How the Instagram algorithm works has been a mystery to most of us.
And Instagram’s move away from the chronological feed in 2016 didn’t help, leaving people in a permanent state of confusion.
With more than 1 billion users, you might be wondering:
- How do I make my posts seen by more of my followers?
- How do I make my posts rank on the explore page?
- Does video content perform better than photos?
These questions (and more) will be answered in this ultimate guide to the Instagram algorithm.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How the Instagram algorithm works for feed posts
- How the Instagram algorithm works for Instagram stories
- How the Instagram algorithm works for IGTV
- How the Instagram algorithm works for the explore page
- Bonus: common Instagram myths busted
How the Instagram algorithm works (feed posts)
According to Instagram’s Product Lead Julian Gutman, there are six factors that influence how posts in your feed rank: interest, relationship, timeliness, and to a lesser degree, frequency, following, and usage.
And on top of that, the Instagram algorithm is powered by machine learning. This means that the algorithm actually changes all the time, with feed rankings constantly improving and adapting based on new data.
1. The Instagram algorithm prioritizes interest
The posts on your feed are based on how much the Instagram algorithm thinks you’re going to like that post.
And the more it thinks you’re going to like a post, the higher it will appear in your feed.
“But wait… how does Instagram know my interests?”, you ask.
Don’t worry. They’re not spying on you (at least in the literal sense).
The answer is that the Instagram algorithm is constantly looking at behavioral and social signals.
By looking at signals like who you follow and what kind of content you have interacted with in the past, the algorithm builds a picture of what you’re interested in and who you probably want to hear more from.
Instagram also categorizes content into genres, such as style, travel and food, to make sense of what the content you’re interacting with is about. It’s not known exactly how Instagram does this, but the hashtags on the post play a role. It’s also very possible that Instagram uses image recognition technology to determine the content of a post.
If there’s a certain genre of content you’ve interacted with a lot in the past, Instagram will rank that type of content higher in the feed. So for example, if you’ve interacted a lot with animal content (e.g. dog pictures), the algorithm will show you more of the same (e.g. dogs, dog toys, dog food, and so on).
And now, let’s talk about engagement.
We know that the Instagram algorithm prioritizes content that receives a lot of engagement. But what kind of engagement?
Instagram recently set the record straight on their @creators channel. According to their post, the most important engagements affecting feed posts are comments, likes and, and views for video content.
Although not mentioned in their post, don’t forget that saves are also an important engagement metric.
Some experts and influencers, such as travel blogger and Instagram educator Christina Galbato, swear by saves in driving more traffic to posts. According to her, saves are a “far more valuable and meaningful than likes because they are a true reflection of how engaging your post is”.
If Instagram goes ahead with its planned removal of likes, metrics like saves will undoubtedly become even more important, so it’s worth optimizing your posts for them already.
What does this mean for marketers?
Engagement signals that your posts are worth seeing and that your audience cares about your content.
Optimizing your posts for engagement is a no-brainer. The more you get people liking, commenting, sharing and saving your posts, the better.
Build up enough momentum, and you will start seeing your posts prioritized in the main feed and get center stage on the explore page, which in turn will lead to a virtuous cycle of more engagement (and followers).
Here are a few easy tips to increase your engagement right now.
Tip 1: [Fill in tip]
Tip 2: [Fill in tip ]
2. The Instagram algorithm factors in relationships
Making sure you see posts from your friends, family and accounts you care about is a key area of focus for Facebook Inc., so it’s no surprise the Instagram algorithm works like this too.
“But wait… how does Instagram know who I care about?”
The answer is that the algorithm uses a variety of signals to determine who you are close to, who you might know in real life, and who you likely want to hear from more.
While Instagram keeps exactly how it does this strictly under wraps, a few things are known about the underlying logic.
For example, if you regularly like and comment on the same person’s posts, the Instagram algorithm will think that you want to hear more from this person. Instagram has shared that theoretically, it could be using the following signals to determine relationships among users:
- People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)
- People you direct message
- People you search for
- People you know in real life
While this is not an official statement, you can take this as a strong hint that these interactions are the ones that Instagram considers when it determines the people you care about.
What does this mean for marketers?
Posting frequency matters more than before. Posting often helps you stay relevant, and your followers will have more opportunities to interact with your posts. And the more interactions there are both ways, the likelier you are to show up on top of their feeds and stories.
How often should you post on Instagram, then? The answer depends on your goals and the resources and time you have available. Few of us have a content team or a pool of user-generated content to choose from, so it’s best to choose a posting frequency that’s feasible for you and stick to it.
Tip 1: Make sure you reply to comments on your profile, because this signals to Instagram that you have a relationship with the follower. It’s also an easy way to delight your followers and encourage them to engage more, so there really aren’t any reasons why not to do this.
Tip 2: To give your posts even more of a boost, select a number of profiles that represent your ideal follower or customer, and make a note to interact with these profiles regularly.
