Selling on Insta: How to Write Better Instagram Captions

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Instagram has become a prime sales avenue for e-commerce brands and savvy entrepreneurs who know how to shoot great visuals, write persuasive Instagram captions, and artfully curate their stock.

People come to Instagram in a somewhat shoppable state-of-mind. Per Instagram, 60% of users admit to regularly discovering new products on the platform. What’s more – 75% of them take immediate action after engaging with a business post (e.g. visit the business website, shop a product, or forward the find to a friend).

Considering those numbers it should come as no surprise that Instagram became a hotbed launchpad for emerging brands in popular niches like fashion, beauty and decor.  The so-called “Instagram brands” – businesses who have turned Instagram into their main sales channel with the help of attractive visuals, savvy influencer marketing campaigns and clever Instagram captions – have managed to soar to incredible heights in just a few years, all thanks to the platform.

In this post, we’ll dwell on the last point – Instagram captions – and teach you some tips and tricks for writing good captions on command.

How To Write Instagram Captions: Key Tips

A good Instagram caption does several things at once:

  • It explains what’s the photo is all about
  • Prompts followers to take action (aka includes a CTA)
  • Makes your content more engaging and memorable
  • Steer ups some sort of engagement.

Now that may seem a lot of action to pack into just 2,200 characters – the maximum length of an Instagram caption. Plus, you will want to drop some hashtags (up to 30 allowed in a caption and or comment per post) that will eat up some precious real estate too. So clearly you will need to be strategic with how you convey things.

Also, don’t forget that Instagram has a content ranking algorithm in place that decides which content should be shown to your followers and other platform users. Thus, securing high and fast engagement on newly published posts should be an integral part of your Instagram marketing strategy.

While the platform does not disclose its ranking algorithm, it’s been proven that posts receiving a lot of instant exposure – likes, comments, saves and shares shortly after publishing – get bumped further and further, up till they land on Explore page. And you can gauge all those actions by accompanying your pics with winning Instagram captions.

In other words, creating beautiful product photos is important for maintaining your feed, but if you want to get more Instagram followers, likes and ultimately sales, writing good Instagram captions is the art you will have to master.

How to Format Instagram Captions

Laying out texts on Instagram isn’t that easy. The platform does not explicitly allow to create paragraphs and add spaces in captions and bios. But a few clever tricks can help you turn that wall of text into a neat, bite-sized narrative:

  • You can add line breaks on Instagram using symbols (e.g. by leaving a dot in between two paragraphs).
  • Or you can add invisible line breaks using your phones note app. In this case, you will need to paste these invisible spaces inside the brackets. [⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀], then remove the brackets and copy your text from a note app to Instagram caption space.
  • In general, keep your sentences short and on-point. Replace bigger words with emojis when possible.

Now that you know the essential formatting tips, let’s move on to writing those captions.

1. Brainstorm and Test Different Call-to-Actions for Your Photos

The easiest way to get more engagement on Instagram is to just prompt it. By adding a CTA you ask your followers a “quick favor” – a like, a share, a comment – in return for providing them with inspiring, educational or funny content.

Source: @bestvacations

Of course, you’ll want to mix up your CTAs a bit and try several variations with different types of content. The popular Instagram call-to-action examples are:

  • Add a branded hashtag
  • Click bio to shop a product/discover content
  • Tag a friend (or several) in the comments
  • Comment with the answer to a question asked in the caption.

2. Use Action Words in Your Instagram Captions

Here’s one quick copywriting trick that can make a huge difference to your content – action words (mainly verbs) tend to be more effective in steering some action from your followers. Hence try using the next words in your CTAs:

  • Check
  • Buy
  • Try
  • Discover
  • Learn
  • Stop
  • Start

Also, minimize the usage of flowery adjectives and passive nouns. These carry little value and eat up “real estate”. Hence, they can always be replaced with an emoji to add more funk to your caption and save some space.

Finally, borrow the popular journalistic technique called the 5 Ws for crafting your CTAs. That is try to finish your post with a who, what, where, when, or why question to get more comments.

Source: @forbes

3. Develop a Unique Brand Voice For Your Insta Captions

If you want your content to be memorable, you have to develop a distinctive brand voice on the platform. Perusing other Instagram e-commerce accounts is a good way to get started with this.

