How the Instagram Algorithm Works in 2021

The Instagram algorithm is always changing. Is your brand staying ahead of it?

Understanding how the algorithm actually works is something that any social media marketer or brand needs to know. The Instagram algorithm is responsible for what content people see. It can either get you loads of organic reach or it can hide your content underneath a mountain of other posts.

We’ve taken a look at the hard data that Instagram has released about its algorithm to help you understand exactly how it works.

Follow our guide to understand how the Instagram algorithm works for feed posts, Stories, IGTV, and Reels. We also reveal 10 Instagram hacks to help you crack the algorithm so that you can reach more people with each post.



Table of Contents

  1. Understanding the Instagram Algorithm in 2021
  2. Instagram Algorithm Ranking Signals
  3. How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Feed Posts
  4. How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Stories
  5. How the Instagram Algorithm Works on the Explorer Page
  6. How the Instagram Algorithm Works for IGTV
  7. How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Reels
  8. Do Different Accounts Use Different Algorithms?
  9. How to Improve Your Ranking With the Instagram Algorithm: 10 Tips
  10. Can You Beat the Instagram Algorithm?

Understanding the Instagram Algorithm in 2021

So, how exactly does Instagram work? This is a question you’ll probably be asking yourself if you find your Instagram engagement down or if your likes seem to be dropping.

The Instagram algorithm is in charge of which content gets seen, and in what order posts are displayed. Basically, the Instagram algorithm is a set of rules that controls the reach of your content.

How exactly does this powerful Instagram algorithm work? The first thing you’ve got to know is that there isn’t just one algorithm. According to Instagram, various algorithms, classifiers, and processes are used. Thousands of different data points, or ranking signals, are considered.

In a simple sense, the algorithm looks at the past behavior of the user, considers all of the Instagram content available to that user, and decides which of this content is the most interesting or relevant. The most interesting ends up at the top of the user’s feed.

Pretty straightforward, right?

It is, but the algorithm is also known to behave very mysteriously. With each part of the app tailored to use its own algorithm, things can get pretty confusing.



Instagram Algorithm Ranking Signals

First, let’s understand what the different Instagram algorithm ranking signals are. These signals, which help Instagram understand the most relevant content for its users, fall under these main categories.

1. Relationship

This ranking signal evaluates the people who have interacted with your account. The idea is that people who have interacted more with your account are interested in your content. Various factors are used to determine the relationship between your account and your followers. These include things like:

  • Searching for your name on Instagram
  • Saving your posts
  • Leaving comments and messages on your posts
  • If both accounts follow each other

The bottom line here is that engaging with your followers and building strong relationships on Instagram will help you increase your organic reach.

2. Interest

How does Instagram know to show me all of those adorable dog videos? The main goal of the algorithm is to show every Instagram user the kind of content that they’re interested in.

Instagram does this by understanding exactly what each piece of content consists of, as well as tracking user affinity.

This means foodies get show cooking videos, baseball fans get baseball videos, you get the idea…

Instagram does a pretty good job at connecting people with the kind of content they’re interested in. If you want to get your Instagram content seen organically by as many people as possible, try to define your niche clearly, and focus on a very specific type of content. This will help Instagram to recommend that content to the right audience.

3. Timeliness

The more recent the post, the more relevant it is for Instagram to show people. Newer posts are often ranked higher because Instagram sees timeliness as a factor that makes content important.

If you want to improve your organic reach on Instagram, then you should try to post at the times when your audience is most active online. This will help your posts to be fresh to your audience when they scroll through their feeds.

4. Audience Ranking Signals

There are other ranking factors, but these are more centered around your audience than your own behavior. As a brand, there isn’t much you can do about them.

Three main ranking signals that are in the control of your audience are:

  • The number of accounts a user follows (if you follow 10 accounts, you’ll see much more of their content than if you follow 100 accounts).
  • The amount of time your audience spends on their feed.
  • The frequency that a user opens Instagram. If they keep it closed all day, a backlog of content will build up.



How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Feed Posts

Which posts will you see when you scroll through your Instagram feed? According to Instagram, there are four main algorithm factors that determine which feed posts get the most visibility. These are:

  • Post information: How many likes the post had, whether it’s a photo or video, when it was posted, etc.
  • Poster information: How relevant the poster is to your account, are you following each other, do they have a high level of engagement, etc.
  • Interaction history: How do you interact with posts from that poster? Do you comment, like, or save any of their posts?
  • Your history: What type of content do you usually consume?

These four factors are combined to create a ‘score of interest’. This just means the likelihood of a user interacting with the post.

However, interactions are not all made equal. The algorithm considers five different interactions to determine the position of the post. These are time spent viewing the post, likes, comments, saves, and tapping on the profile after seeing the post.

