Hashtags on Instagram are crucial. We know this from previous Social Media Lab experiments. But we’ve had many readers ask us to test whether it was a better strategy to put your hashtags in the post or in the comments.
So, where does this concept that hashtags in comments are better than in posts come from?
Instagram expert Sue B. Zimmerman says to put the hashtags mainly in comments:
“Keep your Instagram captions clean by incorporating the bulk of your hashtags into your comment section. Much like Buffer does with each of their posts, they typically use about three hashtags in their post but put the rest in the first post comment. Just be sure to post your hashtags immediately in the first comment so they don’t get bogged down in the hashtag hub.”
Here’s another example from Riotly Social:
“You can just hide them if you don’t want your followers or your competitors to see the Instagram hashtags you’re using, or you just prefer caption-free of hashtags.
“You can achieve a clean look by putting the hashtags in a comment, and starting that comment with five dots, each on its own line break, and then add all your hashtags in the bottom. This forces Instagram to collapse the comment.
“Putting the hashtags in the comments works just as fine as if they were in the caption.”
Louise Meyers disagrees and says to only put hashtags in the post itself:
“If you insist on using uber-popular hashtags, you MUST post them in your post caption. If you wait even a second to post them in a comment, they’re pretty much worthless, as your post will be buried in that hashtag feed the instant you add it.”
*Update: Social Insider conducted a massive study in August 2019 of about 650k Instagram accounts and found that 87% of brands place the hashtags in the original post and accounts with less than 5,000 followers saw nearly 37% more reach by placing the hashtags in the original post! Their findings saw no advantage/disadvantage however when it came to engagement and hashtag placement.
This one is a bit of a coin toss as to which will perform better, but I’ll make a guess.
Now, let’s test.
Here’s a look at how I tested my hypothesis.
To test this Instagram hashtag strategy, l used 3 different accounts:
I tried to get an even amount of posts with comments and without to look at on each account. Throughout the testing, going back to the post to immediately try and put the hashtags in the comments didn’t always happen as planned.
Here’s how the numbers ended up in regards to the number of posts:
3 Accounts Combined:
Here’s the breakdown per account:
I scheduled all posts using Agorapulse (which is super-easy now that the app posts directly without having to use my phone).
Here are samples from each account with the hashtags in the original post:
And here are samples where the hashtags were in the comments:
The posts were scheduled over a 30-day time frame. The @scottayres and @spacewalkctx accounts posted twice per day on most days; @agorapulse, only once. Thought this is a test, I also wanted to remain as natural as possible for each account.
I used 30 hashtags for each post, and they were identical in the post or in the comments (but different per account obviously to be relevant for that account and content).
Here are the results. To easily show you data, we’ll focus on all 3 accounts averaged together to compare. To see the full spreadsheet, you can click the image at the bottom of the post to grab it and look at the details per account.
Hashtags in Post
Hashtags in Comments
In percentages, this means Likes was 9.84% higher with hashtags in posts, Comments were 19.37% higher with hashtags in comments, Profile Visits was 5.88% higher with hashtags in comments. and Reach was 29.41% higher with hashtags in posts.
Whew! That’s some conflicting numbers depending on which data set you focus on.
But let’s make a conclusion based on the data and with our hypothesis in mind.
For the hypothesis, I predicted the posts with hashtags in the original posts would have higher Reach.
I was 100% correct on this prediction.
With Reach being 29.41% higher when simply putting the hashtags in the original posts, I find it clear that there is no reason to go through the hassle of trying to add them to the comments after the post is live. It especially is useless if you wait more than just a few minutes to do it.
Comments were drastically higher when we put the hashtags in the comments. Why? I don’t know. This could simply be a coincidence.
And while that 19.37% difference seems high, you’re only talking about 1/2 a comment more per post. That result is not worth building a social media strategy around.