Instagram has been steadily growing in popularity for the last several years, and as such, it’s becoming more and more attractive to marketers of all sorts. The walls have been coming down, and the platform is more open to business-level users than ever before. The days when you could only access it via mobile app are gone, and while many features still require a mobile to use, you can also use third party platforms instead.
One oddity with Instagram, though, is their staunch refusal to allow any links in their image captions. This has been a policy since the early days of the mobile-only site, and it continues to this day.
Why does this policy exist? Well, back when Instagram was a very young platform, they had a lot of issues with spam. People would post new posts or new comments with links constantly, such that organically using the site was almost impossible. Rather than try to figure out how to enforce spam protection, they simply removed the link-based incentive for people to post them. Of course, this was long before Facebook bought the social network and before they had the might of the godly Algorithm at their disposal.
Links Vs URLs
First, let’s talk briefly about links and URLs, and how Instagram works with them.
A URL is a web address, such as www.boostlikes.com. A link is that URL turned into a clickable item that sends the user to the destination, such as www.boostlikes.com.
Instagram does not allow links, but it doesn’t care if you plug in a URL in your image captions. This is worth noting, because I know some platforms and websites actually detect and filter URLs. If you tried to put anything with an HTTP or WWW in front of it, you’d find your post wouldn’t go through. Instagram is not like this; they don’t care, they just won’t facilitate you in ferrying people off the site.
That said, there are a few different ways you can simulate putting a link in your image captions, or in other places on Instagram. These workarounds can give you some extra avenues of audience engagement.
It’s also worth noting that a hashtag in an Instagram caption is technically a link. The link will invariably lead to a hashtag feed page – something like this – and will not allow you to customize the destination. Instagram, of course, simply wants to keep people in their area of influence as long as possible.
Workaround 1: Links in Captions
If you want a link in an Instagram post, you can just post one in the caption of your photos. However, it won’t be a link; it’ll just be a raw, unclickable URL. If you want users to “click through” the link, you will need to get them to copy and paste it into their browser.
Since copying and pasting on a mobile device can be tricky and fickle, it’s generally a good idea to avoid longer links. Those lengthy links with UTM tracking parameters and all of that? Those Amazon affiliate links with all the extra code to them? No one will want to copy and paste those, and besides, they make your image caption look awful.
Instead, what I recommend is getting a URL shortener. There are a lot of different URL shortening services, and it doesn’t really matter which you use.
- Try to choose a service you trust and are willing to pay for. Typically if you pay for a URL shortener, you will be able to customize your domain name for it, which looks better than just a bit.ly URL or whatever.
- If you like, try to choose a URL shortener that offers analytics as a service attached to it. This will help you track who is clicking through your Instagram links.
- Since you’re shortening a link already, feel free to attach UTM tracking to your URLs. This will give you a bunch more info in Google analytics, which can help when analyzing your Instagram audience.
A shorter and more custom-looking shortlink will encourage people to copy and paste your URL much more readily than otherwise.
Workaround 2: Links in Your Bio
This second workaround is by far the most common on Instagram. See, with the Instagram platform, you actually are allowed one single link on your profile. The trick is, it’s not attached to any given post; it’s in your bio. Every Instagram bio is given one link slot. What you do with it is up to you.
Here are a few examples.
- Hootsuite’s account includes a custom link through linktree: https://linktr.ee/hootsuite. This link gives the user several options for content; more on this in the third workaround.
- Gamespot’s account uses a different third party platform, LinkIn.Bio: https://linkin.bio/gamespot
- Sony’s account simply using a Bitly shortlink: bit.ly/AU35mmF18. It leads to “Alpha Universe”, A Song blog property.
Some people include a raw link to their website in their bio, but given that so many big names don’t, that’s generally a mistake. You can use shortlinks to include links with tracking or links to domains users wouldn’t otherwise visit, like Sony’s. You can use links with third party services, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
If you use a link in your bio, you typically want to make mention of it in your image captions. Tell people to go click the link in your bio for more information, and include some kind of relevant call to action.
My biggest recommendation for bio links is simply to keep the link fresh. Rotate your bio link frequently so it’s always pointing to a new and relevant landing page. If you’re using custom shortlinks, you can even use the URL to make this clear, something that references the month or a specific campaign you’re running.
