Last updated on December 18, 2023

Aimee Millwood
Director of Content at Yotpo
November 14th, 2016 | 10 minutes read

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

Table Of Contents

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.

Recommended Reading:

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?