Complete Guide to Writing the Best Instagram Caption
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How to Write Instagram Captions – a Guide for Small Business Marketers

May 20, 2019

Ever get “stuck” when writing Instagram captions?

You work hard to bring your Instagram images and videos to life, but are your captions working just as hard to promote them?

If you’ve ever been unsure about what to write, how many hashtags to include, how to use emojis, or when to include mentions — this article is for you.

No more guessing!

We show you the latest data on Instagram captions – and walk you through how to use all the elements in a way that gets results.

Keep reading for tips on how to boost your engagement, reach, and conversions with well-written captions.

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Why Do Instagram Captions Matter?

There’s a good reason why many people write and rewrite captions before publishing them. Those small descriptions can make a BIG difference in the results of your posts!

No matter what type of post you’re publishing, captions make a difference.

it’s essential to write captions that optimize your messages for search, engagement, conversions, and reach.

On Instagram, more than any other social network, brand messaging matters.

More than 3 billion people are now using social media, and Instagram is the 6th most popular social media network.

For many brands, Instagram is #1, and here’s why:

Instagram is THE platform for brands, and it’s where people go to interact with them.

Over 80% of businesses consider engagement their most important Instagram metric.

Building an engaged audience requires well-written captions paired with compelling images and videos.
Continue reading to discover data, examples, tips, and instructions that will help boost your most important Instagram metrics.

How to Use the Elements of Instagram Captions

In this section, we explore the different elements you can use in Instagram captions, such as:

  • Text
  • Emojis
  • Hashtags
  • Mentions
  • CTAs

We’ve also included some statistics to help you decide how to form your captions for the highest possible engagement rates.

Text in Captions

Captions can contain up to 2200 characters, including elements like hashtags, mentions, and emojis.

Captions get truncated after 125 characters, and viewers have to tap “more” to see the rest of your post.

Tip: Make sure your most compelling text is at the top! Hashtags and mentions can be placed at the bottom, or even in a comment.

What caption length gets the most engagement?

A recent study of over 44,400 profiles and more than 8.9 million posts found that:

  • Over 30% of Instagram posts contain 300 or more characters in the captions.
  • 29% of Instagram posts contain between 50 – 150 characters in the caption.
  • 8% of Instagram posts contain between 1 – 50 characters in the caption.
  • 1%  of Instagram posts use no caption at all.
Interestingly, the study found that brands with 1 million followers or less got the most interaction from posts with 1 - 50 characters.
caption length data chart quintly
Source: Quintly

So, if you’re still getting to know your audience, try shorter captions since they may boost your engagement rates!

Bonus Content - How to Use text in instagram captions

Emojis in Captions

Emojis can add personality and organization to your Instagram posts. 50% of Instagram captions and comments include emojis.

Emojis Examples

For example, the Spotify Instagram caption below contains an emoji to emphasize the word “ocean.”

Spotify

In the next example, Sue B. Zimmerman uses emojis to organize and highlight a list in her caption.

Emojis can be an excellent way to break up blocks of text and make your captions more fun. But, is there a limit? How many emojis are too many?

How many emojis should you use? Here’s what the data says.

If you’re looking to increase your engagement (and let’s face it – who isn’t?) here’s the amount of emojis-per-post that delivered the highest # of interactions (Quintly study of 8.9 million posts, 2018).

  • Brands with 0 – 1,000 followers: 1-3 emojis
  • Brands with 1,000 – 10,000 followers: 4 – 10 emojis
  • Brands with 10,000 – 1 million followers: 10 or more emojis
  • Brands with over 1 million followers: 1 – 3 emojis

Data can be super-helpful when your brand is just getting started, or if you’re not getting the engagement rates you’d hoped for.

Always keep in mind, though, that data is a starting point.

You should experiment and track your metrics using Instagram Insights to learn what works best for your brand and its audience.

Emojis in Instagram Captions

Hashtags in Captions

Instagram posts can contain up to 30 hashtags each, but research shows that it’s better to use fewer hashtags.

According to a 2019 report by Hubspot, the average Instagram post contains about 1 hashtag.

What do hashtags do?

Each hashtag you use puts your post in a different Instagram explore (internal search results) feed. If you use hashtags wisely, you can reach new people and grow your audience with the right hashtags.

