Neil Patel

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How to Boost Your Search Rankings With These Instagram Hacks

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People either search for something or they don’t.

There’s not a whole lot you can do about it, to be honest.

For example, how often do you Google “Super Bowl”?

Not very often, right?

Probably just during the month of the event (and a week or two before).

Look up that same keyword in Google Trends, and you can quickly see that the same is true for pretty much everyone else in the world:

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People do all of the same searches within a few weeks of an event. And then they almost never do those searches any other time of the year.

Obviously, it would be tough to grow a business off organic traffic alone when your primary keyword only gets attention seasonally.

Instead, the best keywords and brands pull in consistent attention.

Searches for those keywords might increase or decrease throughout the year if they’re related to a seasonal business, but otherwise, there needs to be consistent interest.

That’s often why you also end up competing for the same keywords in both organic and paid search with thousands (if not millions) of other competitors.

But what if there was another way?

What if you could create demand for a new search term and then dominate 100% of the market? (Because then no one else would be targeting it, too.)

I ran an experiment a few years ago that proved this is possible.

For example, the number of Google searches for my name increased by 71%.

Google searches for my name (or brand, in this case) increased dramatically (and continue to rise).

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Traffic to my websites also increased during the same time.


And I was doing no classic SEO strategies or tricks to cause this bump.

Instead, I was using Instagram to drive this new awareness.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the steps I used on Instagram to improve SEO (and show you how you can do the same), without worrying about one keyword or building a single link.

Step #1. Create a lifestyle brand

You might already know that Instagram’s 700 million users show better engagement than almost any other social network.

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People love interacting, commenting, and sharing. It’s addictive!

But you might notice something interesting when you start digging into the specific posts (and accounts) that see the highest engagement on the platform.

And on Instagram, it’s lifestyle shots — hands down.

Nobody wants to see your product posted a million times. But put that product in a real-life scenario (or one that people wish they were in) and watch the comments roll in.

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One of my favorite studies illustrates the difference.

  1. Nike based 60% of posts on lifestyle shots.
  2. But only 32% of Adidas’s posts included lifestyle-based images.

Why is that important? The average results showed that Nike had 8 times the engagement that Adidas did.

The takeaway from this study is pretty obvious, right?

Posting more lifestyle shots will get you more engagement on Instagram (almost overnight). While at the same time, if you do it right, it will help you build your brand visibility in the process.

Our goal with Instagram is to build brand awareness so that people go back to Google to search for who you are, what products you make, and why you’re so interesting.

Think of it like doing your own PR. You could pay a PR firm to plant stories about you in the press.

However, that’s not cheap. And there’s no guarantee it’s going to work, either.

So this approach makes it possible to create your own Halo effect with Instagram. You’ll get many of the same benefits for a fraction of the price.

People want to live vicariously through each other on Instagram. And fortunately, you don’t need over-the-top Ferrari pictures with mansions and models.

Instead, shoot for real (as in, realistic).

For example, take shots that make it look like people would want to be there with you. (Even if there’s, well, nobody there with you.)

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There’s even some hard data behind why these posts excel on Instagram.

One study showed that images with faces bring in more attention than either products or scenery. And another study showed that ‘authenticity’ is the single biggest contributing factor to a ‘powerful visual’ today.

I’ll show you the perfect example of this.

Check out the latest few posts from comedian Kevin Hart.

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Now, which of those do you think has the most engagement?

Go ahead and look again real fast, because I’m going to unveil the answer in just a second.

Let’s start with the obviously ‘staged,’ professional shots (especially the ones on the bottom row).

How did those fare?

The obvious ad-looking orange one in the bottom right, for example, only has 58.9k likes and 263 comments.

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Those numbers are dreadful considering that he has over 53.6 million followers.

The trick is to look at your engagement ratio here. For example, how many likes, comments, or views are you seeing (on average) in comparison to your follower account?

