How does the Instagram algorithm actually work?
It’s a question that’s caused a lot of confusion since Instagram moved away from a chronological feed.
In this blog post, we’re sharing how the Instagram algorithm works for feed posts, stories, the Explore page, IGTV videos, and Instagram Reels.
Plus, discover our top tips to hack the Instagram algorithm, so you can get more engagement for your business or brand:
Table of Contents:
- How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Feed Posts in 2021
- How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Stories in 2021
- How the Instagram Algorithm Works on the Explore Page in 2021
- How the Instagram Algorithm Works for IGTV Videos in 2021
- How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Reels in 2021
- How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Business, Creator, and Personal Accounts in 2021
- 7 Extra Ways to Improve Your Ranking with the Instagram Algorithm in 2021
- Key Takeaways
The Instagram Algorithm in 2021
If you’ve spent any time on Instagram, you’ll know that the algorithm can behave in mysterious ways.
And with the mystery, comes questions like “Why is my Instagram engagement down?”, “Why am I getting less likes on Instagram?”, or “Am I being shadowbanned?”
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One of the main misconceptions? That there is only one Instagram algorithm. According to Instagram, “we use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose.”
Keeping this in mind, once you understand how the elusive algorithms and processes actually work, you can tailor your content strategy to work alongside it.
Here’s everything you need to know about Instagram’s algorithm in 2021:
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Feed Posts in 2021
There are four key factors that influence the Instagram algorithm for feed posts — confirmed by Instagram themselves:
- Information about the post: Is it a photo or a video? When was it posted? How many likes does it have?
- Information about the poster: How interesting are they to you? Are they your friend? How often do people engage with their content?
- Your activity: Do you tend to watch a lot of videos? What type of content do you typically engage with?
- Your interaction history: Do you typically like or comment on the poster’s posts?
Based on this information, Instagram’s algorithm calculates how likely someone is to interact with a post, known as a score of interest, which ultimately determines the order in which posts are displayed in their feed.
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But that’s not all. They also take into consideration the likelihood of five important interactions. These key interactions help the algorithm determine feed ranking:
- Time spent: Are you going to spend time on the post?
- Like: How likely are you to like the post?
- Comment: How likely are you to comment on the post?
- Save: How likely are you to save the post?
- Tap on Profile: How likely are you to tap on the profile after seeing the post?
“The more likely you are to take an action, and the more heavily we weigh that action, the higher up you’ll see the post.
We add and remove signals and predictions over time, working to get better at surfacing what you’re interested in,” says Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram.
The takeaway? If you create content that your community is likely to engage with, your posts will continue to be prioritized in their feeds.
TIP: Use analytics to see what content works (and doesn’t work) and how your community is engaging with your posts over time.
With Later’s Instagram Analytics, you can see your best performing content, calculate your engagement rates, and monitor key metrics — right on your desktop.
What Engagements Are Most Important to the Instagram Algorithm?
Engagement is key, especially when it comes to the Instagram algorithm.
But what are the most important metrics of engagement?
As we covered, the interactions Instagram looks at closely include how likely you are to comment, like, save, or tap on a profile.
Keeping this in mind, as you plan your content and captions — ask yourself these questions:
- Is this post likely to be liked or commented on?
- Is this a post someone would save and come back to?
- Does this post include a CTA (for example, “Click the link in my bio”) that will prompt someone to tap on your profile?
Creating content that will encourage this type of engagement can help you “hack” the Instagram algorithm for your benefit.
And while it’s not listed as a key indicator, it could also be worthwhile to optimize your content for shares — if people are sharing your content, it’ll reach even more eyes and increase engagement.
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TIP: Audit your followers and remove any who are inactive or bots. Why? If a large percentage of your followers are inactive, they will impact your engagement rate — which could be detrimental to your account’s algorithmic ranking.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Stories in 2021
The Instagram algorithm works fairly similarly for Instagram Stories as it does for the feed.
Typically, Instagram Stories that appear at the start of your feed are from accounts that you engage with the most.
However, stories are designed to be binge-watched, so even if you’re not right at the beginning of someone’s stories feed, there’s still a chance they’ll swipe to your content.
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to consistently post to Instagram Stories.
By posting to Instagram Stories more often, you have a better chance of reaching viewers as they browse their daily stories — and the more views you gain, the better your ranking will be.
