When most people think of SEO, they tend to imagine writers struggling to squeeze a few obscure keywords into a blog post or web developers optimizing a landing page for mobile viewing. While images like these do reflect some kinds of SEO, they don’t reflect all kinds of SEO.
Today, we’re going to be going over a use case for SEO techniques that not many people consider: Instagram.
That’s right, SEO is a crucial part of increasing the discoverability and reach of an Instagram account—especially one intended to sell products or services. Don’t let this realization discourage you, though.
Instagram SEO might seem scary at first, but by the end of this article, you’ll have no problem optimizing your profile and content for maximum reach!
What Is Keyword and Hashtag Search Work On Instagram?
A few years ago, Instagram introduced Keyword Search, a feature that fundamentally changed the way users searched for content on the platform.
Users are now able to search for content by simply entering keywords, rather than by searching for hashtags or accounts (though both of those methods are still common).
The result pages for these keyword searches now include posts, stories, reels, and accounts that Instagram’s algorithm believes match the query, rather than just accounts that contain the keyword in the username or bio.
How Does This Feature Work?
Say you’re looking to unwind with some cottagecore content before bed … just me? You begin entering “cottagecore” into the search bar, and Instagram will give you several recommendations based on that keyword (e.g, “cottagecore outfits” or “cottagecore aesthetic”). Click one of the recommended keywords (or just stick with “cottagecore”) and an algorithm will pull up tons of related posts, accounts, reels, and stories. No need to waste time searching for a popular hashtag or account!
Instagram has been pretty vague about the algorithm they use to populate these keyword results pages. However, they have made a few definitive statements regarding what the algorithm incorporates into its decision-making process.
Here’s a breakdown of the main factors (courtesy of Instagram):
Your text. Instagram has stated the text people enter into the search bar has the most impact on the outcome of a search. The user input text is matched with text from usernames, bios, captions, and hashtags. While that isn’t incredibly surprising, it’s nice to have confirmation.
Your activity. Like most social media platforms these days, Instagram uses a recommendation algorithm. This program tracks user behavior on the platform (i.e., your likes, comments, follows, etc.) and uses that information to recommend additional content. Relevant here is the fact that Instagram uses its recommendation algorithm to help rank search results.
Search results information. Information about the search results themselves is also taken into account when it’s not clear what content the user would prefer. When in doubt, Instagram resorts to a popularity contest by basing the decision on likes, comments, and clicks.
Will Every Search Generate Keyword Recommendations?
Tons of blogs, articles, and reports were written on this question and the unanimous conclusion is that Keyword Search is a limited feature that won’t apply to all queries.
There are two main reasons for this:
Instagram limits the visibility of content it deems harmful. COVID-19 is a great example of this. Instagram has been rife with misinformation regarding COVID-19, and as a result, moderators have decided that search terms like “COVID-19”, “covid”, and “vaccine” won’t generate a result page that features content.
Instagram can only handle simple queries. If you search for “banana”, Instagram offers you a ton of amazing, banana-related content. However, if you search for “manta ray”, Instagram reverts to displaying a list of accounts and hashtags that contain the keyword. Why can’t Instagram handle even slightly obscure keywords? No idea!
Why Should I Care About Instagram Keywords?
The answer to this question is pretty simple: optimizing your content for certain keywords increases your discoverability on Instagram.
Let’s look at an example:
If we type “patio furniture” into Instagram’s search bar, the result is a grid of content featuring various pieces of patio furniture (no surprises there). Clicking on one of these results opens up the post so that we can get a better look. Let’s choose an interesting looking one:
Now, we’re looking at a post featuring patio furniture—the thing we were searching for in the first place. Upon closer inspection, this isn’t just any photo of patio furniture … it’s an advertisement! But who posted it?
Let’s find out:
When we click onto the profile of the account that posted the original photo we see what appears to be a small ski and patio supplier based somewhere in the state of New York.
Judging by the follower count, this isn’t a particularly large player in the patio furniture game. Yet … somehow they’ve managed to occupy this prime piece of Instagram real estate and attract the traffic of someone searching for a product they sell.
For a limited investment of some time and effort, they’re seeing increased profile views, conversions, and engagement. If you’re curious about how you can do the same, keep on reading!
How To Use SEO To Increase Discoverability On Instagram
For businesses, brands, and influencers on Instagram, discoverability is key. You won’t automatically show up on the screens of interested users, you need to make that happen.
There are a bunch of ways to do that, ranging from paid ads to the Instagram Explore page. Instagram SEO is an option for you to consider, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t the only option. Users find content on the platform in plenty of other ways.
With that being said, Instagram SEO is a cheap and effective way to attract new users, followers, and customers to your profile. Let’s learn more about the process!
1) Identify Keywords and Core Topics To Target
Which keywords do you want to rank for? An answer to this question is absolutely necessary before you make a single change to your Instagram profile and content. You can use regular keyword research tools to come up with Instagram keywords. Just keep in mind that what your followers search for on Instagram may not be the same as what they search for on Google. With that in mind, you’ll probably want to use a hashtag research tool like Flick!
As you start to brainstorm possible keywords, make sure you consider both short and long-tail keywords. Not sure what the difference is? Let us break it down for you:
Short Tail Keywords
Short tail keywords (or head terms) are simple, one-word search terms (e.g., “banana”). The fact that short-tail keywords are high-volume means that they have the potential to drive tons of traffic to your page (if you’re able to rank). However, that popularity comes with two main downsides:
Short-tail keywords are competitive. High-volume keywords always attract a lot of people hoping to get a piece of it. That makes it harder to rank.
