May 24, 2023
With social media getting more competitive every week, it's essential to ensure prospective customers can easily find your content. Search engine optimization, better known as SEO, is a collection of techniques and best practices to increase your content's organic reach.
Instagram has been around for a long time, and with that come many platform changes, ups and down in engagement, and more. This is why it's key that you know there's a way to improve your chances of content discoverability by organically promoting your posts and videos via SEO.
Follow along to learn more about how you can apply SEO to your Instagram content strategy. Not only will you discover Instagram's ranking factors, but you'll walk away with a foundation for how to optimize your Instagram posts.
Rather than having one unified algorithm, Instagram is a collection of algorithms. According to Instagram, each part of Instagram, whether the IG Feed, Explore page, Reels content, has its algorithm with specific requirements that depend on how people use these features.
Before we review particular optimization recommendations for each, let's check ranking factors. While there is some nuance, each feature's algorithm shares some similarities.
These ranking factors speak to information about the post itself. These include when you first uploaded the post, the location, how long it is (if it's a video), and the audio used. The algorithm also looks at how much engagement the post has garnered. Interactions like comments, likes, shares, and saves contribute to post engagement. Engagement is how you'll increase your chances of getting your content to rank on the Explore page.
Instagram also looks at the frequency at which other users have interacted with the post. So, for example, if you encourage engagement and engagement with your audience, the algorithm will be more likely to pick up your content and show it to more users.
The algorithm also considers the types of content you are interacting with. The algorithm tries to learn your interests by understanding what content you engage with most. So if you like, comment on, or share posts, the algorithm will take steps to show you more of that type of content.
Instagram's algorithm uses a recommendation system of signals. It uses these signals to rank Feed or Story content to curate unique and entertaining user experiences. With the exception of ads, most of what a user sees on their Feed is from people they already follow. Instagram will then take into account additional signals when deciding to rank your content, such as:
Posting details: The information attached to the post itself, such as post time, the content of your post, how much engagement it received, location, etc. Instagram takes a look at all these details, so it's important to put a lot of thought into this information when you're posting.
Interaction with poster (or account): Users who have interacted with a poster or account frequently are likelier to see their content. If a poster is popular and has received a lot of interaction, the algorithm is more likely to favor their content over an account with less engagement.
User's activity: Similar to interacting with the poster, if a user interacts with the poster's content frequently, the algorithm will recommend more of that poster's content.
When looking at Reels, most of this content is from users you don't follow. Instagram's algorithm here tries to make a few predictions about what type of content you'll like by looking at if you watch a video all the way through or if you navigate to the audio page of that post (the algorithm considers that action to mean that Reels' audio inspired you to make your version of that Reel). According to Instagram, the main objective is to serve users Reels that will entertain them with an eye toward smaller creators. Other ranking signals for Reels are:
Posting details: These details include: audio, video quality, popularity, and engagement. All of these factors are how the algorithm decides whether to rank or not rank your Reel.
Interaction with poster: Popularity is again essential. If users have engaged with this poster frequently or if their content is extremely popular with their audience, it's more likely that their content will get shown by the Instagram algorithm.
User's activity: The Instagram algorithm looks at the types of Reels a user engages with and uses that information to decide what other Reels to serve them.
Unlike Feed and Stories content, the Explore page features content from accounts you don't follow. In this case, the Instagram algorithm will look at posts or users you're interacting with frequently and display similar content or IG accounts on your Instagram Explore page. The goal of the Instagram Explore page is to help users to discover content. Instagram uses your activity, such as saves, likes, and shares, to predict what content to serve you in your Explore feed. Other signals taken into consideration are:
Posting details: According to Instagram, posting details here means engagement metrics. They measure how many likes, comments, saves, and shares a piece of content has received and uses it to determine whether to rank it on the Explore page.
Interaction with poster: If many people interact with a person or their content, this popularity signal will make their posts more likely to appear in your Explore feed.
User's activity: Instagram measures which posts on the Explore page you engage with and shows you more of that type of content from users you may not follow.
The most significant factor across all of Instagram's features is engagement. Instagram heavily relies on a user's own activity when deciding the types of content to serve. Similarly, posts and users with a large amount of engagement tend to win more with Instagram's algorithm. Therefore, it's imperative that, if you want to grow organically on Instagram, you engage frequently with your niche and encourage engagement on your own posts.
The final thing to keep in mind when creating and optimizing posts is the Instagram Recommendations Guidelines. Instagram may rank content that goes against these guidelines very low or not. The most important type of content to avoid are clickbait-type posts, exaggerated health claims, unoriginal content (such as reposts from TikTok), and misleading content.
Navigating these optimization guidelines will feel more manageable as you get familiar with Instagram's algorithm and your audience. Continue trying different types of content and engaging with your audience, and you'll set yourself up for Instagram success.