Fortunately, regularly posting to stories is easy.
You can schedule Instagram Stories with Later — so you never miss a chance to connect with your audience!
NOTE: You’ll receive a mobile notification along with your pre-planned images, links, and captions when it’s time to post.
Ready to start consistently posting Instagram Stories? Start planning and scheduling your Instagram Stories with Later today.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works on the Explore Page in 2021
Overall, the Explore page and the feed algorithm are quite similar — they both deliver content that Instagram thinks you’ll be most interested in, based on your prior interactions.
However, your Instagram feed will be made up of content from accounts you already follow, whereas the Explore feed will consist almost entirely of content from new accounts.
According to Instagram, “the most important actions we predict in Explore include likes, saves, and shares.”
And the most important signals for the Explore Page algorithm are:
- Information about the post. How popular is a post? How much engagement does it get — and how quickly? If a lot of people are liking, commenting, sharing, and saving a post, it’s a huge indicator for the Explore Page’s algorithm.
- Your history of interacting with the person who posted. Have you interacted with this person or their content in the past (even if you don’t follow them)?
- Your activity. What type of content do you usually like, save, or share? How do you interact with posts in Explore?
- Information about the person who posted. How many people have interacted with this person in the past few weeks?
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The Explore page is constantly evolving, with new topic categories and advanced search functionalities being introduced all the time.
For example, you can now search by keywords, as well as hashtags, to discover feeds of relevant content:
This suggests that the Explore page algorithm also considers the actual visual content and words in your caption.
Fortunately, getting your posts onto the Instagram Explore page isn’t as hard as you might think.
Remember: the Explore page algorithm is essentially trying to serve people the best, relevant content.
So by continually sharing engaging content with strong captions and niche hashtags, you’re optimizing your posts for Explore page potential.
For hashtag search results, Instagram prioritizes top performing posts:
These posts are curated by the algorithm based on an individual’s historical interactions.
On the “Recent” tab, hashtag search results are the same for every user — it’s a chronological list of posts that contain your searched hashtag.
Check out The Ultimate Guide to Getting on the Instagram Explore Page to find out how you can reach new audiences!
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for IGTV Videos in 2021
For IGTV videos, the algorithm prioritizes content from the accounts you interact with the most, as well as the type of posts you typically engage with.
Beyond the home feed, Instagram serves suggested IGTV videos in relevant Explore pages, based on what Instagram thinks you will like.
So how can you give your IGTV videos the best chance of being seen by new (and existing) audiences?
The trick is to give them as much of a helping hand as possible.
We recommend sharing a short preview to your Instagram feed — increasing initial exposure and providing a positive signal to the algorithm.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Reels in 2021
Knowing how to hack the Instagram Reels algorithm can be a huge advantage for anyone looking to grow on Instagram.
According to Instagram, brands and creators should create Reels that are entertaining, inspiring, or experimental and use creative tools like text, camera effects, or filters.
You should also avoid posting Instagram Reels that are low-resolution, too blurry, or are visibly recycled from other apps.
These types of Reels will be deprioritized — meaning they’ll be less likely to appear on the Explore Page and Instagram Reels tab.
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By following these tips, you’ll stand a better chance of hacking the Instagram algorithm and reaching new audiences.
For an additional boost, we recommend sharing your Instagram Reels to your main feed, using several hashtags to increase discoverability, and including captions to make your content more accessible.
Ready to level-up your Instagram Reels strategy? Bookmark this post for everything you need to know: The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Reels.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Business, Creator, and Personal Accounts in 2021
There have been rumors that the Instagram algorithm better serves certain accounts, with business accounts being favored.
However, it can be officially put to rest as Instagram confirmed in a series of Stories on the @creators account, that all account types are treated equally when it comes to the algorithms.
This means that regardless of whether you have a personal, creator, or business account, it won’t make any difference to how the Instagram algorithm ranks your content.
7 Extra Ways to Improve Your Ranking with the Instagram Algorithm in 2021
If you want to improve your ranking with the Instagram algorithm, the best thing you can do is drive as many interactions (likes, comments, clicks, saves, and shares) as possible.
And by building momentum with your existing community, you’ll soon find your content surfaced to new audiences.
