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Instagram Opens Lid On Search Algorithms

Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, explains how to boost Search rankings

Following Instagram's recent breakdown of its algorithms for Feed, Stories, Reels and Explore, Instagram has lifted the veil on how its search algorithms work.

The original objective of Search was to help users navigate the platform.

However, now Search plays a much more significant role within the Instagram user experience. Helping marketers reach new customers, engaging fresh audiences and driving traffic back to your website.

The good news is that Instagram search isn't that complicated, especially when compared to Google. Although, it does further demonstrate the importance of ensuring rich and detailed copywriting when posting to the popular photo-sharing app. Something which all too often is considered a rushed afterthought.

Verbose and engaging captions not only boost direct engagement but are essential in driving greater visibility and reaching new audiences for free.

Three main signals

As well as the text users enter into the search bar, Instagram also uses 'signals' to help users in their quest to find what they're looking for.

  • User activity. The accounts users follow, posts viewed, and accounts they've interacted with impact their search results. Unsurprisingly, accounts and hashtags a user follows or has visited rank higher than those they don't.
  • Information about the search result. If there are lots of possible results, popularity signals are considered. These are things like clicks, likes, shares and follows for an account, place or hashtag.

Boost visibility in Search

To help increase visibility in search results, Instagram recommends the following best practices:

  1. Use a fitting name. Insta recommends that you use a handle or profile name related to your posts' content to help your account show up in Search. Using a fitting name may not be possible for all brands, but it's something worth considering.
  2. Use relevant keywords and locations in your bio. Make sure your bio has keywords about who you are, and if your business is location-specific, make sure to include it.
  3. Optimise your captions. Your captions need to have hashtags and keywords in them, not in the comments. For years, comments and captions have been a point of debate among marketers, but now Insta has addressed it directly. Get those hashtags in the caption!

Follow the recommended guidelines

Marketers need to make sure they follow Instagram's Recommended Guidelines, otherwise, they will be penalised.

Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram

"We avoid showing you accounts, posts and hashtags that go against our Recommendations Guidelines in search results.

Accounts that post spam or violate our guidelines may appear lower in search results, and you may have to search their full username to find them."

Most are simple enough to avoid (easy on the fake Viagra, OK!), but others are easily triggered; see bolded. Brands need to be careful not to fall foul of the following:

  • Unoriginal content repurposed from another source without adding material value.
  • Content that promotes a contest or giveaway.
  • Content that promotes the use of some regulated products, adult products or services or pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Content that may be sexually explicit or suggestive.
  • Content that promotes misleading or deceptive business models.
  • Content attempting to see products or services based on health-related claims or content containing exaggerated health claims.
  • Content promoting or depicting cosmetic procedures.

Marketers may still wish to run contests or giveaways or post memes on their page, but just be warned that it will hinder their performance in Search. There will be a balancing act to judge here, as these two tactics may bring in the likes, but they will limit you in discovery outside of existing followers.

Do not cross Instagram's community guidelines

One thing you must avoid at all costs is a violation of Community Guidelines.

Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram

"Accounts, hashtags and posts that violate our Community Guidelines are removed from Instagram entirely, which prevents them from showing up in Search."

Again, as per the Recommendations Guidelines, most are easy enough to avoid, but some are pretty broad, see bolded. Instagram's Community Guidelines state that you must:

  • Share only photos and videos you've taken or have a right to share.
  • Post photos and videos appropriate for a diverse audience.
  • Foster meaningful and genuine interactions.
  • Follow the law.
  • Respect other members of the Instagram community.
  • Maintain our supportive environment by not glorifying self-injury.
  • Be thoughtful when posting newsworthy events.

Search visibility will be improved in the future

Instagram is working on changes to Search that will help improve visibility for brands and users.

Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram

"We are soon launching a series of improvements designed for inspiration and discovery. These changes make Instagram Search more than just a way to find accounts and hashtags.

We're moving towards a full search results page experience that makes it even easier to go deep on your interests."

Instagram is working on refining its keyword search results in English and will add other languages in the future. It'll also make Search a better place for exploration, which could mean brands see enhanced discovery and better engagement, helping grow reach on platform.

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