John Lincoln

[Cheat Sheet] How To Write Instagram Captions That Get LIKES

I’ll let you in on a secret.

A great picture is only half the battle when it comes to a winning Instagram strategy.

The other part? A great Instagram caption.

The best campaigns use a mix of great photos and attention-catching captions.

In this post, I’ll show a few tips and trick to ensure you make the most of your Instagram captions.

A Complete Cheat Sheet to Writing Compelling Instagram Captions Instagram is undeniably one of the biggest social channels on the scene. The platform has experienced a major growth spurt over the past few years. And businesses are on board. In 2017, over 70% of companies in the US had an Instagram presence, up from just 48.8% in 2016.   In short, it’s kinda a big deal. Due to its rapid growth in popularity, brands have adopted all kinds of best practices. But there’s one that’s all too often overlooked, and could mean the difference between user’s taking action or simply scrolling by. I’m talking, of course, about your caption. Though the photo usually gets the glory, don’t underestimate the power of a well-curated, actionable caption. Here are a few tips to make yours as effective as possible.

1. Promote the Important Stuff To the Front of Your Instagram Captions

In terms of social media, Instagram lets you say a lot. In fact, it allows captions up to 2200 characters long. That’s a good chunk of space, but don’t make the mistake of expecting your viewers will read it all. It’s best to get straight to the point and list any important information right at the beginning. First of all, Instagram will cut off your captions, so information that’s buried in the middle is likely to get lost. Second, attention spans are short. We’re talking 8-seconds short. So if you have something to say, say it fast. Ideally, it will be intriguing enough to make your readers stay put. When in doubt, look to the rules of great headline writing For example, if you’re holding a contest a giveaway, always lead with that.
Instagram Captions: Always Lead With the Most Important Information
Instagram Captions: Always Lead With the Most Important Information
Now, this isn’t to say that longer captions aren’t okay. While I typically think shorter is better, don’t be afraid to experiment with longer captions if you have a relevant message to share. Just remember: the more important the info, the quicker your audience needs to see it.

2. Always Include a CTA in Your Instagram Captions

It’s amazing how much a small call-to-action (CTA) can impact your marketing messages. In general, more than 90% of visitors who read your headline also read your CTA copy. When it comes to email marketing, emails with a single call-to-action increased clicks 371% and sales 1617%. And when it comes to social media, adding CTAs to your Facebook page can increase click-through rate by 285%. Who’s to say Instagram’s any different? Clearly, a strong CTA has a track record of improving clicks and conversions, so don’t let your Instagram captions end without clearly telling your readers what you want them to do next. Your CTA should be actionable and create some urgency, meaning you should rely on strong action verbs to get the message across. Beyond that, your CTA will vary depending on the goal of your post. Some forms include: 1.) Direct people to a link in your bio Because links are only allowed in your page bio, you can’t include them in your captions. You can, however, include enough interesting information and CTA to click through to the link in your bio. As long as your copy is strong and engaging, a simple “click the link in my bio!” will often cut it. 2.) Ask people to tag their friends This one’s great for spreading brand awareness, but use it only when appropriate. See this example from H&M for inspiration.
Instagram Captions: Include a Strong CTA
Instagram Captions: Include a Strong CTA
3.) Ask a question This one’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone. A question makes for a great CTA, as well as way to create engagement with your audience.
Instagram Captions: Ask Questions
Instagram Captions: Ask Questions

3. Don’t Overdue the Hashtags in Your Instagram Captions

Hashtags are a staple in most Instagram posts. Not only do they help categorize your content and make it more searchable, it provides a way to spread brand awareness beyond your set of followers. Generally speaking, there are two types of hashtags:
  • Branded hashtags – these are specific to your brand; they could be your brand name, product name or the name of a specific campaign (70% of hashtags on Instagram are branded)
  • Community hashtags – these are general, non-specific, and extremely broad (think #fitness, #instapic, etc.)
As a brand, you’ll likely want to incorporate a good mix of both. Branded ones will be especially effective if you can form an effective user-generation strategy. For example, you can encourage people to post pictures of themselves using one of your products and with your branded hashtag, which you’ll later repost (or regram) to your account. But for all the good they do, a long stream of hashtags in your Instagram captions will scream “spam!” to your followers. As a rule of thumb, try to come up with four really targeted hashtags to include. These can be a mix of branded and community hashtags. You’ll usually want to include the hashtags at the end of your caption unless they fit naturally into it beforehand. To find the best community hashtags, you can always use tools like and to find the most popular ones in your niche. A word of warning here: while you want to find hashtags your audience is using, beware of overpopular ones. If too many people are using it, you’re likely to get lost in the crowd. If you do decide to use more hashtags, it’s a good idea to include multiple spaces to separate your Instagram caption from the bulk of your hashtags.
Instagram Captions: Save Hashtags for the End
Instagram Captions: Save Hashtags for the End

