Instagram is upgrading its search functionality and letting users find content by keywords for the first time.
Until now, users have only been able to search for content by hashtags, location tags, usernames, and profile names.
That left a swath of unsearchable content in the caption area.
According to a report from TechCrunch, users are now be able to search for posts using keywords that may appear in photo & video captions.
There’s a lot left to be understood about Instagram’s new search functionality, but I’ll round up the information that’s been made available so far.
How Does Instagram Keyword Search Work?
Instagram keyword search works by allowing users to type in a keyword such as “home office inspiration,” rather than being limited to a hashtag like #homeofficeinspiration.
Search results should then surface posts about home office inspiration even if they’re not specifically tagged as such.
It’s not exactly known how Instagram determines what a post is about without relying on hashtags.
It’s known that Instagram will use captions to surface posts for keyword searches, but even there are still many questions.
For example – is it exact-match only? Can Instagram’s algorithm understand synonyms? Is there any AI or machine learning involved to help the algorithm recognize what’s depicted in an image?
A company spokesperson tells The Verge that Instagram considers “a number of factors” when returning search results. This includes the type of content, captions, when it was posted, and more.
The spokesperson confirms Instagram uses machine learning to “find the highest quality content that’s relevant to you.” There’s no mention of whether that also involves image recognition.
Instagram search results are limited to certain terms only, the spokesperson says:
“The search is limited to general interest topics and keywords that are within Instagram’s community guidelines.”
Potential For Instagram SEO?
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this update, at least for marketers and search enthusiasts, is the potential for Instagram SEO.
Previously, the only way to optimize Instagram posts was to include relevant hashtags and perhaps a location tag (if applicable).
Now there’s a whole new algorithm for marketers to understand and optimize for. For the first time we can actually have discussions about Instagram ranking factors.
Before jumping into that, however, it may be best to wait and see how this change impacts user behavior. We don’t yet know how users will adapt to this new way of searching for posts on Instagram.
Will they adopt the use of keywords to find visual content similar to how people use Pinterest? Or will Instagram users prefer using tried and true hashtags?
It would be a promising sign to see a marked increase in user engagement on posts following the launch of keyword search. That could be an indication keywords are being used to help users discover content they wouldn’t have found otherwise.
One thing that’s for certain is Instagram users are averse to change, as evidenced by the uproar to the recent UI update.
There’s much less discussion around this update so far, which is either an indication that users haven’t noticed it or it hasn’t rolled out to everyone yet.
Instagram keyword search is said to be rolling out today in English to all users in Canada, the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.