Make a list of publishers whose brand voice really stands out from the noise. You can browse accounts from both your industry and other ones to get even more inspo. Carefully look at how those brands mix CTAs, use emojis and what wording to they choose. Reverse-engineer some of their tricks and mash them up into a unique voice for your brand. This processes may take some time and refinement though!

4. Add the Most Important Words at the Beginning of the Caption

Most captions get truncated in the users’ feeds after the first one or two sentences. Hence, you’ll want to convey your main point as soon as possible.

You can start off your Instagram caption with a creative hook to entice people to click that “more” section. These could be:

  • A “Did you know” fact
  • Shocking or controversial statement
  • An announcement e.g. [Big Giveaway], New Blog Post or “Up to 50% discounts”.

“Utility” texts like @mentions and hashtags should be added last in the text as they do not carry that much of immediate value. Speaking of the latter…

5. Get Selective with Your Hashtags

Take the time to research different sets of hashtags that will go along with the different type of content you publish. Several good rules for that are:

  • Don’t be too obvious. If you are selling t-shirts, don’t add #tshirt to every single of your blog posts. It’s a popular, but quite random tag a lot of newbies use, meaning that your post will quickly get swapped under a tide of other submissions featuring that tag and you’ll get little engagement.
  • Mix popular and niche hashtags. Instead of pursuing solely broad hashtag topics like #fashion where getting ranked atop of all other posts is incredibly hard, take the time research less popular “interaction-capturing” hashtags within that niche. For example in #travel, there are lesser known, but equally great tags like #beautifuldestinations #sheisnotlost #dametraveler.
  • Use Instagram auto-complete to get even hashtag ideas. When typing in a hashtag, the platform will often autosuggest you related hashtags in the scroll-down menu appearing in the search bar. Write those down to and try them out for your content.

You can also streamline your hashtag research process by using different apps and hashtag generators. The popular ones are:

Finally, don’t forget that putting all your hashtags in your caption at once is a big no-no. Your posts will end up looking super messy in that case, plus you are wasting a lot of space. Instead, add all those tags as a first comment right after you publish the post. Once more people will comment, your hashtags list won’t be viewable unless someone selects the “See All” option.

6. Master the Art of Emojis

Those funky emoticons are there for a reason – they save you space while conveying a lot of additional meaning.

Also, they help you add more personality to your Instagram caption. And even “serious” brands are now using them strategically on their accounts:

Source: @fedex

Need some inspo? Hubspot has recently analyzed 19,617,281 published posts across social media and determined that the next emojis work best for different purposes:

Emojis to Boost Engagement

  • 🙆(Person Gesturing OK Emoji)
  • 🐠(Tropical Fish Emoji)
  • 🍒(Cherries Emoji)
  • 🌤(Sun Behind Small Cloud Emoji)
  • 💃(Woman Dancing Emoji)

Emojis to Encourage Click-Through

  • 🐙(Octopus Emoji)
  • 👖(Jeans Emoji)
  • 🐴(Horse Face Emoji)
  • 🚂(Locomotive Emoji)
  • 🍒(Cherries Emoji)

7. Keep It Simple

On Instagram users typically prioritize photography over long texts. So you will need to explore your audience preferences and test out different types of copies in terms of length. When you don’t have an announcement to make (e.g. promote a sale or new product launch), the best strategy is to keep your captions brief and on-point.

Also, if you are just developing your brand voice on Instagram, it’s also better to limit yourself to just a few sentences. Some of the most engaged Instagram captions are short elevator pitches, jokes or punchlines that quickly make a point. Coca-Cola is a master in that department:

Source: @cocacola

With some time and practice, you’ll be able to precisely tell what captions lengths work best with your audience and crack those punchlines in a few minutes.

Finally, do not forget to regularly cross-promote your Instagram posts on other channels to get even more engagement and followers! Even offline mediums like “thank you for your order notes”, menus and invoice templates can be used for that purpose. Create your branded hashtag and print it there along with your Instagram @username and a quick CTA asking your delighted customers to share their purchases and tag you online!

Photo by Wilfred Iven

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