Instagram’s improved search can bridge the gap with TikTok. help to write

Instagram plans to make photos and videos more prominent in search results in the future, Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced on Wednesday. The change could show the grid of photos and videos that a keyword search can return alongside results for accounts and hashtags, not unlike how TikTok displays results.

The search customization is part of “a series of improvements designed for inspiration and discovery,” Mosseri said. The company has used keyword search as a way to offer visual results — certain terms can trigger pages of suggested images — but Instagram’s new plan will make those more widely known. Mosseri writes that searching with a term like “space” will yield suggested photo and video results, along with traditional accounts and hashtags, encouraging more research. The visual results still live behind a tap on a keyword, but they should be more prominent and general. (Mosseri demonstrates the custom search experience around 3:30 in this video.)

TikTok’s search results layout, with visual results first.

However, Instagram’s current keyword search is quite hit and miss; it doesn’t always deliver universal results or with relevant collections of photos. That’s why Mosseri says the company is also expanding the number of terms that yield results, starting with English and building from there. When asked, Instagram was unable to provide a specific launch date for the search improvements.

Instagram’s current account and hashtag-focused search results.
Image: Instagram

Even without more visuals or new keywords in the mix, Instagram’s main criterion for the results it shows is, according to Mosseri. The company has a series of “signals” it considers when showing results, listed below in order of importance:

Your text in Search. The text you enter in the search bar is by far the most important signal to Search. We try to match what you type with relevant usernames, bios, captions, hashtags and places.

Your activity. This includes accounts you follow, posts you’ve viewed, and how you’ve interacted with accounts in the past. We usually show accounts and hashtags you follow or visit higher than the accounts and hashtags you don’t follow.

Information about the search results. When there are many potential results, we also look for popularity signals. These include the number of clicks, likes, shares, and followers for a particular account, hashtag, or place.

The same suggestions also apply to how your content is displayed. The platform looks at the text in your Instagram handle and bio, your location, and individual post captions to determine if your content is relevant to a particular search query. The company also tries to filter content that conflicts with its Recommendations Guidelines, including sensitive topics such as violence or semi-nudity. You don’t have to go far back to see how Instagram’s handling of these issues has raised concerns in the past.

Both improvements to search should make Instagram more usable and perhaps more attractive to click through. The surface-level similarities to TikTok may not be a mistake either: Mosseri has spoken openly about the photo-sharing era entering Instagram with an embrace of video and more suggested content.