Are you on Instagram? It’s the world’s largest image and file-sharing social media platform, with close to 1.5 billion users. Whether you’re an influencer, a business, or just your average user, Instagram offers you a visually-rich experience of people, places, products, and much more.
If you’re wondering how you can get more likes and comments on your posts, you need to understand how the Instagram algorithm works. You don’t need to be a computer science major to game the Instagram algorithm for success.
This post unpacks everything you need to know about the Instagram algorithm. We’ll look at strategies and tactics to help you get more reach on the platform. Before you post your next image or story, check out this brief guide to give your post the best chance of going viral.
The Instagram Algorithm Explained
What is the Instagram algorithm? It’s a protocol governing everything that occurs on the platform. At its core, the algorithm is a piece of computer code designed to analyze and assess content uploaded to the site. The algorithm identifies engagement around content posted to the app, ranking it to improve the user experience on Instagram.
The algorithm determines which images and videos deserve a spot on the Explore page, and it tailors your experience on Instagram, serving you the content it thinks you want to see. Around 400 million users upload 95 million posts to Instagram every day. That’s a lot of content.
There’s no way you can scroll through all of it, and the algorithm helps you cut through the clutter, presenting you with content you enjoy. If you’re an influencer, a business, or just a regular user. The algorithm defines your Instagram experience.
Understanding how the algorithm plays into the user experience lets you develop a strategy to optimize your reach. Every user has the same goals regardless of why they use the platform. You want more followers, likes, comments, and views on your posts, right?
By understanding how the algorithm operates, you can leverage it to succeed with your account. You’ll see your followers and post engagement explode with the right strategy and tactics. The best part is you don’t need a computer science degree to make it work for you.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work?
Every time you open the Instagram app, the algorithm decides what content to serve you based on several factors.
Your Community and Interests
Who do you follow? Do you have a one-sided relationship with the poster, or do you follow each other? Who do you message? Which posts do you like and comment on?
If you have a set of people you follow and check in on every day, the algorithm notices this behavior, serving you their posts to improve your user experience on the platform.
The people or accounts you interact with on the platform are more likely to appear in your feed.
Depending on your past views, the algorithm determines how relevant content is to your account. If you enjoy liking food posts, the algorithm will incorporate posts of relevant topics, like restaurants and recipes.
The algorithm analyzes trending topics, serving fresh content relevant to your interests. The algorithm places more emphasis on recent posts than older ones.
The algorithm notices the amount of time you spend on Instagram. The shorter the dwell time on the site, the more likely the algorithm will serve you posts from your most visited accounts.
Frequency of Use
If you don’t open Instagram very often, say once a week, the algorithm will serve you content from organic sources rather than from business accounts.
How Many Accounts You Follow
The more accounts you follow, the greater the diversity of content served to you by the algorithm. If you only sub to accounts in one specific niche, such as cycling, you’re more likely to see posts involving the sport and little of anything else.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Affect Your Feed?
The Instagram algorithm pays attention to the accounts you follow and the content offered by these users. It measures the engagement on posts, serving you with top-rated content from users performing on the platform. So, your feed becomes populated with content the algorithm thinks you’ll engage with.
The algorithm uses the following criteria to assess the content landing in your Stories and your post feed.
When was the post uploaded, and how much engagement has it seen at this time? How many likes and comments did it receive? Does it have a location tag? If it’s a story or video, how long is it?
These factors help the algorithm determine the relevancy of the content and predict if you’re likely to engage with it. If the post has low engagement, the algorithm will dismiss it over posts with high engagement rates.
The poster information, such as how long you’ve followed them and the engagement you have on their past posts, helps the algorithm identify if it’s worthy of landing in your feed.
Your Platform Activity
The number of posts you interact with and the type of content in these posts give the algorithm an idea of what content drives engagement in your feed.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Affect the Explore Tab?