A paltry 263 comments from over 50 million followers now seems pretty small, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s find out which of those other posts had the most engagement to see what we can learn.

There were a few candid shots of Kevin with his friends and family towards the top. Hovering over those reveals that one of them had over 460k likes and 4,369 comments.

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That’s significantly better, and the photo just shows people just sitting around a table about to have lunch!

There’s nothing special happening. There are no Lambos in sight.

And yet it already crushed the event-promotion post we saw earlier.

However, this one with Kevin and his friends isn’t necessarily the top-performing post, either.

Instead, that honor goes to a simple video of Kevin and his wife dancing.

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It got over 10 million views within a single day! Then it also received 23.7k comments (in one day).

These shots aren’t fancy. Instead, they’re the opposite. They’re a simple, unfiltered look into someone’s personal life, and the Instagram audience can’t get enough.

The easiest place to start hacking Instagram is by changing your content strategy to focus on realistic lifestyle shots. You’ll also want to post those shots more frequently each day.

Humanize your brand by showing the people behind it, the people who make it happen, or the people who enjoy what you do the most.

(Also, puppies. You can never have too many puppies.)

Step #2. Run contests, promotions, and giveaways with awesome prizes

In the beginning of May, Sunny Co Clothing only had around 7,000 Instagram followers.

That’s a pretty good number for a new company!  However, when you compare that follower count to those of other clothing brands, you quickly realize it’s still a pretty tiny number.

A few months ago, Sunny Co Clothing came up with a brilliant idea to run a promotion and try to increase those numbers.

It wanted to increase its Instagram following, sure. But more importantly, it also wanted to increase brand awareness to eventually drive some sales!

So the company came up with this Instagram image, wrote a quick caption, and fired it off.

Then everything changed for them.

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Do you recognize that?

You might, because over 750,000 people shared it in a single day.

As a result, Sunny Co Clothing gained 750,000 followers, 346.1k Likes, and 124.3k comments within hours after posting it.

How did they do it?

It was pretty simple. They told people that they would give away the swimsuit for free if someone tagged their friend, reposted the image, and paid for shipping and handling.

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This red bathing suit quickly went viral on its own, for free.

That same type of massive, viral exposure might cost you up to $50,000 in some cases.

Instead, Sunny Co Clothing paid nothing out of pocket and simply gave away the product as the prize (in other words, inventory that the company had already paid for).

But even then, the extra ‘padding’ on the shipping costs people had to pay meant the company was still making a boatload of money on this promotion.

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Not to mention, it also provided them with new Instagram followers, email addresses for customers, and brand awareness that increased their search presence.

Nobody was searching for this brand before May 2nd. Then their brand awareness shot up overnight.

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Even though it’s obviously died off since then, there’s still residual interest remaining that’s more than they had before.

These results were extreme, but not totally unexpected.

Giveaways are one of the best ways to increase attention and engagement on any platform.

But they can work exceptionally well when you combine them with lifestyle shots (like we saw a second ago with Sunny Co Clothing).

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The first trick to running a successful Instagram giveaway is to loop in friends of friends.

For example, you don’t just want one person to enter the promotion. You want to give away multiple versions of the same product to people who tag one of their friends, too.

Here’s a perfect example from Victoria’s Secret that’s encouraging women to tag their best friend so they can both win.

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This simple strategy does two things.

First, it brings in someone else who may not have seen the original post. So it’s exposing your brand to new people who may not have even heard of you before.

And second, it extends the ‘half life,’ or usefulness, of the original post.

Most Instagram content lasts for only a few hours. The ‘half life’ (or the amount of time it takes for half the potential audience to view it) is only about one hour!

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Increasing engagement on that post and consistently having your audience bring in new people can help you stretch that time out further.

The second trick with Instagram giveaways is to have other people help you promote each one.

Here’s Victoria’s Secret Angel Sara Sampaio posting her own lifestyle shot about the main brand’s giveaway we looked at a few minutes ago.

