Instagram SEO – 10 best practices to boost your presence

With Instagram officially reaching more than a billion active monthly users, it is a great platform to expose your brand or build online followers. If you are looking to boost your reach and engagement read our list of 10 practices to boost followers using instagram SEO skills.

1. Improve your profile

If you click on the search icon at the bottom of your Instagram feed, you will be presented with the Instagram Explore page. It is a window to every Instagram account on the app. Similarly, to Google, searching using search terms will provide you with results in accounts, hashtags and places.

Instagram sorts through millions of accounts to find the most relevant and helpful results. So, if you type in a number of keywords how does Instagram know which accounts to show?

Instagram search results are based on various categories:

  1. People you follow,
  2. The people that you are connected to,
  3. Previous photos and reels you liked
  4. Keywords

The one thing you can control is the keywords. This is where you need to make the effort!

As you can see, your account is indexed using certain keywords. It all depends on knowing where to place these keywords in your account.

Name and username

You can choose to add a keyword in your username if you would like to rank for a certain keyword. For example, if you are a physical trainer and want to promote your workout videos, you would add “trainer” or “workout” at the end of your username.

However, this is not always possible, especially if you are trying to promote your brand name. As you can see not all these accounts have ‘workout’ or ‘trainer’ in their username. Luckily, Instagram does not only consider the username, but it also indexes your name in your Instagram bio. It is entirely customizable and separate to your username.

The name can be modified to focus what your Instagram profile or product is about. Changing your username or name will help you rank higher for the targeted keywords. Consider using hashtags too to make your account even more discoverable.

User Bio

As with the Name field, the bio should include keywords and hashtags. The bio is also crawled by Instagram, including keywords and hashtags. Doing this will help the crawler identify what your content is about and help promote your brand better. Also, using hashtags will not only allow you to appear in account search results but also if a user searches for hashtags.

How to do this:

Go to your profile and tap “Edit Profile“. Locate the username, name and Bio fields. Change them accordingly.

Here are some more suggestions to improve your user profile for better reach:

  • Change your profile to public
  • Choose a colourful branded profile image that stands out
  • Register for an Instagram business account (gives you access to statistics about your account)
  • Insert a trackable link in your bio

2. #Hashtags = Keywords

Using relevant hashtags inside your posts and stories remains the most reliable way to be found by new people on Instagram. Placing these hashtags can bring more engagement, more followers and potentially convert more customers to your business.

The same way you optimize your content in your blogs in websites for targeted keywords, the same needs to be done with hashtags. Think of hashtags as your keywords. To improve your ranking for a certain hashtag, you need to produce content that is optimized for that hashtag.

If your account is public, your post will be visible in the search results under the hashtag’s results page. Searching by hashtags is a portal for users discovering new content. Using the right hashtags will make it easier for interested users to find you.

As soon as you submit, your post will appear under the recent tab under the corresponding tags. If your posts get enough engagement you will appear in the top section.

Hashtags are not only useful for user reach, but they can be helpful in building a community, generating user-content, running campaigns, and analyzing your audience. Clearly, it is essential that you have to have a hashtag strategy otherwise you must be missing out on a lot of opportunities.

Here’s an example of how to add relevant hashtags to your posts.

First comment tags also count when being discovered via hashtag search.

instagram seo: hashtags

Here are the top 4 tips to use for your hashtag strategy:

Optimize your hashtag effectiveness

Firstly, add hashtags to your Instagram bio. Including a hashtag before any word in your bio will immediately make it clickable. Secondly, add hashtags to your stories. When people search for a hashtag if it is popular enough, they can see a collection of stories on the page. You can add up to 10 hashtags in your stories. If you don’t want to appear intrusive with tags, you can hide the hashtags under a sticker.

Keep your hashtags neat

Using 10 or more hashtags in your posts seems to be the threshold to really improve your overall engagement rate. However, this is not set in stone and the best way is to test what best works for you. To avoid being spammy, use linebreaks in your post to hide your tags or post your hashtags in the first comment. This will also ensure that your users will not be distracted from your caption with your tags.

Later has a tool called Post Scheduler where you can schedule your posts at certain times. Along with this post, you can also enter your hashtags in your first comment.

Find suitable hashtags for your business

It can be intriguing to use the most common searched for tags. But if you are aspiring to reach your target audience, it is better to use less common, more niche hashtags that have a targeted audience that is relevant to your business.

There are different types of hashtags:

  • Community hashtags – like #FoodiesOfInstagram that are great for connecting with like-minded users.
  • Branded hashtags – for example #TrainWithUs for Reflex Total Fitness gym that can be used to promote your business in a generic way.
  • Campaign-specific hashtags – like #LaterCon which are used to promote a new product or event.
So how do you find cool niche hashtags for your business?

Look at other hashtags that your competitors are using and see what your targeted audiences are already searching for. Follow similar industries that already have a high influence and use their posts as inspiration to gather which hashtags to use.

You can also use Later’s Hashtag suggestion feature to find new hashtags. It automatically finds related hashtags for your posts based on other hashtags that you are already utilising.

Keep hashtags organized

You can create multiple hashtag lists based on your topics. The aim is to collect and categorise them and insert them into your post with just one click. A convenient way of doing this is by using best-hashtags. It easily allows you to search for the related tags based on a topic.

