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TikTok and Instagram SEO: Optimizing Beyond Google

Rachel Witzel
Lead Digital Strategist

What you'll learn

  • How to get your videos to appear in more TikTok and Instagram searches
  • How to create a keyword strategy that doesn't revolve around Google

What you'll need

  • A video content strategy
  • Consistency, commitment, and time

The Problem

The now-famous Cisco report that predicted the meteoric rise of video content has certainly come true over the last five years. In fact, HubSpot has found that video consumption has doubled since 2018.

Where are people finding this content? Usually not by opening up a browser and searching for it on Google. Instead, they go straight to the source—TikTok and Instagram.

After noting a shift in user behavior, the search engine giant conducted studies to confirm that almost 40% of Gen Z is turning to social media platforms instead of search engines for their queries.

The Hypothesis

While Google’s reign certainly isn’t ending, we’re quickly entering a new era of search optimization that is shifting some of the power to other platforms. This shift has major implications for businesses and marketers who are trying to reach younger users. Rather than chasing a slowing traffic source by adding videos to your website and chasing Google SEO, it's time to look at app-specific optimization strategies for platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

The Solution

With TikTok SEO, every word counts

The magic of TikTok doesn't just lie with its mind-reading algorithm— it also comes from the app's search engine. TikTok's search engine not only offers advanced filtering options based on view and like history, it has the powerful capability to thoroughly analyze text within a video.

The TikTok search engine accounts for every word available when deciding which videos are most relevant to users, which is why it’s important to use keywords everywhere you can in your videos.

If you want users to find your content via TikTok search, the text in and around your content matters just as much as the video itself.

Optimizing your content for TikTok’s search engine comes down to four key strategies:

  1. Integrating keywords into your videos
  2. Defining your hashtag strategy
  3. Location tagging
  4. Profile optimization

Incorporate Keywords into Your Video

There are 6 places to incorporate keywords into your TikTok videos:

In-video text. You can use text stickers to highlight key points from your video that include the keyword(s) for the video.

Speech. While you don’t want to script your videos to the point where they sound stilted, give yourself a few key talking points that include your keywords.

Captions and hashtags. This 150-character space should be used to quickly summarize the video and pack in your best keywords.

Automated closed captions. Take the extra few minutes when editing to ensure that the automatic closed captions are accurate for your speech, especially your keywords.

Comments. TikTok is rolling out a new feature that hyperlinks keywords in a top comment of a video. When the algorithm determines that a comment contains a keyword relevant to the video, it will hyperlink it with a small magnifying glass icon within the comment. Then, when a user taps on the keyword, it takes them directly to a search page with more relevant videos about that keyword.

Ideally, you’ll want to include your target keywords in all six of these spaces within your content.

Define your hashtag strategy

It might be tempting to slap a few of the current trending hashtags on your video, press post, and call it a day. And while some of the views for that hashtag might trickle down to your video, it ultimately won’t help you find your key audience.  

A solid TikTok hashtag strategy should consist of both long-tail and short, high-volume keywords. Users searching for your long-tail keywords have the highest intent, so your long-tail keywords should be most specific to your niche and most specific to the action you want your audience to take after watching your video.

While short, high-volume keywords can help get your content in front of more people, come with lower audience intent, they also come with lower audience intent. Remember that you only have 150 characters to fit both your caption and your hashtags. With such a tight space, it’s important to focus one one or two high-impact long-tail hashtags and just a few high-volume hashtags that are most relevant to your content and niche.

Utilize location tagging

Earlier this year, TikTok added the ability to tag your location on a video. When you tag the location, it shows in a small tag above your display name on the video. While it may not be a feature you use every day, it can come in handy when your brand is at a popular event where people are searching for content from the event.

Optimize your profile

As with any social media platform, making sure that your profile is in order is one of the basics for in-app search optimization.

Display name. TikTok now  lets you show a different display name than your handle (username), so take the opportunity to display your brand’s full moniker.

Username. Make sure your user name is as close to your brand name as possible within the character limit.

Bio. Your bio is the perfect place to give a quick shoutout to your top keyword, the focus of most of your content. CEO of finktok or Web3? Call it out!

Pinned videos. The pinned videos on your profile give you prime real estate to highlight a few of your most high-value keywords, so choose carefully from your content repository.

The emerging world of Instagram SEO

Until fairly recently, the only way to search for content on Instagram was by searching for profiles or hashtags. Now, users can search with keywords to surface more relevant content. Optimizing for Instagram SEO has several overlaps with TikTok:

  • Optimizing caption keywords
  • Optimizing profile keywords
  • Location tagging

However, you have extra areas for optimization on Instagram in hashtags and the alt text of your content. Unlike TikTok, where hashtag use is limited to a 150-character caption, Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags in your post, Reels, or story.

Another way to optimize for Instagram search is by adding custom alt text to your content. While the feature primarily serves to enhance accessibility within the app, it also comes into play when users search for a keyword.  Instagram automatically generates alt text for you, but you can add your own by tapping “Advanced Settings” when you create a post.

Play Google's game with YouTube SEO

While we meant it when we said not to chase the dying world of Google SEO for your videos, there are two exceptions to the rule: YouTube and YouTube Shorts are Google products and likely to be key investments for Google over the next few years as they attempt to recover lost search traffic from social video platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Keyword placement for YouTube videos

YouTube's search engine also has the ability to account for keywords in and around your video:

Spoken and closed captions. YouTube's auto-generated captions aren't always accurate, meaning they may even miss your keyword, so be sure to take a few extra minutes to review them and fix any mistakes you find.

Title, description, and tags. Backlinko has found that of these three, the title is the most important place for your keyword while the description helps your video appear as a suggested video.

Winning with YouTube Shorts

Use keyword-rich titles and descriptions. Just like with any other YouTube, using relevant keywords in your title will help YouTube understand what your video is about and surface it in relevant searches. Plus, your title is the only copy that will show in the Shorts Shelf, so it needs to be relevant to your audience.  Not only can Shorts be viewed within the Shorts section, but they can also appear in regular YouTube searches alongside other videos.

Optimize your Shorts headline. In addition to including keywords in your title, make sure to also include them in your Shorts headline on the thumbnail of your Short. If using both the title and headline, be mindful of copy length as they both show on the 16:9 thumbnail.

If you're already making content for TikTok and Instagram, YouTube Shorts won't be a stretch for your distribution strategy. And if you aren't making longer videos that could be uploaded to YouTube, what's holding you back? That's even more video content to power your other channels.

What It All Means

At the end of the day, optimizing for non-Google search engines isn't that different than optimizing for the giant itself—it comes down to a solid keyword strategy and content that engages viewers.

Although apps like TikTok and Instagram may be siphoning users away from Google right now, Google is already implementing changes to counteract the loss. Already, SERPs are showing more videos than articles for many queries. Expect this to continue and adjust your distribution strategy to include Google products whenever possible.

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