Advertise on Instagram
November 14, 2016 | Shares:

Instagram Advertising in 2018: What You Need to Know

Instagram has become a foundational marketing and advertising pillar for commerce brands.

Opportunities to profit from Instagram have evolved quickly over the past few years, from the rise of Shoppable Instagram stories to smarter targeting for Instagram ads.

In 2018, brands that get ahead know how to leverage the platform’s advertising tools not just for customer acquisition, but also for re-engaging customers and building repeated awareness among their community.

Why Instagram Advertising is Essential

Instagram has super-high engagement rates 

Instagram has the most engaged audience out of all social sites. Not only do your ads get seen, they get remembered.

Instagram’s research shows ad recall from Instagram sponsored ads is 2.8x higher on average than ad recall from other social networks.

Forrester did independent research on the platform’s ads and found that consumers are 58x more likely to engage with branded content on Instagram compared to Facebook and 120x more likely compared to Twitter.

Visitors from Instagram stay on a site for an average of 192 seconds, longer than visitors from every other channel, including Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, meaning traffic from Instagram is the most engaged.

Yotpo’s research showed a surprisingly similar result: the Instagram engagement rate is not only higher than other social media platforms, but also beats out other channels like email, referral traffic and paid acquisition.

Instagram ads show stronger engagement

Instagram is mobile-first

Instagram has the highest percentage of mobile audience out of all social platforms.

This is important because the majority of people access social networks from mobile, often browsing through their feeds while they’re on the go.

Distribution of page views for mobile and non-mobile

Because Instagram’s traffic was mainly mobile from the start, the platform knew how to create an ad experience that wouldn’t be intrusive to mobile users.

And it paid off; Instagram ads have been positively received by users, making them even more effective because users don’t try to tune the ads out.

Instagram ads get great results

Paying for Instagram space pays off.

Instagram users are highly engaged, and by paying for posts, you’re increasing the likelihood that you get their attention and gain new, engaged followers.

Michael Kors was one of the first big brands to experiment with Instagram advertising- and the results speak for themselves.

Their first Instagram ad resulted in almost 40,000 new followers. To put that in perspective, their sponsored post earned them nearly 16 times more followers than their unsponsored posts.

Below, see an example of their first Instagram ad campaign:

Instagram advertising done right by Michael Kors

Instagram ads are insanely targeted

On Instagram, it’s guaranteed that ads are seen – and seen by the right people.

Instagram’s advanced targeting builds off of Facebook’s targeting abilities. Facebook has had plenty of practice perfecting the art of targeting, and it brings this knowledge to Instagram.

Why is this important? If you’re going to spend money on ads, you need to know that the ads are going to be seen by the right audiences.

If you’re going to spend money on ads, you need to know that the ads are going to be seen by the right audiences.

Instagram allows you to show your ads to exactly the people who would want to see them.

Like on Facebook, on Instagram you can target by location, demographics, interests, and more, and you can also create custom audiences or lookalike audiences.

But it’s important to remember that Instagram’s audience isn’t the same as Facebook’s – so you can’t just apply the your Facebook advertising strategy to Instagram.

Ultimately, Instagram data shows that 30% of Instagram users say they have purchased a product they discovered on Instagram, which is why you need to know how to create ads specifically for Instagram for customers to see and be inspired to buy.

6 Expert Tips on How to Advertise on Instagram

To succeed on Instagram, you need to start by picking the right content.

But what does that mean? And how do you know which content is right for you to use in ads?

In order to help you build a killer strategy, we asked our top customers what they learned from building an Instagram advertising and marketing strategy, talked to successful brands who achieve great ROI on Instagram ads and asked our in-house experts for their advice and their top Instagram resources.

After all of that extensive research, we took the absolute best Instagram marketing tips to apply in today’s advertising space.

Here’s what we learned:

1. “Look for opportunities to communicate your brand story.”

– Talia Shani, Director of Content

On Instagram, every marketing image is a chance to tell a story. It’s important to think about how your ads fit into your overall Instagram strategy, because each image needs to be cohesive.

Think about how every detail —  such as lighting, captions, hashtags, and context clues — will influence what your audience will take from your ad images.

2. “Blend in, don’t stick out.”

– Doug Baltman, Head of Product Marketing

The last thing you want is for your ad to stick out as inorganic content.

When users are scrolling through their feed, you want your ad to look just like any other piece of content they would see from their friends or people they follow. If your ad sticks out, then it’s not going to be effective.

A general rule is to try to avoid putting words on top of images, like in the example below.

