The Art and Science of Writing Good Instagram Captions

Instagram is one of the most popular social media networks worldwide. Over 1 billion people use the platform every month, spending an average of 53 minutes per day (longer than your typical Zoom meeting) posting, engaging, and double-tapping that like button.

71% of businesses use Instagram—and for good reason. While it might seem like a personal platform for friends and family to interact, more than 50% of Instagrammers follow at least 1 business, and 80% claim the platform helps them decide to buy a product or service.

The platform is apparently much much more than a tool to keep in touch with your Uncle Steve or stalk your ex.

However, growing an engaged audience is easier said than done. It requires patience, top-notch content, a bit of know-how, and really good Instagram captions. We can help you with all of that.

Instagram Stories continues to gain popularity, but it’s still not as widely used as the basic Instagram post. Stories provide above-and-beyond customization, with the ability to boomerang, rewind, superzoom, add stickers, and more. Posts, on the other hand, really only give you 2 custom fields:

  1. The Image/Video
  2. The Caption

With just 2 elements to play with, it’s important you juice them both for all they’re worth. We cover everything you need to know about finding, editing, and publishing the right images in 30 Expert Tips on How to Get 10k More Followers on Instagram—and now we’re going to take you on a deep dive through writing the best-of-the-best Instagram captions.

Nail your content and caption strategy, and you’ll be well on your way to growing your Instagram followers, engagement, and (ultimately) revenue.

7 Best Practices for Writing Really Good Instagram Captions

We titled this how-to article The Art and Science of Writing Good Instagram Captions because producing five-star captions is about nailing both creativity and technique. That’s why we back up almost all our best practices with rock-solid studies and statistics that go beyond personal opinions.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Write More, More, More

Sometimes less is more, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for Instagram captions. The length of Instagram captions has grown steadily over the last 5 years, more than doubling since 2016. Now, the average caption length is 405 characters (which is usually around 65 to 70 words).

Now, keep in mind that 405 is the average. Some successful Instagram accounts use much more (see Later), while others use much less (see PacSun). And then there’s Foundr—we like to mix it up with everything from super-long captions to one-liners.

However, data shows that posts with longer captions generally receive higher engagement rates than those with short captions. Higher engagement rates not only build deeper connections with your audience but also help you appear on the Explore page, which exposes your content to new soon-to-be followers.

Experiment to see what works best with your followers. Shorter captions have performed better in the past, but in 2021, it appears more words lead to more engagement. Try adding 70-100+ words to your Instagram captions for a few weeks to see how your audience responds. If you see an increased engagement rate, keep making them long.

2. Add Emojis in Here and There

Emojis can be polarizing when it comes to more serious communication channels like email and SMS—recipients either love them or hate them. But when it comes to Instagram, bring on the 😃 and ❤️.

Research shows that 92% of people have used or regularly use emojis in their messaging, but more than 50% of business profiles don’t use emojis at all. Yet, data suggests the more emojis you use, the higher your engagement. One study showed using these adorable pictograms and smileys can increase Instagram engagement rates by as much as 48%.

Now, that doesn’t mean you necessarily go ham with adding 20+ emojis to every post—there’s a line of diminishing return somewhere, and it’s flittering awfully close with the line of turning off your audience. Start by adding a few, and see how your followers respond. If the response is positive, try adding a bit more.

Emojis might not feel “on-brand” for your business, but the numbers suggest they’re certainly worth a try. Experiment with adding a few of the less cutesy emojis into your post to see if they make a difference.

If you’re hesitant, maybe try starting with the rocketship or fire emoji instead of the smiling-heart-eyes face or the rolling-on-floor-laughing face—they’re a little more brand neutral.

3. Bring on the #Hashtags

Hashtags might seem like a trendy Gen Z habit instead of a refined business strategy, but that’s not the case—trust us. Used correctly, hashtags can drive engagement, expose your brand to new audiences, and boost your followers.

But here’s the burning question that we know you’re dying to ask: how many hashtags should you use? And here’s the response you probably didn’t want to hear:

It depends.

Studies’ results have been all over the place because, well, Instagram profiles and their content are all over the place. The number of hashtags you should use will be mainly determined by your industry, your number of followers, follower psychographics, and the types of content you share.

If you want a golden number to target and experiment with, many brands recommend around 11 hashtags. However, we suggest milking the hashtags for all they’re worth and including 30 hashtags per post (which is the Instagram limit).

Now, where should these hashtags go—in the comments section or the caption? Accounts with 100,000 followers or fewer will see higher reach rates when they put hashtags in the caption. Accounts with more than 100,000 followers will be more focused on engagement than reach, so we recommend adding your hashtag to the first comment instead of the post description.

