Busting Recent Instagram Myths about Search

I've gotten a lot of DMs lately about what official Instagram channels have put out there regarding how Search on Instagram works. It's such a huge topic that I can't possibly contain it all in a DM reply. This article will serve as my answer.

I've been working for a couple of weeks on a coherent answer AND proof that what I'm saying can be relied on. Several times during this process, I've noticed changes to Search and then basically have to start from scratch again to prove my research results. The most important thing I can disclaim to you, at the start, is that Instagram changes all the time. If something new comes out, this whole thing might be null and void.

But for now, as of the time of this writing, October 11th, 2021, this article will reference what I believe to be true about Instagram search and why the recent statements made by Instagram are false.

First, let's get some stuff out of the way, call this IG Search 101. 

What shows up in IG search?

As you type in what you're searching for (keywords), this is what you'll see:

  1. Other keyword suggestions (this is helpful for long-tail keyword phrase research)
  2. Keywords in your Username (follows a hierarchy, with accounts you follow showing up first)
  3. Keywords in your Profile Name (also follows a hierarchy)



If you select to see all results or tap any of the keyword suggestions, you’ll then see:

1. A grid of Feed Posts (images and videos, IGTV video previews in your feed, carousel and shoppable posts) with your keyword in a hashtag (comments or caption).
If you tap the featured video in the upper right corner, you’ll be in a video-only feed for that keyword used as a hashtag (comments or caption.)

Depending on your account (I have many different accounts, including private, public, creator, and business profiles and there's no rhyme or reason to which accounts have which interface. Note that I am also logged in to all of them at the same time, and they still all look different) you'll also see a top line menu with the Burger Icon (three horizonal lines, which is the default grid screen you're on, showing you "Top" results including only Feed Posts, an avatar that will show you only accounts with that keyword, a musical note with audio (maybe?), a hashtag with hashtag results, and a pin for locations that have been geotagged with that keyword. You may only see the old menu of Top, Accounts, Tags, and Places. 

2.  If you tap the Accounts or Avatar to see accounts, you'll be shown a list of accounts whose Usernames or Profile Names use your keyword. These are shown in a hierarchy and will be different depending on which account you're using, if you have multiple accounts. 

3. Audio: (This is the newest search filter and is super sketchy! Some of my accounts don’t show this option, as mentioned above and only one account shows any search results at all.) If it’s working for you, you’ll see a list of audio tracks that either relate to your keyword or use that keyword in the song or artist’s name. If you tap on an audio track, you’ll have the option to save it, play it, and view the Reels that have used it in chronological order. 


4.  A list of tappable hashtags with your keyword and other variations, along with how many posted have EVER used that hashtag since the very beginning of Instagram ever. (This is a historical figure and is NOT an indicator of current popularity or value!)

When you tap a hashtag from that list, you can follow that hashtag and see posts that use that hashtag in your feed scroll, even if you don’t follow the account; you’ll see if any of your followers follow that hashtag; you’ll see a “Top” grid with ONE featured reel that uses that hashtag and feed posts apparently ranked by *signals in the algorithm (factors such as likes, comments, saves, shares, time on post, profile taps, and follows); a “Recent” grid with feed posts (images and videos) **arranged chronologically; and a new separate Reels grid with Reels that use that hashtag in the caption or comments.

If you tap the featured Reel in the upper left corner of the Top results, you are now in a scrollable Reels feed for Reels that used that hashtag, in their caption or in the comments. Interestingly, it appears that these Reels are weighted chronologically, and possibly influenced by algorithmic signals.  I was not able to discern this for sure.

If you tap one of the Reels in the Reels grid, you're now in a scrollable feed of the exact Reels that you just saw in grid form.

5. Places/Geotags with your keyword and a list of other suggestions. These are tappable. When you tap an option, you may be able to tap “View Information” such as a location category and website. You can also tap a map to zoom in or out and continue to Apple Maps (I have an iPhone) or open in Google Maps. You’ll see a grid of Top and Recent feed posts and videos.

It’s important to note that any location WITHIN a larger location will be shown. For example, if someone geotags the Met museum in NYC, you’ll find their post under the geotag for New York City. If someone geotags Piedmont Park in Atlanta, they’ll show up under both the “Piedmont Park” and “Atlanta” geotags, as well as “Midtown Atlanta” and even “Georgia.” So, feel free to niche down on your geotags and know that you’ll show up in any geolocation in that area.

Note that even though you CAN geotag your location in a Reel, Reels do not show up in geotag search (at this time).


