Hashtag Ladders

The Secret to Massive Instagram Growth that Anyone Can Use

Originally published May 2017.

You want to know the secret to skyrocketing your Instagram growth?

It’s probably some little known technique, hoarded away by the Insta influencers right?

Think again!

It’s hidden in plain sight, open to for anyone to take advantage of.


Read on 😉

I’ve used this strategy, in combination with one or two other simple strategies to grow my Instagram audience by 5–20% per week, every week, for months.

That’s compound growth baby! Once you get this right, you’re off to the races and ready to making all that Internet bank.

My main account @TransformFitspo was launched in mid July 2016 and has just crossed 200,000 followers. Every day it sends ~500–1500 super targeted buyers to my website, and for most of its existence, it’s taken ~2 hours work a week to get those results (I’ve recently started investing more heavily into it, hiring someone full time to keep on top of it).

So what’s the big secret?

Drumroll please….


Keep with me now! Everyone knows about hashtags, right?

Sure, but I’ve seen NO ONE nailing this in quite the right way.

Everyone pulls together 30 somewhat relevant hashtags and post them as a first comment. Great, you may get a handful of extra likes you otherwise wouldn’t have had. But if used correctly, you can structure your hashtags in such a way that primes your posts to get 10x the engagement.

What’s more, the extra engagement from hashtags translates into an avalanche of new followers, as the new engagement doesn’t come from your existing followers.

I’ve used this strategy to grow @TransformFitspo at 10 times the rate of other pages the same size as it, posting the same content as I do (trust me, I monitor my competition closely!)

My page posts female transformation pictures, and despite not being the largest of it’s kind on Instagram, it is the fastest growing, and that’s largely due to this hashtag strategy.

But that’s just because you’re posting inspiring fitness pictures I hear you say?
Sure, and perhaps that helps me get 10x the growth expected, but I’ve translated this growth to a number of other accounts with almost as impressive results!

I grew 10 accounts across the whole range of fitness niches (hot gals, hot guys, gym jokes, female transformations, male transformations etc.) to 5,000–10,000 followers on autopilot in 3 months.

In total, each account took perhaps 10–15 hours to set up and automate. I’ve done the same for accounts about art, travel, fashion, and sport.

I’ve also applied them to client accounts, growing a success quote account with ~100,000 followers at the rate of similar accounts with 3–4x the follower counts.

So hopefully you get it – nail this, and you’re not only making your life much easier, you’re in on something that 99.999% of Instagram is completely fucking up.

So, hashtags, what are they?

For most, they will be a familiar concept, but with regards to Instagram, #hashtags are a particularly important as they make up one of the main discovery mechanics of the site!


Slight aside:

I’ve managed to figure out several social platforms at this point, and it seems like the formula is pretty much the same for all of them:

  1. Find the discovery mechanic — How do people find your content on the platform / how do you make your content more discoverable.
  2. Put out consistent, quality content — This changes from platform to platform, but the basic formula is the same. If you can put out X good quality, consistent content posts, every single day, at about the same times each day, you’re onto a winner.

That’s literally it. Figure out how people find your content. Put out lots of good content. Easy 😉

Back to Instagram — hashtags make up one of two main discovery mechanics on the site (the second being the explore page, the third-ish is other accounts tagging you in various forms).

Hashtags are the mechanic that anyone can nail from the start, making them great to focus on for small accounts.

Each hashtag on Instagram has a feed that people can search for content relating to that tag.

The results page for each hashtag has a chronological stream of all the latest content to use that tag, and a top 9 “Top Posts” section — it’s this popular section that we want to take advantage of. If we can get our posts in that popular section (one of my posts is in the middle there), we will get more likes, more comments and more followers.


Each post can use 30 hashtags, so you best be sure we’re going to find 30!
Technically, you can post 30 hashtags as a first comment, and then edit your caption to add another 30 for a total of 60, but with some basic tests this doesn’t amount to much more engagement.
Could be worth playing with though!

So we need 30 hashtags, but which ones to pick? To get into the popular results of any hashtag, you need to quickly build up engagement on your post — if you’re account has a lot of followers, this is simple, as your followers will engage with your posts, and you’ll hit the popular section for the hashtags you use for that post.

Trouble is, most people don’t have lots of followers!

On top of this, even with a “great” engagement (~5% of your followers liking anything you post), you’re unlikely to rank in the popular results for hashtags that are large enough to give you much of a boost, let me give you an example to illustrate!

Say you’ve got 5,000 followers, so a 5% engagement rate would be 250 people liking one of your photos.

Using a classical hashtag strategy, that 250 likes is unlikely to get you to appear in the popular results for most of the hashtags you’re using, they’re just too competitive.

For the tags you do rank in, you may be an extra 10–20 likes, so it’s not enough to get any crazy growth.

So what’s the solution?

Hashtag ladders!

The theory is that by having a set of 30 hashtags, ranging from easy to difficult to rank for, you can start to hit the popular results for the easy ones, gain some engagement, rank for more difficult ones, grab more engagement and so on.

By structuring your hashtags in this way you can start to have posts that get 10x the engagement you’re use to!

This won’t happen all the time, but it can set you up for these spikes every 5–10 posts, which come with big followers boosts.

More detail?

I’d suggest that for an account below 10,000 followers, you want to find a range of RELEVANT hashtags (check the popular results to make sure there’s content similar to your in them) that have been used between 10,000 and 250,000 times.

You may even want to find multiple sets of 30 hashtags, each with a roughly even distribution of hashtag uses across this range, using different sets for different posts.

The key here is that your posts normally couldn’t rank in the popular results for the hashtags that have been used 250,000 times, but they could easily rank for those that have been used 10–20,000 times.

So you get some engagement from those, which pushes you into the results for the 20–40,000 tags and so on.

Off course, the more content you post (to a degree), and the better quality that content, the more runaway successes you’ll have.

The key point here is that if you don’t have this hashtag ladder in place, it’s much more difficult, if not impossible to get any viral results from your Instagram posts!

What’s your Instagram hashtag strategy? Any recommended tools? How many do you use per post?

Any success using 60 per post instead of 30?

Let me know!

For your hard work,

Yo, I’m Connor!

I’m a smart person. I don’t do smart things.

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