Short-tail keywords can generate low-quality traffic. The lack of specificity that’s inherent to short-tail keywords can sometimes result in traffic that isn’t really interested in what you’re offering.
Long-tail keywords are more complex, multi-word keywords (e.g., “banana bread recipes”). Typically, they’re more specific than their short-tail counterparts. Targeting these keywords tends to generate high-quality traffic at a lower volume.
Through competitive analysis and understanding, your key customer segments what you want is:
A set of core pillar topics that are short-tails with high volume in nature. If you’re a marketing agency, your core topics could include:
Social media marketing
A set of long-tail topics around the core topics, such as:
SEO: search engine optimization, trust rank, topical authority, backlinking services, etc.
Instagram marketing: marketing carousels, social media copywriting, IG marketing tips.
Once you’ve defined these core topics and subtopics, you can use Flick, which you can use to provide a mixture of hashtags that you want to rank for. One more thing: Instagram SEO isn’t just about keywords. It’s also becoming a topic expert in a niche by regularly providing quality content.
2) Optimize Your Instagram Profile
Instagram Search is the way you can find any and every account on the app. It’s like the Google search engine. Type in a word and you’ll get a populated list of things associated with that word. From accounts to hashtags to locations to photos, the Search will scan Instagram to bring you a curated list of the things you’re looking for.
So how does the Search feature work exactly?
Well, Instagram gives you results based on people you follow, who you’re connected to, what photos and videos you already like on Instagram, and the specific keyword you’re looking for.
When you search for a specific phrase or word (like “Christmas”), Instagram will scroll through millions (and millions) of accounts looking for the keywords that are most relevant to you and what you’re looking for.
Now that it’s possible to be found via a keyword search, it’s important to make sure your profile is optimized using the keywords you want to be found under. Here’s how you can do so:
Your Username and Name
If you’re looking to rank under a specific keyword, use that word in both your name and username! Say you’re a BBQ restaurant. Use “BBQ” in your username and your name, as both are searchable on Instagram.
This will help you improve your chances of appearing at the top of the search when people type in the specific keyword you optimized for.
Your Instagram Bio
Like your name and username, your bio should also be optimized for keywords for your business and brand.
Not only will this help your followers know exactly what your business and brand are about, but it will help you get on a search like you’re wanting. One of the best parts is that you can use hashtags in your bio, so you will show up on those specific hashtags in Search as well! If you’re struggling with creating an amazing bio, we’ve got you.
3) Optimize Your Captions
While Search won’t show you content based on keywords in a caption of a post (maybe one day!), you could end up on the Explore page if you use your caption wisely, grasshopper. #ICYMI: The Explore page shows you content that Instagram thinks you’ll enjoy based on things you’ve liked and engaged with in the past. That’s why no two Explore pages will look alike (seriously, test it out and look at your friends’ Explore page. I bet it’s different from yours!),
Now, what does this have to do with using keywords in your captions to land on the Explore page? Well, if you write well-written and descriptive captions, Instagram’s AI will pick up on that and group you in with accounts that use similar keywords in their profile. Which is what you want (what you really, really want).
5) Add Alt Text To Images
If you need a refresher on why you should use alt text on your images, you can check out our post about it here. But to give you a quick overview, alt text is a text description of an image or video that makes your content accessible for those with visual impairments, and will even provide a description of the image if your post fails to load.
It’s also a great way for you to help Instagram’s AI understand what your content is about, and ensure that they are pushing your account to the right people.
While Instagram uses its own ways to identify what’s in the image, it’s always best to use your own language for the alt image text to help Instagram better categorize your content.
Here’s how you do it:
Tap Advanced Settings on your post at the bottom of the screen.
Under Accessibility, tap Write Alt Text.
Add a description (make sure to use your keywords).
Make sure the alt text is descriptive and accurate, not only to help your account but also to help those who are visually impaired to know what is in the photo.
6) Track Your Performance
Once you start optimizing your profile and content for discoverability, it’s important to keep track of your success. Impact evaluation is an important part of the process since it allows you to see which SEO practices are working well and which aren’t.
To keep yourself on track, you need to choose a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to track. Instagram Insights offers a fairly decent selection to start with.
Here are a few options:
Followers: An obvious one—how many followers you have!
Impressions: The number of times your content was viewed by users.
Reach: The number of times your content was viewed by unique users.
Profile Visits: The number of times users clicked onto your homepage.
While Instagram Insights is a decent option for tracking KPIs, third-party apps (like Flick) offer some additional functionality and flexibility. With Flick specifically, you can track things like Average Reach Per Post, Rank Ratio, and Profile Conversions—KPIs that are fantastic for measuring the success of your Instagram SEO campaign.
When choosing which KPIs to track, make sure you choose ones that reflect your progress with regard to your goals. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, you might decide to track Followers or Average Reach Per Post. However, if your goal is to increase sales, you might decide to track Website Visits. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by KPIs, check out Flick’s guide to Instagram analytics! Knowing how to use SEO and optimizing your Instagram account will really help increase your reach and visibility when it comes to Instagram. Learn even more ways to reach more accounts here, and let us know any other SEO tips you might have over on our Instagram!