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Instagram Search & Explore: A Complete Guide for Marketers

Learn how to use Instagram’s Search & Explore feature as part of your social media marketing strategy to get discovered.

Want to use one of the world’s favorite photo-based social media apps to its fullest advantage?

You should. Instagram can be crucial for any business’s marketing plan.

And if you want to up your Instagram game, you need to get on its Search & Explore section.

It’s free. It’s easy. It’s relatively painless.

Made to recommend personalized, new content, Search & Explore gives Instagram users a way to check out what they may not have seen otherwise.

What they see could be your business. It’s time to make that happen.

Instagram Search & Explore is Crucial for Marketers

Social media rules the internet, and Instagram is one of the top leaders.

In October 2020, it had a total estimated 1 billion active users – that’s a lot of potential viewers for your page. Instagram also happens to be the 9th most visited website in the U.S. with approximately 972 million monthly visits in June 2021.

Instagram’s user numbers are only increasing. In 2023, the company is projected to have 1.2B active monthly users.

And Instagram’s Search & Explore feature is potentially ground-breaking. No more ads – instead, recommended content people want to interact with that leads back to products or services they may be interested in.

Everybody wins.

But how, exactly, does it work?

How Instagram’s Algorithm Works

Although the backend may be complicated, Instagram’s explanation of its algorithm is pretty simple. Everything is broken down into two steps: the generation stage and the ranking stage.

Instagram’s algorithm can get a bit more complicated, but you can implement new best practices to stay ahead if you understand how it works.

We’ve also gone even more in-depth, looking at how posts are chosen for the Search & Explore page before.

What that said, here’s what you really need to know about the two stages of Instagram’s Search & Explore algorithm:

1. Generation Stage

For its first stage, Instagram uses “seed” accounts for research. These are accounts people have engaged with already.

Using the seed accounts, Instagram analyzes and identifies posts that specific users may be interested in.

Instagram’s algorithm then runs its numbers again, using the seed accounts and accounts similar to them. This time it tries to find media these accounts have interacted with.

Once it has a large list of potential posts, it’s time for the ranking stage.

During this stage, out of a pool of tens of thousands of media posts, only 500 candidates are sent to the next step.

2. Ranking Stage

During this second stage, Instagram’s algorithm will gradually narrow hundreds of possible candidates down to only 25 of the most relevant, highest-quality posts.

What’s left is what you end up seeing on the first page of your Instagram Explore feed grid.

On the back end, Instagram will estimate your negative or positive interactions with posts based on your past behavior, giving the app a good guess as to what you’ll like — or not.

How to Find Content Using Instagram Search & Explore

Instagram is making it easier than ever to find brand new content. Besides just its new Search & Explore feature, the app continuously adds more ways to discover posts.

Specific to the Search & Explore page, there are a few different ways to find content. Here’s how they work.

Front Page

Front and center, you’ll be able to see the top 25 posts catered to your interests. Keep scrolling, and you’ll go further down the list – it’s long.

Here, you can see images and videos Instagram specifically believes you’ll enjoy. Not only can you find new users you may never have interacted with otherwise, but you’ll be able to see what kind of content Instagram views as high quality.


The search bar at the top is where you can really push the edges of Instagram’s new feature.

This is where you’re able to search keywords, not just hashtags. This means you can find related content that doesn’t match the exact hashtag you entered.

Don’t worry, you can still search specific hashtags. If you start typing one in, you’ll even see suggested top tags based on what you’ve already typed.

You can also search for top accounts to find users you may want to follow.

Additionally, you can search by place. Just pick a location that’s relevant to your business or your audience’s interests, and you’ll be able to see what’s currently going on.

Topic Channels

Just below the search bar, you’ll see that Instagram’s Search & Explore feature really blooms.

To make things even more straightforward than having to come up with keywords or hashtags to search, you can select subject-oriented feeds that are tailored to you.

