The ability to search for usernames and hashtags is central to the experience of using Instagram. The Search function works reliably to the point that outside of people looking to increase their reach, almost no one ever bothers about how it works. Somehow, it always brings up exactly what you wanted, but there is the odd time when you need to type in the entire username of your friend’s account before it appears in Search results.


But the trusty Search bar wasn’t always present on Instagram. In the first versions of Instagram, there was no support for hashtags. Users could only search for usernames or use the Find Friends feature and had no way of searching for posts about any particular topic. Even the Suggested Users List, which can be considered the predecessor to the Explore Page, would recommend people whom the Instagram team specifically chose to display.


Many features have been added since then:  support for videos and hashtags, Stories, IGTV, Reels, and Direct being a few of them. However, Search is fundamentally different from Feed, Stories, Reels, and Explore because your input helps Instagram figure out what to show you, as was mentioned in Adam Mosseri's blog.


The way it currently works is when you go to the Explore page and tap on the search bar, it will display your recent searches. When you type something there, it will show various accounts, hashtags, and places that either match your text or have bios that do so. These results will differ based on information specific to your account. The accounts you follow or visit often are usually shown higher up in the search results. Accounts, hashtags, or places that have more engagement and popularity will show up above those that are less popular at that moment. But it goes without saying that the text you enter is still the most important parameter for search.


Instagram takes great care in avoiding showing sensitive, objectionable, or low-quality content in the search results by not showing accounts, posts, and hashtags that go against their Recommendations and Guidelines. This might be why you sometimes have to search the type in the complete username of an account before it appears in the Search results. Basically, any hashtags about violent or sexually suggestive content, self-harm, eating disorders, deceptive business models, and clickbait, among others, will not appear in your Search results. Accounts that repeatedly post such content will also show up lower than other results if they show up at all.


To be found more easily when people search for you or your posts, you can include keywords and hashtags in your bio and posts’ captions that people are more likely to search for. Selecting the right username is also important, as is sharing your location in your bio if your account is location specific.


Currently, Instagram is working on giving users a full search results page experience that will transform Search into something more than just finding accounts and hashtags. If all goes well, one day, you will find yourself searching for something and seeing results on a page dedicated to photos and images, with a different results tab for accounts, hashtags, and the like. Instagram has come a long way since its first days as a simple photo-sharing app, and the Search feature that is key to the whole experience is soon going to undergo its own personal transformation.

This article was contributed by Krutin Sabnis.







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