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Instagram SEO: 10 Expert Tips for Better Reach + Free Tool

Learn the basics of Instagram SEO to optimize your profile and content, and help your target audience find you in search results.

Christina Newberry January 19, 2024

If your Instagram growth strategy is all about pleasing the algorithm, you’re falling behind the times. As social networks shift to allow users to discover content with greater intention, it’s time to master Instagram SEO.

Keep reading to learn the 10 best ways to optimize your profile and content and get seen by the people who are actively searching for brands similar to yours.

Bonus: Download a free social SEO checklist and follow pro tips for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get your posts seen by more people.

What is Instagram SEO?

Instagram SEO is the practice of optimizing your Instagram content to be discovered in search results on the platform. When someone uses the Instagram search box to look up words related to your business, you want your account or content to appear near the top of the list — and Instagram SEO tactics can help you achieve this goal.

Instagram search results include relevant content, accounts, audio, hashtags, and places.

There are also keyword results pages meant for browsing. Each keyword results page (indicated with a magnifying glass) is essentially an Explore page for that specific keyword.

fashion search results on Instagram
Instagram explore page with search results for "fashion"

Source: Instagram search

Below, we break down the different “types” of Instagram SEO, or parts of your profile that can be optimized for greater visibility.

Instagram bio SEO

Your Instagram bio is an important component of SEO for Instagram. It’s a critical place to include relevant keywords and search terms.

Jen Pistor Instagram bio slow fashion blogger

Source: Jen Pistor on Instagram

Instagram SEO 4.jpg

Use your Instagram bio to provide context for both human visitors and the bots that return search results. Who are you, and what are you all about? What kind of content can people (and the Instagram search engine) expect to find in your grid?

Pro tip: need help rewriting your Instagram bio? Try our free Instagram bio generator.

Instagram name SEO

Instagram name SEO means choosing a handle and profile name that are relevant to your content and include terms people will use to search for accounts like yours.

fashion search results under accounts with SEO keywords

If you’re well known by your brand name, then that’s the best place to start. If there’s room for a relevant keyword in your handle or name, include that too.

Psst: need help choosing a business name? Try our free business name generator.

Instagram alt text SEO

Alt text on Instagram is just like alt text on the web. It’s a text description of an image or video that makes the content accessible to those with visual impairments. It also provides a description of the content in case the photo itself fails to load.

Instagram alt text is also important for SEO because it helps Instagram better understand what’s in your content, and therefore better understand whether it’s relevant to a specific search query.

alt text describes photos for people with visual impairments

Why is Instagram SEO so important?

There was a time when people primarily discovered new Instagram content through hashtags or the Explore page. Those days are over. Now, when people want to find specific types of content on Instagram (and other social media), they use search.

Hootsuite ran an experiment to test Instagram SEO against hashtags. Posts optimized for SEO saw 30% greater reach and twice as many likes. So, if you want to reach a relevant audience that’s actively seeking out brands, products, and services similar to yours, Instagram SEO is the strategy for you.

Instagram SEO ranking factors

SEO, in general, is a little bit art, a little bit science. Instagram SEO is no different. There’s no exact formula to rocket your account to the top of the search rankings.

However, there are three specific Instagram SEO ranking factors that help the search bots understand what content to deliver in response to an Instagram search.

Search text

It’s no surprise that what someone types in the search bar is the most important signal to search. Based on the search terms, Instagram looks for relevant usernames, bios, captions, hashtags, and locations.

User activity

This includes hashtags and accounts the user has followed and interacted with, and which posts they’ve viewed in the past – even from accounts they don’t follow. Accounts and hashtags the user interacts with rank higher than those they don’t.

Even mutual connections make a difference. Look again at the search results returned when I searched “fashion.” Almost all the top results share mutual connections. Your own results for the same search would differ based on the accounts you’re already connected with.

fashion search results top results with mutual connections

Popularity signals

Content that’s already popular is most likely to rank higher in the search results. Instagram determines popularity using signals like the number of clicks, likes, shares and follows.

Free Instagram SEO tool

Use this free tool to generate SEO-friendly captions that will help you get better visibility in Instagram search results.

10 Instagram SEO tactics to increase your reach

1. Use Instagram SEO keywords in your captions

You need to understand what search terms people use to look for content like yours, then incorporate them in your captions.

