How Instagram Ranks Search Results


Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, explains how the app ranks search results and shares a few Instagram SEO best practices.

Mosseri has previously shared details about how Instagram’s recommendation algorithms surface content in the main feed, stories, reels, and explore sections.

The way Instagram ranks search results is different because it relies on a user to input text in order to return results. Whereas the explore tab, for example, populates content automatically.

Instagram aims to organize search results by what’s most relevant to the individual user.

Mosseri esplains:

“Let’s say you’re interested in finding pictures of 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. As you begin typing “space,” we show you accounts, audio, hashtags, and places that match the text of your search. In this case, results like @space and # space show up because “space” appears in their name.”


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His example is depicted in the image below:

Screenshot from, August 2021.

Instagram Search Ranking Signals

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


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Instagram’s top 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 relevant usernames, bios, captions, hashtags and places.
  • Your activity: This includes accounts you follow, posts you’ve viewed, and how you’ve interacted with accounts in the past. Instagram usually shows accounts and hashtags you follow or visit higher than those you don’t.
  • User engagement: When there are a lot of potential results, Instagram will look at engagement signals. These include the number of clicks, likes, shares and follows for a particular account, hashtag or place.

Instagram SEO Best Practices

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

Choose a relevant username and profile name.

With text being the most important ranking signal, you should try to choose an Instagram handle or profile name that’s related your content. This is your best bet for showing up in relevant searches.

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

Include relevant keywords and locations in your bio.

Text in your bio matters too, so include relevant keywords and locations. 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.

For a post to be found in Search, put keywords and hashtags in the caption, not the comments.


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Instagram Search Penalties

Just as Google has search penalties, violating Instagram’s recommendation guidelines can get your content demoted in search results. Instagram may penalize individual posts, whole accounts, or entire hashtags.

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

He states:

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

A shadowbanned Instagram account is similar to having a website up and running while it’s de-indexed in Google. The only way to view the content is to visit it directly.


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Instagram has a separate set of community guidelines that are different from the recommendation guidelines. If those are violated then the account is removed from the site entirely.

Upcoming Improvements to Instagram Search

Instagram is soon launching a series of improvements to search results 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 do a deep dive into their interests.

Instagram also plans to expand the keywords users can search for and allow for more exploration of topics.


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