Wish more people saw your content on Instagram? Wondering how to show up in more search results?
In this article, you'll discover three ways to improve your reach on Instagram by using hashtags, location tags, and keyword phrases your target audience is using right now. Plus, you'll learn how to optimize your profile and content to expand your reach and improve searchability.
Instagram Search Differs From Conventional Search
If you've worked in social media for any amount of time, you probably hate Instagram search. It's fiddly to use and it has an annoying tendency to misunderstand what you're searching for.
But those same annoyances are intentional features of Instagram search. It's not designed to work like a conventional search engine. Instead, it's a way to surface content.
To better understand how it works, let's look at some key differences between search engines and Instagram search.
A conventional search engine:
- Allows you to search for phrases or sentences instead of single words or hashtags
- Lets you search for multiple things at once (for example, searching for a restaurant in a specific location with a specific item on the menu)
- Attempts to correct spelling mistakes or guess what you're looking for
- Shows the source of each result
- Ranks results by authority
Meanwhile, Instagram search works a little differently:
- You can only search for single words or hashtags.
- You can only search for one thing at a time; for example, you can search for restaurants but you can't filter by location or menu.
- If you misspell a search term, you'll get no results.
- Instagram search results show a screen full of posts rather than accounts.
- Search results are ranked based on relevance, popularity, and your past activity on the platform.
In other words, Instagram search results are focused on content instead of sources. The reason the search feature can only handle simple hashtags or single words is the social network wants you to go down a rabbit hole of scrolling through hundreds of posts. That's how the platform works.
This can be frustrating if you're trying to search for something more specific, instead of joyriding through the Explore tab. But, as we'll see, there are things you can do to make your searches more forensic—revealing accounts, hashtags, location tags, and keywords that can help your profile and content show up more often in your target audience's feeds.
Searching via the Instagram Explore Tab
Let's start by breaking down Instagram search results. There's a little more information on offer than seems available at first glance.
You can begin your search on Instagram from the Explore page, represented by the magnifying glass symbol at the bottom of the screen.
When you type a query into the search bar, Instagram will start by offering its suggestions based on your search history, the accounts you follow (or that follow you), and the most popular accounts and hashtags.
Tap See All Results to get to the content results.
Now you'll see a screen with four tabs:
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- Top shows the most popular and relevant content that uses your search terms.
- Accounts shows the most popular and relevant accounts that use your search terms in their username. Note that this is just about account names; you won't necessarily see accounts that post the type of content you're looking for.
- Tags shows a list of similar hashtags and tells you the volume of posts for each hashtag. This is a useful way to spot which tags are most popular. If you tap on a tag, you'll see a collection of posts.
- Places shows the most popular and relevant places for your search terms. Again, this is just about the name of the place so the results may not be relevant to your actual search intention. If you tap on a place, you'll see a collection of posts made from that location.
As you can see, all of these different search results are geared toward exploring and discovering content.
Now that you understand the basics of how Instagram search works, here's how you can start optimizing your Instagram profile and content to get more exposure on the platform.
#1: Research Instagram Recommendations
The Instagram Explore page has a powerful yet underrated way to discover new content: recommendations.
These show up as text bubbles at the top of the screen, just below the search bar. You can swipe through them to find suggestions that interest you.
But what most people don't realize is that these recommendations are nested. As soon as you tap a recommendation, Instagram will generate another set of suggestions within that category. You can follow the recommendations up to three layers deep, finding more specific content each time.
You can use a similar strategy to discover new accounts on Instagram that serve the same audience you serve. When you follow a new profile, Instagram will immediately serve up recommended accounts that it thinks are similar.
If you follow a recommended account, Instagram will serve up more recommendations in an apparently infinite chain. This is a great way to discover new accounts to follow for content inspiration, potential partnerships, and competitive research.
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Optimize Your Account to Show Up in Recommendations Searches
Instagram uses three factors to decide what to show you in search results:
- Text matching: Your exact search query is the most important factor in search results.
- Past activity: Instagram will also try to determine which results will interest you based on your interests and past activity on the platform.
- Popularity signals: Posts, hashtags, accounts, and locations that have a lot of likes and interactions will rank higher in search results.
So if you want to rank well in Instagram search results, you need to:
- Use key search terms in your bio, captions, and post tags.
