Breaking Down How Instagram Search Works

By: Kryslin Kane, Digital Marketing Specialist, Summit Creative Marketing

Instagram Search is the Google of social media – it is a really powerful tool that many people use to discover business accounts, hashtags, posts, and locations. If you’re a business looking for more eyes on your posts, securing a top spot in Instagram’s search results is important to get people interested and convert them into followers!

As an expert resource in digital marketing, we are here to help businesses understand how Instagram determines which search results to display, and how your business can make changes to secure a higher spot in these search rankings.

How Instagram Ranks Search Results

Instagram Search is a function on the Instagram Explore page, helping people to find accounts or topics that interest them. In order for Instagram to suggest the best content for you, and ultimately keep you happy as a user of the platform, they will suggest search results in an order that they believe is most relevant to you. 

For example, say that you are interested in social media marketing. Once you begin to type “social media marketing”, Instagram will suggest accounts, hashtags, and even places that match what you are searching. As you could imagine, there are a lot of results that could appear under this topic. 

In order to sort the many results that could appear, Instagram uses what they call signals. These signals are ranked by Instagram, based on how important they are for generating valuable search results. The order of importance of these signals are as follows:

Your Text in Search

The exact text you enter into the search bar is the most important signal, meaning that Instagram will use what exactly you type to make suggestions of account names, hashtags, and places that match.

Your Activity

The next most important signal is based on the accounts that you already follow, posts you have previously viewed, and the way you have interacted with past accounts. The algorithm is working hard behind the scenes to learn about you as an individual so that it can deliver relevant and personalized content to you. 

Instagram also uses past activity and engagement to suggest accounts and hashtags that you already follow, or one’s that you visit more frequently to create easier accessibility.

Popularity of Search Results

When the topic is a more heavily searched topic that would yield a high amount of potential results, then Instagram also considers popularity signals. This can be informed by the number of interactions such as clicks, likes, and follows that a specific account, hashtag, or place is receiving. 

How Instagram Helps You Show Up In Search

Whether it’s friends, clients, or even potential clients that you want to easily find you, it is important to understand the best practices to help you rank in these search results.

It is useful for businesses to think of their Instagram profile as their business homepage on the app. The same way that businesses want their website to have the best and most relevant keywords to rank higher on Google, Instagram is handled similarly!

Use a Fitting Profile Name and Handle

Your handle is also known as your username which appears at the top left corner of your profile page. This differs from your profile name which is in bold text appearing under your profile picture and above your biography. 

Using an Instagram handle or profile name which is related to your business and the content of your posts is how you will be more likely to appear in related searches (Remember the most important signal: Instagram will match what you type into the search). This means if you are a credit repair company, then you want to fit “Credit Repair Company” into your name if possible, as the name field is searchable and customizable through keywords.

That being said, it is helpful to use the name you are known for. If friends or clients know your business by a certain name then you should try your best to have this as your username so that you appear when they search for you with this name.

Include Relevant Keywords or Locations in Your Bio

When you create your bio, you should be intentional about including relevant keywords for your business and what your profile is about. If your location is important to your business, which is the case for many smaller businesses, then your location should be included to make it easier for people in this location to discover you.

Use Relevant Keywords and Hashtags in Captions

In order for specific posts to be found when people are searching, it is important to put keywords and hashtags relevant to your business in the captions of the posts. Some people will put their hashtags in the comments, but this is not as helpful when trying to rank in the search. As a reminder, it is important to use keywords that are searchable, but they also should accurately highlight what your post is about, and what your business is about, or else you will not be reaching the right audience.


Lastly, Instagram will stay away from ranking accounts that are against their Recommendations Guidelines. This means that an account which is against these guidelines, or is deemed as spam, may appear much lower in the search or require the full username in order to find the account. 

Accounts or posts that are in violation of their Community Guidelines will be removed from Instagram, meaning there is no way for them to show up in the search results.

While it is unlikely that most businesses will run into problems with violating Instagram guidelines, it could be possible depending on what you are posting. Being aware of these guidelines is important, especially if you are trying to build a business and gain awareness of your account. If you violate Instagram’s guidelines this could hurt your chances of being found through Search.

Instagram’s Future Plans For Search

Search was created by Instagram as a tool to sort and navigate through all of the content being added to the platform daily. In their efforts to continually advance their platform, they are considering these new changes for the Search feature in the future:

  • Expanding the Search tool into a full page dedicated to search results, helping in people’s discovery on the app. 
  • Fine tuning and expanding keywords to be more accurate and better suggest relevant content
  • Improving search results for exploration – meaning content will appear that is related to the search, even though it is not exact. This is a great way to find new topics when you’re not sure what the right hashtag or username should be.

Now that you have a greater understanding of the way Instagram Search works, it’s time for your brand to take advantage of Instagram’s Search function and harness the power of social media to increase your brand awareness.

Need help with optimizing and managing your social media presence to increase your discoverability? Reach out to the Summit Creative Marketing team today!