With the keyword search addition to Instagram’s all-knowing Explore page, it’s important to take a step back and outline all of the search functionality available to users. While many have been available for some time, let’s recap every search option:
Top - Top results is where you can test the limits of Instagram’s new search terms feature. This is where you can search keywords and allow Instagram's internal search engine to find exactly what you’re looking for. In addition to keywords, you can also search for top accounts and hashtags.
Accounts - Among the most central search functions of Instagram is the account lookup. Here, you can find any account on the platform. The accounts are populated first by whom you follow, accounts you’ve recently viewed, and popular accounts based on the alphabetical order in which you type.
Tags - Hashtags are still one of the easiest and most popular ways to search for content and trends on Instagram. So while search terms certainly broaden your search parameters, discovery on Instagram by hashtag is an effective and fun way to navigate the platform.
Places - Traveling to a new city and researching potential stops? A new restaurant in your city and want to check out a few pics before you book a rez? Searching by location is a savvy way to get a feel for local or global businesses, national parks, museums, or even annual events like Coachella or SXSW.
Looking beyond just the importance of the keyword search and what the means for discoverability, what this change to the Explore page and beyond also represents is a shift in the Instagram algorithm.
Although some elements of Instagram’s algorithm remain unknown, many of its larger components have been made public. Recent changes to the algorithm that will shape our experiences on the platform in 2021 can best be defined in three core categories:
Based on your history on the platform, Instagram does its best to predict what you care about and present you with a similar experience. Past behaviors including the accounts you’ve followed and the posts you’ve liked inform how Instagram tailors the content you see.
Instagram does its best to decipher what you love and give you more of it. Accounts you interact with, what posts you comment on, and even past searches, all factor into your “interests.” So when you look at your Explore page and you think “how is Instagram in my head?” It’s because what you see is an accumulation of preferences and past experiences on the app.
Recency–or timeliness–is a little more self-explanatory. Instagram is putting a greater emphasis on posts that were recently shared as opposed to older ones. This is how Instagram keeps the content that you see fresh and relevant. It is also how they decide to share your content as well – so keep that content fresh!
Given that Instagram cares a great deal about how recent your last post was, learning the best times to post is critical to make sure that your post gets great engagement. By Instagram’s measure, of course, higher-performing posts are more likely to be shared based on likes, saves, comments, shares, and timeliness.
Relationships are a high priority for Instagram. They want to make sure that you see accounts from family, friends, business associates, and anyone you interact with at a high frequency.
The new algorithm uses your interactions to connect the dots with who you’re closest to on the platform. In doing so, they’ll prioritize showcasing content from those accounts.
Factors include those you Direct Message, people you know in real life, people's posts you’ve been tagged in, and people you search for.
Here are three additional factors that also influence the Instagram algorithm:
The amount of time that you’re on Instagram plays a role in what you see on the platform. Each time you open the app, Instagram takes all the content ranking factors into account and shows you the most recent posts based on your specifications.
Taking into consideration how many people you follow on Instagram and how often you follow new accounts, Instagram’s algorithm has more options to choose from when filtering content to the top of your Explore page and/or feed. The more people you follow the less frequently you can expect to see any specific person or account.
Spending lots of time on Instagram widens the scope of the content you’ll see. In the past, Instagram would often show you content that you’d already seen if you spent loads of time on the platform. Now, however, they have made a concerted effort to bottom out the content pool and use your specifications to present you with new and engaging content no matter how many hours you spend scrolling the Explore page or your feed.
Discovery is now at an all-time high on Instagram’s Explore page. Keyword searches allow users to connect with brands, find unique content, and tap into information almost the same way they would on Google or YouTube.
This, of course, makes getting featured on the Explore page more accessible. When Instagram rolled out Reels earlier this year, it quickly became known that using the new feature in its infancy gave new adopters the best chance at getting featured on the Explore page before the platform was flooded with Reels.
When creating content on your grid, Stories, Reels, or even IGTV, here are a few key boxes to check to ensure that you give yourself the best chance at landing on the Explore page:
Add a Location
Understand Best Times to Post
Consistently Create Quality Content
Prioritize Video Content
Optimize Your Bio With Hashtags & Keywords
Follow & Engage With Similar Brands
For brands, small businesses, and influencers alike, the new search feature means finding customers that maybe you never knew you had. Instagram users following your brand initiatives or using your products but not properly tagging them are now easier to discover. And from that discovery comes great User-Generated Content (UGC) opportunities.
Great UGC is a proven growth metric when used effectively and consistently. Instagram’s new search functionality makes finding supporters across Instagram much easier. For example, if your holiday campaign is in full swing and you’re using the branded hashtag #HotGirlHolidays, if someone uses the phrase without the hashtag attached, through the new keyword search feature, you’ll now be able to find those users and reshare their content (*always remember it’s best to ask permission first!).
Of course, you can always search for potential UGC opportunities the old-fashioned way. Search for your branded hashtags, look through the location tags for your business or brand, and always search for your brand name or user name to see who’s talking about you!
Instagram’s addition of search terms positions the platform as the very first bonafide social media search engine. With keywords playing a larger role in search discovery, Instagram SEO, while not a huge factor today, certainly will be in 2021 and beyond.
Search terms do unfortunately have their limitations. After the rollout several weeks ago, Instagram made it clear that not all terms are searchable. A spokesperson for the brand told The Verge that “the search is limited to general interest topics and keywords that are within Instagram’s community guidelines.”
While expanding the feature is certain to follow after Instagram has enough data to see how users are taking to the expansive search options, A/B testing the keyword search in its earliest stages will prove impactful. Finding its nuances and leveraging the doors it can open serves as a great jumping-off point for your 2021 Instagram marketing strategy.