5 Underrated Instagram SEO and Optimization Secrets for Businesses

Editor’s Note: This post originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Instagram is a social network continually growing in popularity, so even companies that don’t have photo-driven initiatives and flashy products are getting involved. For many, this obviously means that creativity needs to be at an all-time high, but a strategy can happen and it can help you reach your goals faster. I recommend checking out this article to learn more about creating an Instagram business presence in general before really jumping into the SEO aspects of your strategy. However, once you have a smooth process for Instagram and you think you’ve finally done all you can do for your Instagram business account, the following 5 tips will help take you to the next level.

  1. Do Keyword Research on Hashtags

This idea brings more traditional SEO techniques onto the network. While Instagram may not seem like a search engine, it does still have a search function, and the most popular search is actually hashtags, or what you can think of as keywords with ‘#’ in front. You want to utilize the hashtags that are getting the most search volume and that are relevant to your photos for maximum exposure. The cool thing about hashtags, as opposed to keywords, is that you can add as many hashtags as you want right at the end of your post. No need to naturally squeeze them in or worry about keyword stuffing—simply listing the hashtags at the end of your post is totally acceptable.

So how many hashtags should you use and how do you know which ones to use? Unlike the Keyword Planner you have for Google, you won’t have one for Instagram. It is therefore up to you to determine which hashtags are relevant, but not over-used. You can do this by searching for your ideas and seeing who is using the hashtag you’re considering. You can also check out the top 100 hashtags on Instagram through Websta to get some ideas and see what people are using most often. Below is a screenshot of what Websta looks like:

The cool thing about Websta is you can filter by location. This means that you can see what people in your area are hashtagging, which is crucial if your business thrives on local marketing.

Also keep in mind that you can attempt to create your own, unique hashtag, but it’s usually big brands that see success with this. Still, if you run a contest for example and you ask people to use a specific hashtag to win, you could start carving out your own hashtag to get going in the future, which brings us to our next point.

  1. Hold Contests for Prizes

This is a common social media tactic so it may be something you’ve already tried, but it’s worth mentioning again because some companies are not offering prizes on Instagram. Remember that prizes will go a long way on social media, so spend some money here and get those contests going. According to Neil Patel, he leveraged his giveaways to get more followers and “a single giveaway could score [him] a few thousand extra followers.”

There are of course a variety of ways to create a contest for social media, so when it comes to Instagram just remember why users like the app in the first place. Put a focus on images and hashtags to get the most engagement. For example, ask your customers to show off their photos of something similar using a hashtag you created. The best picture wins. Below is a great example from Travel Country:

  1. Partner with a Nonprofit or Charity

People like to support companies that are doing something for the community. Even if your business isn’t helping directly, you can help indirectly by giving some of your profits away to a nonprofit that is related to your industry, you could fundraise for a cause you care about, send employees on community service trips, and more. This is great for your business and your website in general, but it’s especially helpful on Instagram because images can be so powerful.

Wordstream offered a great example in their article about the lunch spot SweetGreen partnering with the non-profit FoodCorps. Both SweetGreen and FoodCorps focus on health, so SweetGreen was able to create a partnership and use that to their advantage to get people engaged. Each business’s followers see the other link, so it’s a win-win. Below is the screenshot that the article included:


It’s also worth noting that really any partnership could work if done right. Partner with a complementary company and ask them to share your posts and vice versa. As long as you have the same audience but you aren’t competitors, it’s a great option.

  1. Utilize Instagram’s Business Tools for Advertising

For many businesses, Instagram is all about connecting with the audience through stories, relevant photos, utilizing the right filters, and getting the images out to the right people, and then the next step is oftentimes paid advertising. While all of these things should come first, your next step needs to be utilizing Instagram’s features that were created specifically for businesses. These features allow you to see metrics on how certain posts are performing (sound familiar?), so they’re essentially the Insights option of this social platform, and they’re available to everyone. Some of this data includes impressions, engagement and shares, reach, insights, and more, all for your paid advertisements.