4. Use a Location Tag in Your Instagram Captions

Technically speaking, this isn’t part of your caption at all. It’s really a tag that you assign to your post to tell your followers where you are and is especially important for local businesses and their local SEO efforts. Using the location tag allows your posts to appear with other posts and videos tagged at that specific location (which translates to increased exposure to people looking for posts in your area). And, by using the tag and not stating the location in your caption, you’re saving precious space for more important information and hashtags.

5. Write Several Drafts of Your Instagram Captions

I’ll say it again: crafting the perfect caption is akin to penning the perfect headline. And rarely does your first draft fall into the “perfect” category. But that’s okay. Masterpieces take time, so don’t rush the process. You should put the same effort into your caption as you did into brainstorming and capturing the photo for your post. And rather than stress over just one caption, write several drafts. Experiment with different CTAs and lead in sentences to find which combination is most effective. Show them to a coworker and see which they find most relevant. And always proofread for any spelling or grammatical errors. You can go in and edit the caption later, but you can’t repair any damage that’s already been done.

6. Show Personality in Your Instagram Captions

Your photo will grab your followers attention, but your caption’s what keeps it. Don’t just use them to explain your photo; tell stories, make announcements, and most important, show personality. Social media, in general, is a place to connect with customers on a more personal level and show off the people behind the brand. That way, if you push a product, your followers will be more receptive to it. Take Starbucks post on their Snowflake Marshmallows: “#SnowflakeMarshmallows is to cocoa what barefeet is to fluffy cloud slippers.”
Instagram Captions: Show Some Personality
Instagram Captions: Show Some Personality
It’s completely relatable, and that’s what makes it work. Remember, your success here will rely on how well you know your target audience. If you know them well enough, you’ll know which references and jokes are appropriate (and more important, which ones definitely aren’t). You’ll know if emojis are appropriate and how much explanation a give caption needs. It has to do with your brand voice. If you’re not the funny brand, you don’t have to try too hard to be. Go with what you know, and what works for your audience. The important thing is to keep them intrigued and engaged, which means relevant content and the voice that goes with it.

7. Encourage Engagement Through Your Instagram Captions

Your ultimate goal is to craft a post that gets as many comments and shares as possible. The best place to encourage that is through your captions. We already covered the power of the CTA and how you can use it gain a reaction from your audience, but consider these options as well:
  • Ask what your audience wants to see in a blog post
  • Announce an upcoming Q&A or AMA, and ask for questions to include in the comments
  • Run a contest – it’s great way to encourage user-generated content; for it to be successful, come up with a prize that’s relevant to your audience and branded campaign hashtag. Ask users to share something with your hashtag, and the winner gets the prize
Also, remember to respond to those who do comment on your post. A quick reply is a great way to drive more conversation and show your audience that you’re willing to engage. After all, a one-sided conversation won’t last long at all.

Start Writing Compelling Instagram Captions Today

A great caption goes a long way in an Instagram campaign. Remember: think them through, make sure their relevant, and encourage your audience to engage. Don’t make them overlong, and don’t fill them with fluffy hashtags. Do follow the tips above, and you’ll be on your way to a more engaged Instagram following.

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John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, one of the top digital marketing agencies in the nation. Ignite Visibility is a 4x  Inc. 5,000 company. Ignite Visibility offers a unique digital marketing program tied directly to ROI with a focus on using SEO, social media, paid media, CRO, email, Amazon and PR to achieve results. Outside of Ignite Visibility, Lincoln is a frequent speaker and author of the books “Digital Influencer” and “The Forecaster Method.” Lincoln is consistently named one of the top digital marketers in the industry and was the recipient of the coveted Search Engine Land “Search Marketer of The Year” award. Lincoln has taught digital marketing and Web Analytics at the University of California San Diego since 2010, has been named as one of San Diego’s most admired CEO’s and a top business leader under 40. Lincoln has also made “SEO: The Movie” and “Social Media Marketing: The Movie.” His business mission is to help others through digital marketing.

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