Hashtags vs Keywords: 6 Key Comparisons

The keyword: The time-served method by which websites optimize and promote their content. It’s how search engines have always interpreted web pages, and is the corner stone of any SEO strategy. There is, though, another serious contender for the most valuable of online attributes: the hashtag.

The keyword and the hashtag have some striking similarities. In their most basic sense, hashtags are just keywords prefaced with the “#” symbol. It’s the platform on which the content appears where the stark differences lie.



Hashtags vs Keywords: 6 Key Comparisons

#1 – In terms of TIME

Let’s say you publish a blog post without promoting it on social media. Your content is rich and useful, the text is nicely optimized for your target keyword and you’re confident it will be enjoyed by your readers. You publish and wait for the mighty Google to index it and catapult it up the SERPs. How long before you see a comment or a spike in statistics? This is marketing principle at its most basic. Publishing without promoting is essentially like going fishing without knowing where the fish are. Sure, one will come along eventually, but a good angler knows the water, the habits of the fish and their preferred feeding times. This is where the hashtag comes into its own. A hashtag delivers instantly and directly to users. It doesn’t necessarily have to be searched for to be found, though it is more than capable of this, too.


With hashtags, results can be tracked in a span of hours or even minutes, whereas it can take much longer with keywords. Search engines still need to find your content and index it, which leaves you reliant on when they send out their bots.

Hashtags are like wildfire. They spread at a rapid pace, leading to so-called “trending topics” on Twitter. Well, human interaction has a lot to do with that. Take the recent uproar caused by the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. Warner Bros will very quickly have got the message that people didn’t like the idea, given that they took to Twitter in their droves and created the hashtag “BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck”, with thousands using it in their posts to voice opinions on who could do the Caped Crusader more justice.

The keyword, however, does have its own advantages when it comes to time. It is everlasting, unlike the hashtag. A hashtag is prone to changes of opinion, whims, boredom of users, and can fizzle out just as quickly as it came. A keyword though is strong and unwavering; it will never leave your web page, or Google’s index for that matter. It will forever more be ready to be called upon.

#2 – Man vs Robot

Although search engines – Google in particular – have become much smarter at figuring out the intent behind your searches, they still cannot compete with human understanding, which the hashtag comes so close to representing.

Sure, you can do a search for, say, the key term “Narnia books” and be given the entire series on a Carousel, reviews, opportunities to purchase, and plenty of other options besides, but these results are still fundamentally built on quantitative data; of millions of searches gone before. Keyword-based results are, at their core, only predictions of what a searcher wants; predictions built on past data. A hashtag, however, is as close to being representative of the true and current feeling of a group of people as is currently available on the web. This represents an enormous opportunity for anyone keeping a close eye on social media, whatever their intentions, to stay ahead of all keyword-focused competition.

Nothing in marketing or promotion will ever be as powerful as word-of-mouth; a friend or trusted acquaintance personally recommending something is gold dust. It’s a fundamental human desire to share knowledge and opinions, and the hashtag is the internet’s equivalent of this phenomenon.

#3 – In terms of HOW IT IS USED

When creating content, you use keywords that equally relate to your content and your audience. These are the terms people type into search boxes hoping the results provide the answers they need. For search engines to return the right results, keywords have to be placed in areas such as the page title, headings and within the content itself. Keywords tell search engines exactly what your article is about. Consider them to be human resource personnel scanning through a bunch of resumes: you have to display certain criteria to be considered for a position.

Hashtags are a bit different because humans by nature are difficult to reason with. Let’s use the Ben Affleck is Batman fiasco as an example. You’d think the hashtags “BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck” and “#Batfleck” would only be used for negative responses, but no. Some people managed to sneak in some positive remarks about why Ben Affleck would be a great Bruce Wayne/Batman. Call it hijacking a hashtag to express your own opinion. Hijacking keywords on search engines gets you slapped with a penalty, which let’s face it, is so much harder to bear than an insult by someone you barely know.


#4 – In terms of VISIBILITY

There is no doubt that both keywords and hashtags are extremely effective at increasing online presence. Creating great content with relevant keywords is certainly the first thing to ensure, but the page’s visibility is then dependent on numerous factors, such as the strength of the site it appears on, whether it’s well-optimized or not, and whether people start actually linking to the page. The latter is possibly the most telling factor for gaining visibility on the SERPs. The problem, however, is that a link must come from another website; a website that must also be obeying all the rules of the SERPs, and itself be proving popular on the web. A hashtag though can be popularized by anyone at all, whether they have a website or not. A hashtag gives a voice to the people, all the people, and a pretty loud voice at that.


#5 – As a research tool

You need to know what your audience wants in order to provide them what they need, and both keywords and hashtags are helpful tools in determining that.

You perform keyword research to know what terms your audience is searching for. You also use search engines to see how well your keyword of choice is performing. This gives you an idea of how much work you need to put in to outrank competitors already ranking for the given term AND outdo those who are trying to rank for the same term.


Using hashtags for research purposes is equally tough. You have to browse through several ones relevant to your industry to find topics your audience wants to know about. Unlike search results where you’re given ten blue links per page to choose from, you can be flooded with lots of information depending on the popularity of the hashtag. Even more painful, not everything that bears a hashtag can be deemed relevant information because some people use hashtags for the sake of fun.

Doing research with keywords and hashtags both takes time, but going through the entire process means you’ll be providing content users want to read about.


#6 – In terms of LANGUAGE USE

Keywords in search make more sense when “real words” are used because they provide answers to real life questions like “What is the best marketing strategy?”. Hashtags, on the other hand, provide a certain level of freedom because they allow a bunch of words to be strung together like “#10ThingsImAttractedTo” to create a single unifying thread of conversation. Think of hashtags as the more carefree sibling who does whatever he wants and keywords as the one that abides by all rules.


However, keywords have the upper hand when it comes to the use of multiple words. Search engines can find content based on any number of terms you provide, and it’s also possible to optimise your content for long-tailed keywords. With hashtags, putting a space between two terms renders it useless because only the word before the space is counted as part of the hashtag.



There is no question that both keywords and hashtags play a huge role in increasing the online visibility of your business. It’s not a question of which one can draw a bigger audience, but how you can you use both to your advantage.



Are Social Media Hashtags More Effective than Traditional Search Engine Keywords?

Twitter teaches you how to hashtag

Hashtag tracking

RiteTag – Hashtag Optimizing

Google Keyword Planner


For easy to understand advice about how to use keywords and hashtags to advance your business please CLICK HERE. Thanks for reading and sharing. Please don’t forget to credit Richard in your Tweets (@RichInCebu).

This article “Hashtags vs Keywords: 6 Key Comparisons” is by Richard Eaves which originally appeared on Social Strategies by SteamFeed author Matt Crawford.

Richard Eaves
Richard Eaves is a Digital Marketing Specialist for Smart Traffic. He developed a passion for SEO while working as a webmaster for some well-known high street companies. His particular specialities are technical onsite SEO and content development.

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