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How Instagram SEO Works

You may have heard people talking about one particularly shiny fish in the marketing ocean recently - Instagram SEO. But what the shell is all about and how can we master it for our businesses? We’ll take a look at how it all works, and by the end of this guide, hopefully, you’ll feel like you’re up this creek very much with a paddle!


What the shell is Instagram SEO (and why do we care?)


SEO, otherwise known as Search Engine Optimisation, might be familiar to you from the world of working out how to get noticed on Google or writing blogs. Now SEO has washed up on the shores at Instagram HQ, and the great thing is that the general principles are the same as those you might already have heard about! Just in case, let’s recap in a coconut shell:

Keywords and phrases can help businesses to be more visible and appear on Google search pages, and now Instagram’s search bar is getting in on the action. The Instagram search bar is like a shiny pearl hidden unearthed from within an oyster shell - it’s always been there, but now it’s getting its time to shine. It’s about to become a key tool for businesses and brands to appear in Instagram search results and even on Google itself.

When you search for something on Instagram, for example ‘starfish earrings’, top results will appear on what looks roughly like the Instagram Explore page - just like on Google! The goal for your business or brand is for your posts to appear as close to the top of this sea of results as possible so your people can find you easily.

The upshot of this is that we’re going to have to really hone in on a niche and focus on our target audience and customers, as opposed to concentrating on spreading our message as far across the seven seas as possible. This should enable us to really see a return on your efforts - think more leads, enquiries and sales - shell-rific, right?

I'm sure you’re ready to get ahead of the wave, so we’re going to dive deeper into how we can start using Instagram SEO right now!

The advantages of Instagram SEO


It’s okay, I can practically hear you wondering how more changes to Instagram can possibly be a good thing, but as a social media manager I think this is a fantastic development and here are three things things I love about

Instagram SEO:

  1. Smaller accounts will have more leverage and exposure on both Instagram and Google, meaning you’ll be able to make a splash with the right people

  2. Instagram SEO overrides the algorithm, which means we have greater control over our posts by using simple SEO techniques (we’re getting to it!)

  3. With the new Search feature, your posts have the potential to be found more easily on the Search Results page!

Here's an example of users searching with key phrases and the posts generated from that key phrase on Instagram's Search Results page:

The feature I think will really make waves however, is that Instagram posts are now able to be found on Google just like websites, blogs and Facebook pages. It seems that Instagram’s ecosystem is growing, which means brilliant things for your business!

Now, let’s get to the ‘how to’ part, shall we?

How to ‘do’ Instagram SEO: Four Methods


I’ve broken this section down into 4 easily explored little islands for you, each containing practical tips you can start implementing NOW to benefit your Instagram SEO!


Captions have always been important, providing information for your customers, clients and followers to substantiate the lovely image you picked out. Now, they’re bigger businesses than ever! It’s time to hone in on your psychic ability and tap into the mind of your ideal customer, asking yourself this:

"If I were searching for [insert your product or service here] what would I type into the search bar?"

I’ll use one of my lovely clients as an example. She sells dog harnesses in the UK, so we’d be thinking that her potential customers would want to search for "dog harnesses uk". It really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that when you’re thinking about your SEO keywords and phrases. Using this phrase within one of her captions could help direct her ideal customers to her posts, enabling them to buy from her more easily!

As a service-based business the same principles apply; someone might type "social media tips" into the Instagram search bar, and if your caption includes that all-important phrase then you’ll appear higher up the results they find.


The ‘Location’ tag on Instagram can often be forgotten about, but it’s been given a new lease of life thanks to Instagram SEO. This is particularly important if you’re a local business or operate in a smaller area; you need to target customers and clients in your vicinity. Tagging your location using a town, county or even country alongside some locational hashtags could just mean you’re sailing towards some new business.

Locational hashtags look a bit like this:

Hashtags…Yep, They're Back!

Guidance around hashtags changes frequently, but with the introduction of Instagram SEO they’re going to be your little rescue dinghy when your captions start getting out of control. It could be quite a challenge fitting all those keywords into your caption and making it read naturally, so I recommend trying to use around 3 for your best chance of appearing on the search results page.

So, since we can’t have keyword chaos in our captions, hashtags can do some of the heavy liftings for us. Recently, people have been using fewer hashtags that are more relevant to the subject of their post, and this is shellrific SEO practice. Remember these 3 things when using hashtags for Instagram SEO:

  1. Hashtags can act as keywords for Instagram’s ‘bot’ to identify your posts and show them in the right place

  2. Using hashtags that your customers or clients would also likely use can really help - for my followers, it might be something like #socialmediatips

  3. You can also try using industry-relevant hashtags to reach new customers and clients that will fall in love with your business! Things like #fashion, #marketing and #design are good starting points

Instagram Bio

Don’t underestimate the tsunami-like power of your Instagram bio - I’d go so far as to say it’s the most powerful tool on your profile! The key here is to have a very precise username [your @ handle] and display name [that bit in bold underneath]. It’s easier said than done because your characters are limited, so it’s time to get creative and precise.

Here’s an example based on a fashion stylist working from a particular location:


You could use your brand name and occupation e.g. @elliepersonalstylist, or for a product-based business try your brand name and what you sell e.g. @lizziehandmadejewellery

Display Name:

Keep it short, snappy and descriptive for example;

"Personal Stylist UK’ or ‘Handmade Jewellery LA"

Really take your time diving into your bio, and try to look at it from the perspective of someone who has never seen your account before - what information do they need to know exactly what you do? This is useful because Google will use that same information to decide where to dock your ship!

Tools to help you with Instagram SEO


Finally, there are some tools that can help you ride the Instagram SEO wave. These will have you feeling like you’re surfing with ease in no time!

Instagram’s explore page shows you what it has calculated you might be interested in, but it also shows you some suggested keywords at the very top. It recommends these based on what’s already on your explore page, and the results here are strong indicators of what people are searching for. You can use this as a point of reference for your own Instagram SEO endeavours.

Another key tool is good old-fashioned market research! Go beach-combing on your competitors’ posts and see which hashtags they’re using, and don’t forget to check whether it’s working for them by assessing the level of engagement on their content. Often, the best tool with Instagram is trial and error so give it a whirl and see what happens!

Remember, if something isn’t working that’s OK! You won’t ‘break’ or ‘hurt’ your Instagram SEO by getting it wrong a few times before you get it right, but do always try to find a solution so you can change it up and try something else that might work better.

I hope you’ve found this insightful and that it’s given you some tips to go off and try out Instagram SEO for yourself. While you’re busy creating content, you might want to refer back to my recent post in which I talk about learning to love your socials again - often we can become so engrossed in the technique and the process that we forget this part. If you’re keen to get to grips with Instagram SEO but feel you need a more personalised push off the shore, check out my social media coaching and strategy sessions here.

Don’t forget to follow Aloha Social on Instagram for more tips and tricks to help you flourish…coming soon to a Search Result near you!


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