Among marketers, Instagram is the most-used social media platform, providing the second-highest ROI for any social network ad campaign. But as a result of its popularity, getting users to notice your posts is harder than it’s ever been.

That’s why, increasingly, brands are translating search engine optimization (SEO) principles to Instagram.

The bar chart shows the best social media channels for the highest return on investment.

A well-rounded Instagram SEO strategy gives you the tools and tactics to create high-quality content that gets found on Instagram. It also allows you to build brand identity, and it can even increase your visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs).

What is Instagram SEO?

Instagram SEO is the process of making your Instagram content more visible in user search results, both on the Instagram platform and search engine results pages from Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Both of these outcomes are designed to ultimately increase web traffic to your brand’s website via your Instagram profile. For this digital marketing strategy to work, it takes engaging visual content and the discipline to optimize all the finer details of your Instagram account. Together, these elements work to make your overall brand more valuable in the eyes of the search algorithm.

Does Instagram help SEO?

Search engines have different approaches to social signals for ranking purposes. Google has stated that it does not use a brand’s social media activity to determine rankings. There is, however, evidence that social signals do play an indirect role in how brands perform on SERPs.

A strong social profile can:

  • Generate more backlinks to your website
  • Demonstrate your brand’s credibility within the industry
  • Expose your content to a wider audience
  • Rank in the top results for certain topics
  • Establish trust among customers
  • Solidify brand identity and reputation

So, while Instagram might not directly influence your SEO results, its benefits make it a strong tool for enhancing many areas of your SEO strategy.

The great news is that social signals are a Bing ranking factor. Bing looks at your social profiles to understand your brand’s value to users. The higher your engagement on Instagram and other platforms, the higher your potential rankings. And like these search engines, Instagram has its own internal ranking algorithm that decides how many people will potentially see your posts.

How does the Instagram search algorithm work?

In the past, the Instagram algorithm was used to display content according to when it was posted. The newest content was at the top of the feed, and the oldest content was at the bottom.

Since then, the process has changed. The platform now curates individual feeds for users based on a series of ranking factors, not the date that content is posted. These factors include:

  • Relationship: Does the user have a history of interacting with you on the app? Do they save or search for your content? Do you respond to their comments or follow them?
  • Interest: What type of content does the user like the most? Instagram will prioritize the user’s interests to show them the most relevant posts.
  • Timeliness: How recent is the content? Users tend to find more value with new posts.
  • Frequency of use: How often does the user get on Instagram? The more active the user, the more likely they are to see your posts.
  • Following: How many people does the user follow? The more people they follow, the harder it will be for them to see every post.
  • Session time: How long does the user stay on the app? The longer they’re on, the more posts they’re likely to see.

When deciding what to display, the search engine considers a user’s past behavior. It then cross-references these ranking factors against all available results and decides what is most relevant to the user’s interests.

To rank higher, you must put out great content while also establishing a strong brand identity and reputation. Using keywords, optimizing images, and building meaningful relationships with users and other brands are just some of the ways you can do this.

Instagram SEO tips for 2021

What makes Instagram SEO an essential social media marketing strategy is that it can also help your website’s SEO performance. While some of these tactics are specific to Instagram, others improve your brand across the web as a whole.

Taking a holistic approach to Instagram optimization will ensure that your posts have the best chance of reaching your target audience.

Answer the question: What are good SEO keywords for Instagram?

One of the major Instagram updates is that users can now search for keywords. This means that users can search for content similarly to how they do on Google.

You can improve your Instagram business account’s rankings by targeting specific keywords. You’ll need to do some keyword research to rank for the best terms.

Within Instagram itself, you can search for individual keywords and make a note of how many posts they have already. A low number of posts may indicate that it’s not a popular term, but this may not be the case. It could simply mean that not many people have created content for that keyword yet.

Popular research tools like Ahrefs or Google Keyword Explorer are typically more effective at finding search terms. That’s because they analyze both search volumes and the current content offering. They generate a keyword difficulty score which you can use to decide if you want to target certain terms. But these are made for finding terms in Google and other search engines.

The screenshot shows the ahrefs dashboard.

For Instagram, hashtag generators may be the best place to discover keywords. They will be reflective of popular social media searches as opposed to Google searches.

If you want to drive more traffic or gain new followers, head terms are the best type of keywords to target. They have larger search volumes and expose your brand to a wider audience.

The image shows a line graph of how head terms have higher search volume and higher traffic potential.

If your goal is to make more sales or gain more subscribers, long-tail keywords are better. These terms are tailored to a more specific audience and are more likely to convert. They also are great for smaller brands because there’s less competition to rank for them. This helps business owners find their own niche on the platform to interact with customers and avoid getting lost within broader categories.

Add alt text to your images

Alternative text is a staple of good image SEO. It tells the search engine what an image means. This is helpful for three primary reasons:

  1. It helps crawlers understand the context of an image, given that crawlers can’t “see” images the way humans do.
  2. It makes content more accessible to visually impaired users who may not be able to view the images.
  3. It is shown in place of images if the browser can’t load them for some reason.