The more likely a user is to interact with a post, the better that content will rank. Try to understand your audience and know what type of content they engage most heavily with. Instagram analytics platforms can help you understand this.

When you post, you should also try to optimize your content for interactions. Things like asking questions can encourage comments, or posting how-to guides can help you get more saves. Trending reels will get lots of shares, while motivational posts will bring in lots of likes.

Before you post, think about how people could interact with your post, and what you could do to encourage more interactions.

what to post for more engagement

Source

How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Stories

The Instagram algorithm for stories is basically the same as it is for posts in your Instagram feed. The stories that appear first are from accounts that the user engages with the most. The only difference is the way that Instagram stories are consumed compared to posts on an Instagram feed.

Instagram stories are usually binge-watched, so there’s a better chance of your stories being seen if you post them frequently.

By constantly posting stories and having content available, you will be able to attract more viewers. This will improve your engagement rates, and help your Instagram stories get to the front of the queue.

How the Instagram Algorithm Works on the Explorer Page

The Explorer page is where the Instagram algorithm gets interesting. Instagram’s algorithm for posts on your feed is all based on accounts that you follow, but the Explorer page uses the algorithm to suggest new content to you.

Instagram’s algorithm still follows the same basic principles of highlighting content that is most relevant and interesting to the user. The only difference is that this content is from accounts that you have likely never engaged with or heard of before.

Instagram first looks at the information about the post to decide whether it gets displayed. This includes things like the popularity of the post, what kind of content it is, and how recently it was posted. A viral post will be far more visible.

Instagram Explore page

Your information is also considered. What type of posts do you usually interact with, and what kind of content is relevant to this? If you love watching Instagram Reels about cats, then you’ll find a lot of cat Reels on your Explorer page.

If you’ve done an Insta stalk on a user before, then their content might end up on your explorer page. Even if you’re not following the user, any interactions will help their content to get more reach.

Finally, information about the person who posted is considered. The more people that interact with the person, the better their content performs.

The Explore page algorithm also considers search terms and hashtags. If you search for ‘donuts’, Instagram’s algorithm can recognize popular images of donuts and suggest this to you.

Basically, the Instagram Explore page exists to show users the most relevant content based on their interests and interactions. This means it’s pretty easy to get your content on there if you post the right content.

Use hashtags, share engaging content, and focus on powerful captions that match the user’s intent. This will help your Instagram content to become more popular.



How the Instagram Algorithm Works for IGTV

Instagram’s IGTV is an exciting place to find new video content. You can find IGTV videos on the IGTV homepage, as well as on the Explore page.

Just like with the Explore page algorithm mentioned above, the IGTV algorithm aims to show the most relevant content to users.

This could come from previous interactions, or from the type of content that Instagram thinks you like.

One good way to get your IGTV videos more exposure is to post a shortened preview of the video on your regular Instagram feed. This will boost engagement and exposure from the start, which will influence the Instagram algorithm to show more users the video.



How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Reels

Posting Reels is one of the best ways to go viral on Instagram. If you’re able to crack the Instagram algorithm with your Reels, then you’ll be able to reach loads of Instagram users.

And yes, you guessed it, the same Instagram algorithm idea applies to Reels. The most interesting, relevant content is shown to the user. This is based on things like engagement and previous interactions, interests, information about the video, and so on.

Instagram Reels also need to be high-quality if they’re going to gain a lot of exposure. For this, videos should be entertaining, original, inspirational, on-trend, and shot in a high-resolution. The bottom line is that quality content that your audience genuinely enjoys will get more exposure.

If you want to improve the position of your Reels in the Instagram algorithm, then share them on your main feed and use relevant hashtags. This will help to make your Reels easier to discover and more relevant to specific users.

Looking for some Instagram Reels inspiration? Check out these great Reels ideas for small businesses.


Do Different Accounts Use Different Algorithms?

Many Instagram users believe that the algorithm changes for different accounts. The rumor is that business and creator accounts are favored, helping your content to get more reach.

Well, we can confirm that this is not true.

Whether you have a personal, business, or creator account, the same algorithm rules apply. The only reason that it may seem like creators and businesses get more exposure is probably because they have greater engagement levels.

Instagram Story

Source

How to Improve Your Ranking With the Instagram Algorithm: 10 Tips

Now that we understand how the Instagram algorithm works, how can we improve our rankings in the algorithm? While it’s not an exact science, there are a few tips and tricks that you can use to improve your visibility.

The main idea is that the more interactions, likes, comments, and saves you get, the more your content will be displayed. By building up a highly engaged community of followers, you’ll be able to increase your chances of beating the algorithms.

Here are 10 strategies to consider if you want to improve your ranking.

