Instagram Update: You Can Now Search Using Keywords + 3 Tips

Black phone on a white background, with screen showing click-through rate and data

At the very end of 2020, Instagram’s search function changed. Specifically, Instagram keywords emerged. Previously, users could only search using hashtags, locations or users’ handles.

Captions and bios outside of these data fields had no impact on Instagram search results.

This caused a bunch of problems. For one thing, it obviously led to hashtag stuffing in Instagram posts. This made it very difficult to create or consume engaging written content. It also limited the potential for organic audience growth on Instagram.

The introduction of Instagram keywords is a massive step forward.

What are Instagram Keywords?

In traditional SEO, keywords are the terms a user enters when they’re searching for a piece of content. On each search platform, the algorithm then decides which content will best serve the user’s needs, based on factors like keyword usage, relevance and search intent.

The exact ranking factors for Instagram SEO are still unclear. According to company sources, ranking factors include:

  • Post time,
  • Type of content,
  • Captions,
  • Quality.

Of course, Instagram is still a social media platform, not a search engine. As such, we can still expect it to take account of social signals, like: 

  • Post frequency, 
  • Engagement,
  • The number of followers a user has.

In other words, Instagram’s search functionality has simply gotten more sophisticated. The key takeaway is that users can now use keywords to search for terms which don’t have a hashtag or user handle.

But what does this all mean?

How do Keywords Change Instagram?

Of course, only time will tell what impact keywords will have on Instagram. The core effect will be making it easier for the platform to match users with the best content for their needs. This will greatly change the experience of both users and brands.

Instagram Keywords for Users

For users, the introduction of keywords on Instagram will make search for content considerably easier, especially when this relates to topics they aren’t familiar with. That is, they won’t need to already know the top hashtags or influencers in that niche to find great content.

This is great news for creators who want to grow their audience, but who aren’t already mega-famous outside of Instagram. Instead, the competition for search positions will be based on the content users produce, rather than a straightforward popularity contest.

In other words, it will be easier to get more followers by making great content.

Instagram SEO for Brands

This will have an even bigger impact on brands who use Instagram for marketing. For the exact same reasons as above, the introduction of keywords make Instagram a much more viable marketing platform for many brands.

To understand why, let’s consider what an Instagram strategy looked like in the past.

Until now, influencers have been at the core of most brands’ Instagram efforts. This generally meant engaging with users who already have a large audience, and partnering with them to place your products in their posts.

The barriers to cultivating your own Instagram following were too high for most brands to develop their own Instagram content strategy

Now, creating great content for Instagram will become the name of the game. That is, brands can compete on merit. For example, in the past a food brand might have to partner with a lifestyle influencer in order to reach Instagram users.

With keywords, they’ll be able to research, create and publish valuable content about their products, and see real results. But what does valuable content mean in the context of Instagram marketing?

Let’s take a look at three concrete steps you can take to succeed with Instagram SEO.

How to Boost Instagram SEO

It’s worth remembering that Instagram is a visual platform. That is, Instagram content is primarily made up of images, GIFs and videos. All the same, there are a number of text fields which you can leverage to improve your Instagram SEO.

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Keyword Optimise Your Instagram Profile

Your Instagram profile is made up of three key pieces of text:

  1. Your username,
  2. Your display name,
  3. Your bio.

In some cases you can add keywords to your username, but this isn’t always practical. Your goal should be to optimise your display name and bio, as these will have a far greater impact.

Display Name

The easiest way to do this is to insert keywords which describe your core product or service offering naturally into your display name. To see what we mean, let’s take a look at an example from Later, the social media scheduling tool.

Black phone on white background/shelf, with the 'edit profile' page on Instagram in the screen

This should be fairly self-explanatory. Later’s display name is simply their brand, followed by a concise description of what they offer their users. The goal here is obviously to target searches for the keyword ‘social media scheduler’.

Bio

Of course, your Instagram bio is another excellent opportunity to insert keywords. The key here is to be selective, and insert the most important keywords in a natural fashion. One popular strategy is simply to present your USP in list format.

Check out this example:

Close up shot of the top of a black phone, showing a user's Instagram bio

Essentially everything in the body of this bio is a keyword:

  • Artist,
  • Florals,
  • Workshops,
  • Intimate weddings.

Good bios are succinct. The goal is to concisely explain what your brand is all about, with as many unique keywords as possible.

Write SEO Friendly Captions

Instagram uses your posts’ captions to determine the subject of the post itself. It then takes this information, and relates it to other users, to build a picture of important topics on the platform.

This means that keywords should be thought of in terms of the topic that they relate to.

In other words, the most SEO friendly captions remain the ones which provide the best value and engagement for users under a given topic. Inserting specific keywords based on their popularity should be used in conjunction with this.

That is, it isn’t simply enough to fire in some popular keywords and hope for the best. Rather, it’s important to first decide which keywords are popular, and then figure out how you can make the best content around these.

Use Instagram Alt Text

If you have any previous experience of SEO, you’ll be familiar with alt text. If not, this is a piece of text which is displayed when users can’t see an image, either because they have a visual impairment, or because they have a bad connection.

In either case, they’re absolutely key for SEO.

You might not have known that this feature exists on Instagram though. You can access it under the Advanced Settings menu, when you create a post. You’ll see this text field:

Grey background, black phone with a paragraph explaining alt text accessibility on Instagram with a yellow circle around it

Remember that Instagram is a visual-first platform. Images take precedence over written content. This means that your Instagram alt texts are one of the best ways to optimise your content with keywords.

As with any other time you’re writing alt texts, you essentially have two goals here:

  1. Describe the content of the image,
  2. Add relevant keywords.

Both elements are critical. You can’t simply stuff in keywords, as then your alt texts will not work properly for their primary purpose of describing images to users who can’t see them.

Using Keywords on Instagram: The Best Approach

In many ways, it’s still too early to tell exactly how keywords will impact Instagram. For one thing, there is as yet no tool on the market to accurately measure keyword search volume or competition.

We also don’t yet have a clear idea of the exact ranking factors that Instagram will use, in the same way we do with other search platforms like Google or LinkedIn.

What we do know is the goal of keywords on Instagram. To make it easier for users to find and consume valuable content. As such, this should form the core of your Instagram keyword strategy, as you keep an eye out for further updates.

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