Numerous direct-to-consumer businesses got their start on Instagram, and plenty of individuals have created a strong personal brand on Instagram – whether as influencers or to showcase their lives, businesses or interests.

However, many people – especially those just starting out with a business or presence on Instagram – may be wondering how they can go about increasing their visibility, both within the app and also on external channels like Google. Is there such a thing as SEO for Instagram?

Like a lot of social networks, Instagram isn’t designed to be completely indexable by search engines, because much of the content published to it is personal and not something that most users would want to be discoverable outside the app. So, for example, photos on Instagram won’t be displayed in Google search results.

Nevertheless, there are several things that people and businesses can do to boost the visibility of their Instagram presence – both within Instagram itself and on Google to attract more outside traffic to their carefully-crafted Instagram content. Here are some top tips for optimising your Instagram presence.

On-Instagram SEO

1. Optimise your Instagram name

Instagram gives you the option to set both a handle (e.g. @bexsentance) and a name (e.g. Rebecca Sentance). However, if you’re using Instagram in a business capacity and not as a personal profile, you can use the name field to get a bit creative – and help to increase your visibility in Instagram’s internal search.

Some options for optimising your name field include adding in keywords that describe your business or profession, to help you appear in searches for those keywords. For example, if you’re a small business owner who runs a café called Melanie’s, putting “Melanie’s Café” in your real name field could help it show up in searches for “café”.

Another name hack is to use a pipe | or other separator (such as an emoji) so that you can include multiple types of information, such as “real name + role” for an individual (Rebecca | Digital Journalist) or “business name + additional keywords” (Melanie’s Café | Cookies, Cakes & Coffee). Just don’t go overboard and start keyword stuffing – it becomes transparently obvious and starts to look spammy rather than professional.

An example of a business putting this to good use is Artbox Café in Brighton: it has different ‘pop-up’ themes that change every few months, so its handle remains static while its name changes depending on the featured pop-up. This ensures that Artbox will appear in searches for the featured character (currently Gudetama, a Japanese cartoon egg) on Instagram.

Artbox Café ranks above the character’s official profile in Instagram searches for “Gudetama” (Source: Instagram)

It’s worth noting – especially if you’re looking to optimise your Instagram page for external search – that your name will also appear as part of your page title on Google, so you should make sure that it displays something that makes sense outside of the context of an Instagram profile.

2. Carry out hashtag keyword research

Hashtags are important for Instagram visibility and will dictate which searches and hashtag feeds (if someone is following a particular hashtag) your posts appear in. But if you’re not yet fluent in Instagram-ese (hashtag catsofinstagram hashtag catstagram), how do you know which hashtags are most relevant to your content? Carrying out a bit of hashtag keyword research can help with this.

The most basic form of keyword research is just carrying out an Instagram search for a keyword (e.g. flowers) and seeing what pops up. You can also browse posts by competitors and similar businesses to see what hashtags they use.

This is a bit time-intensive, however, and there are some free tools available that can get the job done much quicker.

Tag Blender: Tag Blender lets you browse by category to find ideas for keywords, which you can add to the “blender” in batches of 10 and 30 and randomise the order. It’s a bit basic as far as marketing tools go, but good for a starting point if you need ideas for tags.

Keyword Tool for Instagram: Keyword Tool is useful for finding dozens of variants for any given hashtag. Entering “flowers”, for example, will return more than 300 Instagram hashtags containing the word “flower”, sorted alphabetically. The tool also gives data on how many times the first five keywords have been used – to access more of this data (and more hashtag suggestions), you need to upgrade to the paid version.

Display Purposes: Display Purposes is a tool for finding hashtags related to a given keyword. Input a few tags in the search box, and it will produce a list of related tags, ordered by popularity. Generic, spammy and banned hashtags are also filtered out from the list.

Display Purposes also has a useful “best hashtags” tool which ranks the most popular hashtags on Instagram; click on one and you’ll be taken to a page with related and similar hashtags, complete with data on frequency of use, reliability of the hashtag (i.e. its use by real accounts versus fake ones), and a breakdown of user demographics.

Reliability graphs for the “travel” hashtag (Source: Display Purposes)

3. Add alt text to images

Alt text was introduced to Instagram in late 2018, and in addition to making your posts more accessible, it can also give them a bit of a discoverability boost. The alt text option can be found under “Advanced Settings” when you publish a photo to Instagram; you can also edit photos after they’re published to add alt text. Be aware that alt text descriptions on Instagram are limited to 100 characters.

While Instagram will auto-generate alt text using object recognition if you don’t add any to your photos, it’s hard to guarantee it will be accurate. Adding a description like “vegan spaghetti dish” will help Instagram surface the image for users who, for example, are interested in vegan food. Note that because Instagram’s search is oriented around hashtags, your photo won’t show up in a direct search for those keywords unless you’ve also tagged it – but it will be more likely to appear in the Explore tab for relevant users.

