if you are using Twitter or Instagram too promote your business then you had better find out what hashtags to include and then use them.