Here, the post sticks out from other images because of the words and it’s branding on top of the image. However, even best practices can be broken!

Ed Glassman, CEO of Bryan Anthonys, says this ad garnered great results. “We test hundreds of different images and the image posted above was one of our best all time. We ran that ad for over a year, generated over 30k followers and had a sub $10 CPA the entire time it ran. My advice to readers is to test everything.”

Example of how not to advertise on Instagram

In contrast, this ad by Banana Republic blends in much better because it doesn’t have text on top:

Great example of advertising on Instagram

Today’s customers can smell an ad from a mile away. In order for your ad to get results, it needs to add value, not just be a blatant Instagram advertisement for your product.

Think about the type of content people like on Instagram — it’s often aspirational, well-photographed, and uses very little text on the photo, but rather communicates in the caption and hashtags. Your ad should be like this as well.

Look at how Levi’s does a great job of creating an ad that looks like any other photo shared on Instagram:

Levi's example on how to advertise on Instagram

3. “Look to your organic content for paid inspiration.”

– Adi Palkovic, Director of Paid Acquisition

Look at what works well for you organically when choosing what to advertise on Instagram.

What type of photos do your customers submit to you? What posts do you publish that get super high engagement on your Instagram?

This content is a good starting point for choosing your paid content.

You shouldn’t think of it as classic “advertising,” you should think of it as a way to amplify your content better. Look for posts that got great results and then repurpose these into ads.

Then, test relentlessly.

Just because you think your ads are awesome doesn’t mean it’s true.

You need to have the data to back it up, and the only way to prove your ads are performing at their optimal level is by A/B testing.

The two most important things to test are visual content and written content. Run two ads on Instagram with the same image, but different copy. Or, keep the captions the same but test different images, or test an image vs. a video.

Test even the smallest changes – like mixing up your hashtags – you never know what will make a huge change in your ROI.

4. “Promote a single product and link directly to the product URL.”

– Griffin Thall, Co-founder of Pura Vida

Pura Vida is one brand that’s done amazing on Instagram because of their great understanding of visual commerce. In fact, they’ve done so well that they have a 4x ROI on their Instagram ads.


Griffin Thall’s advice for Instagram ads is that they work really well when you show one product with a direct call-to-action.

He emphasizes the importance of reducing distraction. According to him, one of the biggest social commerce trends is simplicity.

“When it comes to Instagram ads, your goal should be to show a single picture with a direct link to that item – don’t make it complicated for the user, get them to the product without excess distraction.”

While their focus is usually to sell through Instagram, they also value carousel Instagram ads to create stories, smart branding, and lifestyle vibes. Even in carousels, he says to make sure that each photo goes directly to the product that you’re selling.

5. “Leverage user-generated content.”

– Roni Klein, Senior Marketing Designer

Our Senior Marketing Designer is also our resident Instagram addict, so she knows a thing or two about what makes a smart Instagram advertising strategy.

After examining the most successful Instagram campaigns, she analyzed what big brands are doing right – and how you can learn from their strategies.

Her top tips?

  • Genuine, candid photos are best. Visual marketing is all about authenticity – it’s important that Instagram pics look real, not like staged marketing images.
  • Pictures including people (especially people’s faces) tend to be the most compelling. There’s a reason everyone loves selfies.
  • Take a look at other great examples of user-generated content to get inspiration for your own campaigns. The best way to build a successful campaign is to study what made others work so well.
  • Simplify the buying process for Instagram followers – learn how to start an Instagram shop to provide easy access to products featured in photos.
  • Think of creative ways to incentivize participation.


6. “Add a layer of UGC to your Shoppable Instagram.”

– Ruthie Berber, Co-Marketing Manager

With Shoppable Instagram options on the rise, stand out from the pack by making your shoppable gallery experience different by adding a layer of UGC, showcasing star ratings, reviews and number of products sold next to each tagged product.

Make it easy to see which products are in your Instagram photos and encourage customers to buy by making the navigation to product pages effortless.

Yotpo's Shoppable Instagram feature


There you have it, the top expert tips on how to advertise on Instagram most effectively.

For a handy reminder of what we covered, here’s a list of the top takeaways:

Top tips for Instagram advertising

Have any questions or other tips to add? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Want to learn more tips for getting the most out of social marketing?

Aimee Millwood
Aimee Millwood, Director of Content at Yotpo
Aimee loves hummus and hates misplaced commas.

@aimeemillwood – Follow me

  • Ktreats

    Great points, thanks for sharing!