Some of these include Food, Nature, Fashion, Travel, Beauty, Home, and Science & Tech.

This is an excellent way to check out your competitors, as well. If you know what category you’d like to fall under, scroll through some posts to see who’s getting on the front page.

Analyze what they’re doing, and you’ll be able to apply it to your own account.

Instagram Search and Explore.


On the top left, just below the search bar and next to the topic channels, you’ll find IGTV. It’s an individualized feed of long-form videos (videos longer than about a minute).

You won’t just see short clips from people you follow, like in Instagram’s Stories. Instead, the algorithm includes both accounts you follow and accounts it thinks you should follow.

Another fantastic way to discover what’s popular out there, IGTV also lends a more personal feel to viewers with its format.

It’s often used for behind-the-scenes views, one-on-one interviews, or jam sessions for musicians.

Instagram IGTV.

Tips for Getting on Instagram’s Search & Explore Page

Want to know how to be on Instagram’s Search & Explore page quickly?

We’ve talked about how to drive traffic from Instagram before. Here’s how to specifically drive views from their Search & Explore page.

Use Location Tags and Hashtags

Because hashtags are still the cornerstone of Instagram, you must be sure to use them. However, you want to use them properly to avoid under or overwhelming your audience.

Many experts recommend about nine relevant hashtags per post – the more niche, the better. You don’t necessarily want to only use the most popular hashtags: you could be drowned out.

It’s also important to tag your location now that Instagram allows you to search for posts by place.

Tag your storefront, the site of an event, or another area that would make sense to your audience. This is a basic way to drive more views.

Post Consistently

It’s vital to post consistently, as accounts that post sporadically, or barely at all, tend to see low follower counts. Not only that, but they’re likely to drop followers steadily, too.

Depending on your business, try to post at least 1-2 times per day. If not, go for a few days per week.

If posting on a regular schedule seems too daunting, you can purchase tools like Sendible to do it for you.

Post at the Right Times

You want to cater to your audience – that’s always true in marketing. On Instagram, and in social media in general, part of this means posting at the right time of day.

You can use features like Instagram Insights (available for free with a business account once you reach 100 followers) to figure out when your followers are active.

Instagram Insights gives you powerful data to keep coming back to so you can establish patterns and capitalize on formats and times your audience cares about.

Instagram insights.

Engage With Others

Engaging with others is the easiest way to get them to engage with you. By liking other’s posts and leaving thoughtful comments, you’ll increase your brand’s image and awareness.

People will start to recognize your name as a friendly face and may be more likely to check your company out in the future, or at the very least to like your next post.

Post High-Quality Content

This final step may be the most crucial when it comes to a media-based app like Instagram. Not only does everyone love a pretty picture, but on Instagram, they expect it.

If you post a grainy or blurry photo or video, viewers will be turned off and are unlikely to interact.

On the other hand, if they see a beautiful image they like, a viewer is likely to engage in some way.

Sizing is important, too. For the best quality, post photos that are 1080 pixels wide by 566 pixels to 1350 pixels high.

Keep in mind that Instagram’s maximum resolution is 1080 pixels wide, so anything larger than that may cut off your image or video.

Instagram Search & Explore is a Game Changer for Business

With so many new ways to find brand-sparkling-new content you probably would have never seen otherwise, Instagram’s Search & Explore function gives companies a whole new way to be discovered.

Don’t wait. The app’s users are only climbing ever higher in numbers, and Instagram is poised to blow up even more than it already has.

By using our tips and tricks on how to navigate and utilize Search & Explore effectively, you’ll be seeing fresh views in no time at all.

More Resources:

Image Credits

Image 1:
All screenshots taken by author, June 2021

Category Instagram
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Julia McCoy Founder, Author, Educator at The Content Hacker™

Julia McCoy is an 8x author and a leading strategist around creating exceptional content and presence that lasts online. As ...

Instagram Search & Explore: A Complete Guide for Marketers

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