What is a Hash Tag?

For most people whose level of social media addiction is not the same level as mine, the concept of hash tags may seem alien to them. When asked to explain what is a hash tag, I'd like to think of it as these three things: a search reference, a topic, and a keyword.

Hash Tag as a Search Reference

It is a link prefixed with a pound sign (#) followed by a word or phrase (e.g. #socialMedia) that when clicked allows you to see all published posts containing that particular hash tag in a single stream. Hence, hash tag is a means of grouping similar or related messages together particularly on micro-blogging or social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Google+.

For example, if you want to find Tumblr fan art posts, you can use the hash tag #fanart to help with your search. Likewise, if you want your posts to be easily searchable, you should use appropriate hash tags. 

Hash Tag as a Conversation Marker

Hashtags first appeared and were used within IRC networks to label groups and topics. They are also used to mark individual messages as relevant to a particular group, and to mark individual messages as belonging to a particular topic or "channel". 

Today, hash tags can be synonymous to Twitter conversations due to its mainstream usage. You can contribute or start a discussion among any Twitter users using it and a hash tag can become popular or trending allowing anyone to join in the conversation. 

There are several ways hash tags are used as topic labels. Below  are some of its popular usages.

- Events or conferences (e.g. #SMIS2013 for Social Media Influencers Summit 2013)
- Disaster updates (e.g. #sandiegofire. Hashtags were popularized during the San Diego forest fires in 2007 by Nate Ritter by using the said hash tag to identify his updates related to the disaster.)
- Cause (e.g. #PrayForBoston)
- Ask or share tips (e.g. #twitterTips)
- Twitter chats (e.g. #seochat)Context (e.g. #RandomThoughts )

Hash Tag as a Keyword

Keywords and search references are basically the same thing. However, on this part let us focus on using hash tag as a keyword for its marketing and potential SEO value.

A hash tag is considered a metadata keyword that may be assigned to an image, a digital bookmark (link) or computer file. In effect, it allows someone searching for a particular topic locate it quickly especially on real-time searches. 

The effective use of hash tags can be very valuable to your social media marketing efforts. For example, you have a new blog post about weight loss and you shared the link on Twitter with the hash tags #WeightLoss and #DietTips. By using these hash tags, your blog posts can reach a much wider audience (beyond your followers). Not only that, you also enjoy the benefit of getting targeted traffic and increased visibility on that social media site. We cannot also deny the value of social signals to gain higher ranking on the SERPS.

There may be no concrete proof on the effect of hash tags for SEO but indirectly, indeed it is something one should not overlook. Here's two good ideas by +Ann Smarty on Using Hash tags for On-Page Optimization to help you get started.

A friend once asked me what is a hash tag and I was having a hard time explaining it to her. This post should help her grasp the concept better and I hope it has the same effect on you. For my next blog posts, I will attempt to share hash tagging best practices so stay tuned and as always please share your thoughts on the comments section below. I'd love to hear what you say.

This blog post is cross posted to http://www.janevestil.info/2013/11/hash-tags-explained-understanding.html


  1. I never thought you'd remember, but I'm glad you did a very informative read. Shared :)

  2. Robert Manea says:

    Great info on this... i am starting to figure out how to use hash tags... i like that its a conversation holder so to speak!

  3. Kelly says:

    I needed to read this.. since I didn't fully understand hash tags.. I still find them annoying to read people's posts with so many hash tags..

  4. Mark Nelson says:

    I don't understand hashtags at all. Thanks for this post and I do need to figure them out.

  5. Jennifer Clay says:

    I love hashtags! I am so excited that Facebook has incorporated hashtags!

  6. Deborah Munoz-Chacon says:

    I see a lot of businesses using the hashtag with their business name. Is that worth doing?

  7. I am so thankful that I can use hashtags on all social media platforms. It makes finding my posts easier. I just don't like people who overuse them. Hashtags should be treated like keywords and should be chosen wisely.

  8. Veronica Solomon says:

    Great info! Thanks

  9. KevinHardin says:

    I am glad Facebook started using them

  10. Great post and explanation.

  11. Saranna Elford says:

    Great explanation, very helpful indeed!

  12. Loretta Smith says:

    Great information! Thank you so much! I'm beginning to understand them, so I'm not so annoyed by them :)

  13. Alikekid Sanrisk says:

    It helps me to spread out my post ;)

  14. Brad Lynch says:

    Great article and especially with Facebook using them now!

  15. Daniele Holmberg says:

    Great article:) I am trying to get into using hashtags, but I am still somewhat skeptical of them:)

  16. Jim Striegel says:

    Tweeted! Great info!

  17. Tyler says:

    What is a hash tag?

  18. Dov Shapira says:

    I just started using hash tagging

    I am still learning how it may enhance businesses

    You made it very clear, thank you Geek

  19. John Farrell says:

    Great information! Trying to learning hash tagging and your article helped me a lot.

  20. Robin says:

    Lots more people are starting to understand hashtags... Great article explaining.

  21. Marian says:

    Awesome, to have this written out so clearly about hash tags! I think not enough individuals actually understand hashtags, I just got a quick review last week so between that and this I am good!!! Thank you!

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