Workaround 3: Third Party Apps
There are a lot of third party apps that allow you to link from Instagram, in a roundabout fashion. Two of them are featured above; LinkIn.Bio and LinkTr.ee. Many of these apps work in interesting ways, so here are a few you might look into.
LinkTree. As seen with Hootsuite above, this creates a link for you to use in your bio.
When a user clicks on the link, they are taken to a page that gives them half a dozen or so different options for content they might be interested in seeing. You can change up the potential destinations at any time without changing the link in your bio. LinkTree has a free plan that has their branding on it, while paying $6 per month gives you better analytics and no branding, along with some other benefits.
LinkInBio. This service is a sub-offering by Later, one of the largest and most robust of the Instagram management platforms.
It basically creates a landing page that looks like your Instagram feed, because it mirrors each post you make. Users clicking through can then click to a post they want to see, and it will look similar to Instagram, except it has a clickable link and some other customizations. To use LinkInBio, you need one of the Later business plans, which start at $20 per month. Obviously, you get a whole lot more than just the link features if you pay for that plan.
Link My Photos. This service operates in pretty much exactly the same way as LinkInBio, except it’s not just a part of Later or another big app, it’s a stand-alone service.
As such, it’s much cheaper. It has a free plan that allows you up to three photos, and two paid plans at $5 and $10 per month. They both have unlimited photos and some additional features on top.
Workaround 4: Instagram Ads
If you don’t want to use a third party app, but you’re fine with paying for the ability to include a link in your post, and you don’t want to have to refer people to your profile link, you still have one option. That option is to pay for Instagram ads.
Instagram advertising is similar to Facebook advertising in a lot of ways, most important of which is the fact that they use the same platform. Instagram ads are just Facebook ads with Instagram placement. As such, there are a ton of benefits to using the ad platform.
When you promote an Instagram post, you convert that post from an organic post into an ad. This allows you to include links in the caption and call to action, but it also means ad blockers will block them, and it means people who don’t like seeing ads will ignore them.
Instagram ads have a number of definite benefits, such as the ability to make sure you get a guaranteed level of visibility out of them, and the ability to make different kinds of posts, like carousels and collections. On the other hand, you need to have a Business account, which means converting your existing account. Right now there’s no downside to doing so, but who knows if Instagram might adjust the weight of different account types in the future.
Instagram also has a handful of marketing partners you can use to help run advertising without having to go through the native systems. This can be beneficial if you want some assistance, but it’s an extra fee on top of the fee you’re paying to run ads.
That, really, is the one major downside to running ads on Instagram; it costs a lot of money in comparison to the other options. That said, the performance is generally worth the cost.
Workaround 5: Instagram Story Links
Instagram Stories are a specific kind of post you can create on Instagram. They’re typically a mixture of short video clips, images, and stickers, put together to tell a short story. These stories can be anything from “hey check out our new product” to life events and everything in between. The primary gimmick is that Stories are only available for 24 hours by default.
Some Stories have a “swipe up” link attached to them. You can include a link destination, and users can swipe upwards on their device at any time to visit that link destination.
In addition to being limited to Stories, there are other restrictions on these links. First and foremost, they’re only available to accounts that are Verified or that have over 10,000 followers. You may also need to be a business account, though I’m not sure on that one.
To learn how to use links in Stories to great effect, check out this post.
Workaround 6: Instagram Product Tags
Another option is to have posts with product tags attached. This is an even more restricted option than any of the above, though it works extremely well for those who can use it.
So who can use it? Accounts have to be business accounts and they have to be approved for shopping, which means the business is in one of a specific selection of markets. You have to comply with the merchant agreement, have a connected Facebook page, and you can only sell physical goods. Product tagging won’t work for software, digital goods, or hybrid companies. You also, critically, need to connect to the Facebook Catalog system.
The catalog system basically requires you to sync a product catalog with Facebook. This way the Facebook/Instagram system can pull real time pricing and availability data, so there’s no disconnect between their platform and your store.
If you meet all of these requirements, you can create posts that have tags for products in them. Users can click on tags and buy products directly through Instagram, if they want. It’s not quite a customized link, since it only leads to the Instagram purchase system, but it’s better than nothing.
Do you have another alternative for links on Instagram you’d like to share? If so, leave it in the comments and I’ll check it out.