Trying to get your Instagram profile out there a little more? One thing you might want to think about doing is making it more search-friendly.
In other words, you want to edit your profile in ways that make it more likely to appear as a suggestion under the search bar.
There are a number of things you can do to make yourself more discoverable on Instagram. Whether you have a brand profile you’re trying to promote or you just want to snag a few more followers, here are some tips on how to optimize your profile for search.
Put keywords in your display name and handle
One of the first things you should do, as the marketing platform Hubspot suggests, is to think about the keywords you want your profile to market. Ask yourself, “What are people going to type into the search bar to find the things I’m marketing?” For example, if your profile is for a tattoo shop (or if you’re an individual tattoo artist), you would want to have “tattoo” somewhere in both your display name and your “handle” (your username beginning with @).
When I type “tattoo shop” into the Instagram search bar, all of the top account results have “tattoo” in their display name, and most of them have “tattoo” (or some variation of it) somewhere in their handle. @livebytheswordtattoo appears as a high-ranking result partly because their account is optimized, but also, to be clear, because someone I follow also follows them, which may play a hand in which accounts appear in searches by networks of people.
The account results when I search “tattoo shop” on Instagram
Credit: screenshot: instagram
Having keywords in the most important places on your Insta page is a useful first step in optimizing it for search.
Hashtag your posts
If you have any hope of somebody stumbling across your profile, you gotta (gotta gotta gotta) hashtag your posts. Hashtags are one of the primary ways Instagram gears its search results and allows people to follow and discover the things they’re interested in.
Continuing with our tattoo example, if you’re a shop or an artist trying to get your work out there, you’d want to hashtag your posts with #tattoo. Keep in mind, the broader the hashtag, the broader the audience searching for it will be — and therefore, the more search results you’ll be competing with.
Broad hashtags are still good! You’ll reach a huge audience that way. The problem is, you might get buried in other posts with the same hashtag, which is why we recommend using multiple hashtags of varying levels of specificity.
Let’s say you have a tattoo of a flower you want to show off. Consider hashtagging your post with #tattoo (to reach a wide audience) and #flowertattoo (to reach a more specific audience).
The top results when I search “flower tattoo” on Instagram
Credit: screenshot: instagram
When I search “flower tattoo” on Instagram, the first nine out of the 12 top results have #flowertattoo in their posts. The other three have flower emoji in their captions, which may hint at the role emoji play in driving up post interactions. We’ll get to that in the next tip.
Your post captions are another key area where you can optimize your profile. In a 2019 study from the social analytics platform Quintly reported on by Social Media Today, researchers looked at how things like caption length, hashtag usage, and even emoji usage affected post interactions among Instagram users big and small.
The study found that for bigger profiles, with more than a million followers, posts with no captions received the highest engagement. For smaller profiles (between 1,000 and 10,000 followers), caption lengths between one and 50 characters saw the highest amount of interactions. So if you’re a smaller profile, caption your posts, but keep it short and sweet. For even smaller accounts, with 1,000 followers or less, interactions were about even between small captions (between one and 50 characters) and large captions (300 or more characters).
Now, let’s talk emoji. The Quintly study found that whether your profile has over 10 million followers or less than 1,000 followers, captions with zero emoji tended to receive the least amount of interactions.
For small accounts, with less than 1,000 followers, captions using 10 emoji or more resulted in the highest number of interactions on average, although captions containing anywhere between one and 10 emoji were not far behind.
For larger accounts, with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers, captions with four to 10 emoji saw the highest average interactions, though emoji usage outside that range also saw a high level of interactions — except captions with zero emoji.
The takeaway? Whether you’re a big or small profile, use emoji in your captions, dammit. And if you’re a small account with less than a 1,000 followers, maybe go crazy and use 10 or more emoji?
When looking at hashtag usage, the study found that larger profiles tended to get their highest engagement when their posts included zero hashtags. Why? We don’t know for sure. But we imagine that if you’re Ariana Grande, you probably don’t need to use hashtags to get high levels of engagement with your posts. If you’re Ariana Grande and you have the specific goal of getting the highest Insta engagement you can, it’s probably best to not use any hashtags.
We can also probably safely assume that most of you reading this are, in fact, not Ariana Grande. In that case, if you have less than 1,000 followers, use hashtags and use a lot of ’em. The study found that these smaller accounts saw their highest level of engagement when they used 10 or more hashtags in their posts.
The data does get a little peculiar in the mid-range-sized accounts. Accounts with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers also saw their highest level of engagement when using 10+ hashtags. However, small (but not the smallest) accounts, with between 1,000 and 10,000 followers, saw their highest engagement when they used a modest one to three hashtags. Accounts with 100,000 followers or more saw their highest engagement when using zero hashtags.
The best advice we can offer is to consider the size of your account and determine your hashtag usage based on that.
If you want to look at the full study in more detail, you can check it out here!
Use your bio
Don’t leave it blank! Hubspot also suggests using “secondary keywords” in your bio. Think about what else people will be searching for that goes along with what you’re trying to market.
What else would people be searching that relates to tattoos? “Piercings,” perhaps? “Shops” to schedule appointments at? Maybe including your city/region will help capture the audience closest to you! Let’s look at @livebytheswordtattoo again.
@livebytheswordtattoo Instagram bio
Credit: @livebytheswordtattoo via instagram
Looking at their bio, we can see that they include “tattoo,” “piercing,” and “shop,” utilizing both primary and secondary keywords to help drive their search optimization.
They also include NYC in their display name, and they put both Williamsburg and Brooklyn in their bio. This, of course, tells users where they do their business, but it also outlines a broad area as well as a specific neighborhood where they’re most likely to capture the audience they’re after.
Post content! Then check your “likes” and “views”
The best way we learn is by practicing, right? So if you’re unsure about what’s working and what’s not, how about some trial and error?
Post your content using different techniques. Play around with the length of your captions. Try adding another keyword to your profile. Use more emoji. Use less emoji. Use more hashtags. Use less hashtags. And then see what happens!
Which pictures get more likes and comments? Which videos get more views? What do your posts with the highest number of likes have in common?
We can learn a lot about what works by just giving it the ol’ college try and seeing what happens next. It’s kind of like running your own personal “study” to help you learn which things are optimizing your Instagram.
And, if you have a “creator” or “business” Instagram account, you can access “insights” to see more detailed info about your post interactions and metrics.
You have a good set of tools to help you optimize your account and track the results. So get out there and build those profiles and get those interactions! We’ll be here rooting for you.