If you do this regularly (and they do too), your posts might just become more visible to similar profiles following you or show up on their explore page.
Tip 3: In the past, people looking for growth on Instagram have created “pods” – group conversations of people who agree to engage with each others’ posts.
This tactic can still give you some short-term success, but Instagram’s algorithm is getting smarter every day—and it’s not looking good for those looking for a growth spurt through pods.
In a recent story on its @creators account, Instagram took a stand on the matter making it clear the algorithm is catching up.
3. Timeliness and the Instagram Algorithm
We know by now that engagement is the key ingredient in the Instagram algorithm. But how long ago your content was posted is just as important.
In a nutshell, the Instagram algorithm wants to show you the latest and most interesting content.
You’re probably not as interested in content from a month ago than in posts made today, so the algorithm is more likely to prioritize recent content over old, even it has more engagement.
Every now and then, Instagram sheds light on the inner-workings of its algorithm. According to a talk given by Thomas Dimson, Director of Engineering at Instagram, the Instagram algorithm sorts posts in your feed every time you log in—-but only the new posts between your current and your last visit.
For example, if you visit Instagram at 9 AM and again at 4 PM, only the posts created during this period will be ordered and shown in your feed.
Posts created before 9 AM will still be there, in the same order as they were when you last visited, but you’d only see them if you scrolled past the new posts. Pretty interesting, huh?
What does this mean for marketers?
It simply confirms what we already know: it’s best to post when your followers are most active, as there would be less competition during this time. Posting frequently gives you more chances to be ordered on top, and be seen by more of your followers.
Find out when your audience is most active by looking at Instagram’s native analytics tool. Your personalized best time to post will be the hours they’re most active, but remember that it can be different every day.
Or be like Fashion Nova—-the fashion retailer posts almost every half an hour. For those of you keeping track, that’s nearly 30 times per day! Given how the Instagram algorithm sorts posts, this strategy makes it very likely that at least some of their posts will be seen by most of their audience. With 17.3M followers, who can say this strategy isn’t a winner?
4. How Frequency Factors Into the Instagram Algorithm.
Because of the way the Instagram algorithm orders posts, the more often you visit Instagram, the more you feed will look like a chronological feed.
The less you visit, the more it will look like an algorithmic feed. So, if you log into Instagram once a day, the algorithm will show you the posts it thinks are the most relevant to you for that day.
On the other hand, if you’re a power user visiting several times a day, you’ll see the posts it thinks are the most interesting from the ones published between the time of your visits.
5. Who you’re following impacts the Instagram algorithm
This is a no-brainer. If you follow a gazillion of accounts, the Instagram algorithm will have more posts to go through to determine what to show you in your feed.
This means you’ll likely see less from each individual account, compared to someone who follows fewer accounts.
Since we know Instagram classifies content into genres, it’s plausible that who you follow factors into how Instagram determines who it should show your content to. For example, if you’re a travel brand, it might be wise to only follow other travel-related accounts.
This sends a signal to the algorithm that your content is going to be about travel too. This in turn might increase your posts’ visibility to other travel fans.
6. Your app usage factors into the Instagram algorithm
Naturally, how much time you spend on Instagram is going to factor into the content you’ll see.
If you spend a lot of time scrolling the app, you’re likely be exposed to a deeper catalogue of content from the recent to not-so-recent. If you like to use Instagram in short bursts, the algorithm will show you the highlights first.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Stories
Thankfully, the Instagram stories algorithm is probably the simplest piece in the Instagram puzzle.
Instagram stories are displayed on top of the main feed. The stories algorithm works by sorting the stories from all the accounts you follow into a neat queue, with the stories from the profiles you’re most interested in shown first.
The algorithm works similarly as with feed posts, using interactions as signals of interest.
The more you watch and interact with a persons’ stories, the more they’re going to appear on top of your stories queue, especially if you watch their stories to the end. Stories will also prioritise people you’ve b
Stories are primarily viewed by people who already follow you, but there are a few ways you can get fresh eyes on them too. For example, if you tag your story with a popular hashtag or a location that generates public interest, such as New York or perhaps Bali, you might get a few new views on your story.
Back in 2019, many people reported getting story views from strangers and businesses they’d never heard about. Unfortunately, this delightful surprise turned out to be fake, the result of growth hackers using automation to mass-view stories with the hopes of attracting attention to themselves. Instagram adjusted their algorithm, and these story views have since disappeared.
What does this mean for marketers?
It’s important to make your stories engaging and motivate viewers to watch them to the end.
There are a few tricks that marketers should have up their sleeve to get the most from stories. One is adding subtitles or at least a descriptive text to your story, which can improve watch times by up to 12%. Another is creating interactive stories, where stickers, polls and quizzes keep attention spans focused and viewers engaged. And don’t forget that their immediacy can be seriously FOMO-inducing, so use stories to provide exclusive content.