Here are seven ways to improve your algorithmic ranking and reach new audiences:
#1: Embrace Instagram’s Latest Features, like Instagram Reels
Looking for a fast-track way to gain favor with the Instagram algorithm?
Embrace Instagram’s latest features!
Instagram will always give their latest features (such as Instagram Reels) a helping hand to help drive adoption, so it’s a good idea to jump on the latest trends and take advantage of this extra boost.
Plus, with Instagram recently announcing that it’s no longer just “a photo-sharing app,” it’s a good idea to start incorporating more video content in your strategy.
#2: Encourage More Interactions with Instagram Stories Stickers
Instagram Stories stickers are a great way to encourage audience engagement — and the more engagement your posts get, the higher they’ll be boosted by the Instagram algorithm.
Poll and emoji slider stickers are a quick and easy engagement win, and can work for almost any business or brand.
Question stickers may not be as quick to take part in, but they can be just as good at driving genuine engagement with your audience, which is highly valuable for the Instagram algorithm.
#3: Drive Conversations with Engaging Captions and Comments
Instagram has confirmed comments are important when it comes to feed ranking (or getting featured on the Explore page) — so it’s a great idea to encourage as many as possible for your posts.
One of the best ways to do this? Write good captions that drive engagement.
This could be as simple as asking your followers to share their thoughts or feelings, double-tap if they agree, tag a friend in the comments, or click the link in your bio.
Want to write more conversational captions? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Writing Good Instagram Captions.
#4: Optimize Your Hashtag Strategy
Adding hashtags to your posts is one of the most effective ways to reach more people on Instagram, which means more “views” for the Instagram algorithm to take into account.
And with a good hashtag strategy, you won’t just reach more people — you’ll reach people who are relevant for your business, and most likely to engage with your content.
One way to discover new hashtags for your brand is by using Later’s Hashtag Suggestions feature.
Hashtag Suggestions works by automatically finding relevant hashtags for your posts based on other hashtags you use.
All you have to do is know one relevant hashtag, put it into Hashtag Suggestions, hit “Suggest,” and the feature will immediately generate 30 other hashtags, sorted by relevance.
Once you’ve found the best hashtags for your brand, you can use Later’s Saved Captions feature to curate ready-made lists of hashtags that you can add to your post captions in seconds.
When it’s time to schedule, simply select one of your Saved Captions to add it to your post.
#5: Cross-Promote Your Instagram Content
If you’re looking for a quick and easy engagement win to help boost your algorithm ranking, cross-promoting your Instagram content is a great place to start.
And thanks to these different publishing channels, you can strategically use them to drive different audiences to your most recent content.
This could be as simple as sharing an enticing preview of an IGTV video to your feed, or even adding a feed post to Instagram Stories with a “Tap Here” GIF.
#6: Keep On Top of Your DMs
Much like comments and likes, direct messages (DMs) are another engagement indicator for the Instagram algorithm.
You may have noticed that the accounts you DM most often are bumped to the front of your Instagram Stories feed — the Instagram algorithm is doing it’s best to serve you content it thinks you want to see.
One way to use this to your advantage is to regularly invite your audience to DM you with their questions or feedback — or by encouraging “quick emoji reactions.”
TIP: Set up Instagram Quick Replies to answer your most common DM queries at the touch of a button.
#7: Use Instagram Analytics to See What’s Working
Tracking and monitoring how your content is performing on Instagram is one of the most reliable ways to take on the Instagram algorithm.
Having a better understanding of what’s working (and what isn’t) will help you come up with a finely tuned marketing plan, saving you time and effort in the long run.
But diving into your Instagram Analytics means more than just finding out which photo, video, or stories performed best.
Truly understanding how your content performs – by tracking key metrics over time – is vital to knowing what helps improve your ranking.
The easiest way to do this? Later’s Analytics feature.
With Later’s Instagram Analytics you get a visual overview of how your posts and stories are performing – all in an easy-to-use dashboard.
In Summary (Tl;dr)
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to “beat” the Instagram algorithm in 2021.
However, you can use the tips we’ve shared in this post to help you create content that will trigger Instagram’s signals and key factors.
If you create engaging feed posts, stories, IGTVs, and Reels, the Instagram algorithm will continue to serve your content to the right people.
Being consistent and building a genuine relationship with your followers is the most powerful way to “hack” the Instagram algorithm — and it will work wonders for your brand too.