Instagram’s New Focus on Search Should Excite Marketers

In 2013, boasting a little under 100 million users, Instagram finally decided to pay some attention to its web presence. The social network updated its barebones website to finally offer the ability t...
Instagram’s New Focus on Search Should Excite Marketers
Written by Josh Wolford
  • In 2013, boasting a little under 100 million users, Instagram finally decided to pay some attention to its web presence. The social network updated its barebones website to finally offer the ability to browse your feed. Before that, Instagram on the web only allowed you to look at user profiles and like photos. Since then, it’s been adding more and more features to the web.

    Still, Instagram is, was, and will always be a mobile-first network. lags behind the company’s mobile apps in terms of functionality. You just can’t do as much on the web as you can on iOS or Android. This isn’t an accident. Instagram doesn’t hate the web, it’s just content that it’s always been a mobile, on-the-go type service and emphasis has always been placed on chronicling life in the moment.

    Having said all that, Instagram is definitely looking at the potential of its web interface. Instagram has over 300 million monthly active users, which are sharing over 70 million photos a day. Last month, Instagram’s web embeds generated over 5.3 billion impressions. Point is, there are plenty of eyes for Instagram to catch with a web version that at least doesn’t completely suck.

    Are you excited by Instagram’s focus on helping users surface content? Do you see the potential in Instagram search? Let us know in the comments.

    Earlier this week, Instagram finally brought search to the web interface.

    Instagram’s desktop search allows users to search for hashtags, locations, and people.

    Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.38.36 AM

    A hashtag search, for example, opens up a page featuring “top posts” at the very top, followed by a real-time stream of the most-recent posts below. Same for a location search.

    Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.41.27 AM

    The implications for marketers are pretty clear – Instagram is making it easier for users to surface all types of content on the web.

    And when users surface said content, it’s going to look much, much better than it has in the past. Instagram’s website just received a big redesign with bigger photos. As a marketer, your content will look even more appealing when a user happens upon it via hashtag, profile, or location search on the web.

    But it’s not the current search interface that should excite advertisers – it’s what the future could hold.

    As of now, Instagram’s only ad unit is in-feed ads. Advertisers can create photo, video, or even carousel ads to display in users’ feeds – but that’s it. Instagram has been extremely cautious in rolling out ad formats and volume, as past dustups with users have shown it that it’s best to take things gradually. The Facebook-owned property knows it has to maintain a delicate balance between monetization and user growth.

    But the Instagram of the future could easily integrate search ads into this framework – and having that on the web would be a huge bonus for marketers.

    Instagram could easily introduce promoted posts for hashtag, user, and location search results. It could also promote certain accounts and hashtags in the search field. You can expect marketers to clamor for these options as we move forward.

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    Instagram has expanded its search options even more on mobile, and it’s a preview of what could eventually hit the web as well.

    The company recently unveiled some big content discovery improvements – a new Explore page on mobile that not only added the more powerful search that you now see on the web, but also sections for “trending” hashtags and places.

    “Through trending Tags and trending Places, you can experience moments like #bonnaroo or #fathersday from every perspective,” Instagram said in a blog post. “Rich visual content captures everyone’s unique take — not just what the community is talking about, but also what they’re doing and seeing.”

    Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.02.04 AM

    It’s not hard to imagine how these curated sections could be gold for advertisers. Instagram hasn’t yet opened up on any plans to monetize this Explore tab, however.

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    Even without the ability to buy ads based on these new search options, businesses really benefit from users having more ways to discover content.

    This is especially true of the places search. Searching for a place on Instagram on the web now displays a map and the same top posts / recent posts stream.

    Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.10.35 AM

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    Up to now, Instagram has been slow to open its ad product to smaller businesses. This fall, that’s going to change.

    Here’s what Jim Squires, the director of marketing operations at the company, had to say in a recent interview:

    We’ve spent the last 18 months establishing the platform for large brands. The next logical step is to empower businesses of all sizes. Being able to target narrower segments and achieve different types of objectives is essential. We want to offer a complete solution that allows businesses to purchase through self-serve interfaces and achieve the objectives they want to achieve.


    We’re testing the action-oriented formats and buying through the API now, and we will be doing that through the summer with select partners and clients. Then we’ll be opening up globally and to all advertisers in the early fall timeframe.

    So, within months, Instagram is going to open the floodgates (the ads will come with “algorithmic approaches” to keep them up to quality standards, utilizing signals like negative feedback rates, engagement rates, and comments – so it won’t be a free-for-all).

    Will Instagram begin to put ads inside search? It’s hard to imagine it won’t, at some point. The company is sure laying the groundwork.

    Does Instagram’s new search focus make it more attractive, from a marketing standpoint? Let us know in the comments.

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