Use branded hashtags

Make use of branded hashtags to build a community and spread the word about your business. According to Later, 70% of the most used hashtags are branded and used by businesses. It gives your audience a place to share relevant content. A good example is #airbnbphoto where people can share photos of their experiences and their accommodation. Make your hashtag catchy and unique but use familiar words and brand-centric slogans. Once you find the branded hashtags you want, start promoting it using different social media.

3. Describe your captions clearly

Another way to be discovered on Instagram Explorer page is by writing relevant descriptive keywords inside your captions.

Why is this important?

Instagram recently outlined the way their Instagram Explore algorithm works. They use what is known as “word embedding” which compares topically similar accounts to determine the relevancy to each other. While as we discussed previously, the keywords come from hashtags used in name, username and bio, they are also captured from the captions you write.

So, let’s say you frequently like and follow baking recipes, Instagram will learn that you are interested in this. Therefore, writing descriptive captions that include your targeted keywords like baking and other related tags for baking, will help you be discovered easier from users who have the same interests.

Since Instagram look for accounts rather than individual posts, it is important to keep this consistent. Combin Scheduler can come in handy if you want to schedule your posts and create optimized captions and group hashtags.

4. Formulate Alternative Text

Instagram alt text is a relatively new feature that provides the ability to add custom alternative text to create a richer description of your photos. The feature is intended for visually impaired users, but you can take advantage of this feature to help your Instagram SEO.

If you do not modify this text, Instagram automatically adds this alternative text for you based on object recognition technology. However, you have the chance to create a clearer description of what your post is about. Here is how:

You haven’t published photo yet: Tap on Advanced Settings at the bottom of the screen. Next tap on Write Alt Text. Lastly, just write you Alt Text in the text box provided and tap Done.

Your photo already uploaded: Click on the ellipsis button and tap Edit. Next, tap Edit Alt Text. Likewise, just write your Alt Text in the textbox and tap Done.

5. Treat tags & mentions like backlinks

One factor that can aid in the growth of your profile on Instagram: tags and mentions.

Although tougher to manage, user tags and mentions are much like having a lot of backlinks on the web. When someone tags your account in one of their posts or stories, other users who see their post or story can click and be directed to your profile.

There is no simple way of doing this other than creating great content that makes other users want to share it. It seems 2020 brought with it a trend for sharing other user’s Instagram posts to their stories. Posts like these are a backlink to the original post with the username of who posted it clearly labelled. This is a great way to credit other people’s content.

Getting tagged and mentioned is also a way of telling Instagram that your content can be trusted, and people are interested in it. So, if you can find a way to achieve this, your account will see big growth.

6. Change your URL and location frequently

Changing your URL frequently can direct people to different product pages and promotional articles. Think of it as a potential to convert your followers to customers.

With regards to location, most of the times, brands that have an online business or offer worldwide deliveries have a habit of opting out from using a location. However, changing your locations every so often in your posts will attract users from different specific regions or cities.

On the other hand, if your business doesn’t really profit from using a specific location, you can use the location field for something else. Simply just type in anything you want such as revealing information about a new product or brand. Funnily enough, inventive locations will grab the user’s attention.

Here’s an example of how a location strategy with inventive locations helped NBA star Joel Embiid grow in his followings:

Joel Embiid Instagram

7. Optimize your photos

At the end of the day, Instagram is a visual platform. The quality of your photos is what makes you. Content must be easily perceptible. Using Instagram’s inbuilt photo editor will help your images look crisper and beautiful with filters and correction tools.

Instagram uses object recognition that classifies the photos according to the content. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the alt text is automatically added using this technology. This will, in turn, help you be shown in the right listings.

8. Use Instagram Analytics

Use Analytics tools to understand how your Instagram SEO strategy is affecting your social media ambitions.

If you have a business profile you can use Instagram Insights to study your followers and the people interacting with your posts.

To check out your Post Insights, open a post on Instagram and tap the View Insights button below it.


Now click on View Insights button.

In this section, you will find stats on how many people actually saw your content and how they found it such as their own feed (if follower), hashtags, Explore page or other forms (shares, mentions, tags and so on)

For more overall stats about your account, you can go to your account page and click Insights. This will show you your overall reach and impression and actual engagements in the last 7 days.

Instagram is all well and good if you want to just track current data. For marketing use, this may not be sufficient. Social media analytic tools such as Hootsuite, Sprinklr or Sprout social will give you more robust analytical tools to track your account in more detail.

9. Don’t fall for the Black hat SEO traps

Google isn’t the only service that punishes users for using Black Hat SEO tactics. Instagram recently has started detecting accounts that try to get away with cheating. This technique is known as shadowban and it is used for users that continually break the rules.

Here are some typical Instagram black hat SEO tactics to stay away from:

  • Don’t plagiarise content.
  • Prevent making use of bots.
  • Never keyword stuff your posts.
  • Avoid following a lot of accounts at a fast rate.
  • Don’t purchase followers.

Although it may be tempting to do these things to see quick results, the consequences may be unfortunate if you are detected. Build your Instagram account the right way and avoid these techniques if possible.

10. Create competitions and offers

If you want to attract a ton of users, creating competitions and campaigns can really drive traffic to your page. Asking users to follow, like, comment, mention or tag a friend will expose your brand to other potential Instagram followers.

Final thoughts and recommendations

Using Instagram SEO techniques can seem daunting at first, but if you follow these guidelines you are likely to see the boost of followers and interaction you need. It’s never been a better day to start posting!

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