What about Reels and Stories?

Stories do not show up in search results and are NOT searchable by geotags or hashtags. However, if you geotag a story, viewers can tap on it to be shown the grid of Top and Recent posts (images and video) for that location, like in #5. If you hashtag your Story, someone can tap that hashtag and go to the grid of Top and Recent posts (images and videos). 

Honestly, this is not a great idea unless you want your viewer to tap OFF of your profile and see everything else geotagged and hashtagged. This is usually not a great idea… But I can see some applications where it makes sense.

Stories are best for: Connecting with your current and potential audience only after they’ve found your profile. Stories are most powerful when you create valuable Highlights on your profile as a sort of website menu, if you will.  For a photographer, you should have an “About” highlight, “Session Info,” different highlights showcasing only your best images in each genre you want to shoot, for example, “Weddings,” “Families,” “Newborns,” “Seniors.”  Your highlights are a super important part of your profile.

Reels are only shown on the Explore (search) page, Audio keyword search, and one featured Reel in hashtag search grid results, and if someone selects to view all Reels that use a particular hashtag. Reels are really not that searchable. Your best bet is to hit Explore or hit that featured spot in hashtag search Top results.


What does NOT show up in search?

1. Keywords and/or locations in your bio. (This directly contradicts IG CEO Adam Mosseri.)

For further reading, please see this Instagram blog post dated June 8th, 2021, allegedly written by Mosseri. I don't take issue with anything in this article. It might be helpful if you aren't well-versed in the Algorithm.

THIS is the article I disagree with (dated August 25th, 2021 by Mosseri) and this particular excerpt:


This is flat not true! Maybe it's coming, but not true today, October 11th, 2021. It's easy to prove: Go to any popular IG'er, let's say Meg Loeks, and look for a keyword or phrase in their bio. Then, search for that keyword or phrase and see if that account shows up in Search. It doesn't. 

Mosseri also stated this in a tweet on August 25th. I'll embed the video for you here, but it's riddled with misinformation that I'll debunk here. 


This was ALSO stated in an Instagram post dated August 31st on @creators, an official IG channel that typically does have helpful info. Here's that post:

If keywords in your bio showed up in search results, why doesn't "Legend of Light" show Meg Loeks in search??? You can try this with any other keyword or phrase and you will find that text in your bio does NOT show up in search. 

2. Hashtags that you put in your bio. You should have a REALLY good reason for putting a hashtag in your bio. Most people use this incorrectly. (This also directly contradicts IG CEO Adam Mosseri.)


3. If you have a business profile, the location you put in your profile does not show up in search results or Geotag Place results. 


Basically nothing on your profile except your username and profile name show up in search results. 


4. Alt-text does not show up in search. This has long been touted by the IG gurus as true, and I've debunked it many times, specifically here (an Instagram Post.) 


5. Words used in your caption. In over 90% of all cases, the "keyword" is used as a hashtag. I have found very few exceptions when a post is in search results that doesn’t use that exact keyword as a hashtag. I need to do more research on this but I can tell you that this is a very rare thing to find. Do not assume that keywords in your caption will show up in search. In those rare instances, the account may have been verified (blue check), has a ton of followers or had amazing engagement. It's rare, and the exception to the rule. 

Does putting hashtags in your captions rank you higher for those hashtags? NO. Unequivocally NO! They rank it exactly the same as hashtags in comments. As you saw in my video, posts in Top Posts have hashtags in their comments or caption - it makes no difference. This video is short, but I've spent way too much time testing and testing this and I've never seen any significant difference. If this were true, I'd notice that most posts in Top Posts used hashtags in their caption and that's not the case. 


Should I put my hashtags in my comments or caption? 

Hashtags that make sense in your caption include: 

  1. Branded / Series / Collection hashtags
  2. Funny / joke hashtags 
  3. Loop hashtags 
  4. Special project hashtags like #teamup4goldkids
  5. Any hashtag where you can make a good case that you want it to be seen and tapped on. Have a purpose. 

What type of hashtags should go in a comment?

  1. Almost all of them. Sometimes all of them. 
  2. Hub hashtags
  3. Location hashtags 
  4. Niche hashtags 
  5. Hashtags where you’re competing for search, e.g. hub hashtags and local hashtags


Why put most/all hashtags in your comments?

