How I Grew Sales 400% With Just Instagram & SEO

This campaign was interesting and fun as it was the first time I tried Instagram as a lead gen channel, rather than taking pictures of cars or our cat. Combined with SEO strategies, this case study resulted in an overall 400% increase in sales.

A new business asked me to help to drive traffic to their site through inbound channels (without paid assistance). Starting from scratch with no other sources of traffic besides the occasional Facebook referral, it was the perfect oppotunity to try something new. The product is a locally relevant, custom made item which is both targeted to Richmond, VA and highly visual. Without giving it away, if you’ve ever been to Richmond you’ve definitely seen these on the backs of cars, fixie bikes, storefronts, etc. This business takes it one step further with highly customized versions- similar enough to be recognizable but different enough for personalization and individuality.

The Rubber Hits The Road

Starting in early August, I created an Instagram account and immediately started sharing pictures of the product. I decided to use Instagram for this experiment because the product is image-based (text won’t do it justice), the network is mobile, and most importantly, the target audience can be reached through a single hashtag – #RVA (shorthand for Richmond, VA). Richmond is a particularly hipster town, so naturally that contributed to the platform choice too.

For about 15 minutes a day, I engaged with prospects who exhibited an interest in Richmond through their use of the #RVA hashtag. This is an easy way to do outreach because two things can be assumed about people using the hashtag: they live in Richmond and/or they love Richmond enough to snap a picture. Engagement consisted of liking photos, leaving comments, and following influential Richmonders. Specifically, I was looking for photos of Richmond landmarks including parks and restaurants, the Richmond skyline, sports, and especially pictures taken by my social personas.

The Importance of Social Personas

Effectiveness in social media is all about getting the greatest return for your time & effort (paid social is different). With this in mind, social personas help target audiences more effectively, affording greater efficiency when deciding who and what to engage with. Personas should be at the heart of any social media strategy, since they are representations of your audience. You might be acting on content but the purpose to is engage people. Personas are the perfect way to bridge the gap between social content and social participants.

For this campaign, my ideal audience were Richmonders between the ages of 20 and 35 who live in or around the city. They like to get out and do things, take pride in the River City, and most importantly, take pictures of their activities. To narrow this down even further, I apply some general observations I’ve made about RVA, having lived and doing SEO in Richmond for more than 2 years. Using these criteria, I created the Richmonder social personas.

In my mind, the typical Richmond guy looks like this:

Richmond dude
Creative Commons: Patricia Manfield

The typical Richmond gal looks like this:

Richmond chick
Creative Commons: Drew Bandy

Together, they take pictures that look like this:

RVA instagram
Creative Commons: Eli Christman

Personas in Practice

Once on the hunt under the #RVA hashtag, I keep my social personas in mind to find content they might have posted. After experimenting for a bit, some pictures began sticking out more than others. By learning from the effort I put into, and what I get out of, each micro-interaction, it became easier to spot viable content:

rva hashtag

Once this content was identified, I liked and commented on them with the branded Instagram account. Every once in a while I’d follow someone, but I always made sure to follow customers. Even the Instagram account bio was tailored to my social persona, and included a link to the website. I found most people don’t actually use this link, but it served to reinforce the brand and web address.

By tying together Instagram account names and order names, I found most of this audience came to the site through direct visits. The analytics also suggested that although Instagram was the main touch point, people shopped and made their purchases on desktops.


After a few months of doing this for only a few minutes a day, the Instagram account grew at a steady pace:

Instagram growth
Instagram growth (via Statigram)


I couldn’t help doing some SEO too, and moved the 2 “money terms” from rank 20 & 25 to 2 & 3, above the Image Onebox:

Organic Traffic
Organic Search Traffic


And finally, sales:


In short, this was an interesting marketing endeavor into a channel I hadn’t used before. This method worked so well that I began a contest in which we pick our favorite Instagram photo of the product in the wild every month, and winners get a free item from the site. We include instructions on how to enter the contest in the envelope with every order (take a picture of it, tag us and use the #RVA hashtag). This worked so well it could be applied to anyproduct; stickers, Richmond gift boxes, merchandise, tee-shirts, food, and more.

I don’t know what the future of paid advertising with Instagram will be, but I’ve found old-fashioned engagement using personas works just fine. Organic reach is an excellent way to do this, through hashtags and proper image formatting (such as the proper way to make Instagram spaces).

25 thoughts on “How I Grew Sales 400% With Just Instagram & SEO”

    1. Hi Pam, thanks for the kind words. Since you also have a locally-relevant (and delicious) product, this type of strategy might work for you as well. Tracking your in-store conversions will be a little different, but Instagram might be a great outreach method. Because you have a large following already, I would suggest creating a branded hashtag for you and your customers to use. This would not only provide an on-going conversation in the social space but also an easy way for prospects to see tons of your product.

