Instagram SEO: 6 Ways to Increase Your Discoverability

By Benjamin Chacon

Published July 29, 2020

13 minute read

From hashtags to alt text, we explain how to take on an Instagram SEO mindset and why this can help increase your discoverability.


Stay on top of the biggest social media marketing trends!

Brushing up on your Instagram SEO skills can give your reach, discoverability, and engagement on Instagram a serious boost.

The fact is that many of the techniques you use to optimize your SEO on the web can be applied to improve your content and profile’s discovery on Instagram!

From hashtags to alt text, we explain how to take on an SEO mindset on Instagram and why this can help increase your discoverability. PLUS, we cover Instagram’s new “keyword search” feature which is currently being tested in six countries!

Instagram Introduces New “Keyword Search” That Doesn’t Require Hashtags

In mid-November, Instagram announced that English-speaking users in six countries, including the US, UK, Ireland, and Canada can now search for content on the platform using keywords, not just hashtags.

Previously, you could only do this to find Instagram profiles based on keywords they used in their Instagram name, username, or bio.

Now, however, Instagram is letting people use keywords to search for posts too!

For example, if you search “snake plant,” Instagram will populate several recommendations in the search results that contain that keyword.

If you click-through to one, you’ll land on a page featuring posts that are related to the keyword — along with other relevant keywords at the top of the page.

According to The Verge, Instagram says it considers “a number of factors,” including the “type of content, captions, when it was posted,” and more to surface relevant results. It also uses machine learning to “find the highest quality content that’s relevant to you.”

So what does this mean for you?

Basically, there are more opportunities to have your content discovered in Instagram Search!

If you can optimize your Instagram posts for various relevant keywords (by writing descriptive captions, including alt text, and more), they may appear in keyword search results — so it’s more important than ever to optimize your Instagram SEO.

Keep in mind that Instagram only offers search results for a limited number of keywords at the moment — for example, searching “red couch” won’t pull up any keywords recommendations.

On the other hand, if you search “couch,” Instagram provides recommendations for “couch,” “couch workout,” “lounge couch,” and more.

If you take one of these recommendations and plug it into Instagram Search, you can find even more detailed recommendations to narrow your results.

Also keep in mind that, for the time being, you can only use this feature to search for grid posts, not Instagram Reels, stories, or anything else.

This new feature signals the growing importance of SEO on Instagram, which ultimately comes down to optimizing your content to be as discoverable as possible on Instagram Search.

Ready to learn how?

Below, we highlight 6 ways to increase your discoverability on Instagram with SEO:

Instagram SEO #1: Optimize Your Instagram Profile for Search

As part of the Explore page, Instagram Search is the directory to every Instagram account on the app.

Just like you would type a search term into Google, you can use the search bar on the top of the Explore page to find and discover accounts, hashtags, and locations.

But how does Instagram decide which search results to display?

According to Instagram, the search results you see are based on a variety of factors, including the people you follow, who you’re connected to, and what photos and videos you like on Instagram.

But they’re also based on keywords!

Just like Google, when you search for a keyword on Instagram (like, say, “social media scheduler”), Instagram sorts through millions of accounts to find the most useful, relevant results for what you’re looking for – aka accounts that contain that keyword.

So it’s totally possible to show up for specific keywords in Instagram Search! You just need to optimize your profile for those keywords. Here’s how:

Your Name & Username

If you’re hoping to rank for a keyword like “candle,” it’s a good idea to incorporate that keyword into both your name and username – both are searchable on Instagram.

Of course, this isn’t always going to work, especially when it comes to your username.

Take, for example, the female-owned candle company Otherland. Their username (@otherlandco) doesn’t contain the keyword “candle” in the same way that Lululemon’s username (@lululemon) doesn’t contain the keyword “yoga pants.”

Luckily, the name field in your Instagram bio is also searchable, and completely customizable and separate from your username. So you can change it to words that highlight what your Instagram profile or business is about.

This is a great way to improve your chances of appearing in the top results if anyone searches for your target keywords!

Just head over to your profile and tap “Edit Profile” to change the Name field in your profile.