When you click the Explore tab, the algorithm presents you with content from various users, not just people you follow. The algorithm detects the type of content you usually engage with and serves you similar stuff from accounts you don’t subscribe to.
The algorithm ranks these photos and videos, presenting you with content it thinks you’ll enjoy. It looks at your past engagement metrics, such as likes, comments, and shares, using this information to collate and curate your feed.
Post and Content Performance
The algorithm is more likely to present you with content that performs well in terms of engagement metrics on the post. If there are two posts and one has a thousand likes, while the other has ten, the algorithm will position the post with more likes higher in your feed.
While the Explore page presents fresh content from new users you don’t follow, it may also show posts from accounts you follow that have exceptional engagement rates. If you engaged with a user’s content in the past, their top-rated posts might appear on the Explore page.
How did you behave on the Explore page the last time you were there? If you scrolled through the feed without opening or engaging with any posts, the algorithm assumes you didn’t enjoy the content served to you.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Affect Reels?
Reels are the hottest new video feature on Instagram, designed to help the platform compete with the video-sharing app TikTok. The algorithm pulls content from accounts you follow and don’t follow, serving you videos it thinks you’ll watch to completion.
It evaluates these Reels using the following metrics.
The algorithm analyzes the past Reels you like and comment on. The engagement helps the algorithm identify new Reels you’re likely to enjoy and watch through to the end. The goal is to serve videos with a high completion rate to improve the user experience.
Like the Explore page, the algorithm will serve you Reels from people you follow and accounts you don’t. The algorithm prioritizes Reels from users you interacted with in the past. So, you’ll likely see plenty of content from accounts you don’t follow.
The algorithm analyzes the words and music used in the Reel to identify their relevance to you. For instance, if you watch videos with a particular piece of music in the soundtrack, the algorithm will look for other Reels with the same song playing in the background. This applies to keywords used as well.
Changes to the Instagram Algorithm in 2022
The Instagram team continually updates the algorithm for efficacy and efficiency. In 2022, the IG team introduced a chronological structure to users’ feeds. The changes also included viewing a list of curated posts from your favorite users.
AI-driven recommendations and video content are taking more of a front seat in recommended posts in your feed. This shift to a more video-driven experiencer in Instagram comes from the change in the market to consuming short-form video content, such as TikTok’s and YouTube Shorts.
Some users don’t appreciate this imitation of TikTok by the IG team. Several top creators on the platform, such as Kim Kardashian, took to a campaign to “Make Instagram Instagram Again” in 2022. The petition aims to receive 500,000 signatures, and at last count, they were close to achieving it.
Tips for Gaming the Instagram Algorithm
After reading through the list of perimeters the algorithm uses to serve content to users, we can use this information to improve our content strategy.
The Instagram algorithm prioritizes content that drives engagement, dropping likes and comments on the post.
So, when creating images or videos, you need to consider if it will achieve this goal of creating engagement. Follow these tips to get your content trending with your audience.
Track Your Analytics
Your analytics is the first place to start with improving your content strategy. Analytics lets you know which posts are your top performers. By identifying your best content, you have an idea of what your audience wants to see and what drives engagement.
You don’t need advanced analytics tools to complete this task. Go through your content and look at posts with the highest engagement, such as likes and comments. Look at this content and what makes it appealing over your other posts.
Next, invest in an analytics tool. These tools help you drill down deep into the metrics of your top posts. Using an analytics tool goes beyond the “vanity” metrics like likes and comments. Use the tool to uncover information on when your audience is online.
Posting when your audience is online gives you more chances of people seeing your post in their feed and on the Explore page. Here are the best times to post on Instagram.
- Monday 6 am, 11 am, 1 pm.
- Tuesday 8 to 10 am, 2 pm.
- Wednesday 9 to 11 am.
- Thursday 11 am to 2 pm, 7 pm.
- Friday 10 am to 2 pm, 2-4pm.
- Saturday 8 to 11 am.
- Sunday 6 to 8 pm.