Free SEO tools for Instagram keyword discovery include Google Analytics (to see which keywords are driving traffic to your website) and Google Trends to uncover other related keywords to test in your Instagram posts

Hootsuite Insights powered by Brandwatch is another good tool for discovering Instagram SEO keywords. Use the word cloud feature to uncover common words used in relation to your brand, industry, or hashtags.

You can also use the Instagram search bar itself to discover relevant keyphrases. Start typing a keyword in the search bar and you’ll see suggested keyword phrases you may want to add to your existing keyword list.

fashion Instagram search suggested keyword phrases

2. Use SEO-driven hashtags

Instagram has shared some specific hashtag tips for showing up in the search results:

  • Use only relevant hashtags.
  • Use a combination of well-known, niche, and specific (think branded or campaign-based) hashtags.
  • Limit hashtags to 3 to 5 per post.
  • Don’t use irrelevant or overly generic hashtags like #explorepage.

And here’s an important PSA: It no longer works to hide hashtags in comments! Hashtags need to be placed directly in the caption to impact the search results.

So, what are the best hashtags for SEO on Instagram?

That depends on your business and your audience. To get a sense of which hashtags are already driving traffic to your posts, take a look at your Instagram Insights. The Insights for any post will tell you how many impressions for that post came from hashtags.

If you’ve used multiple hashtags, Instagram analytics won’t tell you exactly which ones did the heavy lifting. But if you’re sticking to the recommended 3 to 5 hashtags, you should be able to determine which ones consistently drive traffic over time.

You can also use social listening to see what hashtags your target audience, your competitors, and influencers in your industry are already using.

Finally, just like for Instagram SEO keywords, you can use the Instagram search bar for some hashtag research.

Type a keyword into the search bar, then tap Tags to see the top hashtags for that keyword.

fashion tags top hashtags

3. Optimize your alt text

Instagram uses object recognition technology to create an automatic description of each photo for those who use a screen reader. This information also provides information to the Instagram algorithm and search results about the content of your photo.

Of course, the automatic alt text will never be as detailed as alt text created by a human. For example, here’s the auto-generated alt text for a photo I posted on Instagram.

auto-generated alt text for photo of bull elk

Source: @ckjnewberry

The photo is in fact a bull elk. While I did describe the photo as a bull elk in my caption, providing custom alt text here would provide a better experience for those with visual impairments as well as sending better alt text Instagram SEO signals.

To add alt text when you post a photo, scroll down to the bottom of the screen where you write your caption and tap Advanced settings.

Under Accessibility, tap Write alt text and add a photo description that incorporates relevant keywords.

Be sure to follow Instagram’s recommendations for alt text:

  • Add context about objects, concepts, and locations
  • Include any text that appears in the image
  • Aim for 2-3 sentences.

To view or add alt text to an existing photo, open the photo and tap the three dots icon, then tap Edit. At the bottom right of the image, tap Edit alt text.

Enter your alt text, then tap the blue checkmark.

add custom alt text wildlife photography of large bull elk in Jasper National Park

For more details, check out our full post on working with Instagram alt text.

4. Use subtitles for video

Instagram has auto-generated subtitles for videos, which is great for accessibility. But an added bonus of using video subtitles that include your target keywords is that they provide more context for SEO – both within Instagram and on regular search engines.

Adding subtitles essentially allows search crawlers to understand the contents of your video in much greater detail than a simple caption.

We’ve got a whole post that walks you through how to use video captions and subtitles on Instagram, so hop over there for details.

5. Post at the right time

Posting at the right time is an important factor in sparking early engagement, which impacts the popularity ranking signal. Knowing the best times to post ensures your content gets a search boost while it’s still relevant and fresh.

Hootsuite’s Best Time to Publish feature (found under Analytics) tells you the best times to post on Instagram (as well as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok). The recommendations are based on your past performance and tailored to your unique audience and their activity patterns on social.

But, there’s no “best” time to publish for everything. The Best Time to Publish tool goes one step further than the rest and breaks down different suggested times for four key goals:

  • Extend reach
  • Build awareness
  • Increase engagement
  • Drive traffic

This allows you to match each piece of content to a specific business goals and optimize your posting schedule for maximum effectiveness.

