How Instagram ranks search results


Instagram chief Adam Mosseri explains how the app ranks search results and shares some good Instagram SEO practices.

Mosseri has previously shared details of how Instagram’s recommendation algorithms make content appear in the main feed, stories, reels, and crawl sections.

The way Instagram categorizes search results is different as it relies on a user to enter text in order to return the results. While the explore tab, for example, automatically fills in the content.

Instagram aims to organize search results according to what is most relevant to the individual user.

Mosseri explains:

“Let’s say you are interested in finding images from space after seeing the blue moon. When you tap the search bar on the Explore page, the first thing you see is your recent searches. When you start typing “space,” we’ll show you the accounts, audio, hashtags, and places that match your search text. In this case, results such as @space and # space are displayed because “space” appears in their name. “


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Its example is shown in the image below:

Screenshot from, August 2021.

Instagram search ranking signals

In addition to the text entered by the user, Instagram’s search algorithm uses information from accounts, hashtags, and locations to rank the results.


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The main Instagram ranking signals in order of importance are:

  • Your text: The text you enter in the search bar is Instagram’s most important ranking signal. It will first try to match the text with usernames, bios, captions, hashtags, and relevant places.
  • Your activity: This includes the accounts you follow, the posts you’ve viewed, and how you’ve interacted with the accounts in the past. Instagram usually shows the accounts and hashtags you follow or visit higher than the ones you don’t.
  • User engagement: When there are a lot of potential results, Instagram will look for engagement signals. These include the number of clicks, likes, shares, and follows for a particular account, hashtag, or location.

Instagram SEO best practices

Mosseri offers the following tips to make your content easier to find on Instagram.

Choose a relevant username and profile name.

Since text is the most important ranking signal, you should try to choose an Instagram screen name or profile name related to your content. It’s your best bet to show up in relevant searches.

If your audience knows you by a specific name, include that name in your username or profile so you can appear when they search for you.

Include relevant keywords and locations in your bio.

The text of your bio matters too, so include relevant keywords and placements. Make sure your bio contains text about who you are and what your page is about.

If your account is location specific, such as a small business, sharing your location in your bio can make it easier for people to find you.

Use relevant keywords and hashtags in captions.

In order for an article to be found in search, put keywords and hashtags in the caption, not in the comments.


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Instagram search penalties

Just like Google imposes search penalties, failing to follow Instagram’s recommendation guidelines can result in your content being demoted in search results. Instagram can penalize individual posts, entire accounts, or entire hashtags.

In explaining how penalties are issued, Mosseri refers to shadowbanning without directly using the term “shadowbanning”.

He declares:

“Accounts that post spam or violate our guidelines may appear lower in search results, and you may have to search for their full username to find them. “

A shadowbanned Instagram account is similar to having a functioning website while it is deindexed in Google. The only way to see the content is to visit it directly.


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Instagram has a separate set of community guidelines that are different from recommend guidelines. If these are violated, the account is completely deleted from the site.

Upcoming Instagram search improvements

Instagram will soon be launching a series of search results enhancements that will allow users to find more than just accounts and hashtags.

Mosseri says the company is working on a “full search results page experience” that makes it easy for people to delve into their interests.

Instagram is also planning to expand the keywords that users can search for and allow for more in-depth exploration of topics.


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Currently, an Instagram search for “space” will return accounts and hashtags that contain the word “space”. Soon that same search will be able to return photos and videos of the space, in addition to accounts and hashtags.

Here’s an example of the new Instagram search experience in the works:

instagram search resultsScreenshot from, August 2021.



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