SEO Best Practices: Hashtags or Keywords?

With the popularity and increasing influence of social media, marketers are rushing to select or create just the right hashtags to add to their social media posts. Hashtags, although useful, are not the same as the venerable search keywords and should not be confused with each other or, so to speak, concatenated in the best SEO marketing strategy.

SEO best practices

With the popularity and increasing influence of social media, marketers are rushing to select or create just the right hashtags to add to their social media posts. Hashtags, although useful, are not the same as the venerable search keywords and should not be confused with each other or, so to speak, concatenated in SEO best practices marketing strategy.

Each has its own place. It is my own contrarian view that the marketer has more control over the interpretation of a keyword than a hashtag. The immediacy of the hashtag creates areas of unexpected ambiguity. In this article, my recommendation is that marketers should take care in how they select and use hashtags in SEO best practices.

When to Use a Hashtag

Hashtags should be treated as ephemeral in the same vein as marketing slogans. Because they are short and often require context for clarification of their meaning, they do not have staying power.

You might say: “What about #metoo or #neveragain?” Both have huge current social significance and have garnered tremendous support for the movements they represent. Many thousands have tagged social media posts or searched social media sites for posts tagged with #metoo or #neveragain. These hashtags have been very useful in providing a vehicle for social engagement. These are examples of hashtags used exceptionally well.

However, in 10 years, will people remember what these were and what they represented? It is hoped that they represent more than just a moment in time. These are powerful examples, and few marketing programs have been able to develop hashtags that have the kind of market power that these represent. Most are barely memorable even in the moment.

Keywords, when used in site content, represent blocks of language that are more universal and not as temporal. Keywords are seldom freighted with the social baggage created by their use in social media. They are easily clarified and amplified; therefore, it is my contention that in site content and meta data keywords are preferential. This does not suggest totally avoiding hashtags in site content, but use them in conjunction with keywords to carry the main meaning.

The Law of Unforeseen Consequences

Because the social media platforms were not all launched at the same time, most individuals and organizations do not have consistent nomenclature across all platforms. This can create some startling results when hashtags enter the mix.

I am an avid sports fan, and have refereed multiple high school and collegiate events over the years. Currently, my fan fixation is the University of North Carolina’s baseball team (basketball season is over, so). The team is known as the “Diamond Heels,” a nice play on baseball’s diamond and the Tarheels. Fans can follow games and get up-to-date information on Twitter @DiamondHeels. There are also official Facebook and Instagram accounts.

One day, I popped into Instagram and did a quick search for #diamondheels. Lo and behold, there were many baseball images tagged @diamondheels, but they were intermixed with some that were not suitable for office viewing. This is the law of unforeseen consequences at work.

Social media is consumer-generated media where everyday individuals create the message. I doubt the baseball team wants its brand side-by-side with some of these images, but fans placed it there by their use of the seemingly innocuous hashtag #diamondheels. That’s because hashtags are not restricted in their use and unforeseen and unseemly juxtapositions will occur.

To prevent such occurrences, marketers must aggressively research and promote the hashtags they want to see used. In selecting hashtags, marketers need to consider just how and where they might encounter the law of unforeseen consequences and try to limit its impact.

Author: Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D.

Amanda is the founder of Searching for Profit, a search marketing strategy consultancy; and CEO of City Square Consulting, a management consulting firm. Amanda is an internationally recognized author, speaker and search marketing pioneer. Her consultancy focuses on using organic search to drive traffic to customer sites. She is an expert on the use of language for search. Her clients have included well-known and emerging brands.
The purpose of this blog is to provide insights and tips for how to use search profitably. It will cut through the volumes of information that threaten to overwhelm the busy marketer and will focus on what is truly important for making search work.

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