You can add your own alt text to Instagram photos through the “Advanced Settings” tab. Click on the “Write Alt Text” box and input your description there. Once you’re done, make sure to save the edits and head back to the post-editing page to finalize and publish your content.

The screenshot shows advance settings for image settings in Instagram.

You must write user-friendly alt text. The text should accurately describe the contents of the image and contain your target keyword. It should also provide the correct context by aligning with the main topic of the post. Avoid using redundant words like “picture of” and keep the description as short as possible while including only the most relevant details.

Optimize your captions for the Explore Page

The Instagram Explore Page is where users can discover public content from across the platform. It displays Instagram stories, posts, and reels that are related to a user’s search habits. This includes content from either page they follow or accounts they haven’t visited yet.

The Explore page algorithm considers what content users have previously engaged with or searched for. It also factors in the types of accounts they currently follow and which public posts are resonating well with other users. Using all of this information, Instagram tailors the Explore page to each unique user.

The goal of the Explore Page is to introduce users to new content and keep them interested in the platform. For businesses, this presents an opportunity to reach users organically. One of the best ways to do this is with Instagram captions.

Since keywords are now searchable through the platform, using them in your posts is a great way to find new Instagrammers searching for the content they love.

Your caption content should demonstrate to the search engine how the post is relevant to a specific topic. If it does, users are more likely to see your Instagram posts in their Explore Page when they search for a relevant keyword.

Writing good Instagram captions comes down to understanding your audience. Do they want a full explanation or description? Are they looking to be entertained? What tone best matches the topic?

Short Instagram captions work well for entertaining posts where the focus is on the image:

The screenshot shows how to optimize captions for the explore page.

This is a good way to direct attention to your partnerships or other resources. Many brands will use a simple sentence followed by “link in bio” to explore more.

Your captions can have up to 2,200 characters, so sometimes you can use them for a long, detailed explanation:

The screenshot shows how brands use detailed captions on Instagram to improve Instagram SEO.

Try to incorporate things like:

  • Pricing information
  • Manufacturing details
  • Ingredients and/or materials
  • Brand history
  • Discussion of a social issue impacting the industry
  • Client testimonials

Again, what you put here will depend on the type of content. If your pictures show a product, use the caption to explain why users should buy it. If you’re trying to engage with your audience through the post itself, consider writing a caption that reads more like a blog and poses a question.

Captions should satisfy user intent just like website content does. Whether the post is designed to entertain or inform, it should have all the information that users want. Try writing out your captions outside of Instagram (notes app, Word, etc.) before posting them. This gives you time to edit and revise, planning captions ahead of time, so they’re easier to pare down and upload.

Think of hashtags as keywords

Instagram hashtags function similarly to the way keywords do in Google. They are great for generating new followers and increasing your overall visibility. In fact, they are the second most-used tool in social media marketing:

The bar chart shows the top three social media marketing tactics that companies use: social listening, hashtags, and live video.

When Instagram users type a hashtag into the search bar, they see any posts with that tag.

The screenshot shows why it's important to use hashtags on Instagram for image optimization.

The target keyword of your post should be one of the hashtags you use, along with any other relevant terms. For example, if your target keyword is “breakfast recipes,” you can also add hashtags like #healthybreakfastrecipes, and #cookingideas.

These tags keep your post within view of your target audience (people looking for breakfast recipes) but expand them to users who want a healthy option or are looking for cooking information in general.

Use tools like Hashtags for Likes or Inflact to find popular terms or industry-specific tags that you can add to your posts. These are some of the other ways you can use hashtags in your posts:

  • Add them to your Instagram stories.
  • Make each hashtag unique so that you get the most out of this space in your post.
  • Avoid using the same hashtags on every post. This violates the Instagram community guidelines for “posting repetitive comments or content.”
  • Only join hashtag trends that make sense for your brand.
  • Create branded hashtags that you can use to direct people specifically to your content.

You also don’t want to use too many hashtags, and research shows that 11 is the best number to have. Too many hashtags can distract users from the content itself and make your post look cluttered. It can also be an ineffective use of your time as well. Rather than tagging every possible idea, stick to only those which get your post in front of more people and/or develop your brand awareness.

The infographic shows how Instagram uses hashtags for Instagram SEO.

Hashtags are a powerful tool for Instagram content marketing because you can use them to generate interest in a specific product, event, or service. Unique and specific hashtags for your campaigns can deepen your brand identity and make it easier for users to connect specifically with your posts.

Optimize your bio with keywords

Instagram crawls user bios to find relevant accounts for certain topics. That’s why you need to optimize your bio. It can help you rank higher within your niche. Your Instagram bio is the first thing that a user sees when they click on your profile.

It includes your profile photo, Instagram username, and a written bio section. Failing to use this digital real estate to its potential is a missed opportunity for visibility.

