The Instagram algorithm can either be your best friend or your worst enemy.
If you relate to the latter, finding ways to beat the algorithm is the only way to get you on the path to online success.
A social media algorithm is a set of rules and signals that automatically ranks content based on how likely each individual user is to like it and interact with it. You’re probably already familiar with the term engagement. The algorithm plays a vital role in sharing your content with the users who are most likely to boost this engagement.
The evolution of the algorithm began on Facebook in 2009 once EdgeRank was introduced. This was the first effort at sorting user’s feeds by relevance and was developed in response to an influx in ‘low-quality’ content, such as clickbait articles.
The social media platform in the hot seat today is Instagram. We will be exploring the Instagram algorithm; how it works and how to beat it.
What is the Instagram algorithm?
Directly from the horse’s mouth, Instagram makes it a mission to clear up the misconception that it runs just one algorithm. Instead, “[it runs] a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes each with its own purpose”.
But what does this exactly mean?
Each part of the app – Feed, Explore, Reels – uses its own algorithm tailored to how people use it. While the majority of users tend to look for their closest friends in Stories, they often want to explore something completely new within the Explore Page. This is why each section of the app has its own algorithm, because they each have different uses/purposes.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
We’ve established that the platform runs three algorithms simultaneously, but how does it do this?
Each time a user opens the app, the Instagram algorithm combs through all available content and decides what to serve them. This decision is based on 3 important ranking factors:
- Relationship – between the author and viewer. Do you follow each other? Message each other? Previous interactions mean you are more likely to view their latest content upload.
- Interest – Does a user typically interact with this type of content? When the algorithm recognises that a user enjoys a specific type of content, it shows them more of it.
- Relevancy – Instagram decides how “relevant” every piece of content is and where it fits with trending topics, as well as its timeliness factor.
Secondary Instagram algorithm ranking factors include:
- Frequency of using the platform – if a user doesn’t open Instagram often, they won’t see the most relevant content due to the algorithm not having picked up their regular app habits yet.
- How many people they follow – the more accounts they follow, the more accounts compete for a space in their Feed.
- Session time – if a user spends very little time on the app, they are more likely to see posts from friends and family they interact with, rather than business.
Read on for a more in-depth breakdown of how each of the multiple algorithms work.
As of 2023, the Instagram Feed algorithm favours interest.
It takes into consideration the likelihood of five main interactions when deciding how to rank a post on someone’s Feed:
- Time spent
- Taps on the profile
Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, says, “the more likely you are to take action, and the more heavily we weigh that action, the higher up you’ll see the post”.
What else can impact Feed post ranking?
- Image or video quality
- Violations to community guidelines
- Reported content
Engagement is key when it comes to the Instagram Feed algorithm ranking content. When planning your content and captions, ask yourself the following questions:
- How likely is this post to be liked or commented on?
- How likely is it that someone will save this and revisit it?
- Do your posts include a CTA (call to action) to prompt users to visit your profile?
The Instagram Explore Page delivers content it thinks a user will be most interested in, based on prior interactions.
While an individual user’s Feed consists of content from the accounts they follow, their Explore Page is made up – almost – entirely of content from new accounts. This feature is ideal for brands and individuals looking to boost their visibility. If this is something you’re looking to achieve, read our top tips for getting on the Explore Page.
The Explore Page allows users to search for content using keywords and Instagram hashtags to discover new feeds, suggesting that its algorithm not only places importance on the visuals, but your captions, too.
With Instagram favouring video content – Reels to be exact – knowing how to hack the algorithm can be a huge advantage for growth.
For an updated, in-depth explanation of the Instagram Reels algorithm, check out our ‘Decoding the Instagram Reels algorithm’ blog.
How to ‘beat’ the Instagram algorithm
1. Consistently share Reels
As controversial as this tip is, it truly is beneficial to the new Instagram algorithm. Not only are Reels being heavily promoted across Instagram, but they take up twice as much real estate on the Explore Page, making them an effective growth tactic.
Encourage more interactions with Stories stickers
Stories stickers are a great way to encourage engagement. The more engagement your post gets, the higher it will be boosted by the Instagram algorithm.
Other engagement-enticing Stories features include Polls, Emoji Sliders and Question Stickers.
Drive conversions with engaging captions
We now know likes and comments are vital when it comes to Feed ranking. To encourage more people to take these actions, consider writing captions that drive engagement. This could be as simple as asking people to double-tap if they agree or tag two friends in the comment section or click the link in your bio.
Here, One Size encourages viewers to head to their Highlights to sign up to a new product waitlist.
Add hashtags and keywords to your posts
As previously established, incorporating keywords and hashtags into your captions is a great way to boost visibility; meaning more views for the Instagram algorithm to take into account.
Finding relevant Instagram hashtags should be a key aspect of your social media marketing strategy and can be done in Instagram itself. Simply type your keyword into the search bar in the Explore Page and see what other automated results pop up that can be turned into hashtags.
Cross-promote your Instagram content
Again, it’s all about maximising your post’s views.
Promoting Instagram content on a platform where you have a large, established audience is a quick and easy way to drive engagement.
6. Use Instagram analytics to see what’s working
Consistent tracking and monitoring of your uploaded content is a foolproof way to beat the Instagram algorithm. Once you begin to notice the successful patterns, you will be able to tweak your marketing strategy to perfection.
What is the Instagram algorithm?
The Instagram algorithm is, in fact, made up of multiple algorithms that serve three separate parts of the app; Feed, Explore Page and Reels. All three algorithms run simultaneously and are tailored to each aspect’s purpose. For example, the Feed algorithm takes a posts engagement to determine its relevancy – and therefore its Feed ranking – whereas the Explore Page is all about showing users new content it thinks they’d be interested in and so uses keywords and hashtags to do so.
What are the 3 main ranking factors of the Instagram algorithm?
Relationship – what is the relationship between author and user like?
Interest – Does the user typically engage with this type of content?
Relevancy – how relevant is the content in relation to timeliness and trends?
Which Instagram algorithm is the most important?
All of the Instagram algorithms are important for visibility and growth.
What kind of algorithms does Instagram use?
The Feed algorithm – which favours interest.
The Explore Page algorithm – which uses prior interactions to suggest new content.
The Reels algorithm – shows users Reels based on how likely they are to like and comment on it.
How is the Instagram algorithm calculated?
It uses a combination of algorithms, processes and classifiers to determine the most relevant content for each user by considering various signals, such as user activity, post information, interaction history, and information about the content creator.
How do I use the Instagram algorithm to my advantage?
- Consistently share Reels
- Encourage more interactions through Stories stickers
- Drive conversions with engaging captions
- Add hashtags and keywords to your posts
- Cross-promote your Instagram content
- Use Instagram analytics to see what’s working
If you want to find industry insights, visit our influencer marketing and social media blogs here.