Like many social networks, Instagram uses an algorithm to decide which content to show to its users. For Instagram success, you need to know the main ranking factors and understand how to play the Instagram algorithm for more reach.
By now, we are all familiar with algorithms deciding what we see on our social networks. Even though we may get annoyed by the algorithms deciding what we should see, the algorithms must deal with the sheer amount of posts that would flood our feed without any prioritization.
From a marketing standpoint, any knowledge about how these feed algorithms work will help us find more success. If you know and understand the factors that make your Instagram post show up in the feed of your followers – or not show up – you can optimize your Instagram posts accordingly and multiply your reach.
This post is about Instagram ranking factors for the Instagram feed, Instagram stories, and the Instagram explore page.
The algorithms for feed, stories, and explore page are not the same – but they are highly connected and influence each other.
Instagram ranking factors for the Instagram feed
What shows up in your Instagram feed depends a lot more than on who you follow. In their drive to show you the content you are interested in and want to interact with, Instagram looks beyond connections.
You may have an idea that the number of likes a post received also matters. But there is more like hashtags, activity, and your own user behavior that is having an impact.
So let’s take a deeper look into the Instagram algorithm for the Instagram feed.
The Instagram algorithm for feed posts uses three main signals to decide which posts to rank in which position of the user’s feed.
Even though we often assume that social networks have their own intentions with their algorithm, they still try to bring you the content you are interested in. But how do they figure out what you like?
They use your activity to learn what type of content you interact with, which posts you like, and who you are following. On Instagram, you can also follow hashtags that also tell a lot about your interest and result in some posts that used these hashtags to show up in your feed.
That means that posts with fewer likes can appear higher in your feed than others with more likes if Instagram thinks you are more likely to be interested in them.
What does that mean for the posts in your feed? Which ones will show up high?
- Posts from accounts that you have interacted with in the past. If you often engage with posts from one account, a new post will likely show up high in your Instagram feed.
- Posts that use hashtags that you follow or use hashtags that posts you liked in the past are also included.
What types of engagement does Instagram value for its algorithm? Instagram mainly considers four types of engagements:
- views (of videos)
Image Source: Instagram
So far, saves of posts do not seem to impact – but they may gain importance in the future as Instagram is playing around with no longer showing the number of likes on a post.
Old content in social media is as tasty as cold coffee – honestly, I love a good iced coffee in the hot summer, but I loath cold and stale coffee.
Instagram is a fast-living social network. Successful people post often, and they post regularly.
New posts have a much higher chance of showing up in your Instagram feed over older posts.
That also means that the time of day when you post is crucial to the success of a post. If you post when most of your audience is online and active, your post has a much higher chance of reaching them. If you post in the middle of the night, but your audience is online in the late afternoon – your post is already running cold before it gets a chance of any visibility.
Instagram assumes that you are more likely to be interested in posts from friends, family, and people you are already closely connected to.
Instagram tries to deduct your closest relationships from your Instagram activity. Who tags or mentions you in posts, who are you talking to, who is resharing your posts – all that allows Instagram to sort your connections into close relations and very loose connections.
You are more likely to see posts from your closer connections than from people you just follow but do not interact with.
The above three are the main factors that decide how your Instagram feed is set up. But your own behavior also influences the feed.
#4 Frequency of usage
How often do you usually open Instagram? If you only open Instagram once a day, your feed will show the best fitting to the above criteria on top of your feed.
If you visit Instagram several times a day, your Instagram feed may look more chronological and show the newest posts each time you open the app.
Who and how many people are you following on Instagram?
If you only follow a handful of Instagram accounts, Instagram does not have to use so many filters to decide which posts to show you. But if you follow many accounts, Instagram will eventually have to use more criteria to limit down what your feed shows you for the sheer number of posts that your followers publish.
This also depends on how active the people you follow are.
If you only spend a couple of minutes on Instagram each day, the posts from the accounts you follow probably are enough to keep you entertained.
If you are not following many accounts, these accounts are inactive, or are spending a lot of time browsing through Instagram, Instagram may take measures to keep you entertained and broaden the range of posts they show you.
If you spend a lot of time actively browsing your Instagram feed and interacting with the posts, Instagram is more likely to sprinkle in some content from accounts you may like but are not following yet.
