How social SEO is replacing Instagram hashtags

Remember hashtags? What was once a must for all social media managers looking to improve presence on Instagram has been #canceled. At one time, hashtags were believed to help us reach more users and increase engagement, but now it seems, they may just be there for a humorous touch and to help brides find their wedding pictures. 

According to the experts at Hootsuite, a popular social media management software company, and Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri, coming up with 30 strategic keywords or phrases that follow the pound sign on your posts is not effective when it comes to improving analytics. So, if hashtags aren’t here to help us go up against ever-changing algorithms, what is?

What is social media search engine optimization?

Enter social media search engine optimization, more commonly referred to as social SEO. SEO in social media works a lot like SEO does for search engines like Google. It is the practice of including relevant keywords in post captions to increase the chances of content being served to users, and thus, increasing reach and engagement. 

How do I know what keywords to use?

If you know your target audience and industry well, developing keywords should be fairly straightforward. For example, if you’re managing an account for a sushi restaurant in Downtown Chicago, “sushi” and “Downtown Chicago” are a must when it comes to crafting a good social SEO-rich caption. However, variety is the spice of life, so we’re going to need more.

There are many paid services out there to help you identify keywords that ring true with your target audience. If you already have Google’s GA4 set up to track website analytics, though, you can start there for some trial and error. Use the tool to learn what keywords visitors are using to find your site. While there’s no guarantee those same keywords will perform well on Instagram, it is a good (and free!) place to start. 

Will using keywords make my Instagram posts perform better?

Hootsuite conducted an experiment to test how posts with hashtags performed versus those that included relevant keywords instead. The results showed the posts with keywords instead of hashtags received higher reach and engagement numbers time and time again.

But, keywords on their own are not enough. Yes, including relevant keywords in post captions help enhance reach and engagement, but they don’t operate in a silo. In order for your Instagram posts to perform well, you must share content that is attractive to your audience. Give the people what they want. Think authentic imagery, content posted at optimal times, useful information that matters to them and more.

Hashtags are out and keywords are in. Go forth and prosper, social media managers!