Stories work great with content that is less produced, so don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and record a quick video for the ‘gram. People gravitate to authenticity, so the more you show unfiltered moments and real expressions of personality, the more people will be crave your content.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for IGTV
Contrary to what some expert say, IGTV is not dead (yet).
Two years since its launch, the long-form content hub is on a slow growth curve. It’s true that the feature is not as hot as Instagram would’ve hoped, but being weaved deeper into architecture of the app itself will probably reel in more eyes on IGTV. Additionally, new monetisation options hint at a possible future for the platform.
As IGTV is still fairly new, people are still figuring out the ins-and-outs of the algorithm. It’s plausible that it works in a similar way to the feed algorithm.
It sorts videos into three categories:
For you – a collection of videos from people you follow that Instagram thinks you will like. Don’t get confused if you don’t see a button for this category – it’s simply the main view on IGTV.
Following – a collection of videos from all the people you follow.
Popular – the trending videos on IGTV
History – videos you have watched before.
Saved – videos you have saved.
What does this mean for marketers?
There is one big reason why you should be using IGTV: 72% of brands aren’t on it. Investing in IGTV could be a strategic move – you’ll have first-mover advantage and face much less competition.
While IGTV is slowly growing, it’s still important to direct users to your videos.
To get more views, post a 1-minute preview of your IGTV video on your feed. This way, you get content for you feed and direct eyeballs to your IGTV – talk about killing two birds with one stone! If your post does well, you’re also sending signals to the algorithm that your IGTV content is engaging and valuable.
And as always, promote your IGTV content in your stories, too, for an extra boost.
How the Instagram algorithm works on the explore page
The Instagram explore page is the holy grail for marketers. You want to be featured on it to get your content discovered and grow your account.
The Instagram explore page algorithm works slightly differently than the main feed.
Instead of showing you content from people you follow, the explore page algorithm shows you content it thinks you’ll like.
The content is curated real-time from the infinite pool of posts on Instagram, based on your behavior.
Because of this ever-changing nature, some people have even called it “the realest place” on the internet.
Posts are curated under genres like Food, Gaming, Travel and Style, and there’s even a special ‘Shop’ category for posts with shoppable tags.
Being featured on the explore page is basically like striking gold, because you’ll get lots of exposure for your posts. It’s also like striking gold because there’s no predictable way you can get your posts featured.
However, there are a few things you can do.
According to Instagram’s Product Lead Will Ruben, “explore shows you the full breath of content on Instagram that are relevant to your interests”.
This means that the strongest factor in what shows up on your explore page is your past behavior. For example, if you follow and like a lot of posts about food, you’re going to see more of this on your explore page.
Although the Instagram algorithm doesn’t prioritize videos (more on that later), videos have a better chance to rank because they auto-play on the explore page, which tends to lead to more watch time. According to Instagram, great photos will still outperform mediocre videos.
The explore page is also a destination for finding the best Instagram stories. Instagram has confirmed that the algorithm likes to feature highly visual stories with not too much text, and that are similar of the creator’s typical feed posts.
Instagram uses image recognition technology to understand what kind of stories you interact with the most, but this is a weaker signal than others.
Some content types, such as reposts from other creators, are demoted.
What does this mean for marketers?
If you want to get featured on the explore page, focus on making your posts as engaging as possible. This is the strongest signal that your content deserves a place on the explore page.
You should also be strategic with the hashtags you use. They have their own form of an explore page, where people can see the best content that’s been posted using a specific hashtag.
Common Instagram Myths Busted
There are a lot of rumours flying around about the Instagram algorithm, so it’s time bust some of the most common myths.
Instagram recently came clean about some of the most persistent myths on its @creators account. Here’s them clearing these rumours once and for all.
Does the Instagram algorithm favour videos over photos in the feed?
According to Instagram, your feed is a reflection of your behavior. If you engage mostly with photos, you’ll see more photos in your feed. If you watch a lot of videos, you’ll see photos take center stage on your feed.
2. Does the type of account you have impact ranking?
Instagram says no. Whether you have a normal, business or creator account, what matters is how other people engage with your content.
3. Is the Instagram shadowban real?
For a long time, there’s been speculation of Instagram restricting the visibility of posts from some accounts. Allegedly, the shadowban befalls those who engage in anything “suspicious”, such as liking too many posts too fast.
Instagram put these rumours to rest already in 2018.
However, it’s very possible that there is something akin to an Instagram trust score.
How do we know it exists? We don’t.
But it’s only logical that the Instagram algorithm would have some way look for automated activities and spam accounts.
We know Instagram has daily action limits for likes, comments and follows. Exceeding the limits will get the action temporarily blocked, and if the health score is real, it may add a tick on the tally.
It’s not known how the limits are determined, but things like your number of followers, account age and engagement rate may play a role.
Repetitive hashtags and mass commenting, following and liking are probably clear signals of spammy activity. So is any sudden growth spurt to your account. To keep your account safe, stay away from shady growth tactics and uncertified third party applications, such as automation bots.