Rumors have been swirling around the internet water cooler lately: Are posts that include the words “link in bio” in the caption less favored by the Instagram algorithm?
As much as we love some juicy gossip here at Hootsuite HQ, we love cold, hard, social media facts even more.
So we decided to do a little experiment, put this theory to the test and find out the truth, once and for all.
Read on to unpack our experiment and learn whether “link in bio” is a momentum killer or not.
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a lifestyle photographer used to grow from 0 to 600,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.
The fact that Instagram doesn’t allow clickable links directly in captions is a big marketing hurdle.
Despite its mind-boggling number of monthly users (a billion!), Instagram actually sends just a fraction of traffic to other websites. Twitter, which only has one-third of Instagrams active users, generates five times more web traffic by comparison.
Of course, to butcher the old Jurassic Park quote, “Links will find a way.” Users have found a workaround for directing traffic to their websites by using the URL in their Instagram profile’s bio section.
That’s why you’ll often see the phrase “link in bio” at the end of a caption, pointing followers to a clickable link.
In fact, a whole cottage industry of Link-in-Bio products have sprung up around this practice. These are products which create a landing page that collects multiple links in one place, like Linktree or Campsite.
One Parse.ly study actually found that Link-in-Bio tools increase Instagram referral traffic by 10 to 15%.
But despite this hack’s effectiveness, there are plenty of people out there who believe that Instagram is actively trying to squash this creative problem-solving.
Between anecdotal reports and gut feelings, social media experts have been a-buzz with suspicion. One member of the Facebook group Social Media Geekout went so far as to attempt an experiment this past September, comparing engagement on two posts: one with “link in bio” in the text, the other without.
Her conclusion? The post with “link in bio” got much lower engagement.
These were pretty juicy results that sparked a ton of conversation. Was Instagram intentionally punishing posters who are trying to direct users off of the platform? Was the “link in bio” call to action simply distracting followers from engaging in other ways?
But ultimately, as a few commenters suggested, this study was inconclusive. There were just too many variables at play: the poster was comparing two vastly different images, with vastly different content, posted at different days and times.
How could she know it was the “link in bio” factor alone that was hurting her engagement?
To really find out, we’d need to compare posts that were identical other than the addition of “link in bio” to one caption. So that’s exactly what we did.
For this experiment, I decided to use an Instagram Business account for a weddings magazine I help edit, to make sure we had a big ol’ pool of followers to experiment on: 10,000-plus.
The plan: to compare engagement of the exact same image and exact same caption, posted the same day of the week, at the same time, with the only difference being that one week, I would add “link in bio” to the end of the caption.
I repeated this same format with two other images, on different days of the week, to see if we could observe any patterns, in case Pic #1 was just an all-around unengaging dud.
In total, I posted six times. Three of these posts had “link in bio” in the caption.
All of my followers probably thought something very weird was going on, but if it got them talking about the brand, that’s a positive, right? Hot social media tip: Always keep your audience guessing to cultivate an air of mystery.
TL;DR: All of my Instagram posts that included “link in bio” in the caption performed slightly better than those without.
To compare the performance of Instagram posts with and without “link in bio,” I used the Instagram Report in Hootsuite Analytics. From the Instagram table, it’s possible to sort posts by likes and comments.
Our Wednesday duplicate post featured a happy, good-looking couple holding an impressive bouquet.
I posted this on February 10 and again a week later on February 17, both at 6:02 p.m. (why not!). The caption was exactly the same… except on February 17, I added “link in bio.”
Link in bio post: 117 likes and 2 comments.
No link in bio post: 86 likes and 1 comment.
The winner? Link in bio. That’s more than a 30% increase in likes. (The comment sample size is probably too small to count. Bummer.)
Let’s look at our Thursday duplicate posts. This photo had no people in it, just a beautifully set long table, ready for a wedding reception in the mountains. I posted this on February 11 (no “link in bio”) and again on February 18 (with “link in bio”) at 8:01 p.m. on both days.
Link in bio post: 60 likes and 1 comment.
No link in bio post: 60 likes and 2 comments.
The winner? We’ll have to call this one a draw.
On Saturday, February 13, and Saturday, February 20, I again posted duplicate photos, this time of an on-trend wedding dress.
Link in bio post: 45 likes and 0 comments.
No link in bio post: 40 likes and 2 comments.
The winner? Link in bio. That’s about a 15% increase in likes. Not too shabby!
Smarting a little bit from the lack of comments, I popped into Instagram’s in-app analytics (a.k.a. Instagram Insights) to see if I could glean anything else. And when I sorted by Reach, I learned something very interesting…
The posts with “link in bio” were all seen by more people.
Here’s a comparison chart:
|POST||REACH WITH “LINK IN BIO”||REACH WITHOUT “LINK IN BIO”|
What do the results mean?
When I started this experiment, I was expecting that, at some point, I’d be caught up in a rousing discussion and analysis with Hootsuite’s expert social media strategists, dissecting the meaning of the results into the wee hours of the morning. I was ready to slam on a desk and shout, “Dammit, Brayden, the people need answers!”
But honestly… I don’t think I need to waste their brainpower on this one. It feels pretty cut-and-dry to me.
If there’s some sort of major Instagram collusion happening to bury “link in bio” comments, it didn’t happen over the past two weeks of experimenting.
In fact, for whatever reason, all of my posts that included “link in bio” actually performed better. Not necessarily by a huge margin, but they all reached more eyeballs and captured more likes.
Why were comments so sparse? Well, that’s probably more of a personal problem to figure out. I guess I’ll be staying up all night stewing over that instead.
This obviously was just a quick-and-dirty experiment with a small sample size, but my conclusion is that you can link in bio to your heart’s content, without fear of retribution by Instagram.
If you try your own scientific inquiry, though, and discover something different, we’d love to hear about it! Tweet us @hootsuite and let us know how your own social media lab shakes out.
In this always changing world, we’re just trying to outsmart the algorithm at every turn. The more data, the better.
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