Repeat After Me: “Hashtags Are Not SEO Keywords.”

I will be the first to admit that hashtags are confusing. I see them in posts on all different platforms and 95% of the time they are meaningless. But I  hear people say, “So what if there are a ton of hashtags? What’s the difference? It’s just more content, right?” Actually, while there are no penalties for stuffing hashtags the negative effects can extend into the user experience. Posts that are stuffed with superfluous hashtags distract people (which means they will overlook the content) or can make your post look spammy and less authentic.

hashtags for small businessHashtags Are Not SEO Keywords

If you take nothing else away from this article then at least take this, “Hashtags are not keywords.” Dropping a pound sign in front of a keyword you want to perform better for in search is not the way to use hashtags.

Stop it. Just stop it.

Hashtags can be useful in some places, but most are pointless and used in vain hopes of glory. A prime example of this is in posts associated with Google Business Profiles (formerly Google My Business). Countless purveyors of SEO tactics toss in hashed keywords in the hope of getting some magical traction and it’s nothing but wishful thinking according to Google.

They don’t help you rank higher. Keywords in well-crafted posts may show up in justifications (read about them here) however since hashtags can’t contain spaces they will be considered misspellings and not used for justifications. They just clutter up your post. Using a hashtag in a GBP post is useless. as they are not used by Google like they are used in say a review where it helps define and pull specific trends in reviews.  So there is no harm, but they will not help either.

What Is a Hashtag and How Should Small Businesses Use It?

A hashtag is a series of letters, numbers, and/or emojis with the # symbol at the beginning of the string. Hashtags turn topics and phrases into clickable links in your posts on your personal timeline, social media page, or in groups. They are used as markers to funnel and categorize content to make it easier to discover. This helps people find posts about topics they’re interested in. When you click a hashtag, you’ll see a feed of posts that include that hashtag.

There are some fundamental rules for hashtags across all platforms which include: 

  • It must begin with #
  • It must be a single word, without any spaces.
  • You can include numbers but no punctuation and special characters

The most challenging thing for small businesses using hashtags is that there are no hard and fast rules, there are only best practices. Hashtags are not keywords for ranking they are topics and a possible way to expand your audience for your content. That means you have to start with valuable content. Look at your content from a user’s perspective and think about how they might be searching for it and use a hashtag that would be a good identifier. It is very difficult to stand up a new hashtag and have it catch fire so typically you want to look for hashtags that are trending and use them as markers for people to find your content which is (hopefully) relevant to that hashtag.

Bottom Line – Don’t Spam Yourself with Frivolous Hashtags

As a small business marketer, I use hashtags very sparingly. It’s a fundamentally different environment for small businesses that are not leveraging a brand that is nationally or globally recognized. If you generate interesting content as part of your brand then hashtags can definitely help connect with an engaged audience. This might be an area of expertise that has an avid following like “Vintage Outboard Motors”, or “Classic Ford Broncos.” If your business deals with products or services that people who follow these topics would be interested in, then you may benefit from identifying a relevant hashtag and using it in your content. But for lawyers, dentists, plumbers, and most other small local businesses use of hashtags should be conscientious and frugal.