Instagram is a powerful visual platform for digital marketers to take advantage of. Naturally, anybody taking part in a multichannel marketing strategy understands that efforts to market your Instagram profile should extend beyond Instagram itself.
Surprisingly, however, Instagram accounts are actually notoriously difficult to index and display in the search results.
This is because most Instagram users are, in fact, not so interested in promoting themselves, and in fact Instagram actually blocks search engines from indexing your Instagram images. The profiles themselves can still be indexed, but the images are not.
This represents a major hurdle for marketers hoping to get additional traffic to their Instagram account from the search results, but the hurdle is not insurmountable.
Let’s talk about how to optimize your Instagram account for search engines.
Make sure your profile is set to public
Instagram profiles are set to public by default, meaning that anybody can access your profile and all of your content. As a marketer, this is obviously how you want it. However, it’s a good idea to double check that your privacy settings were never altered and ensure that this hasn’t been changed.
To do this, go to your profile and click the hamburger menu icon:
Next go to “Settings” followed by “Account Privacy” and make sure that the “Private Account” toggle is set to “off.”
Set up social profile schema for Instagram
Google allows you to use schema.org markup to tell them which social media profiles are yours. If your brand gets a card in the Knowledge Graph, your social media profiles will then show up there:
Have your developer take a look at Google’s documentation on proper implementation of Social Profile structured data and ensure that your Instagram account is included.
Include your most important keyword in your Instagram name
The title tag for your Instagram page is automatically generated using your profile information, and it looks like this:
My Name (@username) • Instagram photos and videos
Including your primary target keyword under your profile name is the only way to get your most important keyword into your Instagram title tags.
We strongly discourage keyword stuffing here, but there is certainly a way to do this that is appropriate for your brand and your users. It’s simply a matter of changing, for example, “Casey’s” to “Casey’s Groceries.”
To update your name in Instagram, click the profile button:
Then just click the “Edit Profile” button and update the “Name” field.
Include a specific and keyword-rich bio
While editing your profile, you should also make sure that your bio is optimized for the search results.
You don’t have a lot of room to work with: your Instagram bio is limited to a maximum of 150 characters, similar to Google’s dynamic limit on meta descriptions.
Thankfully, “keyword stuffing” is more or less acceptable in an Instagram bio if you are using hashtag keywords, and the keywords are appropriate. Instagram hashtags are clickable links that take users to a list of posts with the same hashtag, so they are considered helpful for users.
If you have other brand accounts or influencers you work with, you can also include @ usernames here, and they will turn into clickable links.
The bio renders as html and is crawlable by search engines, and it is virtually the only text on your page, so this is where a massive chunk of the optimization takes place.
You can use a combination of TagBlender for Instagram hashtag research and the Google Keyword Planner for keyword research to arrive at what keywords to include here.
It’s a good idea to get at least a few words in your bio that aren’t just hashtags, however, in order to give the search engines a bit more semantic meat to work with. Flesh out your bio as much as you can given the limited space. Make it as clear as possible who you are and what you’re about.
While you’re editing your profile, you should of course also make sure that the “Website” field includes the URL for your brand’s website. While this link is unfortunately nofollowed, it still serves as a source of referral traffic and shouldn’t be neglected.
Treat your image caption like a title tag — because it is one
We tend to treat Instagram image captions as though they were meta descriptions, but we should be treating them more like title tags, because when Instagram creates a page for your post, the title tag includes the caption, like this:
My Name on Instagram: “this is my image caption”
So, here again we see how important the “Name” field in your profile is, since it also shows up here, even though your @ username does not. But the remainder of the title tag is taken up by your image caption.
This can result in some very messy and incomplete looking title tags in the search results:
The situation gets even worse when emojis are included.
I’m not suggesting that you keep the image caption short enough to stay within the title tag, since this would be a very, very short image caption.
However, it’s a good idea to check where your title tag will regularly cut off and make sure that the most important information is at the beginning of the caption and before the title tag cuts off.
As with your bio, make sure that your caption is focused and keyword rich, but keep in mind that this will also be acting as a call to action from the search results. A string of hashtags may make sense and look fine on Instagram, but in a title tag in the search results it will look a great deal more spammy.
Link directly to your Instagram posts
This is arguably the most important step in the process.
You can not promote your individual Instagram posts merely by promoting your Instagram profile. In order for anybody to find these posts in the search results, you will need to link to them directly from your other channels, making sure to copy the link that points directly to the post.
To get the link, click the ellipses in the bottom right corner of the post:
And then click the “Copy Link” button from the pop-up:
You will want to naturally include a link to your post from as many of your platforms as possible, within reason, in order to ensure that the post gets indexed.
This can be accomplished using Instagram recap blog posts, or by including citation links to your Instagram posts whenever you post an Instagram picture to your blog.
In Shopify’s Instagram followers guide, they also recommend following, liking, and commenting on your competitor’s followers posts, since about 34% of them will follow back. The more followers you have, the more links you’ll pick up from followers linking to your posts across various platforms.
While Instagram is not an SEO-friendly platform, taking these extra steps will help your Instagram profile and posts turn up in search results when similar brands will likely be invisible. We recommend working these steps into your process to give your Instagram profile a boost in visibility.
Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego based digital agency that specializes in website design & development and ecommerce SEO. Follow him on Twitter.