Engine Optimization. In terms of Google, that means using a few key strategies to get your business higher on search results–so you show up on the first page of results instead of the fourth. For Instagram it's the same idea, but the tactics are a little different. To figure out how to use SEO to your advantage, you have to know how Instagram's algorithm operates.
Instagram's algorithm is a program that collects information about every single user on the platform. It processes data from every single photo, comment, hashtag, and reel that gets posted. It also collects information on what you like based on the content you engage with. Liking a post shows that you're interested in it; liking and commenting shows that you're interested even more.
So why is this helpful to know? Well, the algorithm figures out what each and every post is about–and therefore, to whom it would appeal. Now you can help it out a little bit.
The two main ways people find new accounts are through the Explore page and through suggested posts. The Explore page features a search bar at the top where you can find posts by searching a word or hashtag in the search bar. This search feature lets you narrow the results by account, audio (for reels), places, and tags, also known as hashtags.
For instance, if you searched "tree," you could narrow it down by accounts, audios, places, or tags that include the word "tree" somewhere in their name or the hashtag. You also have the "Top" section, which shows the most popular recent posts with a photo of a tree or "tree" somewhere in the description.
Suggested posts are a little different. The suggested posts that show up in your home feed are the result of Instagram's algorithm guessing you would be interested in the post. If a photo of a tree showed up, it would come with a small banner on top that says "Because you follow National Geographic." Similarly, the posts you see on your Explore page before you search anything are a result of Instagram's algorithm.
How does Instagram know what to put there? Those posts are often a result of SEO. If you have a good grasp of how SEO works, you can use it to populate your posts on Explore page search results and for suggested posts.
Instagram uses three factors to decide what populates on Explore page search results. The relevance of the posts to what was searched, the user's previous activity, and amount of engagement on the posts.
The best thing you can do to improve the location of your post in search results is to make sure Instagram knows what your post is about. How do you do that?
First, you need to make the best of your post descriptions. If you have a photo of a tree that you want people to see, make sure you put the word "tree" in your description: "Check out this beautiful tree I found on my hike today!" Similarly, if you have a post that relates to your business, put a few keywords that relate to your business in the description. Instagram will pick up those descriptions and is more likely to include your post in relevant search results.
You should also be putting keywords in your profile. If you're unfamiliar with how names in an Instagram profile work, you have two separate names: your username, which is sometimes called your handle, and your name. Your username shows at the top of your profile, and your name sits underneath your profile picture. Take the New York Times account: its username is "nytimes" and its name is "The New York Times." You should try to incorporate keywords into both of these places.
Continuing with the keyword trend, use hashtags! You can add up to 30 hashtags on your posts. Maybe don't max that out every time, because overdoing hashtags can turn some audiences away, but some well-crafted hashtags can help loads of users find your posts. Users follow and search hashtags so that they can see new content.
Something else you can work keywords into is your alt text. In the app itself, Instagram says that alt text "describes your photos for people with visual impairments." You can maintain this accessibility while also boosting your engagement. How? Describe your post in detail. If you were to open the alt text editor for that post of yours about a tree, you wouldn't just say "tree." You'd say "a tall tree with big leaves, on a hill, with a blue sky behind it."
You can similarly describe posts related to your business. Visually impaired folks will know what your post is about, and the algorithm will take the words you use into account as it learns what your post is about.
To add alt text, select the photo you want to use and apply whichever filters you like (or leave it bare). Once you reach the page where you can write your caption and tag people, click into the "Advanced settings" option at the bottom. "Write alt text" will be at the bottom underneath an "Accessibility" heading. You can also edit alt text on posts you've already posted by clicking "Edit" and then "Edit alt text" in the bottom right corner of the photo.
The final thing you have to do: be consistent! Be consistent with how you use SEO on Instagram, be consistent with what you post about, and be consistent with how you use descriptions and hashtags. Consistency will allow Instagram to learn your account content, which will help you show up in more and more places.
So much marketing these days happens on social media. With these tips and tricks, you can master the art of SEO on Instagram, and you'll be popping up on that Explore page in no time!
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