Check out how Later does this! While our username (@latermedia) doesn’t contain the keyword “social media scheduler,” our name does.

Your Instagram Bio

Just like your Name field, your bio should be optimized with keywords for your brand and business.

You can even add in clickable hashtags into your bio to boost your chances of appearing not just in the search results for your account, but also if someone searches for the hashtag too!

See how health and beauty brand Golde has included keywords like “superfood,” “health,” and “beauty” in the first line of their bio:

This isn’t just a great way to let your new followers know what your brand is about. Instagram also “crawls” bios to gather more context and determine what an account is all about.

Ready to learn what it takes to create a killer Instagram bio in 2021? Check out our ultimate guide!

Instagram SEO #2: Write Descriptive Captions

While Instagram posts are only searchable via hashtags and location tags, there are other ways to increase your content’s discoverability on the Instagram Explore page – like by writing relevant, descriptive captions.

But before we dive into “how,” let’s take a moment to talk about how the Explore page works.

Like with your Instagram feed, Instagram has an Explore page algorithm that is constantly learning from your behaviors on the app (like what accounts you follow and what posts you like and comment on) to determine what content you’ll enjoy most.

That’s why your Explore page looks completely different from your best friend’s Explore page – it’s specifically tailored to what you’ve already shown an interest in on Instagram (along with other factors like the accounts you follow, your location, and how recently a piece of content was posted).

So how does this tie back to captions?

Well, Instagram recently dished on how they use machine learning to determine what content to display on the Explore page. Unsurprisingly, we learned that when making content recommendations on Explore, it focuses on identifying “the most relevant accounts based on individual interests,” rather than searching for individual posts.

In other words, if you’ve shown an interest in latte art, Instagram will take that as a cue to deliver more content from accounts that often post about latte art.

But how does Instagram know when an account is latte art-related… or anything-related for that matter?

According to Instagram, they identify topically similar accounts by using a machine learning method known as “word embedding.”

Basically, what this means is Instagram looks at keywords that are used on accounts to determine how relevant they are to one another. And while some of those keywords come from an account’s name, username, and bio (as we discussed earlier), they also come from the captions you write.

In other words, when you write captions that are descriptive of your business or industry, Instagram will pick up on that and lump you in with topically similar accounts.

This is a somewhat simplified explanation of how Instagram uses AI to choose content for your Explore page, but the main point is this: by using relevant, descriptive keywords in your Instagram captions, you’re more likely to appear on the Explore page for users who have previously expressed an interest in topics related to those keywords.

Looking for more tips on how to plan your Instagram content? Don’t forget to sign up for our free How to Create an Instagram Content Plan workshop with Puno!

Instagram SEO #3: Treat Hashtags Like Keywords

Using relevant, targeted hashtags on your posts and stories is still one of the best ways to get discovered by new audiences on Instagram. And this can translate into more engagement, more followers, and more customers for your business.

To draw a comparison, the effect that Instagram hashtags have on boosting discoverability is a lot like how keywords can improve your SEO (search engine optimization).

If you’re trying to rank for a keyword on Google (like “best acai bowls” or “Toronto salsa class”), you need to create content that’s optimized for that keyword on your blog or website. How else are people going to find you?

The same is true for Instagram hashtags.

If you have a public Instagram account and add a hashtag to a post, that post will be visible on the corresponding hashtag’s results page.

And since hashtags are used with the intent to discover new content, using the “right” hashtags can put you in front of your target audience, even if they haven’t connected with you before.

But hashtags have plenty of uses beyond improving your discoverability. You can use them for community-building, sourcing user-generated content (UGC), running campaigns, researching your audience, and more.

That’s why it’s so important to have a clear and well-crafted hashtag strategy – without one, you could be missing out on opportunities to optimize your account and drive more engagement and followers.

On Later’s Instagram account, we use hyper-relevant hashtags in all of our post captions and first comments, as well as our Instagram Stories.

What you don’t see is all the behind-the-scenes work to organize and sort our hashtags, find new relevant hashtags, and track how they’re performing. But that’s one of the most important parts of nailing your strategy!