  • Carl Dirkenson

    Thank you for info! My brother uses instagram as promotion platform and I’ll share with him. But I know he uses some apps for many purposes. For example, app called zen-promo (.com?) as I remember can find real followers on instagram that provides great and big audience. Is it cool? Never thought I’ll say something like that about apps. But if it makes better for business and it’s “legal” then nothing bad in it. So, with that info should he stop using apps or he can mix it? Thank you again!

  • 2017 is gonna be all about Instagram and FB Live – by my opinion 🙂

    • Aimee from Yotpo

      Definitely agree about FB live, we didn’t cover it here but I also agree.

      • Anja Skrba

        There’s an idea for new article 😉

  • Thanks for the great tips Aimee, we will include some of them in our upcoming Instagram & eCommerce article!

    • Aimee from Yotpo

      Amazing thanks Gabor!

  • Alexander Mclean

    You mentioned that “Their first Instagram ad resulted in almost 40,000 new followers” but never mentioned how much the spend was from a realistic ROI perspective. Also I’ve noticed that LIKES in ads don’t really convert to followers and those ad LIKES are not on my IG feed. The same post I used to create my ad doesn’t have any LIKES. Only the post that was converted into an IG ad garnished the engagement. Any thoughts on this?

    • Ronit Epstein

      All great points, Alexander – thanks for bringing them up. Instagram doesn’t offer the opportunity to boost posts. Perhaps they will eventually recognize the issue for brands and follow Facebook’s strategy in offering both ads and boosted posts.

  • Ed Glassman

    Hey Aimee,

    My name is Edward Glassman and I’m the CEO of Bryan Anthonys. First of all, great article. However, I’m going to have to disagree with you on our image being used as an example of “what not to do”. We test hundreds of different images and the image posted above was one of our best all time. We ran that ad for over a year, generated over 30k followers and had a sub $10 CPA the entire time it ran. My advice to readers is to test everything. Unless you’re doing this every day you never really know what is going to work =)

    • Aimee from Yotpo

      Super interesting! I’m happy to hear that the ad did so well (and updated the text with your great results). It’s typically not a best practice we recommend but definitely worth noting that it can work super well when done correctly! Thanks for reading (and letting us know your thoughts!)

  • PL

    My instagram feed has gotten bombarded with ads, sometimes one after another. Its is frustrating when all you want to do is share and look at photos. Talking with other people I know a lot of them are getting off instagram because of this. I see this is going to have an adverse reaction for instagram and their advertisers. I listen to people trash the ads they see and are getting sick of being bombarded with irrelevant ads to anything they are into or buy. Even though instagram says you can control what ads you see this is not true. Like the Carpet King ad thats in Chinese and they are in California. I live well over 2000 miles away and do not speak chinese 🙁

    • Ronit Epstein

      Hi PL, make sure to mark those ads as not relevant. With time, Instagram will learn to target you less frequently and with more relevant content.

      • PL

        Thank you Aimee, I have actually done that and not to sound to harsh it has not worked. In just a few hours, ads about Hawaii Scuba university, an Art park ,Military Millionaire LLC and Masonite doors. Nothing relevant. Just a bunch of Spam. Really not sure how instagram thinks I need to look at an ad about doors. Talking to others they are to frustrated seeing ads pop up all the time on their feeds. What would be the repercussions to this method of unwanted ads as I hear many people are marking the ads they see as inappropriate.

  • John Redwood

    I saw one ad where an organization targeted the followers of one particular celebrity as a strategy. Can you tell me if this is a common practice with Instagram advertising?

    Can you supply your own list of Instagram users so that you can place your ads only with these individuals?

    • Michelle from Yotpo

      Hi John,

      Thanks for you comment!

      It sounds like you’re talking about influencer marketing, where brands have social media celebrities or “influencers” share their own photos, videos, etc. featuring the brand’s products. This is a great way for user-generated content to have an outstanding impact, since influencers have tons of followers.

      It also lets your happy customers share your brand with their followers in their own authentic voice.

      We don’t have a list of influencers to reach out to, but I would definitely recommend searching on Instagram and Facebook to find customers who are already using or sharing your products and reach out to them. Another option is to look for bloggers or other social media celebrities who share interests with your brand and get in touch. You can start small with “micro-influencers” and then move on to people with larger followings on social.

      Good luck!!

  • Jack Isao Sammarco

    Instagram engagement is higher because people who use bots (e.g. chrome extension liker and follower bots) are set to “like” ads by default. If this feature is not turned off, then you are throwing your money out of the window as an instagram advertiser. So these are not real individuals liking the ads and this is why you begin seeing immediate engagement on your ad.

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