Adding alt text to images will not make them appear in Google search, as Instagram automatically adds a “noimageindex” meta tag to posts to prevent them from being indexed by Google.

4. Use Instagram Insights for analytics

If you have a Professional account on Instagram, it will provide you with analytics that will let you know how well your posts are performing and give you insights into your audience. If you don’t have access to these insights, you can convert to a Professional account to get them – but be aware that the analytics will only be available for posts and Stories that you’ve posted since converting your account.

The Insights tab can be found in the hamburger menu on your profile. From there, select specific Stories, posts or promotions you’d like to view analytics for. You can also use the Activity tab to track impressions, reach and interactions on a week-by-week basis; the Content to track overall performance of your Stories, posts and promotions; and the Audience tab to access insights on your audience, including follower growth over time.

Off-Instagram SEO

1. Optimise your Instagram bio for search

Instagram bios aren’t searchable within Instagram itself (even if they feature hashtags, so there’s not much point in adding more than maybe one relevant hashtag to your bio), but when your Instagram profile surfaces in a Google search, they act more or less like a meta description.

If you want to attract web search traffic to your Instagram profile, therefore, you should think of your bio as a meta description and craft a relevant line or two about your business, bearing in mind that it will be most likely be truncated to 155-160 characters.

As with all meta descriptions, Google doesn’t always pull through the description you’ve set (in this case, your bio) and will sometimes use its own meta description, depending on its relevance to the user’s search query.

To give your bio the best chance of displaying in search, think about the kinds of queries users might search for with your brand name (chances are, your Instagram profile will only display for searches with your brand name, as other search queries are too competitive) and incorporate the relevant keywords. For example, a search for “Evening Standard Magazine lifestyle” will return the full bio for Evening Standard Magazine’s Instagram profile, because it includes the word “lifestyle”.

2. Claim ownership of your Google Knowledge Panel and add social accounts

You may have noticed that when searching for a brand on Google, a panel appears to the side (on desktop) or in the middle of the first page of results (on mobile) that contains information about the company – and various social media icons. This is a great way to signpost people towards your Instagram account (and other social networks where you have a presence). So, how can you make sure that this panel contains your Instagram account?

Google Knowledge Panels (as this section is called) are generated automatically, but you can claim ownership of the Knowledge Panel for your business to make sure it contains the correct information. Google’s Knowledge Panel Help features step-by-step instructions on how to do this. Once you’ve been verified as a representative of your business, you can then edit the existing social profiles that are listed or suggest new ones.

Note: Some articles will mention using Schema markup to claim your social profiles in the Knowledge Panel, but this method is now deprecated as Google will either discover social profiles automatically or incorporate manual suggestions from a representative of the business.

The Google Knowledge panel for beauty company Glossier, featuring its Instagram profile among other social media profiles.

Other tips for making the most of your Instagram presence

While they won’t have a direct impact on SEO, here are some additional tips for making the most of your Instagram presence:

1. Make use of Stories and Stories Highlights

Instagram Stories are a type of ephemeral content that disappears from the user’s profile after 24 hours and can be accessed by tapping a user’s icon in the Instagram app. In a marketing context, they can be used for things like featuring fun behind-the-scenes content, advertising a temporary discount, signposting a new piece of off-Instagram content like a blog post, and so on.

Food company Merchant Gourmet uses an Instagram Story to promote a new blog post. (Source: Merchant Gourmet/Instagram)

What’s more, verified and professional accounts with more than 10,000 followers can add external links to their Stories, which can be followed by swiping up – providing an excellent opportunity to promote external content or products on Instagram.

Many brands on Instagram are also making good use of Stories Highlights, which are a type of Story that can live permanently on your profile. They allow brands to easily curate and showcase the content that they want users to see first, such as product collections, trending topics, FAQs or tutorials and how-tos.

2. Get creative with Location

Instagram’s Location field is designed to allow social media users to tag their location in a post. But if you’re a brand and the location of your Instagram posts isn’t that significant, you can use this field to add creative messages to your posts instead.

While it needs to fit with your brand tone, adding little humorous references and ‘Easter Eggs’ to the Location of each post gives a bit of added incentive for your followers to look at each one and pay close attention to them.

3. Build your UGC

User-generated content, or UGC, is a smart way to build up your Instagram visibility and interact with your customer base: by inviting your followers to tag you in posts (e.g. with your products, or as part of a contest or giveaway), you can earn new followers via word-of-mouth and get extra content for your profile, which will appear in the Tagged section.

You can even (with permission) feature the content on your website and across other social media channels, which will also help to boost the visibility of your Instagram profile and build links pointing back to it.