Instagram Business best times and days to publish feature

Try for free now

6. Lean into your niche

The tips we’ve talked about so far deal with individual posts. Now we’re moving on to talk about improving the search visibility of your whole account.

The goal of Instagram’s search function is to return the most relevant results to users. One way to signal that relevance is to have a consistent theme to your account. Choose a niche and generally stay within it, posting relevant content that speaks to a consistent set of keywords.

That overall body of work will tell the Instagram search engine that you’ve got more to offer than just one specific post.

Staying focused on a niche is also a good way to build a loyal and engaged following. While that’s an excellent goal on its own, it also contributes to search visibility, since engagement is important for the popularity ranking signal.

7. Add a location to your bio

Include a location in your bio if it’s relevant to your business. Only Business accounts can add a location, so this is just one more reason to make the switch to a business account if you haven’t already done so.

To add a profile location for Instagram bio SEO, open the Instagram app and tap on your profile icon. Tap Edit Profile, then Contact Options. Enter your address, being as specific or as general as you like. You can enter your specific street address if that’s relevant, or just use your city.

Make sure you turn on the slider bar for Display contact info.

Your location only appears on your profile page on the app, not the web version of Instagram. But once it’s attached to your account, it’s a ranking signal to the Instagram search engine regardless of whether your audience is using the app or the web.

For bonus Instagram search points, make sure your business location is taggable so it appears in Instagram’s searchable map.

This requires you to connect your Instagram account to a Facebook Business Page and edit the address on your Facebook Page. This is a bit involved, so we’ve created a video to walk you through it.

8. Engage with accounts that rank for your target keywords

Engaging with accounts that already rank for your target keywords helps Instagram understand what niche your account fits into through the user activity ranking signal.

But beyond that, engaging with fellow Instagram users is a good way to encourage them to engage back with you. And, as we’ve said several times already, engagement is a hugely important popularity ranking signal, so this is an easy way to double-dip on ranking factors. It’s also just a general Instagram best practice!

9. Follow the Recommendations Guidelines

Instagram search results factor in the Instagram Recommendations Guidelines. Accounts that go against these guidelines appear lower in search results or do not appear in search at all.

Keep in mind that the Recommendations Guidelines are more stringent than the Community Guidelines. In short, if you violate the Community Guidelines, your content will be removed from Instagram altogether. If you go against the Recommendations Guidelines, your content will still appear on the platform, but it will be harder to find.

Instagram search avoids recommending content that is “low-quality, objectionable, or sensitive,” as well as content that “may be inappropriate for younger viewers.” Some specific examples of what NOT to do include:

  • Clickbait or engagement bait
  • Exaggerated health claims
  • Unoriginal content copied from another source
  • Misleading claims or content
  • Buying likes

Make sure you’re on the right side of the Recommendations Guidelines by checking your account status.

From your profile, tap the menu icon, then Settings > Preferences (or Account, depending on your account type) > Account Status.

Here you’ll see if anything you’ve posted violates the guidelines, and what you should do about it.

10. Consider Meta Verified (for Creators only)

Meta is currently testing a paid verification bundle that includes “increased visibility and reach with prominence in some areas of the platform – like search, comments and recommendations.”

For now, Meta Verified is only testing in Australia and New Zealand. The paid nature of the program has raised some outcry, so it’s unclear for now where this will go. But it’s definitely something to keep on your radar for potentially greater search exposure.

Note that Meta Verified is (for now, at least) available only to Creators, not Businesses.

Instagram SEO FAQs

Is Instagram SEO-friendly?

Instagram includes many ways to help you boost your search engine optimization both within the app and on external search engines like Google. Keywords, hashtags, and locations are all important when thinking about SEO for Instagram.

Do hashtags help SEO?

Hashtags help SEO on Instagram, but only if they are directly relevant to your content and help provide context that aids the Instagram search engine in understanding what your content is about. Using too many hashtags, or irrelevant hashtags, will not help your SEO (and could potentially hurt engagement).

Use Hootsuite to schedule Instagram posts at the best time, respond to comments, track competitors, and measure performance—all from the same dashboard you use to manage your other social networks. Start your free trial today.

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By Christina Newberry

Christina Newberry is an award-winning writer and editor whose greatest passions include food, travel, urban gardening, and the Oxford comma—not necessarily in that order.

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