Use Instagram Search to Grow Your Social Media Presence

These days, when you want to know something, the first thing that you do is bring up a search engine. Whether it’s Google, Bing, or MSN doesn’t matter – all of them have a box in which you can type your search phrase and a search button. The search engine does all the work, giving you all the information you need pretty much instantly. From there, you can browse the results and select the response that best fits your needs. 

Instagram Search works much like any other search engine, except it allows you to discover more than just what’s behind the phrase you are looking for. You get to discover brands, hashtags, locations, and posts, all with one tap.

For businesses, securing a solid spot in Instagram search results is not just a nice-to-have – it’s a necessity. There are currently over 1 million monthly advertisers and over 25 million Business Profiles on the platform. In order to make social media matter for your bottom line, you need to make your business visible to your target audience. And if you are not in the search results when your audience is looking, you’re going to be missing out on the chance to convert followers into customers.

When you first open the Instagram app, the first thing you see is your personalized feed. From there, you can access Instagram Search & Explore by tapping the looking glass symbol at the bottom of the screen.

Access Instagram Search

The Search & Explore tab can be used as a directory to every single Instagram account on the app, giving you access to a sea of content. 

How do you search on Instagram? 

As the name suggests, the Instagram browser has two main functionalities – Search and Explore. You can use them to browse content or look for people, hashtags, and locations on the platform. Here’s a closer look at both options. 


When you access the Search & Explore tab, you by default land in the Explore section, Instagram’s self-dubbed Discovery Destination. It’s an endless scroll type of feed, consisting of a variety of content curated for every individual user. What you see here is selected by Instagram’s algorithm to match the images and videos you like on Instagram as well as the content follow and otherwise interact with on the platform. The selection might also include sponsored content.

Instagram Search & Explore
The main Explore feed (right) and the category (Style) Explore feed

Aside from the main feed, which is a mix of everything Instagram thinks you may like, you can use the top bar to easily access a curated selection of IGTV content, shoppable posts, or Instagram posts related to categories of content you’re interested in. 

The Explore section is great for inspiration and finding new accounts to follow. But if you’re looking for something specific, search is the way to go. To start searching, tap the search bar above your Explore feed. You will immediately see a list of your recent searches, including accounts, places, and hashtags you’ve previously looked up in the app. Here too you will find Instagram’s suggestions based on your search history and activity on the platform.

Instagram Search
Recent and suggested search results can be filtered by Top, Accounts (Instagram profiles), Tags, and Places

Instagram Search is divided into four categories: Top, Accounts, Tags, and Places. The tabs can be used to filter results, making it easier for users to find what they’re looking for.

So, how should understanding how Instagram users access content using Search & Explore affect your strategy on the platform?

In a similar fashion to any other search engine, Instagram Search “reads” profiles and learns what to reveal in the search results. In order to show your content to users, Instagram’s algorithm has to be able to understand and categorize it. Only then is it able to see the connection between what you post and the searcher’s tastes, interests, and online behaviors. 

And, as in the case of any other search engine, certain optimization techniques exist that can boost your chances of standing out. In this section, we will discuss tips and best practices you should follow to improve your visibility in Instagram search results.

1. Optimize your name field

Your Instagram name is the very first thing that people are going to search for – whether an individual profile or a business one. The good news is that your Instagram name is entirely searchable, and it’s also customizable. You can make your Instagram name anything that you want it to be, and it doesn’t have to be the same as your Instagram handle.

The fact that you can customize your name means that you can change it to include words that pinpoint what you are all about. Think about it this way – if you run an Instagram account for a restaurant or store that’s part of a larger chain, you could – and should – include the name of your location in your Instagram name. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and try to make sure that if they look for your business, that’s exactly what they will find.

Instagram search results

To change your name, you click on “Edit Profile” right below your profile picture and change it from there. Try not to do it too often – you don’t want to confuse your audience!

2. Use hashtags and keywords in your bio

That little blurb below your Instagram name? That’s your Instagram bio. Use it to tell your audience what your business is all about – but be smart about it! Include keywords that apply to your products and services. You can also add a few (clickable!) hashtags that you commonly use in your posts. You don’t get much space here, so use it wisely!

If you are consistent in your use of hashtags – especially relevant ones – you’re going to expand your audience by popping up in search results and providing searchers with good content matching their search queries. 

3. Fill in your business information

Using Instagram to promote a brand can support many goals – raising brand awareness, generating more traffic to your website or online store, boosting sales. Regardless of which of these is your top priority, you should treat your Instagram account as a mix between a website and a business card for your followers and the new users who come across your brand on the platform. 

Your business information (category, description, address, etc.) is yet another element of your profile that makes it easier for Instagram to make sense of your content and present it to the right audiences. 

4. Tag your location

Adding your location to posts and stories is one of the smartest Instagram strategies that you can implement – particularly if you are trying to appeal to a local audience. When you add a location tag to your post, your audience will be able to see that location, tap through, and see all posts connected to it. 

This is not only convenient for users looking for local attractions – it can also help you reach the audiences of similar businesses. Let’s say a competitive business in your local area tags their location and you do the same. When people tap on the location tagged in their post, they’re going to find you too! 

Custom location Instagram
You can also create a custom location and encourage your customers to tag it in their posts, increasing your visibility in their extended following (Glossier)

At this point, it should go without saying, but tagging the location of your posts also helps you appear in more search results – do it, and the location search category will become your best friend.

5. Work on your engagement rates

Similar to other search engines, Instagram is more likely to present credible accounts in search results. And credibility on the platform is measured both by account size and activity, including how users engage with the content you put out there. Simply speaking, the more engagement you get, the higher up the ranks you’ll appear for Instagram Search. 

Here are some ways you can improve the engagement on your account:

  • Ask your followers questions in post captions
  • Make use of the interactive features of Instagram Stories: ask questions, run polls, etc.
  • Hashtag EVERYTHING
  • Add a location tag to every post
  • Reply to comments – make community management a priority and use Instagram as a tool for customer care; interact with active fans and develop a voice your followers will love
Instagram customer care
Make the interactions with your community fun and memorable (Wendy’s)

6. Share videos

This one sounds like common sense, given that Instagram is all about photos and videos. But many branded feeds are still dominated by photos. Similar to Facebook, Instagram is investing heavily in video content (see: Instagram Stories, IGTV), so it’s currently easier to get noticed on the platform for brands that leverage video as part of their Instagram content strategies.  

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Other uses of Instagram’s Search & Explore for businesses

Instagram can be used for a variety of reasons. Regardless of whether you’re looking for industry insights of trying to discover relevant influencers, Instagram search can help you find relevant answers to your questions. Here are some examples of how you can use Instagram Search & Explore to find others:

  • Analyzing competition. Search for phrases relevant to your industry or browse businesses by location to find competitors you should keep an eye on. Do so to stay inspired, understand industry benchmarks, and get a better understanding of your potential target groups.
  • Collaborating with influencers. An influencer who’s a good match for your brand can introduce your brand to their audience and effectively grow your following. Search keywords, hashtags, and browse the Explore section to find someone your audience will love.
  • Looking for inspiration. It doesn’t matter whether you are out looking for ideas from others, or you want to just get to know your niche from the perspective of your audience. Browsing users, hashtags, and the Explore tab can provide you with fresh ideas to enhance your content strategy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the one browsing Instagram or the one being looked up – Instagram Search can change the game for your business. This is one train you don’t want to miss!

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