4. Include an Element of Engagement

While most Instagram users are happy to scroll leisurely along for hours on end, your ultimate goal isn’t to just show them yet another picture—it’s to get them to do something.

Every post should have a goal, whether that’s to build awareness around a campaign, encourage your audience to interact with your brand, increase traffic to your website, or boost signups to your newsletter.

Every good Instagram caption needs a strong call to action (CTA) that tells your followers exactly what to do. Here are a few of our favorite Instagram caption ideas:

  • Double-tap to show your support
  • Tag a friend to enter the giveaway
  • Post an image using the hashtag
  • Follow us to receive more great content
  • Give us your feedback to help us improve
  • Answer a question to support our product development

You get the idea. Adding a CTA makes people 25% more likely to complete your goal action, so ensure every post has one in the caption.

5. Answer the Burning Question: “What’s In It for Me?”

Everyone is on Instagram for a purpose. They’re looking for inspiration, searching for a friend, evaluating a product, second-guessing a job offer, procrastinating, or just scrolling out of habit. Regardless of the reason, social media is a (sorry to say it) selfish online world where people are looking to satisfy a need.

How does your content satisfy a need? Now, a need doesn’t just have to be food, water, money, or shelter—needs can vary. Refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Your audience is on social media to:

  • Feel loved (those likes and comments are real)
  • Feel accomplished (everyone wants more followers)
  • Feel noticed (hey, look at this cool thing I just did!)

Design content that satisfies those needs and answers the question: “What’s in it for me?” Whenever you include a CTA, don’t forget to mention why someone should do it:

  • Follow us to receive your daily dose of startup inspiration
  • Tag a friend in the comments to show them you care
  • Visit the link in our bio to save 25% off your next purchase
  • Comment below to help us design the perfect product for you

Even saying something along the lines of “Follow us so we can hit 10,000 followers by midnight” helps your audience feel included—like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

6. Hook Your Reader Within the First 125 Characters

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But what’s the worth of a thousand words? A whole lot if you write well—not very much if you don’t.

Words pack a punch, but their placement determines the strength of that punch. Instagram captions truncate beyond 125 characters, meaning you only have a sentence (maybe 2) to hook your reader into clicking “…more.”

Good Instagram captions lead followers to read on rather than scroll down. If your post tells a story, that means you can’t give away the entire plot in the first 125 characters. Be intentional with your words—especially the first sentence. Add intrigue. Add suspense. Make it irresistible to skip the rest of your caption.

The best Instagram captions tie together closely with the posted image or video—the two can’t be separated and retain their value. Think of what your follower’s journey is like:

  1. They scroll down the page, seeing the image or video first.
  2. If they’re interested, they’ll take a second (maybe half a second) to glance at your caption.
  3. They’ll see the first 125 characters or less.
  4. If that hooks them, they’ll click “more” and read on.
  5. If the caption continues to intrigue them, they’ll read to the end.
  6. Once a user reads an entire caption, they’re much more likely to take the action you requested in your CTA.
  7. Lose them at any stage in your caption, and they’re gone and onto the next Instagram post.

7. Format Your Captions to Improve the Reading Experience

Big, long paragraphs of text are perhaps the #1 way to scare off any reader. Use line breaks throughout your captions to make them easier to scan and digest.

Look through this article, for example—there’s hardly a paragraph that’s longer than 3 sentences. Use the same tactic to an even greater degree on your Instagram posts.

Social media expert Derek Halpern performed a study to determine the best-performing paragraph length.

“The problem is, to ensure maximum comprehension and the appearance of simplicity, the perfect line length ranges between 40 and 55 characters per line,” says Halpern. This ends up being around 8 to 11 words per line.

Now, you can’t really adjust the width of your Instagram captions, but you can apply the principles behind this study—keep it simple and easy to read to improve comprehension.

Practice Makes Perfect

And there you have it—7 ways to start writing good Instagram captions. Give each of these tactics a try and see what happens to your engagement.

Don’t be discouraged if your first or second post is a dud—there’s a lot more at play than just your caption’s quality. Instagram algorithms, time of day, and even your image or video content will all play a part, too.

Keep trying. Practice makes perfect. Writing good Instagram captions is an art and science, and it’s hard to master those 2 things overnight.

In the end, captions are 1 element (albeit a critical one) of your Instagram strategy. You can optimize a lot more things to accelerate your follower growth, engagement, and sales.

Our brand-new, exclusive Instagram training course has you covered on everything you need to know. Oh, and before you dig into the weeds—it’s free. We’ll take you behind the scenes and show you exactly how we generated 500K followers in 12 months (and 1M+ in 2 years).

This training includes our secret posting strategy, bio formula, and content creation process. And we’re giving it all away for free. The training starts soon, so enroll in the masterclass today while there’s still time.