The best time to post on Instagram is 11 am on Wednesdays.
Analytics tools can show you which hashtags are the top performers in your niche. Hashtags help the algorithm identify and categorize your content themes, positioning them in front of people interested in that content niche.
The tool also identifies posts earning engagement, such as user likes and comments. A top-rated analytics tool gives you access to audience sentiment analysis, campaign click-through results, and response times.
Encourage Follower Engagement
Engagement is everything on social media, and that goes for Instagram too. The more likes and comments your posts receive, the more the algorithm identifies them as content others want to see.
Are you struggling to build engagement? Why not slap a sticker on your story, asking your audience to like and comment on your content? Emoji sliders, polls, and question stickers offer direct engagement tactics to get more out of your audience.
If you’re posting images, use the caption to ask your followers to like, comment, and follow. If you’re using video-based features like IGTV or Instagram live, take the time to ask your viewers to like and comment – ask, and you shall receive.
Likes are an important engagement metric, but comments are the holy grail. The more comments you receive on your posts, the better. The Instagram algorithm rates “good” engagement metrics as a one to five percent like and comment ratio for total views. To get your posts above this rate, try the following tactics to boost your engagement.
- Research your audience and look at the content they like to engage with on the platform.
- Reply to all comments and DMs.
- Create ongoing Stories where you share posts you’re tagged in.
Leverage Instagram Reels
Reels are the latest feature in the suite of video features on Instagram. The platform actively promotes Reels above all other content to stay competitive with other apps like TikTok and YouTube Shorts. Here’s how to make the most out of your Reels.
- Don’t post watermarked TikToks.
- Shoot with your phone in a vertical layout.
- Use filters, soundtracks, and camera effects.
- Keep your videos short.
The Instagram algorithm ranks Reels based on engagement to determine entertainment value.
Publish Content Consistently
How often you post on Instagram also influences how the algorithm promotes your content to other users. There’s such a thing as posting too often, creating a “spammy” feel to your account, and you’ll start seeing engagement drop. Likewise, posting too little has a similar effect.
The posting cadence is critical to your success. According to Instagram chief Adam Mosseri, creating a posting rhythm of two image or video posts per week and two Stories per day is ideal. Create a posting schedule using scheduling software.
This strategy ensures you never miss a posting date and don’t post too early or too late in the optimal posting window for the day. Set your posting schedule on autopilot and improve your engagement rate.
Respect Community Guidelines
Our final tip involves the type of content you post to the platform. Like all social media sites, Instagram frowns on content that violates its community guidelines and terms of service. You’ll struggle to build an audience if you post controversial or “borderline” content.
For instance, if you post content with a sexual or pornographic nature, you can expect the IG team to ban your account. The IG team may “shadow-ban” your account if you post politically incorrect content. A shadow ban is like a death blow to your content strategy.
The algorithm suppresses content from shadow-banned accounts, and you’ll notice the engagement rate in your posts slip considerably overnight. If your likes go from an average of 100 per post to a handful, your account could be shadow-banned.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to determine if that’s the case, as Instagram doesn’t officially acknowledge this practice. Some users state a shadow ban can last up to two weeks or longer. Posting low-resolution media will also cause the algorithm to suppress your content.
Wrapping Up – Key Takeaways
Increasing your engagement rate is the best way to leverage the Instagram algorithm. Follow these tips to get the most out of your content strategy on IG.
- Create relevant, trending content in your niche.
- Post at optimal times when your audience is on the platform.
- Ask your audience to engage with your content.
- Use Reels to get more eyeballs on your account and drive engagement.
- Use captions to entice your audience to engage with your posts.
- Use hashtags, music, and stickers to help the algorithm categorize your content.
- Respect the community guidelines and avoid posting borderline or offensive content.
- Use analytics tools to discover your best-performing content.
- Post consistently with the right cadence.
Implement these tips and game the Instagram algorithm to get better results from your content strategy. You’ll notice immediate results.