instagram search

Instagram Reveals How Instagram Search Works

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In one of Instagram’s latest posts on how Instagram search works, the popular social media platform breaks down what we see when we search and why on Instagram.

The function of Instagram search is built to help users find related accounts, topics and content that are of interest to you and differs across Fees, Stories, Reels and Explore.


Seasoned digital marketers all know how search works, when one search with a particular keyword on search engines such as Google, the search algorithm returns with results that are relevant, with website and content optimised for the platform. In order for your website to be ranked high on search engines, your website has to fulfil hundreds of requirements which Google has never made public. The best practices in search engine optimisation is to ensure your website is constantly updated with new or refreshed content, contains relevant meta tags that Google crawlers understand, is optimised according to the presumed standards of Google.

The search experience on social platforms like Instagram works differently, since it’s a content discovery platform rather than a search engine right from the start, and the Instagram team definitely has a lot more to work on to improve the user search experience. While the search algorithm on Instagram is somewhat similar to that of Google, focusing on keyword and content relevancy, Instagram also cares about relationship between accounts, thus account engagement plays a part in the ranking.

How Instagram Rank Search Results

On Instagram, a keyword typed in the search bar on Explore page will return results under categories of accounts, audio, hashtags and places that best match the search keyword. Instagram says that information from these search results called ‘signals’ are based on, in order of importance:

  1. Keyword – matching the most relevant account usernames, bios, captions, hashtags, and places. Thus if you type “cupcake”, you’ll see first and foremost usernames, audio, hashtags and places that obviously contain cupcake in their name.
  2. Past engagement – matching the accounts you followed, posts viewed, interaction with accounts. Accounts and hashtags you follow or visit will be prioritized in the results. To keep search safe on Instagram, accounts and content that are spam or violate their guidelines may appear lower in search results or even not show up at all.
  3. Popularity signals – including the amount of engagement metrics such as clicks, likes, shares, follows for a particular account, hashtag or place.
ig search

How To Show Up in Search

Understanding how Instagram search algorithm works, accounts who aim to grow beyond their current follower base can use these best practices to optimize their social assets and ensure high searchability:

  1. Profile name – Make sure profile name contains the keyword that best represent the type of content for your accounts, for example, if your Instagram account focuses on cupcake recipes or tasting, the keyword “cupcake” should be part of your profile name. If you have already established your brand name among your niche, then your name should definitely be part of your profile name. An obvious example will be the name of a celebrity, “JustinBieber” will be the obvious choice for the celebrity himself, rather than something else.
  2. Bio – Make sure your bio is keyword rich, describing aptly who you are, what you do, where you are.
  3. Post captions – Make sure you add relevant keywords and hashtags under caption, not comments, in order for your post to be found in search.

The above are suggested by Instagram and it’s obvious these best practices fulfil the first and most important signal, the keyword. Social influencers or KOLs, who are serious about growing their accounts and finally monetizing it, will need to increase their follower base and engagement metrics, in other words to be popular on Instagram, so as to fulfil the criteria of the second and third signals. Read more on community engagement here.

how instagram search works

As an ever-evolving platform, Instagram has also announced they plan to make search even better, first focusing on getting search keywords right in English, then adding support for other languages (yes please, I’m an avid fan of some Thai celebrities but you do not provide translations for Thai). Also in the pipeline is expanding search results to show more relevant content when one does not have an exact username or hashtag in mind while searching.

I’m definitely looking forward to a more robust search experience on Instagram!

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