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Ok, so many of us don’t have our own line of Angels to help promote our stuff. I get it.

But you can still find and pay influencers related to your products to help get the word out about a new campaign.

There are dozens of platforms out there already that hook up brands with influencers, so they’re both easy and affordable to find.

I’ve experimented with the same tactic in the past, paying influencers to help bring attention back to my account and the giveaways I was running.

Each time they posted, I would get around .2% of their followers to follow me, too.

You can even measure the ‘followback’ results you see based on how you interact and engage with these new people.

For example, you can head over to your competitors’ accounts, interact with their followers, and basically ‘steal’ these people back to your account.

And it all comes down to a three-part move on each: Follow, Like, and Comment.

  • Follow: 14% followback
  • Follow + Like: 22% followback
  • Follow + Like + Comment: 34% followback

Comments are the single most powerful way to ‘steal’ followers, gain new ones, and keep your existing ones coming back for more.

Running giveaways was a huge brand booster that largely contributed to the increase in new brand awareness around “Neil Patel.”

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This extra visibility also led to a few personal connections with other influential entrepreneurs.

So even though there wasn’t a direct ROI on the giveaway itself, those connections will easily end up covering the expenses in the long run.


Step #3. Increase visibility by selecting the right hashtags

Creating a hashtag of your own is a good idea because it helps make your content searchable.

However, you can also screw this up if your made-up hashtag is the only one you’re repeatedly using.

Think about it for a second.

Hashtags aren’t for just being trendy or cool. There’s a real utility behind them!

People use them to search for new content and accounts.

But I can almost guarantee you that there’s not a whole lot of people searching for “#ThisBudsForYou.”

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Using your own hashtag is good, but you have to support it with a few others to see the best results.

Websta keeps a running tab on the top 100 hashtags used so you can quickly see what’s taking off, trending, or falling.

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Massive brands like Nike often go after the largest hashtags exclusively (and it doesn’t hurt to have one of the biggest soccer stars on the planet as an influencer, either).

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Going after the most popular hashtags sounds like a good idea on the face of it. But what often happens instead is that your content gets lost in a never-ending stream.

So treat hashtags just like you would keywords for SEO.

A perfect example would be narrowing it down to something like #mensfashion (and all those related long-tail keywords under it).

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You can use a tool like SocialRank to dig up these related hash tags, along with some of their basic metrics, like popularity in certain locations.

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Then you can build up a database to start posting at least half a dozen hashtags per post. One study even pegs the optimal number at 11 hashtags (on the far right-hand side of the graph below).

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Little Baberham takes the same niche approach, targeting not just kids’ clothing-related hashtags but also expanding into other communities that haven’t heard of your style or brand just yet.

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This works because they have overlapping interests. When you steal this technique, you’re not facing the same intense competition like you do in the product-specific categories.

And that’s why we’re doing this, after all!

You don’t just want to drive new attention and interest on Instagram.

More importantly, you want to create new brand awareness that’s going to spill out over into other channels.

That way, you can slowly but surely raise your brand visibility with potential customers and start dominating the search rankings.


Instagram is one of the best platforms for gaining new followers and engaging with your audience.

However, that’s not the only benefit it provides.

If you can do it right, Instagram will also provide a massive increase of people who know about your brand.

That new visibility then leads them to start searching for more information. And now you’ve got them hooked to become a new customer.

You can start by increasing the number of real, authentic lifestyle shots on your account.

It turns out, people like other people. So feature people in your company or even your customers themselves.

Then you can run giveaways and promotions to drastically increase the number of other people who find out about you for the first time.

You can even work with influencers who already have massive audiences, so you’re not the only one promoting your brand.

Last but not least, start strategically using hashtags as a way to increase the number of people who discover your brand for the first time.

It often takes a combination of these techniques, over time, to start building momentum.

However, the result is not just followers, likes, or comments. But more importantly, new searches and sales, too.

What’s your favorite Instagram hack to get people to discover your brand?

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