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Should Text Be On Instagram Image Posts: Yes or No?

February 4, 2020 • By

Scott Ayres

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Should Text Be On Instagram Image Posts: Yes or No?

Catching the attention of users on Instagram has never been more challenging.

Last year, the Social Media Lab ran a test comparing photos vs text-only graphic images. We found that photos outperformed the text-only images, but it brought up lots of follow-up questions regarding text on Instagram images.

During our weekly Social Media Lab LIVE show, a few viewers brought up the idea that photos with text overlaid on them were performing better for them or some believed that rumor. A rumor probably spread by some “guru” that tried it once and got success.

These comments led us to research Instagram activity and test whether or not adding text to an Instagram image post makes a difference.

You as the Social Media Manager need to figure out ways to get more eyeballs on your Instagram content. (After all, that’s why they pay you the big bucks!)

Keep in mind 90% of Instagram users follow at least one business account, maybe it’s yours.

I searched countless blogs to find some data-based research others had done testing photos with or without text on Instagram but came up empty.

You’ll find lots of articles on how to put text on photos and create eye-catching graphics, but nothing supporting or refuting the claim that photos with text on them outperform standard photos on Instagram.

Many sites recommend placing text on Instagram photos because it stands out, but have no data to back up such claims.

So, I’m basing my hypothesis on the results we saw on our former photos vs graphics test.

Hypothesis: Instagram images without text receive more reach and engagement.

instagram posting

How We Tested Instagram Images With and Without Text

Across seven different Instagram accounts, seven posts with and without text on images were posted. This gives us 49 images of each category to compare the results.

The well-established accounts used for this test vary in industries:

  • Animals
  • Trucks
  • 2 fitness accounts
  • Paris tourism account
  • Motorcycles
  • Motivational quotes

Here’s a sample of some of the images with text:

instagram animalbikes of instagraminstagram marketingfitness instagram

Likewise, here are some examples of Instagram images without text:

animals of instagrammotorcycle instagraminstagram parisgym instagramWe will adhere to a few guidelines regarding the posts:

  • No hashtags will be used.
  • No Instagram users will be tagged.
  • Location tags will not be used.
  • The posts will not be shared to Instagram Stories.
  • The posts will not be shared with any other social network.
  • These posts will not be used in Instagram ads.
  • All posts were scheduled using Agorapulse.
  • Posts will be scheduled at the same time per day, alternating days (schedule example below).

post to instagramBy adhering to these guidelines, I am removing any anomalies that might skew the performance of the Instagram posts.

We waited at least 7 days before pulling the data from Instagram, so that all organic reach and engagement was basically obtained.

Data Comparing Instagram Images With and Without Text

These data points will be evaluated to accurately compare the performance of Instagram images with text and without text:

  • Reach (how many unique Instagram users saw the post)
  • Likes
  • Comments

Typically in the Social Media Lab, we focus purely on the Reach for the organic experiments, but engagement is possibly more important on this Instagram test.

Sure, we need to reach more people with our Instagram posts, but if they aren’t taking action on them what’s the point?

We really want to know if something as simple as adding basic text onto an image results in more Instagram engagement.

So did it?

The data from each account has been averaged together:

Instagram images with text:

  • Reach: 471.69
  • Likes: 45.92
  • Comments:  0.90

Instagram images without text:

  • Reach: 538.41
  • Likes: 64.06
  • Comments: 0.92

Instagram images without text win all three categories!

Here are the results in percentage differences favoring images without text:

  • Reach: 14.14% higher
  • Likes: 39.50% higher
  • Comments: 2.22% higher

These results are completely opposite of the traditional train of thought we were seeing others claim during our research.

But, data doesn’t lie.

This is why testing across multiple profiles, in varying industries is so crucial when testing social media marketing strategies. If I isolate just one of the accounts that saw the results favor images with the text I wouldn’t have been accurate in our conclusion.

Instagram Images Without Text Perform Better

The percentage differences of reach and likes are quite convincing and tell me Instagram images without text perform better.

To be certain, we evaluated the raw number of reach and likes in a statistical significance calculator. That allows us to determine whether the results were scientific or just a fluke.

Using Neil Patel’s A/B testing calculator, we find out our results are 100% certain that Instagram images without text will continue to outperform on our accounts:

ab testingI’m confident that if you tested on your accounts, you’ll see similar results.

Every account is different and will depend on your posting history and audience. So make sure you test it and vary between posting with and without text on your Instagram photos.

On the quotes-related Instagram account, I had only posted motivational type images with text before this test, such as the image below:

motivational postsThis is the type of post the audience has only seen and become accustomed to. However, images without text actually performed better for this account!

Similar style image, but no text on it:

instagram travelThe fitness accounts surprised me as well. Both accounts have always seen a mix of images with and without text. I was shocked to see the accounts were split on which type did better, even though they were the same exact images and likely have a very similar audience.

Again, this emphasizes the need to be certain you are testing (or reading about tests) that are on multiple accounts in varying industries.

Users want to see faces. We proved that in another test comparing graphics vs photos, and Instagram users realize that images with text are more “marketing” in nature.

Or at least they feel more like marketing.

The more natural and less gimmicky your images seem, the more they appeal to Instagram users.

Want to test this? Alternate between images with text and without for a week and report back your results in our Social Media Lab Facebook group. We’d love to see your results.

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