Image Source: Instagram
The Instagram algorithm for Instagram stories
You may already have noticed that the accounts that show upfront in the list of Instagram stories to watch are usually the accounts you interact with.
If you tend to watch the stories from one of your favorite Instagram accounts, they appear at the front of the list of accounts with new stories up.
If you follow many accounts that post Instagram stories, the stories accounts are also sorted by your interaction with these accounts.
Engagements taken into account for the story feed are likes, comments, story views, reactions, or DMs.
The other very important factor for the story feed is timeliness. A new story posted a couple of minutes ago is more likely to show up in front than a story that is already 23 hours old.
A new story from an account that you interact with regularly is highly likely to be shown in the front of the story feed.
Image Source: Instagram
Posting Instagram stories more often throughout the day will increase your chance of visibility. And the more views your stories earn, the higher your ranking for the Instagram story feed.
The Instagram algorithm for the explore page
The third spot you want to know how to rank is the explore page. This is the hardest to appear on. Here people who do not follow you or the hashtags you use can see your posts. Appearing on the explore page can tremendously boost your reach – and grow your followers.
So how can you rank your posts here?
Basically, the goal for the Instagram feed and the explore page are similar. Both want to bring you the posts that you are most likely to be interested in.
However, you will see posts from people you follow or posts with hashtags you follow on your feed.
The explore page is a little harder to rank. Because the explore page will give you posts from accounts that you do not (yet) follow but are likely to be interested in.
This makes the explore page a great place to discover new accounts to follow.
The explore page evolves around your activity on Instagram.
It starts with the topics and hashtags of posts that you like. It takes into account your searches on Instagram. It also considers when you are clicking through followers of the people you follow or commenters on accounts you follow.
These accounts may reappear on your explore page.
The best strategy to make your posts appear on the explore page of interested accounts is to share interesting content, add keyword-rich descriptions and hashtags – and engage in your field of interest: comment, like, and follow like-minded accounts.
Since Instagram also adds reels to the explore page and the relatively new feature is still not as competitive as some other content, you may add to your chance of ranking one the explore page by publishing reels.
How about IGTV and Reels?
There are two more places where you can discover content on Instagram – or have your content discovered.
That is the IGTV and the Reels pages.
Both listings also try to bring your the content that you are most likely to be interested in. This is based on what you have watched and interacted with in the past. It is a machine learning algorithm that learns from your interactions. The more you interact with IGTV or Reels, the better Instagram knows what you would like.
How to use your knowledge of the Instagram Algorithm
With all the above places and various related algorithms on Instagram, how can you use this knowledge to make your content more visible?
#1 Use Hashtags and Keywords
Instagram brings content to users based on interests. Ensure that you provide information about your content that makes it easy for Instagram to understand what it is about and who could be interested in it.
Using relevant keywords and hashtags is the best way to do it.
Investing some time and effort into hashtag research can easily boost the reach of your updates!
#2 Focus on Engagement
Engagement is a crucial factor for Instagram to understand which content people like and are interested in. You can boost engagement on your content by utilizing hashtags, comments, and Instagram story stickers. Utilize Captions and comments.
Engage with others – that will earn you more engagement for your content as well.
#3 Add content for Instagram’s latest features
Instagram usually pushes its own new features by giving them more visibility. Right now, that means that Instagram Reels get some extra visibility on the platform.
You can utilize this for your own good if you add some content for the latest Instagram features to your strategy.
Have you published some Instagram Reels yet?
You may already have noticed how people are doing this:
- Publish a story announcing a new Instagram feed post.
- Post a snippet of your latest IGTV to your Instagram feed.
- Publish Reels to your Instagram feed.
- Final Words on the Instagram Algorithm
Social media feed algorithms are never set in stone. They are likely to change.
Instagram is a fast-evolving social network. Keep an open mind and be prepared to adjust your activity to changes.
Don’t try to overly “game” the Instagram algorithm. Follow best practices but do not over-optimize for the algorithm. Usually, that is the first behavior that social networks try to fight with algorithm changes. Natural behavior should conquer marketing-focused behavior.
Make sure your audience likes what you are doing, then you should usually come out the winner.
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