Instagram is an undeniably viable platform for marketing in 2019. In fact, Instagram has officially reached more than one billion active monthly users -- which means it's now more popular than social media giants such as Twitter or LinkedIn.
That's a lot of users sitting around, waiting to see your content. So, how can you reach all of those users and create opportunities for them to engage with your brand?
The answer might surprise you -- SEO for Instagram.
I know what you're thinking: Can I really employ the same SEO techniques I use to optimize web pages for a social media app?
Fortunately, you can. The trick isn't shoe-horning Instagram into your existing SEO strategy, but rather to use what you already know about SEO to drive organic growth to your Instagram account. Think of Instagram as its own search engine. The platform has built-in search functions that act like its own mini-Google.
Here, we're going to tell you eight little-known Instagram SEO techniques to expand your reach.
1. Optimize your Instagram profile.
The first step you should take toward increasing your Instagram reach is optimizing your Instagram profile. Driving traffic to your Instagram account won't benefit you in the long-run if your profile isn't optimized for the best user experience.
Here are a few tricks for optimizing your Instagram profile:
These steps might seem like a no-brainer, but it's important to lay the groundwork before you make any other SEO changes. Once you've covered those basics, you can move onto the more technical optimization steps.
2. Include your primary keyword in your display name and @Username.
As we mentioned before, Instagram is its own self-contained search engine. In order to show up for the correct terms in the search bar, you need to work within the app itself to land that coveted top-of-search positioning.
To start, you'll need to pinpoint your primary keyword. We'll use a bakery as our example for this. When an Instagram user is looking to fill their news feed with baked goods, they'll likely search the keyword 'bakery'. When you have this keyword in your display name and @Username, you're more likely to show up in the search results for suggested accounts.
As you can see here, four of the top five search results for bakery have that keyword in both their display name and @Username. You should be using your primary keyword in both places to increase your chances of being picked up by the algorithm.
3. Use your secondary keywords in the bio.
Now that you've taken care of your primary keyword, it's time to get the most out of your secondary keywords. Secondary keywords are the phrases and topics that orbit your primary keyword.
If your primary keyword is 'bakery', your secondary keywords might be things like 'cupcakes', 'wedding cakes', 'baked goods', etc.
Let's take a look at Magnolia Bakery, the top result for this keyword -- their primary keyword is highlighted in red, and their secondary keywords are highlighted in orange:
As you can see, Magnolia Bakery has done a great job of crafting an informative and fun bio, while still including a few very important search-optimized keywords. It's no wonder they show up first when you search the term 'bakery' on Instagram.
Secondary keywords are perfect for catching people who might not be searching for your primary keyword but could still be interested in your product. A person looking for baking good recipes would likely follow Magnolia if they found them in the search, because it still matches the user's search intent.
4. Treat your hashtags as keywords.
Once you've optimized your profile, it's time to optimize your posts. This is an ongoing process that requires special attention. Most users aren't going to look for you directly. They'll likely discover you through a hashtag on a specific post.
That's why each of your Instagram posts should have its own hashtag strategy. You should be treating these hashtags like secondary keywords. Check out the example from CorePower Yoga, below:
They include their own brand name in two of the hashtags -- #corepowercommunity and #corepoweryoga. The other two hashtags, however, are specifically for this image.
By including a variety of post-specific hashtags, Corepower increases their chances of attracting a wider, more diverse audience -- people who search for terms related to yoga, but also people who search #downdog.
This gives users a better chance of finding you than if you used the same five hashtags on every single post -- the key is variety, and relevance.
5. Use secondary keywords in your image captions.
We've mentioned before that Instagram is a self-contained search engine, which means every part of your Instagram experience should be focused on keywords. Crafting a compelling, engaging caption is critical for attracting new followers while satisfying existing ones.
The right caption can do more than just catch a user's attention -- it can also help you show up in search results. The same way you optimized your bio and hashtags with secondary keywords, you should do the same for your Instagram caption:
The example above shows how DIFF eyewear manages to use keywords in their caption that will bring in the right users. This helps create a complete picture for Instagram's algorithm and tells it that you should be ranking high in their search for those terms.
6. Take advantage of Instagram alt text.
Instagram alt text is a relatively new feature that allows users to write captions for their photos.
This feature was designed to help visually impaired users enjoy their Instagram experience, but it can also be used for SEO, as well. Instagram will automatically populate alt text options for your photos if you skip this step -- so it's better to do it yourself to ensure the caption matches what's actually in the photo.
To access your alt text options, advance to the screen right before you share your photo and click the "advanced settings" tab at the bottom:
Once you've done that, scroll to the bottom and select the "write your alt text" option. From there, you can craft the perfect image description!
Once you've crafted your own alt text, share your photo as normal. The benefits of changing your Instagram alt text are the same as when you use alt text on photos for your website. It can help your posts rank better in the algorithm, have your results pulled for voice search, and more.
7. Track everything with analytics.
If this is your first time using SEO techniques to grow, then you should be tracking how your new Instagram strategy is impacting your overall social media goals.
While Instagram does have an in-platform analytics feature, it only allows you to pull data from a certain date. Once that window closes, the data is lost and replaced. While that might be fine for the casual user, it's not ideal for marketing purposes.
Social Media tools like Hootsuite, Sprinklr, or Sprout Social allow you to bypass this with robust data analytic tracking services, automated reports, and more. They allow users to analyze performance of posts and campaigns to optimize your content for the future.
As with any content marketing strategy, having hard data behind your content plan is key. Tracking the success of your new Instagram SEO strategy will help you refine your content as you go, gain buy-in from leadership, and improve the overall success of your strategy.
8. Avoid common black hat SEO techniques.
You might think that Google is the only website that is sophisticated enough to spot and punish users for using black hat SEO tactics, but that's not true. Instagram has recently started cracking down on accounts that try and cheat the system. Most recently, they've implemented a shadowban for users that repeatedly break the rules.
Common Instagram black hat SEO techniques to avoid:
Don't steal content
Don't use bots
Don't keyword stuff
Don't follow too many accounts too fast
Don't buy followers
SEO is a long-term strategy and it can be frustrating when you don't see results right away. The lure of using a quick-fix to see a boost in followers or organic reach can seem too good to pass up, but the results can be disastrous if you get caught. If you're looking to build your Instagram account the right way, avoid these tactics at all costs.
Do It For the 'Gram
SEO may be primarily used for website optimization, but that doesn't mean you can't use what you've learned for social media, as well. Take these tips and transform your Instagram presence in a way that puts the user first while also building your reach.
Originally published Oct 25, 2019 7:00:00 AM, updated October 25 2019