Remember: Your Instagram hashtag strategy doesn’t have to be overly complex. What’s most important is that you test and track your efforts so you can see what’s working and what isn’t.

Watch our video to learn everything you need to know about Instagram hashtags!

Instagram SEO #4: Create Your Own Alternative Text

Instagram alt text is a new-ish feature that allows you to write custom alternative text so you can add a richer description of your photos.

And while the feature was mainly designed for Instagram users who have visual impairments, it can also be used for SEO.

At the moment, Instagram creates automatic alternative text so you can hear descriptions of photos through your screen reader.

The feature uses object recognition technology to generate a description of photos for screen readers so you can hear a list of items that photos may contain as you browse the app.

But you can also create custom alternative text when you upload a photo to create a clearer description of what your post is about! Here’s how to do it:

To see and edit alt text for a photo before you post it on Instagram, tap Advanced Settings at the bottom of the screen before posting.

Next, tap Write Alt Text.

Now, simply write your alt text in the box and tap Done!

To change the alt text of a photo after you’ve already posted it on Instagram, go to the photo, tap the ellipsis button, and tap Edit.

Next, tap Edit Alt Text in the bottom right.

Now, simply write the alt text in the box and tap Done.

Instagram SEO #5: Get Tagged

So far we’ve discussed how you can optimize your Instagram profile and content for search and discovery. But there’s another factor that can help drive discovery of your profile on Instagram: tags and mentions.

Although much harder to control, tags and mentions on Instagram are a lot like backlinks on the web.

When someone tags your account in one of their posts or stories, other users who see that post can click through to your profile, which is a great way to drive discovery.

There are a few ways to improve your chances of getting tagged in other people’s posts – but by far the most effective way is to simply create great content that others want to share!

For example, a popular trend in 2020 was users sharing other users’ Instagram posts to their Instagram Stories. Posts like these become clickable stickers, creating a direct link back to the original Instagram post.

Plus, the original poster’s username will be clearly displayed, which is great for fairly crediting the contributors of user-generated content (UGC).

Getting tagged and mentioned is also like a vote of confidence – it tells Instagram that your content is valued and people are interested in it. So it could benefit how you appear on the Explore page or people’s home feeds.

If you can find a way to get more tags and mentions on Instagram, you’ll be well on your way to driving more traffic to your profile and content!

Instagram SEO #6: Track Your Instagram Reach

Wondering if your Instagram SEO efforts are panning out? Then you may want to check your Instagram analytics!

Once you upgrade to a business profile or creator account on Instagram, you can use Instagram Insights to learn more about your followers and the people interacting with your business on Instagram.

To see your Post Insights, open a post on Instagram and tap the View Insights button beneath it.

Now scroll down to the Discovery section.

Here you’ll find a set of insights around how many people saw your content and where they found it, including from their feed (if they’re a follower), hashtags, the Explore page, and “Other” (the “Other” category includes shares, saves, tags, mentions, and notifications).

Using this data, you can quickly determine how optimized your content is for discovery.

Another place to check is your Instagram Insights, which can be accessed directly from your profile.

In the Activity tab, you’ll find data around Discovery (including your overall reach and impressions in the past week) and Interactions, which highlights the number of profile visits you received.

If you’re looking for more insights, you may want to check out Later’s Instagram Analytics, which gives you all the Instagram metrics you know and love from the Instagram app, plus more data in an easy-to-use interface on your desktop!

You’ll also get up to 3 months’ worth of Instagram Stories analytics using Later, instead of just 2 weeks worth of data in the Instagram app.

This makes it a lot easier to discover trends in your content and account’s discovery!

Increase your engagement, optimize your stories, drive traffic and more with Later’s Instagram Analytics!

It can be really helpful to think about Instagram SEO when optimizing your account for discovery!

Not only do many SEO concepts apply to Instagram (like keywords and profile optimization), but it can also help you create a more organized and thoughtful content strategy.

Let us know what you think of our Instagram SEO tips in the comments!

Ready to get organized and plan out your Instagram content in advance? Start scheduling with Later, the #1 Instagram marketing platform trusted by over 2 million businesses! Sign up now – it’s free!

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