What can Instagram do for SEO?

Staring at beautiful pictures and displaying our own is the best part of our day. But as our clients know, here at PACIFIC we never do anything just for the fun of it; it has to be something that will drive clients’ business goals as well.

For marketers in industries like fashion, it’s a no-brainer that Instagram is a massively important tool for driving sales, but for SEOs operating in the more classic mindset of “I’m trying like hell to drive traffic to my site,” the benefits of Instagram aren’t as clear. “No functionality to include links in every post? No way to track the traffic from the one place on Instagram where I can place a link? No clear method for measuring impact on my rankings? Why bother?” said many a frustrated SEO across the land.

Valid points, but there’s more to life than link juice, and forward-thinking SEOs can actually derive value from Instagram. Put on your Mayfair filter because we’re about to take a closer look at how Instagram can do more for you:

Come on, Instagram is fun but is it really that big of a deal?

Yes! Here’s a quick rundown of recent stats to address your skepticism:

  • A Pew Research study released this year found that Instagram is the fastest growing major social network among U.S. adults.
  • Instagram has surpassed Twitter’s user base (300 million vs. 288 million), and has higher engagement rates than both Twitter and Facebook, according to recent studies by Socialbakers, Forrester, and L2.
  • The white whale of marketing demographics, individuals aged 18–34, makes up 59.8% of Instagram’s user base, according to data from Adweek and eMarketer.

Wait, didn’t Instagram just announce that you can add links to posts now?

They did! But this linking functionality (via the newly added carousel-style post format) is currently only available to Instagram’s advertising partners, and that remains an invitation-only party for now. And even with this new linking capability in the hands of a select few, don’t expect Instagram to dive head-first into direct response any time soon. The company continues to be very careful in how they expose users to ads on the platform (which is trying for impatient marketers, but the smarter move for the company. You can’t sell ads on a social network everyone hates).

Don’t be too bummed that you don’t have access to the new feature just yet; even the linking capability has seemingly been designed to drive SEOs crazy, as it does not come with any functionality to actually track click-through rates on the links. Instead of worrying about exceptions to the rules, let’s focus on using Instagram as it exists for the masses to provide some boost to your campaigns.

A picture’s worth a thousand links to other pictures

You don’t need a digital prophet to tell you Instagram is a visual medium, so why not use it as a springboard to drive traffic to where your visually-driven content lives online?

Do you have a YouTube channel, or a bunch of video content on your landing pages? Great! Condense some of that footage with an app like Hyperlapse and post it to Instagram, with a call to action for people to check out the full video via the link in your profile.

You can take a similar approach with blog posts or any other content where you’ve got strong images that can serve as a bridge between Instagram and your web pages.

And a bit of good news: You can track the clicks these profile links are getting by running them through a customizable URL shortener like Bitly, à la Mashable’s example.

What you’re really trying to do with this is present a very simple value proposition to the user: If you like what you see here, we’ve got a lot more of it for you to check out.

If you have great visual content on your website, then Instagram can be the perfect showcase for that content to move your target audience one step closer to the pages that really matter to SEOs. A large part of that is due to the fact that…

Organic reach on Instagram is insane

Remember all that (long-since vanished) organic reach that business pages used to get for free on Facebook? It’s alive and well on Instagram! Unlike Facebook, there is no algorithm sifting through everyone’s posts and displaying only a small fraction in users’ timelines. Anything you post will show up in your followers’ feeds, so conceivably, organic reach for your Instagram content could be as high as 100% of your audience (or even a little higher, depending on how clever you are with the use of hashtags, user-tagging, and geo-locating in your posts).

Now, that doesn’t guarantee that ALL of your followers will see everything you post. You still need to optimize to make sure you’re posting when your followers are active on the network, and there are a few tools that can help you do that, whether it’s a paid service like Simply Measured or a free tool like Iconosquare.

Instagram has also been sharing a deeper suite of in-network analytics with its advertising partners, and it’s a safe bet these analytics tools will be rolled out to a larger user base sooner rather than later, or at least sooner than the linking functionality will be.

You’ve got one linking opportunity. Use it wisely

Keeping that audience-reaching potential in mind, let’s take it back to the one linking opportunity you do have on Instagram: the live link that goes in your user profile.

We already know that it’s not an ideal place for linking, and that you won’t really be able to track the click-throughs you’re receiving, but it’s there, so why not make the most of it?

If you’re selling a variety of products, then use your Instagram posts as billboards and switch up your profile link on a daily basis to correspond to whatever you’re advertising that day. New research has revealed that Instagram users are shoppers, so why aren’t you creating an opportunity for them to be browsing your products?

You may be skeptical that users will actually follow through with clicking your profile link, but that’s really up to you: How effective can you be at providing the visuals to acquire followers and make yourself stand out in their feeds? How much value are you offering them in exchange the time it takes them to click over to the link in your profile, and how well is that value represented on the page you’re leading them to?

Strive to master these tips and you’ll be amazed at how much Instagram can do for you (hashtag awesome).

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Originally published at www.meetpacific.com on March 25, 2015.