Instagram Finally Rolls Out Keyword Search Function – What Does This Mean?

Sian Thomas

· Social Media

Instagram is the social media app of choice for young people, and it seems to want to push its reach and popularity even further. This year has seen a series of new updates, taking it from what was once a simple photo sharing app to something resembling a more complex search engine. 

In addition to a series of redesigned versions of the app’s home screen which place Shopping and Reels tabs more prominently, but which users have branded “ugly”, in celebration of their 10th birthday in early October, Instagram also released other new celebratory features. These updates include a Stories Map, the ability to switch up your Instagram app icon and in stream shopping for IGTV. 

After the recent announcement of the expansion of Instagram Guides, the option to post long form content designed to promote wellness among a select group of publishers, to all users for products, places and individual posts, they have yet another new feature for us. 

Instagram’s New Keyword Search Function

The latest update takes Instagram’s search function to the next level. In addition to being able to find content by searching using usernames and hashtags, Instagram users now have the ability to search using keywords. This opens up Instagram’s potential for not only everyday users searching for things like “craft ideas” and “baking recipes”, but also for brands wanting to get their products seen using lifestyle imagery that has been optimised for Instagram’s search.

This takes Instagram beyond the capabilities of other popular social media search engines such as Pinterest, as it allows users to search for ideas using imagery but without linking to these ideas outside of Instagram, they remain in app. This is compounded by the fact that users can view long form content in Guides and then go on to shop within the app.

This expands Instagram’s potential for creators who are able to take the micro-blogging capabilities of Instagram even further, using long form content that is able to be found in search by a new audience.

For ecommerce brands, they will be able to utilise the opportunity to place shopping catalogues within content that can be optimised for search.

It’s clear that Instagram is planning to dominate with their new growth strategy, for which ecommerce is a key factor. The customer journey is all kept within the app and users never need leave the app between searching for ideas, finding reviews tagged by customers, and making a purchase.

How does Instagram’s Keyword Search work?

It’s no longer just about ranking in your followers’ feeds; now you have the advantage of being discovered on a page where users beyond your followers are searching with intent rather than scrolling aimlessly.

As yet, it is not fully clear what factors Instagram is taking into account for their keyword search function. The Verge reported that the algorithm considers several factors including “when someone shared the post, the accompanying caption and the photo or video that’s on display. Instagram also says it’s using machine learning to put forward “the highest quality content that’s relevant to you.””

It appears that AI is involved to some extent to sort the content, such as detecting what’s featured in an image or video rather than simply the content accompanying it. It’s likely that the algorithm chooses what ranks in the search not just according to what keywords are featured in a single post caption, in the hashtags for the post or in the alt text, but also by the overall account quality (quantity of followers and engagement rates) as well as overall account relevancy. 

For now, hashtags don’t appear to be totally negated, however it will be interesting to watch the impact that keyword search has on hashtags over time. Like with Twitter, hashtags are still useful for specific campaigns or giving users another option for search, but with the algorithm needing to take into account the content of images and videos using AI, it’s likely that keyword search will develop over time as the algorithm’s ability to detect what is featured.

So far, this function is available in six selected countries including UK, US, Ireland and Canada. This feature works on posts on your grid rather than for Stories. At this time, the search is “limited to general interest topics and keywords that are within Instagram’s community guidelines.”

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