Breaking Down How Instagram Search Works

By Adam Mosseri

August 25, 2021

Search on Instagram sorts through millions of accounts and posts to help you browse your interests. From nail art to interior design to dinner recipes, Search is a place for discovery and inspiration.

In Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works, we shared how we personalize your experience across Feed, Stories, Reels and Explore. Today, we’re breaking down what you see when you search and why.

How we rank Search results

Search is built to help you find accounts and topics of interest. It's different from Feed, Stories, Reels and Explore because your input helps us figure out what to show you. Your search tells us what you’re looking for, and it’s noticeable when the results aren’t useful. It’s important for us to get this right, so we try to organize search results by what’s most relevant to you — whether it be a close friend, a creator you love, or ideas for vegan desserts.

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.

Space search results on Instagram Search.

In addition to the text you type into search, we use information from accounts, hashtags and places — called signals — to rank your search results. The most important signals we use, in order of importance, are:

  • Your text in Search. The text you enter in the search bar is by far the most important signal for Search. We try to match what you type 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. We usually show accounts and hashtags you follow or visit higher than those you don’t.
  • Information about the search results. When there are a lot of potential results, we also look at popularity signals. These include the number of clicks, likes, shares and follows for a particular account, hashtag or place.

How we help you show up in Search

We understand that it’s important you show up in search results when friends or fans are looking for you. We want to make sure that it’s easy for others to find your photos and videos, so here are a few best practices that you can use to help show up in search results:

  • Use a fitting handle and profile name. Search results are matched by text. Using an Instagram handle or profile name that’s related to the content of your posts is your best bet for showing up in relevant searches. If your friends or fans know you by a certain 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. Same principle here. Make sure your bio includes keywords about who you are and what your profile is about. If your account is location-specific, like for a small business, sharing your location in your bio can make it easier for people in your area 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.

How we help keep Search safe

We avoid showing you accounts, posts and hashtags that go against our Recommendations Guidelines in search results. We do this in a few ways. 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. We also balance searches for sensitive topics with additional safety measures to make sure we don’t show you related content that could be harmful. Accounts, hashtags and posts that violate our Community Guidelines are removed from Instagram entirely, which prevents them from showing up in Search.

We will continue to make search safer with features like information pop-ups for sensitive searches. These pages provide links to verified resources for additional support.

Instagram Search sensitive search pop-ups.

How we plan to make Search even better

Search was originally created to help you navigate Instagram. We are soon launching a series of improvements designed for inspiration and discovery. These changes make Instagram Search more than just a way to find accounts and hashtags. We’re moving towards a full search results page experience that makes it even easier to go deep on your interests.

The keywords you can use to search for content is expanding. We’re currently focused on getting keyword search results right in English, and will add support for other languages in the future.

We’re also making search results better for exploration. For example, your search for “space” will show you space-related photos and videos, too. This is especially helpful when you don’t have an exact username or hashtag in mind when searching for a certain topic.

Space photos and videos on Instagram Search.

We design all of our features to help you find the things you love. We are constantly working on improvements to help you discover entertaining things to share with your friends, and we look forward to showing you more about how Instagram works in upcoming posts.

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