You can find these metrics by navigating to the Campaigns section of your account. Below is a screenshot of what it may look like for a business:

Instagram has three ad formats: Photo, Video, and Carousel. Visit here to learn more about advertising on Instagram specifically.

  1. Buy an Instagram Account with Already Established Followers

This was an idea that came from a KISSmetrics article, and while it’s last on our list for a reason, it can work for some businesses and it’s certainly unique and something you probably haven’t considered. The biggest problem with this approach is that this already established audience might be the completely wrong audience for your company, and for social media and just about everything online marketing, it’s always quality over quantity.

However, what KISSmetrics author of the piece Neil Patel found when he bought an account with 131,000 followers and then changed the name was that while he did lose quite a few followers (it dropped from 131,000 to 21,000 in a few weeks), that pace eventually started to slow down. Before you know it, he still had 20,000 followers and started growing his account. You want to find an account that has at least a somewhat similar audience—consider talking with a few bloggers in your industry about buying an account, for example—but after a while, it could help give you that jumpstart you need to get people interested in the first place; thus helping your numbers grow. After all, even as a consumer wouldn’t you be more inclined to follow a company with 20,000 followers than one that has just 20?

Bonus Ideas

Try Influencer Marketing

This is something that a lot of brands have found success with. Influencers are Instagram power users with a large following of people who, as you may have already guessed, they have a lot of influence over (think: celebrities, well-connected people). Businesses can partner with influencers within their niche and in turn, the influencer promotes the business. Here’s an example of what an influencer post looks like:

Now, a bunch of users who follow the Instagram account above for food inspiration have the idea of a super cool watch in their heads that someone they admire wears. It works so well because users trust recommendations over almost every other form of marketing. When an influencer promotes a brand’s product or service, it’s like a business is given thousands of recommendations in a natural way. The use of influencer marketing can help build a strong link profile and increase the overall reach and impact of your content. Plus, this type of native advertising gives businesses an added sense of credibility and appeal among buyers.

Use the Stories Feature to Personalize the Brand

The somewhat recent Stories feature on Instagram provides businesses with a channel for bringing their brand to life. Sometimes just regularly posting on Instagram can get flat; too much posting makes you spammy, too little posting makes you irrelevant. Stories is a good way to space out posts while still staying active, and it also helps businesses seem more personable to an audience. Businesses can use Stories to show what a day in the life of your business is like, create interest around a product or service, and even show teasers or coupons to followers:

Please note that using the Stories feature will have no bearing on your SEO efforts; rather, it enhances the way your audience relates to and identifies with your brand.

Remember: Links Don’t Work on Instagram

You can put a link back to your website within your profile, but that’s it. Links in a caption or a comment will not work, so Instagram is definitely the place to increase visibility and improve the image of your brand—not to improve your SEO through link building or to promote web content.

Social Media & SEO

The relationship between social media and SEO is a little complicated, but important to understand. With search engines, specifically Google, there’s been some back and forth on whether or not search engine algorithms account for social signals. In 2010, Google said that social signals were a ranking factor, but in 2014, this video was released by Matt Cutts (Google Webmasters) saying that social signals do not affect search rankings. Bing has said that they do look at the social authority of a user and that it can add some weight to search listings.

Despite all the back and forth, it’s important to remember that the landscape of search engines is always evolving and that just because social signals may not be accounted for now doesn’t mean they never will. Search engines are continuously tailoring the search experience to be more personal and specific to its users, so it’s entirely possible that social signals will eventually get a seat at the table.

Social platforms are smaller search engines with their own algorithms, optimization practices, benefits, and users. By using them to reach a target audience or expand online presence, brands only stand to gain from taking action on platforms that bolster their authority.

For even more quick tips, check out this article from Small Biz Trends, and visit here to get started with Instagram for Business.

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