Over time the Instagram algorithm has become increasingly competitive, making it more difficult for the quality of your content to trend with hashtags or the explore page. Short of buying a professional quality camera or hiring a crew to edit your work, there’s 7 ways to instantly level up your content that you can actually apply starting on your next post.
1. Vertical Content
The first tip, which I’ve spoken about before, is making 4:5 vertical content. This size for your images seems to trend quite a bit better than horizontal or square images. The reason for this is because the algorithm favors it, or more specifically, recognizes that users are more attracted to it (which ultimately is determined by the likes and engagement posts with this size image gets) and the more time users spend looking at your post, the better your content trends.
So if your post has a horizontal image or widescreen video, users can see your post and the next post from another user in their feed at the same time, making it easier to just continue scrolling…the idea is to take up as much real estate on someone’s post feed with both quality images in a 4:5 format along with a well-written caption.
With iPhone your camera settings allow you to select the 4:5 crop ratio when taking a photo, whereas Android users will have to manually crop it, or use a photo editing app to do so such as Canva by setting the size of the canvas to 4000×5000 pixels.
2. Labeling Content
You have such a short time to grab someone’s attention, especially on social media. Chances are, even with an eye-catching photo, there’s still a small chance someone will actually take the time to read your entire caption, even after double tapping to like the post. That’s where putting a label or headline on your image or video really makes the difference.
Putting text directly on your photos or videos gets more impressions from the explore page. When your post shows up along with potentially millions of other posts with similar content, the user is going to seek out whichever answers their question or “scratches the itch” of what they’re looking for, it’s simply just more enticing. Therefore, the more immediately descriptive and on-point your content is, the more likely a user will choose your post over the others the explore page displays.
The best way to think of this is that your image catches a user’s visual attention quicker than words will. However, the text added to the image is your Call To Action, which gives a clear indication of what your post actually talks about. These 2 things compliment each other in a simple and easy-to-understand way that instantly appeals to the user when they’re searching for a topic like yours. Now that you have their attention, they’re interested in reading your actual caption that goes into detail about your topic.
3. Composition & Music
The next most important thing to optimize on your posts ranges from the brightness and color of your photos as well as the music included in your videos, so let’s start with the former.
Taking photos where there’s good lighting or backlighting adds a lot of depth to your photos. However it’s important to remember that even if your photo is darker you can always add more brightness and color with a photo editing app or Instagram’s photo editing feature before uploading your post, but you can’t really take brightness or washed out colors from your photo without downgrading the image’s overall quality.
An easy fix is to add a little saturation and play around a with the settings Instagram has available, or just use one of their stock filters to add some quick enhancements for your post.
If you don’t know how much color or brightness to add you need to research other accounts in your industry and how their most popular posts look. Being able to analyze your own content and the content you like gives insights to what others find more visually appealing.
Additionally, putting a little more strategy into the overall composition of your photos really enhances the main subject you’re photographing. Subtle differences can have a huge impact when adding things such as accent colors or items. For example, if you’re taking a photo of a plate of food, what color is the plate and does it make the food pop out or get lost in the rest of the photo? Are you using a table cloth or placemat that adds a color accent, or even a candle in the background that gives off additional ambient light to enhance the mood of the photo?
Paying attention to all of these small and subtle components improves your photos and engagement so much more than a bland picture, even if you still have the same subject in focus.
Now as far as audio, Instagram has pretty strict copyright infringement checks that can make it difficult to add music to your posts, but it’s still possible to have a good selection of tracks to choose from to make your posts reach a much higher engagement, because having music in your posts is a lot more appealing and interesting than having none at all…because everyone likes music and, more often than not, people will stop on a post when music starts playing instead of scrolling through because there’s no audio to catch their attention in addition to an attractive photo.
One way you can add music is buy purchasing a song from iTunes and then adding the track in iMovie when editing the video on an iPhone. Android users will probably have to do some extra research into how to add music they have the rights to use in their video. Either way, apps that supply music for you to use that also let you edit videos won’t run into copyright issues such as Splice or Magento. Otherwise, there are a lot of great royalty-free or copyright-free music playlists on Youtube that you can pull from by Googling “Youtube to MP3 Converter” or something similar.
5. Captions with More Value
It’s one thing to provide value in your caption, but it’s another to keep you captions clean and easy to read and comprehend. There are a lot of people that have great things to say, but disorganized and cluttered captions leave them with poor engagement because it’s difficult for anyone to easily dissect and absorb what the captions are explaining. That said, the first line needs to catch their attention in order for them to continue reading, but before that they have to like the image in order to read the first line.
Let’s use an example of an influencer who posts about traveling the world. What travel tips or advice can they provide to their audience? What value does their content have that anyone else can benefit from? While you might have an interesting story to share, unless you have long-time followers that truly like your content and personality, no one knows who you are, much less sees the value in your personal posts. Unless you’ve first provided them with informative content they get value from, you’re not going to get the engagement and followers that make your account grow.
That said, analyze your posts and how they’re composed. Surely you’ve edited the photo enough, but does the headline on the photo catch your attention enough to make you WANT to read the description beneath it? And even then, does the description give anyone that might be interested in that topic useful tips or advice they can apply to their own life in some way? Lastly, always keep your captions formatted with proper paragraph spacing, numbered lists, and/or bullet points. Anything to lay your content out with organization and hierarchy is even visually appealing to read, and that’s something that will always improve engagement.
6. Carousel Posts
This is a simple fix a lot of accounts need to make. If your engagement is going down over time and your content has stayed the same, implementing carousel posts is a way to level up your content in a few different ways.
First, creating a carousel post naturally creates more time that a user spends on the app and specifically on your post. Many people like to use infographics, which is a great method…but if you’re going to use an infographic, make sure they contain a lot of useful information. Not only does this require the user to take more time to read the information you’re providing, but you can’t really teach something effectively with a couple sentences.
So rather than if you have 4 tips to give and fit them minimally on one image, you could take those 4 points divided over 4 images in one carousel and fill each with a greater amount of detail, ultimately providing much more value on each topic and create a higher level of engagement. Additionally, you can even influence the actions of users to scroll through each image in your carousel with small things they might not even be aware of, but see and take action with…such as an arrow icon pointing right on each image. It suggests there’s more content to read, and even if a user doesn’t necessarily even care about your content, a universally recognized symbol that suggests an action often prompts the user to follow through on it.
7. Content Templates
This is going to speed up your content creating process and ensure you’re delivering content that remains consistent to your style. Content templates are something I use regularly and I have a few different ones based on what I’m posting. This doesn’t only help my branding because of the kinds of topics I might repeatedly post about such as marketing tips or hashtag tips as opposed to video-based posts, but it allows me to better organize the layout of the posts in my profile.
So using my account as an example, I have a different template if I want to post about Instagram specific tips as opposed to if I want to post about general entrepreneurship or if I instead decide to post a video…this takes a lot of extra thought out of creating content and makes it much easier to get content released in less time.
Taking some time to look over your past posts that have the highest engagement and analyzing what that formatting or template is that you used and then reusing it for other posts will allow you to level up your content and make posting a lot more enjoyable.
The last tip is to improve your content is to click on the hashtags you’re trying to rank for and look at what sort of content is trending for them. Comparing what your posting to what’s already out there getting the most attention is one of the easiest ways to reformat and improve your own process to better your results as you go. Ask yourself honestly whether or not your content is on-par or coming close to the same sort of visual appeal or valuable content other posts are. You already know what’s trending by checking the posts under those hashtags, and even if your content isn’t quite there, you have a target to aim for in the way you format your own content.