IG hashtag search example

Below are a couple examples of what happens when you type a hashtag into Instagram search.

Spring desert hashtag feed Instagram
Bunny brunch hashtag Instagram

Source: Instagram #springdessert

How many hashtags should you use?

Here’s what the data says about using hashtags (Hubspot 2019):

  • It’s better to use 5 hashtags or less that are relevant than to add in hashtags just for the sake of putting them in.
  • Using more than 1 hashtag decreases your average engagement rate.
  • Hashtags won’t help your engagement rates if you’re not publishing high-quality content.
  • Many Instagrammers ignore hashtags because they’ve become desensitized to them, and view them as spammy.

From the information above, we learn that hashtags may not increase your engagement rates. But hashtags aren’t supposed to increase your engagement rates.

The purpose of hashtags is to reach new people with your posts!

Hashtags play a vital part of your Instagram captions.

If the goal of your post is to expand your reach or grow your audience, then don’t skip the hashtags!

Hashtag tips:

  • Use only well-researched, strategic hashtags.
  • Put hashtags at the bottom of your caption.
  • Use no more than 5 hashtags per caption.

In the example below, Hubspot uses more than 10 hashtags. But, they put a space between their message and the hashtags.

Despite statistics, Hubspot has experimented and most likely found the ideal number of hashtags is different for their target audience. It’s a great example of how data should be used — as a starting point for experimentation, but not as “law.”

Hupspot IG caption hashtag example
Source: Hubspot on Instagram

Learn how to use hashtags in ways that expand your reach, grow your audience, and encourage user-generated content from your target audience.

Encourage your followers to use your hashtags!

One more way you can use hashtags it to ask your users to share photos or other user-generated content with your hashtag included.

For example, Boxycharm offers a $500 shopping spree in a giveaway contest. To enter, users must take a picture of themselves with the product and post it with the #BoxyChella hashtag.

Contests are a popular way to encourage user-generated content and are an excellent way to use hashtags in posts.

Bonus Content How to Use Hashtags in Instagram Captions

Mentions in Captions

You can mention an Instagram user or brand in your captions by using the “@” symbol. For example, @shareloveapp.

When you mention someone in a caption, they get a notification and are directed to your post. Ideally, they add a comment that increases the engagement rate of that post.

Mentions are also used to give credit to post authors (if it’s a share) and contributors.

People are using mentions more than they did a year ago. Around 40% of Instagram posts currently have no mentions, compared to last year when 72% of posts had no mentions.

In the example below, we’ve highlighted the use of mentions in a Puravidabracelets post.

we’ve highlighted the use of mentions in a Puravidabracelets post
Source: Instagram

You can use mentions in many ways, including:

  • Contests
  • Encouraging user-generated content
  • Mentioning contributors and guests

In the example below, Pier 1 Imports combines hashtags and a mention into one caption.

Use mentions strategically, and experiment to discover how well they work with your audience.

Bonus Content - How to Use Hashtags in Instagram Captions

CTA’s in Captions

Use CTA’s (call-to-action) in captions when your goal is to increase engagement or drive conversions.

Some of the CTA’s that work well with Instagram captions:

  • Questions
  • Ask followers to tag a friend
  • Encourage viewers to tap the link in your bio
  • Encourage users to tap the products, when you have products tagged

There are a million different ways to write CTAs!

What’s essential is that you be sure to include a CTA when your goal is to engage or convert users.

For example, the Pottery Barn caption below includes “Click the link in our bio to learn more.”

Earlier in this article, we talked about placing hashtags below the caption’s message. The example above is another excellent way to separate your hashtags, so they don’t look like spam!

CTA’s can be questions posed to users, to encourage engagement. In the caption below, Ann Taylor asks the question “Which bouquet would you choose?”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art encourages user-generated content in its caption below by including “Keep sharing your own drawings of the museum,” plus a prompt to use its #MetSketch hashtag.

When adding hashtags, mentions, and CTAs to your Instagram captions, remember to match them to your goals.

Posts that are meant to increase engagement can benefit from all these elements.

How to Format Instagram Captions

Now that you know how to add in all the elements, let’s take a look at how you can pull it all together with formatting.

Adding spaces, numbered lists, and other types of formatting can help you grab the attention of your readers.

If your caption is short, there’s no need for formatting.