  1. Hi Harris! I represent a popular musical act based in Northern, VA. But our bookings are down, and I’ve been trying everything over the past several weeks: creating a dedicated website, AdWords campaigns, ReverbNation, SoundCloud, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, paid advertising on specialty sites etc. It’s a very scatter-shot approach w/out much user engagement. Hopefully, it will help our organic SEO though. But it doesn’t seem to be driving much traffic to our website or resulting in any measurable ROI. Recently, I’ve been thinking about hiring an expert now that we have all these tools already set up, and then I happened upon your site…serendipity, perhaps?! So please give me a call, and let’s figure out if this is a good fit: 703/851-3332. Thx!

    1. Harris Schachter

      Hi William, thanks for reaching out. Small world! Please use the contact page to shoot me a message, or the email link at the top of the site, and I’d be happy to chat with you.


  2. Hey Harris, have used Instagram but never in marketing efforts. You have mentioned a tool Statigram for analyzing your Instagram efforts. Is that the best tool available in the market for Instagram?

    1. Harris Schachter

      Hi Collin, I don’t know if it is the absolute best one on the market, but it certainly is the best one I have found. It gives you both general and fairly specific analytics for your IG account, not to mention it’s free. The best way to use it is to integrate early (before you run a campaign) because it starts collecting most of the best data point then, and can’t retroactively show your progress. I certainly recommend it.

  3. Hello Harris! I’ve recently just graduated with a marketing degree and whilst I use instagram for my private pictures I’ve never thought about using it as a marketing tool. I am now going to set up an instagram account for the business I work for and hopefully we see similar results!

  4. Dude this is super smart, and I wish I had a chance to try something like this. I’ve been playing with Instagram a lot (find it damn fun, always loved taking photos) and I’m generally searching around different hastags and so forth.

    Always thought there was a LOT of potential here. Huge user base. Targeted demographics, visual (like Pinterest) and easy to get in front of people with Hashtags if you use them right.

    There’s some neat (albeit cheap-ish) sites that show the most popular hashtags;

    etc (there’s more if you search around)….

    And anyway I think this is totally uncharted, glad to see you giving it a try!

    1. Harris Schachter

      Hey Dan, I definitely agree, there is a lot of potential with Instagram. I think it might have just been passed over by marketing folks since there was no paid advertising from the beginning. There are definitely ways to make it work though, it’s one of those apps that people open daily even they’re not posting anything on it.

      You’re absolutely right about the hashtags- they’re like niche communities in and of themselves. I wish it was easier to do research on them, I’ve found a few apps in addtion to those sites, but it seems like the smaller, the better. If you get on a tag that is too popular the content seems to just disappear due to the volume of pictures.

      Thanks for dropping by, let me know if you do anything of this sort.

  5. This blog post just proves how important social media in general is, a lot of marketers go on about how important your facebook page is, how vital it is to keep tweeting on a daily basis, not many talk about the other social media outlets, instragram, pinterest, etc. Building up a strong following on any social website can bring in tons of high quality targeted traffic, as you said most people browse insta on their mobile devices but use their desktop/laptop/computer to make the purchase. Great case study

  6. Harris, your methods are mind-boggling and very helpful. I was wondering why you did not do it also in Pinterest. I was not sure but I guessed you could get less or more additional traffic if you applied the same methods in Pinterest. Anyway! Thanks for sharing the campaign experiment details.

  7. Hi Harris,

    Great article, very helpful! Such a huge impact!

    I was wondering if you could explain in further detail what you meant by the SEO that you did:

    “I couldn’t help doing some SEO too, and moved the 2 “money terms” from rank 20 & 25 to 2 & 3, above the Image Onebox”

    Could you explain what that means?

    Thanks in advance!

  8. Woww…really great article loved it..awhile I was thinking to create my brand following n instagram and here I found the best and easy way for that. Thanks to you 🙂

  9. No wonder social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, twitter have already added some good value to internet marketing. A lot of businesses are running with their social media presence and they are hardly concerned about SEO.

  10. Hi.. I did not know before that Instagram could create such magic to increase sales unless my friend told me last month. In fact when I tried Insta it created more sales than any other platform. Coming to your post it’s very informative and well explained thanks to share.

  11. Mate, Your social experiment impressive. This blog might bring inspiration for newbie to mid level social media marketer.
    I think, instagram much effective for image based website for business, for example photography business, wedding planner business or E-commerece site with less content.
    It will be fine, if you write case study regarding your success on Instagram.

  12. Pingback: 84 Marketing Experts Share their Best Visual Marketing Tips for Branding

  13. Instagram is very underrated. Any social media should also be utilized for SEO purposes as length of time spent on your website (interaction) can also influence search engine rankings. Not to mention social signals on their own.

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