How Instagram Search works

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 31 Aug, 2021
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Instagram outlines how its Search works, and how you can optimize to improve your visibility in the search results.

Instagram Search.

In a blog post last week, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri gave details on how Instagram ranks search results, and also shared SEO tips on how to show up in the results.

The post on Search is a follow-up to an earlier piece explaining how Instagram personalises Feed, Stories, Reels and Explore, published in June.

Mosseri notes that Search is different from Feed, Stories, Reels and Explore “because your input helps us figure out what to show you”.

When you enter a search term, Instagram will display accounts, audio, hashtags, and places that match the text of your search. For example, if you search on space, results like @space and #space will show up.

Instagram Search.

Source: Instagram blog

In addition to your search term, Instagram uses information from accounts, hashtags and places to rank your search results.

The most important signals for Search (in order of importance) are:

  1. Your search text: The search term you enter is “by far the most important signal for Search”. Instagram tries to match it with relevant usernames, bios, captions, hashtags and places.
  2. Your activity: This includes accounts you follow, posts you've viewed, and how you've interacted with accounts in the past. Instagram will usually show accounts and hashtags you follow or visit above those you don’t.
  3. Engagement:  When there are a lot of potential results, Instagram also looks at popularity signals which include the number of clicks, likes, shares and follows for a particular account, hashtag or place.

SEO best practices for visibility

Mosseri gave the following tips to help you show up in the search results.

  • Use a relevant handle and profile name: As text is the top ranking signal for Search, you should use an Instagram handle or profile name that’s related to the content of your posts. Instagram says that’s your best bet for showing up in relevant searches. If your audience knows you by a certain name, include that name in your username or profile so you’ll show when they search for you.
  • Include relevant keywords and locations in your bio: Again, text matters in your bio too. Make sure it includes keywords about who you are and what your profile is about. If your account is location-specific, for example a small business, sharing your location in your bio can make it easier for people in your area to find you.
  • Keywords and hashtags in captions, not comments: For a post to be found in Search, put relevant keywords and hashtags in the caption, not the comments.

Search penalties

Instagram will penalise accounts, posts and hashtags that violate their guidelines in a number of ways.

Accounts that post spam or violate the Recommendation Guidelines may be demoted in the search results, and you may have to search on their full username to find them.

Accounts, hashtag and posts that violate Instagram’s Community Guidelines are removed entirely so won’t show up in Search at all.

Future plans

Instagram will soon be launching a series of improvements to Search which will take it beyond just a way to find accounts and hashtags, and make it a better tool for exploration and discovery.

They are working towards a full search results page experience. For example, the same search on space would also bring up photos and videos.

Here’s a mockup of how it would look.

Instagram Search mockup.

Source: Instagram blog

Instagram is also expanding the keywords you can use to search for content, currently focusing on English with plans to add support for other languages in the future.

With so many businesses using a variety of social media platforms it’s always helpful to have more information about how Search works on a particular site. Use the information here to boost your presence and visibility.

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