  1. Because the claim that they rank better if used in your caption is FALSE. 
  2. Hashtags are ugly and make your caption look cluttered. IG is about aesthetics. Make your captions pretty too, please. (That includes line breaks, spacing, etc. See this blog post article.)
  3. Your competition is copying your hashtags. Why are you giving them away so freely and easily? At least make someone work for it! Especially you HubHackers… you pay for those hashtags. Don’t publicize the hashtags you use.  To add, you should be pinning your favorite 3 comments to the top of your comments section. This even further hides your hashtags, just as adding five lines of periods does well to hide them. Plus, it’s a compliment to your commenters! They get a notification and will feel all 🥰 when they see you’ve pinned their comment. 


Do posts get better reach when they only use 3-5 hashtags? 

What??? This is just crazytown to me. If you’ve watched any news over the last week, you’re probably aware that FB and IG have lost their minds. And THIS is a perfect example. This is not true and cannot be true. I cannot figure out for the life of me why on earth an official Instagram channel would say this??

When you’re already upset about your reach and the algorithm 🤦🏼‍♀️ To give you false info that will further hurt your reach? I simply do not understand. Prove it, Adam. Prove this to me. But I cannot find any evidence at all that this is true. (See the short video I posted here, but again, I've been testing and testing this and most people that are in Top Posts do use far more than 3-5 hashtags. 

What might be true? Most Instagrammers, and many photographers, use hashtags all wrong. They do a lousy job of hashtagging #sorrynotsorry and so yeah, they should probably use fewer hashtags. They probably ARE hurting their reach because they use overbroad, random irrelevant hashtags.  


Who should use the hashtag #bossbabe? Real estate agents? Digital marketers? Photographers? CEO’s? Entrepreneurs? Moms? Are you picking up what I’m putting down here? Too broad. Not relevant. 

Anyone searching #bossbabe (maybe a divorced dude that’s never heard of tinder?) is going to encounter such a totally random assortment of everything that it makes the search useless. 


Have you ever heard of “time on page” as a metric in SEO for websites?  How about “bounce rate?” Ya so if you use #bossbabe on your posts and someone thinks they’re getting a bunch of Amy Porterfields and they see you’re a photographer, they’ll either A. Not tap that golden hour embrace between mama and baby, or B. Tap it, go “Aw!” And then tap back because it’s not what they’re looking for… Use relevant hashtags. 


Further, as photographers, we have a VERY unique ecosystem when it comes to hashtags. I teach this on my free mini-course (link in profile 😉) One of the ways we grow our following (among photographers) and influence is by exposure through hub features. It’s no secret that a higher follower count *implies* worth via social proof.

Let me explain before you freak.

If a potential client is checking out a few Facebook pages, websites and Instagram accounts prior to booking her Fall session, she’ll undoubtedly notice how many likes your FB page has, how many followers you have and if she found you on the first page of Google.

Did you know that only 25% of searchers will go to page two on Google?

Did you also know that likes, follower counts, and page rank on Google do NOT equate to the quality of images or worth of a photographer? Read that again.

But here’s the rub… That potential client doesn’t know great from good photography. Trust me this y’all… Every day I see friends post “professional” photos they had done and I’m all 😳 White balance much? Blown highlights? Weird posing. Poor use of light. Over-saturation. Over-sharpened. I’m sorry you guys, I’m not trying to be mean but most non-photographers cannot distinguish fair from good from great.

I bet they can figure out amazing from awful. But that middle area is expansive. What do they rely on? Social proof. It’s true, I’m sorry. They see you and your X number of followers but then they see that other photographer with 10x your followers. They assume that ten times more people think that other photographer is better than you. It’s their only easy metric of comparison. It’s not their fault. 

Is your follower number a reflection of your talent? Probably not. But in a sea of good to great photographers out there, it is a metric that you should be aware of. Do you need 1k followers to run a very profitable business? Nope. 10k? Nope! 100k? No, but it can’t hurt, right? 

So there ya have it...

I feel like I've addressed all. the. things. Could this all change? Sure. My search pages changed a few times over the last two weeks I've been writing this. But I feel confident that everything I've claimed here is true and provable. The only exception to the rule that plagues me is keywords in captions. But that's so rare, it really is. Don't rely on that, but maybe IG is working on a more robust search function. They probably are. 

If you have questions, please DM me @photographerhack. 



*signals in the algorithm: Read this article from 2019 about Top Posts and how there's really no rhyme or reason as to what shows up there. 

**arranged chronologically: This is mostly the case, however, there is currently a little glitch that if you edit/add hashtags to an old post, that post will actually show up around post position 12-15. Previously, the post would show up among the other posts shared at the same time. It was literally chronological order. 

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