View this post on Instagram

Joking around with the greatest of all time

A post shared by Richard Branson (@richardbranson) on

Format your captions if they go behind a line or two, though. Otherwise, they can be frustrating to read on some devices.

For example, NASA posts a stunning image, but the caption’s lack of formatting makes it difficult to read.

Social Media Today offers an excellent example of Instagram caption formatting in the image below. It begins with a short CTA message and emoji, then adds a space before creating a “how-to” style numbered list.

Source: Instagram

Social Media Insider separates its mentions from the caption’s central message and uses spacing to separate sentences. The combination produces a clean, easy-to-skim format that viewers love.

In a report for Social Insider, Susan B Zimmerman shares some excellent ideas for innovative ways to format and space Instagram captions.

Through clever use of emojis, numbered lists, and spacing, she’s able to turn long-form captions into messages that are fun and engaging.

Source: Social Insider

Zimmerman recommends using the IOS Notes app for caption writing. You can write out the entire caption, then copy and paste it into Instagram.

Get the most from your Instagram captions with a solid Instagram marketing strategy that combines a winning Instagram profile.,

How to Compose Instagram Captions

Now that you understand what elements you can use in captions, let’s take a look at how to craft messaging that helps you meet your marketing goals.

How to Write Captions That Boost Engagement

Here are some of the ways you can boost your engagement rates with well-written captions.

1. Include a call to action.

Encourage viewers to participate by including a CTA that asks for their input.

For example, you can include a question, poll, or request for feedback or opinions.

The examples below both contain questions that encourage viewers to engage in conversation.

Instagram Ferrymorseseed and HGTV
Source: Instagram Ferrymorseseed and HGTV

2. Encourage user-generated content with a campaign hashtag.

User-generated content on Instagram has a 4.5% Higher Conversion Rate.

Ask people to share reviews, images, or product testimonials with a specific campaign hashtag.

Holding contests or prize drawings is an excellent incentive for people to share your hashtag with their content.

3. Include mentions when appropriate.

Mention people or brands that you think will contribute to the conversation.

Source: Instagram

4. Use emojis and numbered lists as highlights.

Make sure your CTA stand out by adding an emoji next to it. Or, use emojis or numbered lists to highlight a set of instructions.

In the example below, Sipsby highlights a checklist with check mark emojis, then uses another emoji to draw attention to its promo code.

numbered list in instagram caption

The Target post below uses emojis to highlight one hashtag and one mention.

Source: Instagram.com

How to Write Captions That Expand Your Reach

If you’re creating a post to expand your reach or grow your audience, hashtags are your friends!

Use a CTA that asks people to share your hashtag – perhaps with a contest or giveaway as an incentive.

Use 1 – 5 relevant hashtags that put you in feeds with low – medium competition.

Tip: Consider promoted posts, which do an excellent job of expanding your brand’s reach and growing your audience.

How to Write Captions That Increase Conversions

When you want to encourage action, choose your words carefully. Good copywriting skills are helpful when writing captions that convert.

Begin your caption by pulling the reader in with benefits, description, or action words.

Always include a call to action when you want users to do something like purchase a product or visit your website.

Your CTA should direct users to your bio or guide them along the sales journey with phrases like “Find it at abc.com”

link in bio caption instagram
url cta in caption on instagram

Sometimes adding an emoji next to the CTA is an excellent way to draw attention to it.

CTA with emojis example instagram captions
Source: Instagram

One way to give your conversions a nice boost is by including a customer testimonial in the caption.

CTA example instagram caption

Whatever type of action you want to encourage in your caption, the essential elements for conversion are:

  • A clear and simple description of the product/service and its benefits
  • A clear call to action that shows readers how to take the next step

Tailor Captions to Meet Your Goals and Match Your Audience

The above tips and data offer some excellent starting points for writing Instagram captions that engage and convert, but you can continually improve your results through testing and experimentation.

Get to know your target audience by monitoring your Instagram Insights frequently over time. The metrics don’t lie! Find out what type of captions your audience responds to, using your most successful posts as a guide.

Messaging, emojis, hashtags, CTA’s, mentions, and formatting can take your Instagram captions to the next level when you use them strategically!

Up Your Social Media Game, try Sharelov for free!

What’s the best caption you’ve ever used? Share it with our readers in the comments below!

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