Instagram Story

Source

1. Use Stories Stickers to Get Your Followers Involved

A great way to drive up engagement on your stories is to use stories stickers. These include things like a poll, question stickers, and sliders that let users vote.

These stickers are quick and easy ways to engage your followers. And the more engagement you get, the better your algorithm ranking will be.

Instagram poll

Source

2. Encourage Comments and Likes

Interactions like comments and likes are a great way to get your posts boosted by the Instagram algorithm. If you want to get more comments and likes, then try to optimize your posts and captions for them.

For example, you could ask a question at the end of the post that you want your followers to respond to. This will get you more comments quickly, which is a good sign for the algorithm. You could even do a caption that says something along the lines of “like this post if you’ve ever done…” to ramp up your likes.



3. Run a Viral Giveaway

Lots of engagement helps brands win the algorithm, and a giveaway is one of the best ways to boost your engagement levels. Beyond all of the advantages that a giveaway offers (like improving brand awareness, generating new leads, and spiking up your sales), you can also use a giveaway to attract a lot more interactions.

This could be a hashtag contest, where loads of users mention your brand, a comment-to-enter contest, a photo contest that has users searching for your brand (and creating valuable user-generated content), and more.

With a tool like Wishpond, you can easily create Instagram contests that help your business grow.

Giveaway

4. Cross-Promote Your Content

Instagram has a variety of different content channels, including Reels, IGTV, Stories, feed posts, and Guides. By cross-promoting your content across these different channels, you’re giving your content a better chance of being seen.

Doing this allows you to attract different audiences across Instagram to the same piece of content.

You can do this by sharing your Reels to your feed, posting IGTV previews on your feed, or sharing your posts in your stories with a “Tap Here” sticker

5. Track and Monitor Your Content

If you know what type of content is working for your audience, you can post more of it to increase your engagement and reach. Keeping an eye on your analytics is one of the easiest ways to understand the Instagram algorithm. It’s also an important way to enhance your overall social media marketing strategy.

The easiest way to do this is to go onto Instagram’s analytics platform and monitor which posts and videos perform the best. You should also gain an understanding of your key metrics, and track these over time. Various social media analytics tools are available for this.

6. Use the Right Hashtags

One of the easiest ways to reach more people on Instagram organically is by using hashtags. Hashtags don’t only improve the reach of your content, but they also get your content seen by the right people.

By including a regular set of hashtags in each post, you’ll start to improve your position with the algorithm.

Check out this guide to the most popular hashtags to help you find the right hashtags to improve your reach.

hashtags

7. Follow Trends

Want your content to go viral? Then try to follow what’s really popular at the moment. Instagram isn’t just a photo-sharing app, it’s also a popular video platform. Reels are a great way to hop onto trends and generate some viral content.

Follow what popular users are doing, use trending audio, and post about popular themes. You can also draw inspiration from viral TikTok videos (just don’t post existing TikTok videos with the TikTok watermark on them).

8. Engage With Your Audience

To do well against the Instagram algorithm, you’ve got to have strong engagement levels. And to have strong engagement levels, you need to have a special bond with your audience.

There are a couple of different ways that you can do this, such as:

  • Responding to all comments and DMs
  • Having a very clear definition of your target audience so that you know what content they want to see
  • Share user-generated content that you’ve been tagged in

Instagram engagement

9. Post More Reels

Posting Instagram Reels is the best way to improve your organic reach. Reels can make a big difference to your follower and engagement rates, as long as the Reels are what your audience wants to see.

Just like Instagram followed YouTube’s lead with IGTV and Snapchat’s lead with Stories, they’re using Reels to mimic the popularity of TikTok.

Posting a Reel every day won’t necessarily enhance your organic reach as a whole, but it can certainly help to get your content in front of a bigger audience, which can bring in new followers.



10. Post When Your Audience is Online

If you post when the bulk of your audience is online, your content will be new and more relevant to them. This will encourage the Instagram algorithm to make your content more visible.

By using analytics tools, you can find out when your audience is most active, giving you the optimal times to post. Using a social media scheduling tool will make it far easier and more accurate to post at the perfect time.



Can You Beat the Instagram Algorithm?

The short answer - no.

Instagram’s algorithm is complex, and it’s definitely not stupid. Never try to cheat the algorithm with tactics like buying followers or using Instagram pods. The algorithm aims to bring the most relevant content in front of each user, and that’s exactly what it does.

What you can do is work with the algorithm. Encourage engagement, post content that your audience wants to see, and post regularly. Instead of trying to game the system, try to learn how Instagram uses its data, and create content according to this.

The bottom line is that you need to post the kind of content that your audience wants to see if you want it to get a lot of exposure. That’s really all it takes.

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Written by Tom

Tom is a marketing content writer at Wishpond, focused on the latest marketing and tech trends. Also a keen sourdough baker and dog person.