- Design content that matches your target audience's interests and activity.
- Aim for high levels of engagement.
Choosing the right username can instantly help you rank higher in Instagram search results. The key is to choose something that people will actually type into the search bar. So that means:
- Don't use leetspeak (replacing letters with symbols or numbers).
- Don't use punctuation in the middle of words or phrases.
- Use key terms that describe your business, products, or services.
- Include your location if your business is location-specific.
- Make sure your username is easy to spell and remember.
Ideally, you want to choose a username that matches your target audience's search terms as closely as possible. Of course, that's a lot of information to pack into just 30 characters, which is why you should use your bio for keywords, too.
Your Instagram bio offers a lot more space to work with—up to 150 characters. As well as listing your business address on your profile, you can list your city or area in your bio. Try to incorporate as many keywords as possible.
Remember, Instagram uses text matching to choose which search results to show. So if your bio (or even better, bio and username) feature key search terms, you'll rank much higher in search results.
#2: Research Instagram Hashtags
Hashtags are the most powerful way to search on Instagram. You can be far more specific and targeted than when searching for words.
This is mainly because you can search for short phrases with hashtags. Sometimes a phrase that gets few results will return much more information when you turn it into a hashtag.
Another key benefit of hashtags is that Instagram will bring up similar recommendations. Often, these recommended hashtags will be even more specific, adding a location, date, or details to your search.
Finally, hashtags allow you to start a search from any post, instead of beginning with the search bar. You can tap a hashtag on any post to see more posts with that tag. You can't do the same thing with plain text or usernames.
However, you can still only search for one hashtag at a time. If you want to check multiple hashtags, you'll have to search for them one by one.
Optimize Your Content to Show Up in Hashtag Searches
Just as hashtags are the most powerful way to search on Instagram, they're also the most powerful way to get your own content seen on the social network. Using targeted, specific hashtags on Instagram will help your posts to rank for your target audience.
However, if you misuse hashtags, they can have the opposite effect.
Here are a few key tips to follow:
- Always include your hashtags in the post caption, not in the comments. Hashtags in the comments won't help your search ranking.
- Choose specific hashtags, even if they have a smaller audience than more generic ones. Your content has a greater chance of being seen with a specific hashtag like #cookiesinvancouver, rather than a globally popular hashtag such as #baking.
- If you want to use a hashtag that includes your brand name, check that it's not already being used by another brand or for another purpose.
Instagram recommends using just 3-5 hashtags per post. You can go a little higher, but if you use more than 10 hashtags, your posts will start to look spammy. There's no benefit to using a long list of hashtags.
Pro Tip: You can improve your impact for specific hashtags by interacting with other posts that use the same tag. The Instagram algorithm will pick up on this interaction as a signal about your interest and relevance to the hashtag.
#3: Research the Instagram Location Tab
The Location tab in Instagram search results can also be a useful tool; however, you need to use it strategically.
As we've seen, Instagram search works by text matching. If you search for places, it shows you places that have your search terms in the name. But that's not really how people create their usernames.
Let's say you're looking for local influencers. Although some might mention their location in their username, most won't. Instead, when you search for places, you'll just get a list of the most popular destinations in that area.
If you want to find people or businesses in a specific location, then tap the place in the search results and scroll through the posts that Instagram serves up. You can look at the top posts (if you're looking for accounts with plenty of reach) or most recent posts (if you're just trying to build local connections).
Interacting with posts from a specific location could also help you rank higher in search results.
Optimize Your Content to Show Up in Location Tag Searches
You can add location tags to all of your posts on Instagram—including feed posts, stories, and reels—to improve your search ranking in two ways:
- You're more likely to show up in the search results for a specific location.
- Instagram is more likely to show your content to people with an interest in your area.
Remember, Instagram's algorithm and search functions use relevance as a way to rank posts. Showing that you have a strong connection to a particular location will help Instagram target content for you—and show your content to more local people.
Instagram search is designed to help people explore content, instead of finding specific posts or accounts. But with the right techniques, you can show up higher in search results and might even make it onto the Explore page or show up in Instagram's recommendations.
Get More Advice on Instagram Marketing
- Create an Instagram content plan for your business.
- Schedule Instagram stories and posts in Business Suite.
- Use Instagram Insights to analyze your organic marketing.
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