In this section, you’ll want to use your brand’s primary keyword, so Instagram better understands what type of content you create. Adding secondary keywords here is another helpful strategy.

This example shows the primary keyword “bakery” and secondary keywords like “baked from scratch” and “recipe” in the brand’s bio:

The image shows how to use keywords on your Instagram profile.

Notice that this account also added its brand name in the bio, further establishing its brand identity. Include additional information here to create a captivating title tag for your post. In the example above, the brand name could have read:

“Magnolia Bakery — New York’s Best Desserts”

On SERPs, this is how the title tag would be displayed to users. Whatever you put in this field shows up before your InstagramThe screenshot shows the search engine result for Magnolia Bakery. handle in search results:


In this example, this listing would read:

“Magnolia Bakery — New York’s Best Desserts (@magnoliabakery)”

The extra details would tell Google that the brand is relevant to dessert content and may consider it for future rankings in that niche.

You can include hashtags and a website link that users can click on in your bio as well. This is the only place where you can add a clickable link, so using this feature is important if you want

Create new content consistently

To appear credible and active, you need to post on a consistent schedule. If you upload content sporadically, your page is also less effective at engaging with users.

If users visit your Instagram account and see that your last post is from 7 months ago, it’s a sign that you’re less committed to creating content. Why should they follow a brand that doesn’t create content for them to consume?

Consistency is also key for better SEO performance metrics. Since the algorithm displays recent and relevant information, having a regular posting schedule improves your potential rankings.

Without consistent engagement, it’s hard to gain traction within your niche, and you’ll be less likely to earn new followers. The fewer followers, likes, comments, and shares you have from your posts, the less website traffic you’ll gain from your account.

Promote your website content

Use your Instagram profile to promote your website content. Do this by sharing a high-quality image from the blog post or page to which you want to drive traffic. Then, use the caption to summarize key points and explain what value the readers will get from the content.

You can even adjust your bio link to take visitors to the piece of content and adjust the link based on your most recent piece of content as you publish more. This is an easy way to boost your Google SEO performance, build backlinks, and improve your audience engagement all at once.

Build partnerships

Collaborating with other brands can boost your page visitors, followers, and potentially your site visitors as well. Through partnerships, many brands benefit from cross-promotion.

Using Instagram’s tagging feature, brands can promote their partners. This allows business accounts to tap into each others’ Instagram followers and promote new products or campaigns.

The screenshot shows how to use Instagram’s tagging feature, and how it helps brands promote their partners.

When you partner with other brands, you increase your profile’s discoverability. You also have the opportunity to earn backlinks from the collaborations. If your partners have a good reputation with the search engine, these links and associated tags can indirectly boost your SEO performance.

Prioritize engagement

Strong social signals come down to engagement. The purpose of social media is to connect and engage with your audience, and the more successful you are at doing that, the more Instagram wants to show your content to its users. After all, engagement is good for Instagram, too.

But with so many Instagram photos and posts each day, how do you capture users’ attention?

The infographic displays that 300 million photos are uploaded on Instagram daily.

The best type of posts are the ones that speak to your audience. You have to keep the user’s wants and needs at the center of your content creation strategy. Beyond audience relevance, there are many ways to increase engagement on your posts:

  • Use only high-quality images
  • Demonstrate your product or service (how-to videos, practical uses for a product, etc.)
  • Include a call-to-action
  • Host a competition
  • Conduct an audience survey or “ask me anything” session
  • Do a giveaway
  • Let users see the background operations (meet the team, see the manufacturing process, etc.)
  • Encourage users to comment (pose a question)

Not every demographic engages with content in the same way. If you implement one of these techniques and it doesn’t work, try another.

The main goal is to learn how your audience wants to interact with content. Implementing the right strategy can improve your Instagram analytics and help you understand your target market on a deeper level.

Ask yourself: What does my audience respond best to? What content do they want to see? What other brands are they engaging with? The answers to these questions will help direct your Instagram content strategy.

Share your location

As part of your local SEO strategy, you should share your location with users. This expands your audience reach and is a user-friendly feature as well. When someone clicks on your store’s location, they will see all of your posts and posts from customers at that location.

If you don’t have a physical storefront, you can still use the location feature to solidify your brand identity. One Instagram tactic is to use locations like your very own brand category–the more unique and specific, the better. Many influencers come up with clever terms to make their posts stand out on the Explore Page:

The screenshot shows how to use the location setting on Instagram.

You can put a brand catch-phrase like Nike’s “Just Do It” or a fictional location that relates your products, company mission, etc. Sharing your location is an easy way to connect with more customers and promote your content no matter how you use it.

Get a complimentary SEO audit

Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has grown into one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. With over a billion monthly users, it’s no wonder Instagram is a top choice for marketers to promote content and build brand identity.

But to compete with these brands, you’ll need an Instagram SEO strategy. It will ensure you produce user-friendly content that demonstrates your brand’s relevance and credibility within your niche.

Want to see how you’re doing with SEO? Get an instant SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost search traffic revenue by 700%.